Andrew Webb gives his take on the problems with both Reformed and non-Reformed preaching today. Here’s his Reformed list:
1. There is far too little emphasis on connecting with the hearers.
2. Too many of our sermons are actually theological lectures, and our aim is usually to inform the mind rather than melt the heart.
3. Instead of an emphasis on impressing the audience with our personality via entertainment, our emphasis is on impressing the audience with our erudition via teaching. We want them to go away thinking, “Wow! I never knew that word had such an amazing semantic range in the original Greek. What a teacher our pastor is!”
4. We tend to make our hearers do too much of the work, and far too many of our sermons are actually unintelligible to non-Christians
5. We often forget that our preaching should have the same end as John’s telic note in John 20:31 – ” but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
6. We eschew Finney’s idea that conversion is the result of “the right use of means” but are sometimes stunningly unsupernatural in our own view of preaching. Instead of conversion being a supernatural work of the Spirit that must be fervently prayed for, we make it the result of the right understanding of information correctly imparted and received. Small wonder that so many of our listeners can explain theological doctrines but have no clue what Christ was really asking Peter in John 21:15-17.
7. We often act as though it doesn’t matter how good a communicator the pastor is and don’t see being stunningly boring as a problem. Sometimes we even view being uninteresting as a badge of honor, as though boring was the opposite of ear tickling. [For more on this see David Murray’s review of John Piper’s recent book]
8. Secretly, we also don’t want to upset our hearers, so the majority of our convicting fire is directed towards the sins found outside the church rather than within it.
9. Often the majority of our preaching follows the via negativa, we spend our time telling people what we are against, but not what we are for.
10. As a result what we too often create is “Fortress Church” – a dwindling and unapproachable bastion of the saints – and then wonder why no one from the world is coming to visit us.
Coming at it from another angle, Paul Levy recently sought to answer to answer the question ‘What’s wrong with preaching today?’ with a quote about Daniel Rowland:
‘The main difference between Rowlands and the preachers of our day is, we should say, fervent prayer and deep absorption of mind. The preachers of the present day have a thousand things to attend to. Their energies are scattered over a wide field, while the energies of our fathers were concentrated upon one thing. We need to do everything, they tried but one thing. We have our time battered down, and broken into fragments, while they had their time for their great work. We often turn our attention to the light literature of the day, and the new books that appear; we read the articles in the reviews, and we take the daily papers, and are, many of us, well versed in the politics of the day. And hence our preaching suffers. We want absorption with the great themes we preach. The deeper we go into our own spirits, the deeper we may expect to go into the spirits of our hearers. Daniel Rowland was a man of deep absorption and intense concentration. He was a man of one thing – one thing and one thing only – and that one thing was preaching. Hence his wonderful success. He plunged into the depth of his spirit, and meditated deeply and abstractedly upon the great themes of the Gospel; and thus his preaching probed the lower depth of the spirits of others. There is nothing to prevent the same powerful effects in our own day but ourselves. God is exactly the same; His love and mercy look upon a lost world with as sweet a smile now as they did in the times of Whitefield and Rowland; the Spirit of God is as full of power as in the times of Elijah, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, and is as willing to come down from heaven upon us as upon them. We hear the people often asking, ”Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” The question, however, is easily answered. The Lord God of Elijah is where he was before, and as He was before. That is not the question now more that it was of yore; but ”Where is Elijah?” Let Elijah be at his work; let Elijah concentrate all his powers upon his duties, we need not be very anxious about the Lord God of Elijah” (p.74,75)
That quote is from Owen Jones’ Great Preachers of Wales from 1885. Levy adds: ‘Goodness knows what Jones would have made of blogs, church staff and admin but his point is a fair and a convicting one. The big difference with preachers today – fervent prayer and absorption of mind!’