Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. P&R: Phillipsburgh, 2009.

In Gordon’s opinion, less then 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach an even mediocre sermon. The subtitle of the book represents the reason: “The Media Have Shaped the Messengers.” Basically, he says that most preachers have not developed the skills to be an effective preacher, namely the ability to read and write. This phenomenon adds to the preacher’s inability to prepare and deliver a sermon that, according to Gordon, must answer at least these three questions: 1) What was the point or thrust of the sermon?; 2) Was this point adequately established in the text that was read?; and 3) Were the applications legitimate applications of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversation about other possible applications?

According to Gordon the current cultural atmosphere is greatly to blame. Concerning the preacher he says “The problem is the condition of the typical ministerial candidate when he arrives at seminary. . . A culture formerly dominated by language (reading and writing) has become a culture dominated by images, even moving images. . . As a consequence of this cultural shift, those human sensibilities (one’s capacities to know, understand, experience, or appreciate certain realities) essential to expository preaching have largely disappeared, so that a theological seminary attempting to teach a person who is not comfortable with texts or with writing organized prose is analogous to a theological seminary attempting to teach a dachshund to speak French.”

After defending his thesis for the first three chapters, he then moves to some general comments on sermon content. He outlines four different types of sermons that represent the majority of Christian sermons in our culture, and which fall way short of biblical expository preaching in his opinion. In this section he expresses what he considers to be the essential focal point of every sermon: the Gospel. He says “it is never appropriate, in my estimation for one word of moral counsel ever to proceed from a Christian pulpit that is not clearly, in its context, redemptive.” This means that the preacher should always feed the flock of God by proclaiming the fitness and competence of Christ in his mediatorial work. In this way faith is nourished.

Gordon concludes the book with a chapter entitled “Teaching Johnny to Preach” where he gives very practical advice on how the preacher can cultivate skills which develop Christ-Centered expository preaching.

Gordon is a very good writer who speaks about one of the most important topics in the church today. He defends his thesis well and gives good practical suggestions in application. Why Johnny Can’t Preach is an excellent book that should be read by all preachers and those who are involved in teaching ministry.

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