The state of modern preaching is frankly quite sorry. I’ve made that statement more than once in private conversation only to hear the reply, “Yes…ours is not the day of great preaching.” Such a reply misses the point; I agree that our day is not a day of great preaching. I would go further, however, and say that ours is not a day of even mediocre preaching.
The question that confronts me on a regular basis is “How did this happen?” I think part of the answer is a disdain for older, proven methods of sermon preparation, and a desire to do something new or different. Another part of the puzzle is the changing culture that doesn’t understand the why of preaching – that is, why this distinct method of conveying information.
Part of the disdain for older, proven methods of sermon preparation is an uneasiness with applying the text. There are some in the redemptive-historical school of preaching (think of Klaas Schilder or Michael Horton) who argue that any application of Old Testament texts (like that of Elijah, for instance) is a descent into pure moralism and doesn’t point men to Christ. Frankly, I wonder what they do with passages like James 5:17-18. This viewpoint isn’t all that common, however, so it can’t explain the dearth of applicatory preaching in our era.
I think there are a couple of things that explain the lack of application in modern preaching, and they’re sort of connected.
- We’re into the second generation of preachers that have lived through sermons that were chock full of really bad application (application that had no relationship to the text or to the hearers), so the natural over-correction is no application.
- We’re also into the second generation of men that heard sermons that were all application. Think of sermons in the seeker-driven churches with titles like “7 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage” or “5 Ways to Raise Your Children For Jesus”. Generally speaking, what little exposition there is in these sermons is quite poor, if not even rising to the level of twisting Scripture, and the gospel is generally absent. So the over-reaction is to preach sermons with solid, deep exposition, no application.
A good example of the first problem is the pastor of my parent’s church. He’s been preaching a topical sermon series on marriage and sexuality, and in applying the text has been speaking of the evils of sex before marriage. The problem is that the median age of his congregation is seventy-years-old. Telling a seventy-year-old church member not to have sex before marriage seems a little bit odd, no?
From the beginning of the Reformation onward, even among those theologians that weren’t Reformed in the Calvinistic sense, preaching was defined as “the exposition and application of the Word”. The Puritans were masters of application (although they did tend to preach sermons that were all application and no exposition on occasion), and so were preachers like Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon.
In our next post, I’ll offer some advice on how to preach applicatory sermons…