In Search of Gospel Preaching

Living where there is a church on every corner and in every church a preacher, you would think we would find plenty of gospel preaching. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Since moving here a month ago, we have visited four different churches only to hear the gospel proclaimed in two. Though a conservative evangelical church, the preaching in one was so vacuous and indefinite that the name of Jesus was not even mentioned except in prayer. It was mentioned that we needed forgiveness — which most everybody already knows – but from whom and how was not mentioned. In another pulpit, a text was opened up and briefly explained. The preacher emphasized the importance of “choices” without mentioning the most important choice of all. Although they were serious gospel believers, it was not evident in the preaching. Being a preacher, I know one can have an “off day” where Gospel truth is not central to one’s message and I did not leave the services thinking they were not Gospel preachers but I did wonder if the churches were Gospel centered. Worse yet, in another service, a psychologized, self-image “gospel” was preached. It diminished the cross, the atoning work of Christ, and barely mentioned Jesus as anybody other than someone you should “self-select” in order to “feel better about yourself.” The word “sin” was hardly mentioned in the message – if at all – and did not seem to the preacher to have much to do with the human dilemma. Containing myself, I walked silently to the car. As the doors closed, my wife said – without a word from me, “I was waiting to leave whenever you’d had enough.” She had heard what I heard. The superficial treatment given Christ in the message was offensive to God and man. And on top of it all, his text was the first chapter of Ephesians – one of the most Gospel-laden in the New Testament!

What an author recently wrote about American preaching is apparently true. “In this present hour, preaching that is devoid of the person and work of Christ is all too often commonplace…. Rather than giving Him the central place of pre-eminence, Jesus is demoted to the periphery.  Instead of being in the spotlight, Christ is left standing in the shadows.”[1] I do not know about other preachers but I believe I have no hope to offer people other than the clear and uncluttered Gospel. Jesus’ deity, His sinless life, and His purpose in dying and rising again are what my heart burns to preach. One way we love God supremely is by giving a clear, accurate, and proper view of who He is and what He is like to others. Nothing reveals God like the Gospel work of Jesus. Does reducing Calvary to a dull chore carried out by a bored and bothered Divinity honor God?  Do we love God by lowering His motive to human sentiment?  Pushing Him to the edge of the story and making man the cause and agent of it all is to offer earthly husks and not heavenly manna to the flock. Such a gospel not only makes a caricature of God but sucks the love out of it also. What if one struggles with another bout of bad self-esteem? Will you persevere by turning to a “help yourself gospel” or to a great and majestic Savior?  When the most valuable, precious, and priceless person who has ever lived is made a minor player, it not only diminishes the value of Jesus but the quality of His salvation also. Cheap man-centered preaching produces cheap self-centered living. In an age when people need anchors, foundations, and wisdom based on truth, we need to hear the powerful, deep, and rich truths of the person and work of Jesus the Christ.

Spurgeon once preached, “A sermon without Christ is a horrible thing. It is an empty well; it is a cloud without rain; it is a tree twice dead, plucked up by the roots. It is an abominable thing to give men stones for bread and scorpions for eggs, yet they do so who preach not Jesus. A sermon without Christ! As well talk of a loaf of bread without flour in it. How can it feed the soul? Men die and perish because Christ is not there.”

I need to point out two positives. First, a guest preacher and not the pastoral staff preached that self-image gospel. After a conversation with church leadership, it was obvious that they too were distressed. Apparently, I was not the first person to contact them as members had also voiced concern. (We have heard the Gospel proclaimed more than once by others in that church.) Also, we have heard the gospel proclaimed clearly from another pulpit along with excellent exposition of God’s word but that church is 25 miles away from us.  Proving that though it seems there even though there is a church on every corner here in the Bible belt, and a preacher in every church, one cannot assume the Gospel is being preached.

If a Gospel preacher stands in your church’s pulpit this Sunday, rejoice and thank God… and thank the preacher.


[1] Stephen J. Lawson in The Kind of Preaching God Blesses

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