Dear gentle reader (and the others too), thank you for taking the time to read my last post on preaching. I was shocked to learn that it was read upwards of 15,000 times. For many bloggers that won’t seem like a lot but it is very encouraging to me. Not that I don’t appreciate both of my regular readers, mind you. I suppose I should thank you for reading this one too. So, Gracias!
As I sifted through some of the feedback I noticed that there were some sharp objections to the article. Also, I learned that not only do many Calvinists believe in reprobation, some of them practice it. Some even seemed to be experts in Dante’s Divine Comedy as well—seeing that they told me exactly which “circle of perdition” was awaiting the likes of me. So please allow me to offer something of an apologia for my provocations. (Note: I can only defend the things that I really did say. I can’t defend the words that some of the more clairvoyant readers have cleverly divined and generously attributed to me)
Calvinistic Bona Fides
Contrary to recent speculations to the contrary, I actually am a Calvinist. If Calvinism were bourbon I would take mine neat in a dirty glass–and always 100 proof. If there were 537 “points” I would embrace 539. I am as far from Arminianism as a goose egg is from the North Pole. The piece was not written as an exercise in self-loathing by someone who is ashamed of his doctrinal commitments, or by one who wishes he could be like the cool kids down at the First Church of the Unfettered Will, Inc. I am not a soft Calvinist. I am not a lapsing Calvinist. I am a supralapsarian for Pete’s sake.
Calvinism is true. But I think that we would better serve our side of the theological street if we would get into the habit of sweeping off our own sidewalks. We really don’t have to worry about the fellow from four streets over tracking mud into our houses. But we do have to check our own boots. Sweep your street. Broom where you are planted. Sometimes we have a tendency to curse the neighbors for the foul smell when we are actually standing knee-deep in our own predestinarian poo.
This is not to suggest that Calvinism is the problem. It is only to point out that it certainly has the potential to create some problems if it comes down with rabies and starts chasing its own tail. To extend the metaphor, this could be one reason that the mailman keeps running past our houses.
I’m Not Talking About Them
Some criticized the article because they felt as though I was picking on John MacArthur, John Piper, or one of their other favorite mega-ministers. This is not the case at all. I respect and admire these men. Furthermore, no one picks on Johnny Mac. I didn’t want the article to lose its polemical edge by sentencing it to an excruciating death by qualification. Having said that, the best preachers in the world have historically been Calvinists. The best preachers in the world today are Calvinists. But this does not in any way contradict the assertion that, on the whole, Calvinists are still bad preachers.
Now, before you whip out your iPhones and start pointing with hyperextended fingers to your podcast playlist, please hear me out. Those guys may be excellent preachers. Don’t look at your playlist. Look at your local White Pages. I am talking about the Reformed churches in our communities—where we actually would be attending if only they weren’t so terrible.
Some of you might be taking this personally. Very good. I am also talking about us. I’m not Spurgeon and you aren’t Lloyd-Jones. We are bad preachers. But we should not be content to stay that way. A mantle has fallen on our shoulders. This would be a fine time to start smiting rivers hither and thither and crying out, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
Pointers from a Primitive Pulpiteer
In Ecclesiastes 12:9-12, the “Preacher” provides for us a fascinating portrait of the minister in his study. You can see him there with furrowed brow as he wrestles with the text. He longs to make truth the central component of his message. But he also understands that the truth must be communicated well if it is to achieve maximal effectiveness. So there he is, weighing his arguments; pondering his points. See him giving great attention to the structure of the message. He is carefully crafting his sermon; arranging every part so as to teach his people knowledge. But knowledge and truth aren’t sufficient in themselves. They must be adorned in such a way that they prompt joy in the hearers. The congregant must not just be brought to believe the truth; he must be brought to rejoice in the truth. So, the Preacher, because he is wise, seeks to find words of delight. Then, as a wise builder, he drives the beautiful truths of Sacred Scripture down deep into the souls of his people, fastening them like nails in a sure place. The truth sets them free because it has been set free in all of its glory. That’s a sermon fit for a King.
May God burden us with a sense of holy dissatisfaction. Mediocrity is a menace. Complacency is compromise. Apathy is but shoulders shrugging their way into apostasy. To whom much is given, much shall be required.
We may not be the best but we can be better. We must do better. We cannot continue to offer up wood, hay, and stubble from our pulpits. We aren’t excellent preachers but nothing less than excellence will do. We don’t aspire to excellence so that people will go away saying, “What a sermon,” we aspire to excellence so they will go away saying, “What a Savior!”