Three reasons why pastors should preach about the public square
Christian pastors find themselves in an odd position today. There isn’t really a clear model of how to engage the broader public conversation about morals, laws, cultural developments and the spirit of the age. Not many of the young and restless crowd aspire to be culture warriors, and the Moral Majority looms large in the thinking of many. But while many younger pastors know how they don’t want to get involved, few have a positive vision for public engagement.
So here are a few quick thoughts on why pastors should carefully but convictionally speak up about broader issues.
1. The church body needs wisdom to live well in a fallen world.
[tweetable]The Christian church exists to serve wisdom and truth to a world starving for both.[/tweetable] This ministry is grounded in the proclamation of the Word of God. But preaching from an ancient text does not mean that the pulpit is sealed off from present realities. Rather, ancient wisdom collides with modern crises, equipping believers to image Christ in a world entranced with salvific knock-offs. Pastors are those appointed to mediate guidance to their people and thus enable the church body as a whole to be “salt and light,” per Matthew 5:13-16.
2. The secular culture needs to hear from the true culture.
I am borrowing from Stanley Hauerwas here, who has made the provocative point that the church needs to stop yearning to be like the world. Too often, we lose sight of who we are in Christ because our eyes have wandered and we covet the identity of fallen sinners or cultures. [tweetable]Pastors are appointed by God to help their people see that the church walks in the light and all others in darkness.[/tweetable] We, the “in Christ” people, are the true culture (John 14:6). We say this without arrogance, but with a sense of surprise. God has shown mercy to us, and so we may show it to fellow sinners.
[tweetable]The church tastes true delight, and the world only samples a counterfeit.[/tweetable] Pastors cannot help but pull the mask off of worldly thinking and harmful societal developments as they preach and teach and disciple. To riff off of Tim Keller, pastors must practice a two-fold program of cultural engagement: deconstruction and demystification of cultural idols, and reconstruction and re-enchantment of a gospel-shaped worldview. This will surely involve interacting with and critiquing our fallen world.
3. Believers have historically been change agents because of strong pulpits.
Behind the proto-free market of Geneva was the interest-denouncing homiletics of John Calvin. Behind the world-defying political advocacy of William Wilberforce was the world-defying, sin-targeting preaching of John Newton. Behind the abolitionist activity of the nineteenth-century “New Divinity” in New England was the theocentric worldview of Jonathan Edwards, which comprehended all of life as within the purchase and mission of God and his people. Behind the Hitler-defying witness of the Confessing Church of 1940s Germany was the courageous pulpit ministry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In these and countless other examples, believers were propelled into the public square as evangelists and change agents. Evangelicals are too timid today. We don’t often study our own inspiring public square heritage, and we don’t apply it to our own day. If we will do so, however, we will find fresh faith, and derive fresh confidence in the power of God to unleash flourishing in our world where Satan has spread disease and death.
This is a much broader topic, one that I’ll be teaching on in the Southern Seminary course titled “The Pastor in the Public Square” in conjunction with the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky. We’ll tackle these ideas and much more. Come study with R. Albert Mohler Jr. and me as we work through this inspiring and stretching material. Your pastorate may never be the same.
The Pastor in the Public Square course is being offered at the graduate and undergraduate levels and may be eligible for transferable class credit. Southern Seminary will also be offering A Theology of Evangelism with Billy Graham School Dean Adam W. Greenway, also offered at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Learn more about these courses, their class schedules and download the course syllabus here.
Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College and executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Risky Gospel is available at all major Christian bookstores.