As we prepare to enter the twenty-first century, it is clear that western culture is caught in a whirlwind of conflicting values and ideologies. The postmodern era has done an effective job of rejecting past certainties, but has abdicated the responsibility of providing replacements. As a result, a growing emptiness characterizes the western mind and soul.
For all our achievements, we increasingly fail at what matters most. We know how to analyze DNA but we do not know how to shape a meaningful life. We know how to conquer childhood diseases but we do not know how to protect those same children from destroying themselves with drugs and violence. We know how to create computers that handle trillions of computations in seconds, but we do not know what counts.
In the midst of this cultural and religious vacuum, the church has a single task: to hold high the Word. In a society that seeks to create life but destroys without conscience that which is already in the womb, we must hold high the Word. In an era when technology stands triumphant while hope grows weaker, we must hold high the Word. In a culture that craves ethics but is oblivious to their source, we must hold high the Word.
To hold high the Word is the task of those who have received a divine call to preach. Preaching is the proclamation, the announcing, the unfolding of the Word. Many good speeches are made in God’s name, but for preaching to take place, the Word must be revealed and applied.
Forty years ago, Karl Barth observed that “preaching must be exposition of holy scripture.” Barth noted, “I have not to talk about scripture but from it.”1 The weakness of the mainline church in the present century has largely arisen from its diversion into every detour and side road, and its failure to hold high the Word. By contrast, the growth of the evangelical movement has corresponded to its willingness to cling to the task of biblical preaching.
The failure of much of the church to stay firmly rooted in the Word in its preaching has resulted in a society that hears no certain trumpet, no clear signal that would provide direction and purpose. If the church will not proclaim the truth of God’s Word, there are other voices which will step into the gap and claim the allegiance of a confused culture.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, some – at least in the United States — proclaimed the coming era the “Christian Century.” And in many ways, that prophecy was fulfilled; tens of thousands of churches have been created, thousands of missionaries commissioned, church-related colleges and hospitals and shelters established. Yet in almost every example cited, the growth occurred as a result of churches and movements committed to “hold high the Word.” For the church, the loss of biblical fidelity and focus is followed by a loss of direction and energy. And what happens in the church is now echoed in the culture.
Will the twenty-first century be an age of secularism or paganism? That is the inevitable result unless the church will reclaim its mantle of biblical preaching. A new age of biblical preaching can be the harbinger of a remarkable spiritual awakening that could mark the beginning of a new millennium. May God give us the strength to hold high the Word.
1Karl Barth, Homiletics (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991; translated from the German Homiletik, 1966), p. 49.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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