by David Dunlap
The doctrinal preaching of the word of God is
a vital necessity. The proclamation of the scriptures with clarity and
precision is God's method of transforming the lives of men and women. It is
the authoritative link between the heart of God and the souls of men. The
modern world has had enough of theories, conjecture and rationale -- it hungers
for the truth of God plainly spoken. It longs for the "thus saith the Lord".
It is waiting for men of God, like Jonah of old to whom God spoke, saying,
"Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that
I bid thee"
(Jonah 3:1). Unfortunately, the preaching of the word of God has fallen out
of favor with many evangelical church leaders. Today there is a growing
opposition toward doctrinal preaching of the word of God. Social action is
more appealing to many Christian leaders. They question the use of mere words,
when the lost of this world are looking for deeds. In addition, Church growth
experts contend that biblical preaching is old-fashioned; therefore, videos,
panel forums, discussions, music, and multimedia presentations are now filling
the place once occupied by preaching. Evangelical leaders defend their views
by stating that the churches are filled, para-church ministries are in demand,
and Christians are busier than ever. But what is the spiritual condition of
the church? Are these new methods in agreement with the word of God? Let us
examine these issues more closely.
Dangerous Trends in Evangelical Churches
Those who continue to value preaching are
calling for radical changes in the traditional methods. A growing number of
church leaders throughout North America maintain that the faithful preaching of
the word of God is no longer an effective means of reaching the lost and
developing mature believers. The cry now is for preaching that addresses
"relevancy" and the "felt-needs" of the audience. This technique is now being
espoused by many church growth institutes and ministries throughout the U.S.
and Canada. However, under closer investigation one discovers that this
technique was examined and rejected by Bible-based Christians 70 years ago,
when the modernist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick urged its use in Christian
churches. In 1928, he scolded godly men of the Book, writing,
"Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible and then proceed to give their
historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the
theology of the writer, are grossly misusing the Bible. Let them not end but
start with thinking of the audience's vital needs, and then let the whole
sermon be organized around their endeavor to meet those needs. This is all good
sense and good psychology."
Sadly today, a growing number of evangelical leaders are urging the use of this
same technique, albeit redressed in evangelical terminology. In his book on
reaching out to "Baby Boomers", Doug Murren, the pastor of a large charismatic
congregation in the Pacific northwest, provides readers with the following
seven suggestions for preparing messages:
It is remarkable that all of these suggestions are adapted to meet man's
social, emotional and material needs; furthermore, not one refers to the word
of God or to meeting man's most important need--spiritual separation from God.
These new methods are not resting upon the bedrock of the word of God, but
rather upon the shifting sand of psychological and humanistic principles.
Visit the "how-to" sections in your local bookstores
Regularly have a small group submit a list of their greatest challenges at
home and on the job.
Similarly, acquire inventories of needs from several secular (unsaved) people
in your community.
Periodically, examine issues of Time, Newsweek, and USA Today, as these
publications are on the cutting edge of the felt needs and fears people are
Apply practical aims to every study, message or program in your church.
Practice composing practical, catching titles for your messages.
Limit your time to 20 minutes. And don't forget to keep your messages light
and informal, liberally sprinkling them with humor and personal anecdotes.
The Need for Doctrinal Preaching
This raises several new questions: What
negative consequences will these new methods bring? Is this new preaching
method harmless? Is it merely an evangelistic fad and nothing more?
Furthermore, should Bible-believing Christians embrace it as an effective
evangelistic tool? A closer investigation may serve to help us answer these and
other questions. Professor James Davidson Hunter, a researcher from the
University of Virginia, has studied the views of evangelicals at 16 leading
seminaries and Bible colleges, and reported his findings in 1987 in his book
entitled "Evangelicalism: the Coming Generation." Hunter argues convincingly
that seminaries are moving away from doctrinal orthodoxy.
Among the students he interviewed, over 50% said that the Bible should not be
taken literally in matters of science and history. There were 33% who
disagreed with the statement, "The only hope for heaven is through personal
faith in Jesus Christ"; 46% felt preaching to unbelievers "about hell" is in
poor taste.3 Jay Kesler, the president of Taylor University, a Christian
college in the Midwest, stated, "I agree with Hunter's observations of the
changes taking place not only at Christian colleges and seminaries, but in
evangelical culture generally."
Moreover, in 1994 Josh McDowell Ministries conducted an extensive study on
the Christian character of evangelical young people in the U.S. In the study
3,795 young people between the ages of 11-18 were asked 193 questions
concerning their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although 86% stated that they had trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, the
results of the survey uncovered an array of troubling statistics. The study
revealed that 45% watched MTV at least once a week; 57% said that the Bible was
not a reliable standard of truth. The study also revealed that many young
people are cheating, smoking, gambling, watching X-rated movies and engaging in
Further research has shown that many Christians do not possess a satisfactory
understanding of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity; such as
justification, the deity of Christ, inerrancy, imminency and sanctification.
Why are evangelical young people engaging in such harmful activities? Why is
there so little understanding of biblical doctrine? One reason must be-- the
failure of the evangelical churches to preach and teach the great doctrines of
the faith. When the Holy Scriptures are taught with conviction, lives and
lifestyles will be transformed to the glory of God (Isa. 66:2).
The New Testament Model of Preaching
The New Testament models this practice of
doctrinal preaching and demonstrates the blessing that will follow. The
preaching of doctrine characterized the teaching ministry of the Lord Jesus
Christ and the Apostles. As Christ was teaching His disciples, it was said of
"He taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in His doctrine"
(Mark 4:2); as others heard His teaching it was said,
"...the people were astonished at His doctrine"
(Mt. 7:24); the early New Testament Church
"continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine"
(Acts 2:42); and they were exhorted to
"Preach the word...exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine"
(2 Tim. 4:2); they were entreated to refute the false teachers with doctrine,
"Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by
sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers"
(Titus1:9). Doctrinal preaching was the charge, challenge, and resource to all
who sought to serve and honor the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another crucial factor in favor of doctrinal
preaching is its ability to preserve the church from false teaching. Doctrinal
preaching by definition involves doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction
(2 Tim. 3:15). Corrective preaching, therefore should address doctrinal error
and also the false teachers who are bringing the error. Paul charges the New
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses
contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them"
(Romans 16:17). The failure to do so will open the door to false teachers and
cause many sincere believers to be spiritually imperiled. A sad account is
given by Henry Theissen, a former professor of theology at Wheaton College, who
points out that in the absence of passionate doctrinal preaching, doctrinal
error found fertile soil in which to flourish, leading to the formation of the
Jehovah's Witnesses. He writes,
"Oratorical preaching may bind the congregation to the preacher; but when the
preacher leaves, the people leave also. It has been often demonstrated that
only when people are thoroughly taught the word of God do they become strong
Christians and effective workers for Christ. There is a definite connection
between doctrinal preaching and mature spiritual growth. Thomas DeWitt
Talmadge may be cited as a man of great oratorical powers who built up a large
congregation by his ability. However soon after Talmadge's death, the Brooklyn
Tabernacle(which seated 4,000 persons) fell into the hands of Charles Taze
Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society(known to us
today as the Jehovah's Witnesses)."
Today, the total number of Jehovah's Witnesses world-wide is estimated to be
11.5 million strong making the Jehovah's Witnesses the largest religious cult
in the world. However, this sad situation may have been averted through
vigorous doctrinal preaching. May this illustration serve as a warning and
wake-up call to all serious believers. New Testament churches must put aside
the current popular fads, the glitter and sparkle of the newest trends, and
return to the rock-solid foundation of doctrinal preaching and the unchanging
power of the word of God. Then the church will be strong, believers vigorous
for Christ, and the world attentive to the life-changing power of the gospel.
(1) Harry Emerson Fosdick,
"What is the Matter with Preaching", Harpers Magazine,
July, 1928, p135
(2) Doug Murren,
The Baby Boomerang,
(Regal Books, Glendale, CA, 1990), p. 227-228
(3) James Davison Hunter,
Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation,
(University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1987), p. 198
(4) Josh McDowell, "Help Your Teen Make The Right Choice",
Focus on the Family Magazine,
Nov. 1994, p. 4
(5) Henry Thiessen
Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology,
(Eerdmans Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 194), p. 30
"A preachers first business is to impart knowledge, and then our purpose must be to lead those whom we teach to obedience. Therefore, our goal is not to illuminate the intellect or to move the emotions but to bring men into right relationships with eternal things."
G. Campbell Morgan
"Does a man wish to attract crowds? Well get back to the bible. Don't you think God knows how to interest people? What we need today is men who believe in the bible from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet."
D. L. Moody
"Earthly principles will not do as guidance for heavenly men. The wisdom of this world is utterly opposed to the wisdom of heaven. Human philosophies center in self. The wisdom that is from above centers in God and His word."
H. A. Ironside
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