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Secularized Preaching

A Crisis Among Southern Baptists

Lee Weeks

Secularized preaching, heavy on opinion and light on doctrine, is to blame for an increasingly "widespread biblical ignorance among Southern Baptists," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"I believe there is a crisis indeed in Southern Baptist preaching, and it is a crisis to which we had better give our attention," Mohler said September 4th during a chapel address on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC.

"I believe it is seen and evidenced by immature and even (biblically) ignorant Christians in the pew, many falling prey to false doctrines," Mohler said. "It is seen by an increasingly worldly church proclaiming an evermore worldly message we see not just out in the world but in the church confusion, secularity, lack of discipline, weak and absent doctrine."

Preachers of the gospel must be true to their calling by following the apostle Paul's charge to his protege Timothy to "preach the Word," Mohler stated. "That imperative had better be the imperative by which you enter the pulpit," he asserted.

Preachers on both ends of the theological spectrum, Mohler said, too often are concerned about giving "itching ears what itching ears want to hear."

"On the left wing of the church, the Bible's authority and inspiration are often rejected and thus the Scriptures are entirely absent. But among evangelicals, the Bible's authority and inspiration are confessed, but the Scriptures are often abandoned. Evangelicals are so easily seduced by the culture around us. The Bible is often displaced by the authority of popular culture, pragmatic concerns and personal experience."

Yet without God's Word, Mohler said, there would be nothing to preach.

"This canon which came together by the inspiration of God and the superintendency of the Holy Spirit is the canon of Scripture that does not err, will never mislead and is the substance of our message, or we are preaching some other gospel."

Still there are those who scoff at the notion the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, Mohler said.

Mohler quoted from a book by David Buttrick, homiletics professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, Preaching To Captives: The Liberation of Preaching.

"So the Bible offers meaning--not in every little passage; some Bible passages may be largely irrelevant or even sub-Christian--the Bible offers meaning by handing out a story with a beginning and an end and, in between, a narrative understanding of how God may interface with our sinful humanity."

And Mohler quoted Edward Farley, professor of theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School, who wrote in a 1994 article in Theology Today: "The Christian church is summoned to the apostolic task of preaching the good news, and to preach biblical passages is to reject that summons....But why would someone who thinks that the Bible originated historically, contextually, and editorially, thus reflecting the human and even corrupted perspectives of its writers, think that any passage one happens to select must contain something in it or about it that is proclaimable?"

While writings such as these are unthinkable by evangelicals, Mohler noted there are many inerrantists who routinely fail to preach expositorily.

"We cringe and we flinch and we're repelled when we see the Bible rejected and impugned and maligned by those witnesses and we say surely evangelicals preach the Word.

"We hold to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. We honor the Word. But I have to tell you, oftentimes I wonder. Do we really preach the Word? We confess the authority, the total truthfulness, the inerrancy, the infallibility and the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible only to abandon the text as we preach."

Preachers must be careful not to interfere with the intended message from God's Word, Mohler said. "It is our business to get out of the way. We stand in the pulpit as a door to be opened and not closed. The goal of expository preaching...is to let the text talk and to make clear what the text speaks.

"We are heralds. We are not originators. We are charged to preach a message we have received, not to invent or design a message we believe will be well-received. We are not to develop. We are not to alter. We are not to update. We are not to reformulate. We are not to contaminate. We are to preach the Word."

Mohler cited a recent study conducted by Princeton University sociologist Marsha Whitten to illustrate his point that a kind of "Christianity Lite" is being served up in too many Southern Baptist churches.

In Whitten's book, All Is Forgiven, the author compared the sermons from mainstream and liberal Protestant churches and evangelical churches, with the largest sample among Southern Baptists. The sermons analyzed were from the Luke 15 prodigal son parable.

"The message was frighteningly secularized," Mohler said. "There was seen an accommodation to modern culture, especially in the predominance of therapeutic concerns.

"No notion of atonement, no demand, no discipleship, just a blithe, general, soothing non-confrontational message--all is forgiven. Don't worry about it. You're going to be taken care of. God loves you."

Too many pulpits lack the holy boldness that comes with proclaiming God's truths, Mohler said.

"There is a false humility in the part of so many pulpits and so many preachers where there is no exhortation because quite frankly he who preaches has no confidence in what he says....But if it is (God's) Word, it is not confidence in our word, but confidence in God himself, who is its author."

Mohler said "theological seminaries must be measured by whether or not our graduates preach the Word in season and out of season."

"Preach it when it works and when it doesn't seem to work," Mohler exhorted. "Preach it when it bears visible fruit and when it appears to be barren. Preach it when it is appreciated.

"Preach the word when it is denounced....Preach the Word. Preach the Word. Preach the Word."

(c)Baptist Press, September 9, 1996.

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