MESSAGE: Good News or Paying Dues?

“What I need first of all is not an exhortation.  I need a gospel.  Not directions for saving myself, but knowledge of how God has saved me.  Have you any good news?  That is the question that I ask of you.  I know your exhortations will not help me, but if anything has been done to save me why don’t you just tell me the facts.”  John Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

TRANSLATION: Relativizing the Gospel

Another good program over at the White Horse Inn, featuring William Willimon: Faulty Translations

Willimon sees “Christianity is kind of like a foreign language that one is not born with,” which sadly “many preachers today are attempting to “translate” …into familiar and comfortable terms that people are used to, but the result, he argues, is that things get “lost in translation.””

Willimon points out the following:

1)       The Gospel is not to be translated as Therapy.

2)       The Gospel is not another Commodity.

3)       The Gospel is not another Life-Style Choice.

4)      The Gospel is not something you are born with.

5)       The Gospel is not User-Friendly.

6)      The Gospel does not make sense to/in this World.

7)       The Gospel creates a different world, with a different focus (i.e., Cross-eyed).

8)      The Gospel creates a counter-culture.

9)      The Gospel can make Life a bit more difficult.

10)    The Gospel is not a word about Glory (God’s making all things glorious now).

11)     The Gospel is a word of Grace (God’s condescension to sinners).

Willimon suggests asking this one question:

“When listening to a sermon, would Christ need to be CRUCIFIED in order to make this sermon work?”

Meaning, if the sermon works without Christ’s birth/godly-life/death/burial/raising/reigning, then, the sermon is not Christian.  It may be informational and/or ethical, but to be fails to be CHRISTIAN (rooted in the New Covenant!) by not preaching Him (1Cor.1.23; 2 Cor.1.19; 2Cor.4.5; Col.1.28; 1Tim.3.16).

POISON: Christless Preaching

Here we find words that hit the nail squarely on the head!  We can stop wondering folks, about what it is that ails the church, making it to look and sound so much like the world.  Cut the church off from its Head (Jesus Christ, crucified and risen!) and you have something that closely resembles a chicken with its head cut off.  Lots of commotion, but no life (in/of the Spirit). 

Just look and listen closely enough for where the Gospel is being usurped in the inner workings of the local church, and there you will find forms of idolatry that most of us would otherwise call orthodoxy.  Idolatry has a history of being subtle particularly when it is making a direct assault on the Image of God in Christ.  Remember the Garden.  It all began there one lovely day when all else was good. 

Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

“I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith. It is this preaching of the ‘good life’, or being ‘a good little gentleman’, and of viewing religion as ‘morality touched by emotion’, as Matthew Arnold put it, that has been the curse. Such men have shed the doctrines; they dislike any idea of atonement, they dismiss the whole notion of the miraculous and the supernatural, and ridicule talk about re-birth. Christianity to them is that which teaches a man to live a good life (Life in the Spirit, 19).”

Quote originally found here:   Jim Kang at Pastor’s Perspective

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…

PREACHING: Why Johnny Can’t (2nd post)

As stated in the previous post, “I believe Gordon places too much hope in being literarily astute, rather than in the literal Gospel.” 

To begin, Mike Horton and T. David Gordon (WHI program: Why Johnny Can’t Preach) discuss how the ‘medium is the message.’  How the medium (media) does things both ‘for’ and ‘to’ us.  Ok; so far so good. 

The concern is how Gordon sees literature (not just the Bible, but also all high-end literature) shaping a minister of the Gospel.  He alleges that reading and studying literature (poetry, classic works, etc) are a key tool in creating the abilities to “preach the Gospel” in a way that is best.  The reason why we have so many poor sounding preachers (perhaps upwards of 75%), so David says, is due to their not having been trained in things like classic literature.  (Wow, sounds a lot like Doug Wilson and company with their Trivium.)  These poor preachers are people who could not write their way out of a wet paper bag.

Gordon’s literary prowess is to be respected and all, but I have a real hard time imagining that the chief problem we face in the pulpit has to do with not enough literary studies.  I fear that he is engaged here in that same search many others are on…for those days gone by, with an eye toward an era that “took things more seriously”, especially literature.  Granted, we can be ignoramuses about the World (classic literature, poetry, etc), but I honestly do not believe that this has too awful much to do with why the Word (all Scripture in the Light of the Gospel) is not soundly preached.  Gordon is barking up the wrong tree.

Now, I am with Gordon in regards to the majority of preaching being terrible.  However, for Gordon the problem is the style of delivery; whereas, it would seem to the content that is of concern.  Give me a common country-bumpkin pastor who knows and loves Christ (like Peter, James, and John), preaching Him from all the Text, and I would say we have something.  I have listened (as I am sure you have too) to enough “finely educated” people in my life to know that this does not necessitate one’s getting and keeping the Cross of Christ dead-center. 

The problem does not happen to be an uneducated clergy in regards to the World, but that men are not being schooled in the Word of Christ.  They come to believe, somehow, that the Bible has something other than Christ and Him crucified at its core and that the church needs to hear about “something other”.  Men simply do not believe that the Gospel (God revealed in humiliation) itself is sufficient to shape the messenger, message, and hearers into conformity to Christ’s image.  Rather, we get all in a tizzy because things are not happening fast enough.  This is not a new problem due to our failing to be literarily solid.  No, it is an age-old problem… this Age Old problem. God’s work of redemption in Christ alone is sufficient and simple enough to affect whatever God would create by this Word of Christ.  Unbelief is the problem, and yes, we all struggle with it!  Get used to it.  Do not try to get around it by circumventing the Gospel.

This bring us then… to the Gospel, as God’s exclusive tool in revealing Himself and creating a people for His name’s sake?  So yes, as Gordon points out, media “tools” work both for and upon us; yet, God’s tool is Christ crucified and risen being projected by words into the ears of the hearers.  This is God’s means whereby men (sinners) are being drawn unto Him.

Stay tuned…….

PREACHING: Why Johnny Can’t (1st post)

Well, I just finished listening to last week’s WHI program featuring T. David Gordon and his book Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  It makes for an interesting conversation between Horton and Gordon.  One will hear Gordon in his prime.

I for one appreciate T. David Gordon, particularly for his labors in teaching the structural (covenantal) framework of all Scripture as it centers on the Gospel (person and work of Christ).  In addition, his ability to keep this (the Gospel) distinct from God’s working within the church (you and I), all the while helping us understand the relationship between the two – the Gospel and our growing in Christ. 

As an aside, a word about those who incessantly desire to make the Gospel to include what God does “in” us along with what the Gospel is…the personal and particular work of the God-Man.  This is what some would call the “Gospel in the broader sense”.  Well, I for one do not buy it.  Sorry, but it is true.  In their claiming that the Gospel incorporates our lives in this way, they end up with an existential baseline (usually themselves) upon which we are to place our hopes, rather than solely in Christ himself.  It is a very subtle shift, but a shift away from the Gospel nonetheless.

The folks over at Creed or Chaos hit this on the head: “We take from the gospel whenever we add to it, therefore, let us be satisfied with its overflowing fullness.”

Now, back to our program…at the WHI.

In following this conversation by T. David Gordon around the Internet (and in the book), it seems that his writing as a dying man did not make for the best context in which to write this kind of book.  There is much one can appreciate about the book, surely.  However, I fear that David’s natural tendency to be inflammatory and his preoccupation with his occupation (academician) both end up distracting us from the real fault as to why most sermons one will hear are sub-standard.  His being on what appeared then to be a ‘death-bed’ seems to have made it all the easier for David to “let loose” at what has long nagged at him, but ends up somewhat wide of the mark of what has always turned the church to preaching everything but Christ. 

In the next post, I intend to share thoughts gathered from this program.  Let me just conclude here by saying that Gordon’s remarks have an entirely different air about them as opposed to John Piper’s or Ken Jones’:  BROTHERS, WE ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS! 

Ken Jones’ message here: The Joy of Preaching the Gospel of God

Though some of what Ken Jones says coincides with T. David Gordon, I believe Gordon places too much hope in being literarily astute, rather than in the literal Gospel

Stay tuned, more to come……

GOSPEL: Seeing Things As They Are

Another good program by the guys at WHI:  Gospel Driven

Really appreciate what’s said concerning:

1)   Paul’s finding the Gospel (Cross of Christ) to always be the context for seeing things as they are.

2)   The fear/ignorance that b(l)inds men from preaching Christ crucified as the Sum/Substance of faith and life…that which guards and nurtures the body of Christ.

Worship: Being busy or bust?


This post is a follow-up on my previous one, regarding Miles McKee’s efforts to awaken the Church from its spiritual stupor, all the while it is dancing about Itself and not Christ.


Here again are the two links from which my comments below are taken:   

The Christ Centered Believer  (SERMON BY MILES)

The Gospel and the Believer-centered Believer  (TRANSCRIPT OF SAME SERMON)



1… We are busy (Mt.7.21-23) making self-centered GOATS into self-centered SHEEP.

2… We are busy converting the “empty” unbeliever into believers who are “full” of themselves.

3… We are busy confusing people with ideas that their being sinners is due to something they did; rather than…teaching that Adam’s sin made us sinners and Christ’s righteousness makes us saints.  In other words, “redemption” is not about what God did in us, but apart from us in Christ himself.  And that, it is Christ himself (Gal.2.20), who is the source of our life, that is our wisdom, our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption (1Cor.1.30). 

4… We are busy making a spectacle of ourselves before a watching world, rather than our being a people who are much consumed with the Specter of Christ, through Word and Sacrament (1Cor.1.23; Col.1.28).

5… We are busy trying to IM-ME-DIATELY make people “feel good” about themselves, without exalting Christ who died for their ULTIMATE good.

6… We are busy making/maintaining ‘self-centered’ believers who remain disinterested in, bored with, Christ Jesus and Him crucified/risen.

7… We are busy curtailing our message to a culture which knows both a cheap product (culturally-relevant ministry) and a cheap imposter (Christ-less religion) when it sees it!


*** May the Lord have mercy in making us GET OVER OURSELVES!!!





Centered: On Christ or Christian?

Here is what I suspect would be a discussion with a little bite (in a good way!).  Most churches that you either attend, or minister at, are very likely to be found having succumbed to this Gospel-less, Cross-less, Christ-less blight that I have mentioned here before and Miles McKee (in the following sermon) addresses at ‘point-blank-range.’

If you have the stomach (a Spirit wrought fortitude rooted in the Gospel) for it, PLEASE, take some time to listen to and/or read the following:

The Christ Centered Believer  (SERMON BY MILES)

The Gospel and the Believer-centered Believer  (TRANSCRIPT OF SAME SERMON)

My next post will consist of a handful of notes that capture highlights from Miles’ comments.

Christianity: Not “The Gospel and…whatever”

Here are two programs that discuss the *priority* of the Gospel in ALL that the Church is about.

WHITE HORSE INN:  We Preach Christ Crucified


ISSUES ETC: Gospel Driven Church

Some highlights from the first (WHI):

1. After becoming Christians, Christians have a very strong tendency to make becoming a Christian easier than it was for them. Thus missing that the Gospel is not intuitive to the natural man…no matter what coating (i.e., sugar, lemon, etc) is put on it.

2. Preaching today (and probably always has been the majority approach) is a motivational speech wherein ‘Jesus & Friends’ are cited. This has always been a problem…folks wanting to establish their own righteousness, while not fully accepting/understanding that true righteousness is by faith not works (see Rom.3.21-22; 4.5,13,22; 5.17; 8.10; 9.30; 10.3-4,6; and 14.17) . Meaning, sanctification is not about…”Ok, we got that gospel thing down, now lets get busy and holier for God!” No, from start to finish (birth to death) by faith alone!

3. Preaching today (again, always the tendency) is to create a “need” that the pastor, etc can “meet.” All the while, biblical terminology is utilized (emptied its right meaning) in order to sell folks a plan for “fulfilling your destiny.”

4. The Cross is wrongly made out to be an answer to a different set of questions than those the Gospel actually answers. In other words, folks start out on the wrong page and assume that the Gospel “applies” to that very page.

5. Paul sang “one” note…Christ crucified! This and this alone answers man’s greatest and ultimate need, to find acceptance with a thrice Holy God. The foundation of this Throne of Grace, that the Apostle exclusively preached, was made of only true “justice and judgment” (Ps.89.1). It is this Gospel that is the fullest revelation of God’s wrath against human sin (Rom.1.17-18).

The second program (Issues, Etc) is equally good, addressing many of the same concerns…the Gospel ends up being “left behind” by churches/ministries, rather than seeing it as the sole means whereby God makes a people for His name’s sake.

Preachers: Ambassadorial Office

David Gibson has this further word about ‘preachers’:

“Any authority the preacher possesses in the church is necessarily delegated authority, exercised in view of the Chief Shepherd and his appearing (1 Pt. 5:4). Rather like the way a babysitter cares for children while the parents are out for the evening, so the pastor lovingly cares for what does not belong to him and for those who are unspeakably precious to whom they do belong.

“[T]he stance of being a herald means that the preacher must neither appeal to the world without proclamation, nor proclaim to the world without appeal.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

“The appeal is necessary simply because the preacher is not in the pulpit to communicate information, but rather to call for a relationship between the listener and God.

Preachers: Listener…then Speaker

David Gibson has this to say about ‘preachers’:


1)   In coming to the text, preachers bring a pre-understanding-horizon that shapes their perception of the text-horizon. However, the text is capable of reshaping the preacher’s understanding so that repeated exposure to the text results in a closer approximation of its message. Much like conversation with a good friend deepens understanding, so constant listening to the text allows the exegete to “spiral in” on its meaning.

2)   “Expository preaching demands that preachers allow their pre-understanding of the text to be confronted by the text, lest they serve only themselves in their preaching. …The implication is that distorting the Word is a real possibility. The preacher is required to be a listener before being a speaker, for only a clear grasp of the text’s other-ness will prevent distorting it into the preacher’s mold.

3)   “To listen and to listen well takes time. A lot of time. This means that where preachers do not protect sermon preparation time with prosecuting zeal, the end result of the sermon will be the work of those who speak before they listen. The sermon will reveal the kind of people who think they know best before they’ve heard both sides of an argument-the text will be handled in ways that ignore its details and nuances and miss its structure or surprises.

4)   “One of the clearest signs of a sermon not born out of sensitive listening is that the congregation actually gets more Bible, not less, as the preacher draws on a reservoir of knowledge to speak about the text, expanding it, but does not explain the text, expounding it.

5)   “It is conceivable that the preacher’s approach to the sermon text will go hand in hand with the approach to other facets of the ministry. Where the sermons are under-prepared and ill-conceived, so too pastoral relationships will often be underdeveloped and stunted, because genuine listening as a moral imperative is not being adopted as intrinsic to the theological task. The minister will very likely be hurried and busy, an activist, and on the fast-track to becoming a church manager doing God’s work rather than a preacher speaking God’s Word.

Gospel: Preached Intelligibly

David Gibson has helpfully explained:

“Indeed, the gospel message can “only be proclaimed through the mediation of a language normally employed by a broad socio-linguistic group for quite other purposes.”  This amounts to the simple claim that it is the doctrine of creation that requires the Bible to be translated into the languages of the world. It also demands that the preacher’s speech belong to the twenty-first century and not to the seventeenth.

Church: God’s New Humanity

David Gibson has helpfully explained:

“The church is God’s new humanity, an example of the future new creation given in advance to the old creation, a sign of the world to come where everything is brought together under the unending reign of Jesus the King.

“This means that expository preaching, because it is addressed to people whose very existence is defined by the world to come, constantly draws on the reality of the next world to help make sense of the present world. The doctrine of the church ensures that preaching is addressed to “strangers in the world” (1 Pet. 1:1) and provides the challenge to “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13). Preaching for the church roots its ethical imperatives in the eschatological reality of both coming judgment and promised reward (2 Pet. 3:11-14). It interprets suffering as a participation in the frustrated groans of a cosmos waiting for its liberation, and holds out the comfort that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18-21). It also means that the proclamation of the gospel does not offer a dualistic “saving of the soul” or merely a “ticket to heaven.” Instead, ecclesiology ensures that expository preaching heralds a whole new way of being human in the world-reconciliation to God and to others by participating in the first-fruits of the new creation.

Scripture: God Speaks

David Gibson has explained:

“God himself speaks in the words of the Bible and the aim of the sermon is an encounter with him. For this reason, a repentant believer, a comforted congregation, or a worshipping convert are all legitimate goals of a sermon, and none could be realized without the conviction that what the text says, God says. This conviction also ensures a clear distinction between the authoritative Scripture and an authoritarian preacher. The former is theologically warranted by Scripture’s ontology and gives preaching its cutting edge; the latter denies the very definition of expository preaching by substituting the messenger for the message.”

Ministry: Reflection of Christ Alone?

Gerhardus Vos once wrote:


“Paul beholds the glory of Christ as in a mirror, or, according to another rendering, reflects it as a mirror.  His entire task, both on its communicative and on its receptive side, can be summed up in his reflecting back the Christ-glory caught by himself unto others.  To behold Christ and to make others behold him is the substance of his ministry.  All the distinctive elements of Paul’s preaching relate to Christ, and bear upon their face his image and superscription.  God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. In the procuring of righteousness Christ is the one efficient cause.  In Christ believers were chosen, called, justified, and will be glorified.  To be converted is to die with Christ and to rise with him.  The entire Christian life, root and stem and branch and blossom, is one continuous fellowship with Christ.”