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Preaching That Can’t Be Ignored

What if the WWJD fad had caught on with preachers? What if preachers asked, “How would Jesus preach?” and then actually aspired to follow his example? Things might be different in a lot of pulpits; because Jesus’ preaching showed no sensitivity to fashion and trends, or to the preferences of his hearers. MacArthur writes:

img. . . consider how Jesus’ preaching might come across if He spoke that way in a stadium filled with twenty-first-century evangelicals. Because let’s be candid: Jesus’ style of preaching was nothing at all like most of the popular preaching we hear today—and His style of preaching isn’t likely to generate the kind of enthusiastic arm waving and feel-good atmosphere today’s Christians typically like to see at their mass meetings and outdoor music festivals.
   Survey the current plethora of websites devoted to supplying preachers with prefabricated sermon material, and you’ll get a very clear picture of what constitutes “great preaching” in the minds of most twenty-first-century evangelicals: trendiness; funny anecdotes; slick packaging; clever audio-visual aids; and short, stylish, topical homilies on themes borrowed from pop culture. Favorite subjects include marriage and sex, human relationships, self improvement, personal success, the pursuit of happiness, and anything else that pleases the audience—especially if the topic or sermon title can easily be tied into the latest hit movie, must-watch TV series, or popular song. In the trendiest churches, you are more likely to hear the preacher quote lyrics from Bono and U2 than from David and the Psalms. One megachurch sponsored a four-part sermon series in which their pastor did a word-by-word exegesis of passages taken from Dr. Seuss books, starting with Horton Hatches the Egg. The pastor of one of America’s five largest churches put a king-size bed on the platform as a prop while he preached a five-week series on sex. A year or so later, the same church made national headlines by promoting yet another series with a “sex challenge” so blatantly inappropriate that even some in the secular media expressed shock and outrage.
   Such shenanigans come under the rubric of relevance in the catalog of contemporary church-growth strategies. Sermons featuring straight biblical exposition, precise doctrine, difficult truths, or negative-sounding doctrines are strongly discouraged by virtually all he leading gurus of cultural relevance. And the people filling the evangelical pews “love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:31). “Speak to us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10) is their constant demand. Teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, (cf. 2. Timothy 3:16) are out. Catering to itchy ears is in (cf. 4:23). No truly clued-in preacher nowadays would think to fill his message with reproof, rebuke, or exhortation. (cf. 4:3). Instead, he does his best to suit the felt needs, preoccupations, and passions of the audience. Many contemporary pastors study pop culture as diligently as the Puritans used to study Scripture. They let congregational opinion polls determine what they should preach, and they are prepared to shift directions quickly if the latest survey tells them their approval ratings are beginning to drop.
   That, of course, is precisely what Paul told Timothy not to do. “Preach the word! . . . in season and out of season” (v. 2).
   The contemporary craving for shallow sermons that please and entertain is at least partly rooted in the popular myth that Jesus Himself was always likable, agreeable, winsome, and at the cutting edge of His culture’s fashions. The domesticated, meek-and-mild Savior of today’s Sunday-school literature would never knowingly or deliberately offend someone in a sermon—would He?
   As we have seen, even in a cursory look at Jesus’ preaching ministry reveals a totally different picture. Jesus sermons usually featured hard truths, harsh words, and high-octane controversy. His own disciples complained that His preaching was too hard to hear!
   That’s why Jesus’ preaching heads the list of things that make Him impossible to ignore. No preacher has ever been more bold, prophetic, or provocative. No style of public ministry could possibly be more irksome to those who prefer a comfortable religion. Jesus made it impossible for any hearer to walk away indifferent. Some left angry; some were deeply troubled by what He had to say; many had their eyes opened; and many more hardened their hearts against hiss message. Some became His disciples, and others became His adversaries. But no one who listened to Him preach for very long could possibly remain unchanged or apathetic.

—John MacArthur, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 161–162.

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