T. David Gordon: Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Philipsburg, P. & R. 2009) Pp.108
This slender volume deserves to have an influence far above its size. Many have lamented the terrible state of the Evangelical pulpit today, that so many evangelical pastors are, frankly, lousy preachers. They can get up into the pulpit and ramble on for 45 minutes, and no-one has a clue what the point of the sermon was five minutes after it was delivered.
There is general agreement that this is so, where there has been little work is on why it is so. Gordon’s book is an essay in that direction. He argues that the problem is not, at least in Reformed circles, that the seminaries have declined, but that the students going in are rather different from what they were, having been formed by a culture where reading texts and writing considered, careful, structured essays are less common than they were in the past. Simply put, our preachers are suffering from an overdose of the trivial, and have not been taught how to read or how to write – at least not carefully.
Chapter 1 is dedicated to the thesis that “Johnny Can’t Preach.” R.L. Dabney’s criteria for preaching are used as a framework for good preaching, and some preliminary points as to why this is the case are set out. The next chapter is entitled “Johnny Can’t Read (Texts),” and argues that modern people, on the whole, do not know how to read a text deeply. Chapter three is entitled “Johnny Can’t Write,” a fact that most teachers today – and magazine editors – can attest! Chapter four is “A Few Thoughts About Content”, where Gordon explains some examples of bad preaching, and suggests that Evangelical preaching needs to be… well, Evangelical! The final chapter, “Teaching Johnny to Preach,” suggests some ways forward.
This is a unique work, and deserves to be read by all involved in ministerial training – especially the students. I then prescribe a volume of John Henry Newman (for style alone, I’m not going Roman Catholic), the works of Benjamin B. Warfield, and plenty of Calvin, all read carefully for style as well as information. Where possible ministers ought to write book reviews for a magazine – there are plenty of magazines out there, and part of writing a review involves reading a book carefully. Sadly the blog doesn’t help as it should, since there is no editor to tell the minister that his writing style is atrocious.
Get this book from your local Christian Bookshop. But if you think you'll get funny looks asking for Newman, you can get one of his books online. Or just ask for G.K. Chesterton.