In the fourth chapter of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Gordon advocates that “Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ,” (70). Gordon goes on to fill out his understanding of Christ-centered preaching when he says, “Even when the faithful exposition of particular texts requires some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commanded behavior to be itself a matter of being rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ,” (71). He suggests that rather than divorcing behavior from the gospel, that as the “people’s confidence in Christ grows, they do, ordinarily and inevitably, bear fruit that accords with faith,” (78). He then goes on to poetically encourage ministers to feed their people full of the gospel:
Fill the sails of your hearers’ souls with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer, and they will trust him as their Sanctifier, and long to see his fruit in their lives. Fill their minds and imaginations with a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ in his person, and the flock will long to be like him. Impress upon their weak and wavering hearts the utter competence of the mediation of the One who ever lives to make intercession for them, and they will long to serve and comfort others, even as Christ has served and comforted them. (78)
The point is that it is only Christ-centered and saturated sermons that can feed and nurture faith in the souls of believers.
Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ. (76, emphasis in original)
In the quote above, we find Gordon’s four failed alternatives to Christ-centered preaching: 1) moralism; 2) How-To; 3) Introspection; and 4) Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War. I found his comments concerning all the categories enlightening, but especially the fourth. In his discussion, Gordon does an excellent job of laying out a clear and easy to understand perspective of preaching that corresponds to the spirituality of the church, or the Two-Kingdom theory–that there is a distinction between the city of God (the church) and the city of man (culture).
Gordon argues that preaching should be done in light of keeping the two kingdoms separate and realizing that preaching is attached to the city of God and not the city of man. He supports this position with two main arguments. First, he makes a Natural Law argument that preaching that is devoted to commenting on what’s wrong with our culture and what ought to be done to improve it either by individuals or even worse by the coercive power of government is wrong because it is out of step with the nature of our country. The beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic is that they created a form of government founded upon a commitment to liberty. So important was liberty to them that it was more important than any good thing that individuals or a coercive federal government could force on persons.
The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. . . . The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others. (85, footnote 14)
In addition to this Natural Law argument, he second argument is biblical-theological. He notes that many in our churches love to live in imagined and self-made worlds of good guys and bad guys, and to think that they are part of the good guys. The problem with this is that Genesis 3 instructs that in Adam, we are all sinners and revolt against the reign of God and that each of us, therefore, prefer our own wills to the will of God. The Bible goes on to teach us that now we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2) and are utterly incapable, in and of ourselves, of changing our situation and our behavior. This inability is also true for government. The government cannot change us or rescue us from our revolt; education cannot enlighten our darkened minds; not even the church can deliver us from our darkened understanding that considers our own way better than God’s way; and surely coercive human governments cannot cure souls. The only answer is Jesus: “Only the God-man, the last Adam, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice and present intercession at the right hand of God, can rescue any of us from our revolt,” (86).
Because his words are so clear and helpful, here is a lengthy sampling:
So the one inadmissible thing to a culture warrior (that cultual change is out of our hands) is the basic subtext of everything the Bible teaches.
The culture warrior refuses to acknowledge that true and significant cultural change can happen only when the individual members of the culture have forsaken their own self-centeredness, and have revolted against their revolt against God. Worse, the culture warrior assumes that coerced change in behavior is desirable–that if we can pass a law that outlaws sin, this will somehow make people and culture better (when, in fact, we just become more devious and learn how to evade detection, adding deception to our other sins). Culture warriors are not content with the two legitimate ways in which humans may exert influence on the behavior of others; through reasoned discourse and the power of example. The power of example is too costly and too slow, and besides, we don’t wish to be around unbelievers much anyway. And reasoned discourse is beyond the capacity of most of us today; most could never explain convincingly to another why one behavioral choice is wiser than another. So we resort to coercion: using the coercive power of the government to enforce external compliance to the ways of God.
Such a view is so contrary to everything the Bible teaches that its prevelance must be accounted for as a kind of blindness that is due to misplaced partriotism. . . . The particular blindness of the culture warrior is that he permits himself to think God is pleased by coerced behavior; by requiring people to say “one nation, under God” even if they do not yet believe in God (which strikes me as an instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain). The culture warrior’s religion and his patriotism are in conflict. His Christianity teaches him that God is not pleased with mere external confession of insincere religious faith; but his patriotism just cannot accept the fact that his culture is movinging in directions of which he disapproves.
. . . Haven’t we already had a historical experiment that is precisely what the culture warriors want? Wasn’t ancient Israel a nation whose constitution demanded obedience to the revealed laws of God, and didn’t its executive branch use coercion to attain such obedience? Did Israel not, effectively, have the Ten Commandments in its courthouse? Yet which prophet ever had anything good to say about the nation? Indeed, as Jesus and the apostles more bluntly put it, which of the prophets did they not kill? If theocracy didn’t work in Israel, where God divinely instituted it, why do people insist on believing it will work in places where God manifestly has not instituted it? (86-88, emphasis in original)
Preaching that is biblical and apostolic will only be recovered through an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository proclamations of scripture to the church–not to the culture. There is a proper place for laws and government, but not as the answer for man’s rebellion against God’s rule and his perishing in sin–people need Christ. So give them Christ!