Churches must recover the preaching of Scripture, Mohler asserts in new book

Communications Staff — October 20, 2008

Preaching has fallen on hard times in the 21st century.

A loss of confidence in the power of the Word of God, an infatuation with technology, a desire to focus on felt needs and numerous other factors have conspired to create a pronounced decline in genuine biblical preaching, R. Albert Mohler Jr., argues in a new book, “He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World” (Moody Press).

Mohler, who serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, diagnoses this illness which has ravaged the evangelical church and also sets forth the cure: a recovery of God-centered, Christ-focused, expositional preaching of the Scriptures.

“The last few decades have been a period of wanton experimentation in many pulpits,” Mohler writes.

“One of the most troubling developments is the decline and eclipse of expository preaching. Numerous influential voices within evangelicalism are suggesting that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations—messages that avoid preaching a biblical text and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.”

After setting forth the dilemma of the eclipse of preaching in the preface, Mohler spends 10 chapters charting the path toward a reformation in evangelical pulpits. In the opening chapter, Mohler, who is also the author of “Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists,” and “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues With Timeless Truth,” argues that preaching must be viewed most fundamentally as the central element of authentic Christian worship. Mohler demonstrates that the Bible itself anticipates this reality.

“The centrality of preaching is seen in both testaments of Scripture,” Mohler writes. “It was the apostle Paul, for example, who told Timothy in no uncertain terms, ‘I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, Preach the Word!’

“In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment, and thus are left with the modest hope of including a brief message of encouragement or exhortation at the conclusion of the service.”

Next, Mohler establishes the ground of preaching: the Triune God of Scripture. “God has spoken, and He has commanded us to speak of Him,” Mohler writes. Authentic preaching is necessarily God-centered, he argues, contending that all preaching must focus on the redemptive work of Christ with the full confidence of the minister that the Holy Spirit will work in concert with the Word to change the hearts of sinful people.

Authentic preaching is also expository, Mohler asserts; that is, clear proclamation of God’s Word arises out of the simple yet profound task of reading the Bible and explaining it. The preacher’s sole authority is the Word of God, Mohler contends, and his purpose is to preach and teach the Word for the edification of the church.

In chapter 6, Mohler identifies another shortcoming of much modern-day preaching: it focuses on the “little stories” of Scripture without giving any thought to the overarching storyline of God’s redeeming love in Christ. The Christian story that centers on Christ is the story that explains all others, he writes, and it is a story which unfolds across the Bible, one that may be outlined in four words: creation, fall, redemption and consummation.

“The Christian story is a metanarrative—a grand story that explains all other stories, and to which all other stories must answer. As Christians, we actually claim that we are possessed by the one story to which all other stories are accountable.

“When we preach, we must remember that what we
proclaim is not just a little story, and not just a series of little stories. It is the big picture. We are accountable to the big story of God’s work as it is narrated in Scripture…Our people can have a deep repository of biblical facts and stories, and yet know nothing about how any of it fits together.”

In the concluding chapters, Mohler argues that every pastor is called to be a theologian in the local church; this is particularly crucial in the 21st century because many have imbibed the postmodern notion that absolute truth does not exist. Pastors must be ready to operate courageously in an age that is characterized by a spiritual confusion that is hostile to truth claims, he writes.

The book concludes with an exhortation to and encouragement of preachers: preach with urgency because the Word is God’s chosen means to open the blind eyes of sinners. Ezekiel’s sermon to the dry bones in Ezekiel 37 encourages preachers with the truth that God works powerfully through the preaching of His Word, Mohler concludes.

“No doubt, the challenges are great, and the frustrations are sometimes even greater,” Mohler writes.

“But we do not preach because we thought it would be easy. We preach because our hearts are broken by the spiritual death and destruction all around us—and because we see the spark of hope in the question our sovereign, life-giving God put to Ezekiel and now puts to us: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So we answer as he did, with simple faith and deep trust: ‘O Lord God, You know.’”

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