PREACHING: Why Johnny Can’t (4th post)

We left off last time (in our discussion about Why Johnny Can’t Preach) with a remark about the alleged Pauline statement regarding the “folly of preaching”.  I claimed that Paul did not say such.  Let us look at the text itself:

1 Corinthians 1 (ESV)

V.17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

V. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

V.19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

V.20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

V.21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

V.22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

V.23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

V.24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Notice that it is not “preaching” that the World considers folly.  No, rather, it is “WHAT we preach” that is folly, not preaching in and of itself (v.21).  The world and its churches preach all the time (v.20).  The world has its own proclamation.  So I dare say it is not “preaching” proper that is the problem (folly) but the Cross (God’s humiliation saving sinners).  Christ (God’s anointed) crucified for sinners is folly.  It is folly to the world (undiscerning; see 1Cor.2.14), that, CHRIST, dead and risen, is the power and wisdom of God. 

Why do I bother to stress this?  Because all too often folks are thinking that preaching itself is the answer (almost regardless of what’s preached).  In addition, too often this proclamation is being reserved for the pulpit.  Anything taking place outside the pulpit is somehow inferior.  I simply do not buy a high-church tendency that hijacks the Gospel ministry, chaining it to an elevated desk.  Granted, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed/taught God be thanked, but let us not quarantine the Word of Life to one platform when there are other acceptable ones.

Notice too, that Paul understands that a “polished” ministry is not only what the World wants (is wooed by) but is something that in itself can empty the Cross of its divine power and wisdom.  There was no shortage of such “eloquent wisdom” in Corinth and Paul knew it, repeating the matter multiple times (see 1Cor.2.1; 2.4; 2Cor.4.2; & 10.10). 

Consider also the following from the JFB Commentary:

“not with wisdom of words” — or speech; philosophical reasoning set off with oratorical language and secular learning, which the Corinthians set so undue a value upon (1Co_1:5; 1Co_2:1, 1Co_2:4) in Apollos, and the want of which in Paul they were dissatisfied with (2Co_10:10).

In sum, then, it would be the case that Christ himself is foolishness and eloquent preaching (particularly that which only allows Jesus to make guest appearances) a subtraction.  Reader beware…not only the World but believers too stumble at Christ crucified being the simple and sufficient means whereby God does His salvationing, all of it, beginning to end, from here to glory. 

One last post to come…

PREACHING: Why Johnny Can’t (3rd post)

Again, we are dealing here with the discussion between Mike Horton and T. David Gordon (WHI program: Why Johnny Can’t Preach) on how the ‘medium is the message.’

Gordon explains that the “sermonic portrait” delivered well, makes all the difference.  He understands that the messenger is to be shaped by the medium of high-end literary works in order for the message to penetrate the hearers.  It is almost as if he is failing to account for the working of the Holy Spirit, not by carnal weapons, but by the Gospel itself. I understand it is not likely that he forgets this entirely, but only that he is caught up in something that is a life-occupation for him. 

As I have said in the previous posts, the Gospel shapes the messenger, the message, and the hearer(s).  No doubt, Gordon believes this, unfortunately though, this does not come across loud and clear, but is muffled by the cry for a more literarily astute clergy. 

Gordon also reminds us (and rightly so) that ours is not a WORD-shaped culture but an IMAGE-driven culture (TV, DVD’s, etc).  Here again, as an academician he wants to bring the full weight of top-notch literature to bear.  Granted, a televised people can tend to be a trivial lot.  Mush for minds is not a good thing.  What is needed though is not well-read people filling the ranks (and pulpit), but a believing people.  Is not Christ’s person and work, simply preached, sufficient to create and sustain believers?  Do not the people of God need a continual refreshing and gradual deepening in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in all of Scripture? 

Word-shaped?  Yes!  Nevertheless, it is content, not style, that is our foremost concern.  Where there is genuine content (Gospel-concentrated content), we have reason to hope for preachers (and laypersons alike) to present in plain speech the glories of Christ, for all to hear.  Yes, we might end up with people who are not so full of themselves as to present their style as Gospel.  Heaven knows, there is plenty of that to go around.

Next, Gordon utilizes this supposed biblical notion of the “folly of preaching”.  What?  Where does Paul ever speak like this?  I know, I know…in the First Letter to the Corinthians, right?  Wrong.  Look again at the text (1Cor.1.17-24; & 2.14)!  Let us deal with this text next time.

Stay tuned…

Gospel: ‘A’ or ‘Z’ (all or zilch)

Horatius Bonar once wrote:

“The truth is, that all that Christ did and suffered, from the manger to the tomb, forms one glorious whole, no part of which shall ever become needless or obsolete; no past of which can ever leave without forsaking the whole. I am always at the manger, and yet I know that mere incarnation cannot save; always at Gethsemane, and yet I believe that its agony was not the finished work; always at the cross, with my face toward it, and my eye on the crucified One, and yet I am persuaded that the sacrifice there was completed once for all; always looking into the grave, though I rejoice that it is empty, and that “He is not here, but is risen”; always resting (with the angel) on the stone that was rolled away, and handling the grave-clothes, and realizing a risen Christ, nay, an ascended and interceding Lord, yet on no pretext whatever leaving any part of my Lord’s life or death behind me, but unceasingly keeping up my connection with Him, as born, living, dying, buried, and rising again, and drawing out from each part some new blessing every day and hour.

ELECTION & Declaring Independence

Another informative and refreshing program at the White Horse Inn:    Election & Declaring Independence

The boys’ discussion pertained to :

1)     Election: It is in the Bible…everyone believes it — in some sense 


2)     Electing: Who is doing it?  (see Rom.8.28-30 – “called according to his purpose” not according to ‘foreknowledge’)


3)     Reprobation: The result of Adam’s work — Now man’s birth right and will

Election: On the basis of Christ’s work — God had to do all that pertains to salvation


4)     Modern Western Struggle w/ Sovereignty: In a climate of Independency  — “Hey, wait a minute; I did at least a little something right!”


5)     ‘Christ choosing you’ & ‘You choosing Christ’: It’s both, with the latter as the fruit of the former – see Jn.1.12-13; Eph.2.8-10; Phil.2.12-13 — We believe because He has made us willing and able to do so…thru the Gospel.


6)     Salvation (from ‘east to west’) is from the Lord — Just as there’s ‘no where’ and ‘no place’ that God is not Creator, so too, there’s no where in the believer’s faith that He’s not the Creator of New Life.

What drives you?

Lee Irons said:   This, I believe, is a most helpful passage [1Cor.15.1-19] in orienting us to what is primary for Paul, and by implication, what ought to be primary for us as well. When people read our books and blogs, or listen to our sermons, or attend our worship services, what do they perceive is “of primary importance” to us?  I hope it is not that we are “Reformed,” or that we subscribe to “the Reformed Confessions,” or that we are “Presbyterian” in our church government. I hope it is that we love, preach, and live out of the apostolic gospel of Christ’s death for our sins.”

The Gospel and then some…

Though there is something to be said for Scot’s (find link to his article below) concern with understanding the Gospel from Gen. 1 to Rev. 22, from where I currently stand there is reason to hesitate at swallowing his remarks whole.

There is a need to maintain a distinction between the Gospel-proper (Christ’s person and work) and the effects of the Gospel upon the individual and church.  Certainly, a wedge can wrongly be driven between the two, yet so too an eraser be applied that blurs the essential distinction to the point that everything becomes the Gospel.

Scot is right in emphasizing the connection between Creation –> Fall –>  New Creation (Redemption, and Consummation).  Yet, I’m left to struggle with our “grand” vision on this side of Glory (“already”) being that of a “new society” rather than “an emblem of shame”…the Cross.

Nonetheless, I found Scot’s comments helpful in pondering again the fuller ramifications the Cross-work of Christ Jesus.

[Scot McKnight: The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel]






Gospel Breakdown

John Piper:

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

6 Aspects of the Gospel Without Which There Is No Gospel

1. The gospel was planned by God beforehand (verses 3, 4: “according to the scriptures”)

2. The gospel is an objective physical event in history (verses 3-5: “Christ died . . . he was buried . . . he was raised . . . he appeared”).

3. The gospel is an objective accomplishment-the purchase or obtaining of redemption for all who would believe (verse 3: “Christ died for our sins”-the debt was paid)

4. The gospel is an offer to be made to all that what Christ accomplished is free and my be had only by faith in him (verse 2: “by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”)

5. The gospel is an application through faith to specific people of what Christ accomplished (verse 2: “and by which you are being saved”).

6. The gospel is an eternal and infinitely happy future destiny (verse 1-3: implied in the word “gospel” and “saved” and “sins born by another”)

Righteousness: Revealed/Demanded/Fulfilled

John Piper: “So how is this good news – that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel [Rom1.17]? Here’s the answer: God demands righteousness and we don’t have it, so the only hope for us is that God himself would give the righteousness that he demands. That would be good news. That would be gospel. And that is what he does. What is revealed in the gospel is the righteousness of God for us that he demands from us. The reason the gospel is the power of God for salvation – the way that the gospel saves believers is that in it God reveals a righteousness for us that God demands from us. What we had to have, but could not create or supply or perform, God gives us freely, namely, his own righteousness, the righteousness of God.

Gospel: Not About You (primarily)

D.A. Carson on 1 Cor 15…   

  1. “The Gospel” is not in the first instance about something God has done for me, but about something God has objectively done in history.  It is about Jesus, especially about his death and resurrection.  We have not preached the Gospel when we have told our testimony and no more, or when we have conveyed an array of nice stories about Jesus, but not reached the telos (the goal or end) of the story told in the four Gospels.   
  2. The primary events of this Gospel unfolded “according to the Scriptures.”  The precise way in which the Scriptures predicted these events — often by typology — is not our immediate concern; rather, it is the simple fact of the connection with Scripture that is so stunning.  No one in the early church saw the significance of Jesus as something brand new, or standing in isolation from all that had come before.  Rather, they saw him as the capstone, the culmination, the glorious goal, the climax of all of God’s antecedent revelation in holy Scripture.  
  3. This Gospel saves us (15:2).  A great deal of theology is already presupposed by these few words:  in particular, what we are saved from.  Embedded here are Paul’s understanding of human beings made in the image of God, the awfulness of sin and the curse of God that has separated us from our Maker, our inability to make ourselves over.  The Gospel saves us — and always we must bear in mind exactly what it is that we are saved from.   
  4. Paul makes clear not only the object of this saving faith (namely, the Gospel), but also the nature of this faith:  it is faith that perseveres, that holds firmly to the word preached by the apostles.  “Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (15:2) — a point often made in the New Testament (e.g., John 8:31; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:14; 2 Pet. 1:10).

Much-to-do-about Him!

Horton:  “We do not “live the gospel.” The gospel is good news because it’s about Christ and his work, not about us and our work. If Christians and churches want to create “buzz” in the culture and generate conversation, they should stop talking about themselves. God is far more interesting. This, in fact, was God’s rebuke to Israel in its proud harlotry: “Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, but it was perfect through my splendor which I had bestowed on you” (Ezek. 16:14).”

Reason for Hope

Brannan: “Christ for us”: this phrase is just another way of saying “the gospel.” When Paul says to be ready to give an account to anyone who asks the reason for the hope we have, “Christ for us” proclaims our hope in a nutshell: God is holy and righteous and we are rebellious sinners; only in looking away from ourselves to Christ for us, to Christ on our behalf, do we have hope before God. Christ died the death we deserve and lived the life we should have lived, so that rather than the condemnation we earned in Adam, we receive the righteousness Christ earned for justification; and now by his grace we who believe are enabled by the Holy Spirit to die to sin and live to God. This is the gospel.”