The primary problem with contemporary preaching is its silence in regard to the moral dimension of the “Christian gospel. We believe it is the single most neglected dimension of the Christian message as proclaimed from our nation’s pulpits.
We are not saying that the moral dimension is completely absent. The preaching literature reveals some attention to moral character, the way of life of the community of faith, and less frequent forays into contemporary moral issues. Likewise, some preachers and homileticians have much greater sensitivity to such issues than others do. But on the whole, the contrast between the moral witness of the Scriptures and the moral proclamation from the pulpit is striking. It is a deafening and profoundly troubling silence.
This silence takes various forms and manifests itself in various ways. Most broadly there is an absence of moral vision in today’s preaching. It appears that all too few of those who occupy our pulpits do so with any conscious hope of, or plan for, communicating a moral vision grounded in the Scriptures and applicable to contemporary life. Preachers usually have an evangelistic vision, and / or a pastoral vision, and / or a doctrinal vision, perhaps even an aesthetic vision. But few seem to have a well-developed moral vision. This is the one aspect of the gospel message to which few pulpiteers or homileticians pay much sustained attention.
Second, there is the noticeable development of a canon within the canon that systematically excludes some of the most morally significant material in Scripture. Ministers working in non-lectionary traditions are especially susceptible to the proclamation of a truncated canon due to their freedom to choose their own texts week by week. In these traditions we observe that the most frequently omitted blocks of Scripture are the Prophets and the moral teachings both of Jesus and the writers of the Epistles.
Speaking of the significance of the Prophets in preaching, Frederick Buechner says:
“Nobody before or since has ever used words to express more powerfully than they our injustice and unrighteousness, our hardness of heart, our pride, our complacency, our hypocrisy, our idolatry…. These particular truths that the prophets speak were crucial for their own times and are crucial also for ours, and any preacher who does not speak them in his own right, naming names including his own name … runs the risk of being irrelevant, sentimental, a bag of wind.”1
The exclusion of the Prophets and other morally focused biblical materials leaves a shredded Scripture and an incomplete proclamation of the gospel. It is not coincidental that the preaching literature emerging out of the morally stronger preaching of the black church constantly emphasizes the centrality of the Prophets and the preaching of Jesus. Indeed, some of that literature essentially identifies the role of the preacher with the role of the biblical prophet.2 While this identification may be questioned, its intent is welcome, especially in light of an overall pulpit landscape in which prophetic and other morally demanding texts are largely ignored.
Third, one notes a deafening silence when it comes to the moral implications and dimensions of many biblical texts that are addressed.
Thus, for example, while the book of Genesis is frequently preached, rarely are the moral dimensions of the primeval history systematically explored. Yet Genesis 1-11 is full of rich material concerning God’s moral ordering of creation and of human life in such areas as marriage, male / female relations, sexuality, creation, work, and stewardship, as well as important reflections on the human moral situation after sin enters the picture.3
The same thing happens in interpretation of the teachings of Jesus when they are spiritualized in the service of a particularly other-worldly rendering of the gospel. Thus, Jesus’ moral teachings do not apply now, or in public life, or apply only to inner attitudes. Here we witness silence on the one hand and a perilous distortion on the other.
Fourth, there is a remarkable silence from many pulpits concerning the moral issues of our time. One thinks of the heightened fear of nuclear war that was so prevalent around the world in the mid-1980s. We lived — and, in fact, still live — in the valley of the shadow of thermonuclear death. Yet how many preachers addressed (or address) that issue?
Earlier, in the 1960s, Martin Luther King spoke eloquently to the issue of silence in his devastating critique of the silent, gleaming white churches in the South that stood on the sidelines, at best, during the fight for black freedom and equality. One of the greatest struggles for justice in this nation’s history occurred right under the noses of the white church, which at best responded with ignorant noninvolvement. King said:
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi, and all the other southern states …. I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship there? … Where were their voices of support when tired, bruised, and weary men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright halls of creative protest?'”4
Today many are noticing the threat bf environmental disaster. While opinions differ concerning the exact seriousness of this threat or the imminence of disaster, no thinking person can deny that a significant problem exists, a problem that casts a shadow over the entire human future. Yet all too few ministers or homileticians have addressed this issue.5
A host of other neglected moral issues of our day could be named. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth reportedly liked to say that Christians need the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. When those who exposit the Bible give no evidence of awareness of what is in the newspaper, and of the relevance of the Bible to what is in the newspaper, the church becomes morally malnourished and increasingly irrelevant, even to its own members.
The black Baptist preacher J. Alfred Smith has spoken bitingly of the problems we are discussing. “Preaching on social issues is taboo among many popular preachers. They recoil from addressing social issues with the skill of persons fleeing from dangerous serpents …. They [talk] incessantly in ‘perpetual Sunday twaddle’ in a multitude of words which have little of the bite of reality about them because they correspond to nothing in the real world.”6 Smith offers an insightful list of the types of “bland preaching” that reinforce “status quo conformity”: peace of mind; the prosperity gospel; self-esteem; Jesus as the supplier of every need without explaining how Jesus supplies human needs; cheap grace; a legalistic gospel of duty; dogma unrelated to life; proof-texting; personal piety alone; Old Testament preaching focusing on prophecy, typology, and dispensationalism; and New Testament preaching covering a limited number of themes and texts. Borrowing a thought from Alvin C. Porteous, Smith rightly calls such preaching “pious profanity” — “in that it takes the Lord’s name in vain.”7
The second problem with contemporary preaching is politicization. To their credit, some preachers — including many of our most prominent pulpiteers, whose faces one regularly sees on television — have moved out of the silence of which Smith spoke into rapt attention to the moral issues of our day. They are speaking of Christian moral responsibility in a world such as ours.
This change would seem to constitute progress. Unfortunately, a significant number of these preachers give every indication of approaching the moral dimension of the faith through the lens of political ideology rather than the Scriptures. This occurs both in liberal and conservative churches, both on the left and on the right.
Though the right-leaning preachers currently have a bigger platform, from personal experience we can attest that the phenomenon does occur on the left and is no prettier there. The move from silence to speech frequently has been unaccompanied by genuinely biblical reflection on the issues at hand. The result is disastrous, both for the church and for the society the preacher is seeking to change.
One mark of politicized preaching is biblical eisegesis rather than exegesis. The preacher ascends the pulpit with a prefabricated political agenda or a particular stance on an issue to promote. He (or, rarely, she) finds a text from the Bible. Then the text is read to say what the preacher’s political agenda needs it to say, or read and then dropped from the scene as the shouting begins.
Sometimes this process appears to be quite conscious; more frequently it is quite unconscious, simply reflecting the pervasive impact of the political ideology brought into the interpretive process. For it is indeed extremely difficult to disentangle the strands of our most deeply held convictions and to discern which reflect culture and self-interest and which are authentically scriptural.
Another sign of politicized preaching is the drift into partisanship and incivility. The pulpit loses its freedom as it merges ever more closely with agenda of one or another political party. It becomes the platform for attacks, sometimes quite vicious, on particular individuals representing different political perspectives.
Sometimes partisan political figures are invited to use the pulpit directly for this purpose. The sense that it is important to guard the boundaries that exist between preaching and politics, between the church and the political process, is lost. Thus, the pulpit loses its independence and integrity, and a distorted message is proclaimed.
A version of this concern is articulated in an interesting way in the important book by Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Recovering the Expository Sermon. Chapell, who serves in an evangelical context, refers with unease to the prevalence of moral exhortation, cultural critique, and societal reform messages in contemporary evangelical preaching. His fear is that while “challenging the evils of the day” is a legitimate task of the preacher, it is all too easy for the dentrality of Christ’s redeeming work to be lost in the midst of this effort.
What results when this occurs is a well-intended but ill-conceived legalism that characterizes too much evangelical preaching.” He urges preachers to replace “futile harangues” with “Christ-centered preaching.”8 His comments are well placed. The problem is of sufficient seriousness that one is tempted to agree with J. Alfred Smith when he writes, “Perhaps these [bland preachers] are better than those angry fire and brimstone preachers who are against the world and whose sermons on I social issues are characterized by ‘negative bashing.'”9
So this is the challenge that faces those who serve the American church at the close of this century: to acknowledge the strangely distorted moral voice of the American pulpit — mainly silent, sometimes politicized — and to rediscover a healthy preaching ministry in its moral dimension.
A Diagnosis of the Problem
In this section we suggest several reasons why contemporary preaching falls so short in its treatment of the moral dimension of the gospel. We do not here offer a program for addressing all of these particular concerns; in a sense, they speak for themselves.
Plumbing the Moral Dimension: A Difficult Challenge
The first reason for this problem with preaching is simply this: It presents a difficult technical challenge.
Consider for a moment the matter of preaching on moral issues. This is not the whole of the moral task in preaching, but it is an important part of it. Abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, marriage and divorce, the environment, war, religious liberty, patriotism, race, genetic engineering, poverty, child abuse — this is but a fragmentary list of some of the many moral issues that could and should be addressed from the pulpit. The first difficulty is the sheer number of such issues. As Jesse McNeil put it nearly forty years ago: “Multitudinous and omnipresent are the moral decisions modern man must make in the grey areas of contemporary life.”10
Many seminarians and preachers have commented to us on the overwhelming nature of the task once one begins to consider seriously the moral dimension of the gospel and the moral issues we face today. Where does one begin to dive into such a massive set of problems and issues?
Related to this problem is a second one, the matter of complexity. Everyone of these issues is complex. Each is complex not only in terms of the theological and biblical issues that it raises, but especially with regard to the relevant technical information. The literature on any one of these issues, such as euthanasia, is vast. Gaining mastery over that literature and a sense of sure-handedness with the medical and scientific data involved is a significant challenge, to say the least.
Similarly, as Kelly Miller Smith notes with regard to the issue of racism, sometimes ignorance related to the life conditions and life experiences of other groups lies behind the pulpit’s silence.11 Many local church ministers come to believe that they do not have either the time or the background to overcome this ignorance, and they do not want to wade foolishly into waters that may drown them. Thus, many steer clear of such issues altogether.
Finally, moral issue preaching, in particular, presents technical preaching challenges, in part due to the very complexity just discussed. It is difficult to distill the key biblical insights and factual information on these issues down into a single twenty to twenty-five-minute thematic sermon. Likewise, many of these issues are hard to treat in detail if one is committed to some models of expository preaching in which only issues arising directly out of particular biblical texts can be addressed. Indeed, rigid commitment to such an approach makes it basically impossible to address the newest moral issues, such as genetic engineering or cloning, which were inconceivable at the time of the writing of the Bible. These are real and not illusory challenges to the preacher, yet they can be overcome.
Existence of a Training Vacuum
Most ministers receive instruction in preaching at a theological seminary. Some get their training at a Bible college. A significant minority, especially in rural areas, never receive any formal theological or ministerial training at all. These quite likely model their own approach to preaching after other ministers they deem to be skilled practitioners of the craft.
Our concern here is with the formal training in preaching that is offered to budding preachers, especially in theological seminaries. It is our observation that in such settings Christian preaching is most frequently understood as one of the practical arts of ministry, like presiding at a Community service, performing a wedding, organizing a Sunday school class. In other words, it is separated in the curriculum from instruction in the classical “body of divinity” — Bible, theology, church history, ethics — that is offered elsewhere in the seminary. It is viewed as a practical skill, as a technique into which future preachers need to be initiated. There is strong emphasis on sermon building, methods of preparation, the use of illustrations, various structures for sermons, voice modulation, and so on.
The technical dimension of preaching is indeed of critical importance, effective communication skills and strategies are indispensable if the gospel message is actually to be heard, however, it is a grave error to emphasize technique at the expense of content.12 Far too often have we heard technically sound sermons that were utterly devoid of any substantive theological or moral content. The preacher is first a theologian, and in our view, an ethicist. A rich and deep theological/moral understanding of Scripture and of the gospel must exist if Christian preaching is to be, in fact, Christian.
Preaching is not solely or even primarily a technique. One is reminded of theologian Karl Rahner’s comment about religious studies academicians, which applies equally well here: “They keep on refining their methods and constantly sharpening their knives but no longer have anything to carve.”13
The same problem exists in certain other “practical” or “technical” ministry areas, demonstrating the breadth of the concern we are articulating. Thus, departments or schools train ministers of youth or education who sometimes know how to organize a weekend retreat or a discipleship program but have no content to offer when actually leading such programs.
They may be masters of group dynamics or organizational flow charts but not of the gospel’s meaning. We strongly side with those who argue that seminary education must primarily focus on thoughtful reflection on the body of divinity. Ideally, instruction in practical skills related to communicating and transmitting this body of divinity would be integrated into the entirety of the curriculum. In any case, we think one source of the weakness of preaching in the area of ethics has to do with inadequate training at the seminary level: in theological education broadly, in ethical instruction particularly, and in the integration of theology and ethics into the preaching ministry. The result of this problem is ignorance or distortion of the moral dimension of the gospel.
Job Insecurity, Careerism, and Fear
Another key reason for this moral vacuum may hit a bit closer to home: fear. Ministers who dig too deeply and preach too clearly on the moral dimension of the gospel may find themselves at risk of losing their jobs or of paying some lesser but still very real kind of career price for their integrity.
The potential cost of courageous proclamation of the divine Word is apparent as early as the Old Testament prophets. One need only remember the kind of perils that men like Elijah and Jeremiah faced as they fulfilled their prophetic callings, or consider that the gospel cost the lives of nearly all of the church’s earliest leaders, or recall the horrendous persecution of Christians and their leaders that continues today in many parts of the world. No one wants to experience such things.
Likewise, we live in a time of profound ministerial job insecurity. This is particularly the case in certain denominations, such as our own Southern Baptist Convention, in which preachers serve at the pleasure of their congregations alone and are thus always “only a business meeting away” from dismissal. Columnist Terry Mattingly recently wrote that every month in the United States 1,300 pastors are forced to resign or are “terminated,” that nearly 30 percent of ministers have been fired once, and that in ten years 40 percent of ministers will be in another line of work.14
An astonishing recent headline in the Baptist press declared: “SBC churches fire one pastor every six hours.”15 These days the ministry is a pretty dangerous way to make a living and especially to support a family. All of us have our own horror stories in this regard. Addressing sensitive moral issues in a rapidly changing culture, even sometimes challenging the congregation to bring their behavior into line with biblical standards, is a sure way to heighten the risk of conflict, rejection, or dismissal. As Helmut Thielicke wrote concerning American ministers some thirty years ago: “The temptation to be opportunistic, to compromise, and to cover up is always near.”16
A seminary professor once told one of us the story of a Southern Baptist minister whose courage cost him his job and very nearly cost him more than that. He had attended the 1954 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in which the assembled “messengers” approved a resolution supportive of the Supreme Court’s recent Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering the integration of the public schools. He returned to his congregation, flush with pride that the denomination had taken this progressive step, and told them of his positive appraisal. Immediately the chairman of the deacons stood up and called for the congregation to go directly into a business session. They did so and on the spot dismissed the pastor for his sin of supporting school desegregation.
Moreover, he was instructed to remove his family and their possessions from the parsonage during the course of that very Sunday afternoon “if he knew what was good for him.” They drove out of town as quickly as possible, stopping only at his mother’s house a couple of hours away; she promptly informed him of her outrage at his stance and kicked him out of her house as well. Eighteen hours later, in shock and unemployed, he and his family arrived at the home of his former seminary professor in search of refuge.
This nauseating tale reminds us that faithful gospel preaching may cost the preacher quite a bit. But this does not relieve the preacher of his or her obligations, for the call to ministry is a call to risky service in the way of the cross. Risk is part of the meaning of our ordination vows. Certainly we need to be “wise as serpents” in choosing how and when to speak a courageous word from the pulpit and be careful not to browbeat our congregation or to address issues without adequate sensitivity or preparation.
But we need to recover the courage of our vocation, rejecting the temptation of careerism or the overweening power of raw fear, both of which distort our approach to the Christian gospel. On the one hand, as David Buttrick put it, “We have been silent” long enough, causing us to blatantly ignore our moral obligations in the pulpit, overlooking both obvious moral wrong and basic biblical teaching. On the other hand, to win political and congregational support, we have sometimes offered moral preaching but have “played to the crowd” rather than faithfully adhering to the Word. Let us give the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth the final word on this subject:
“Woe to the minister who does not see that the Word has a real significance for the men of today. But that man is even more to blame who recognizes what the Bible has to say to modern man, but is afraid of causing scandal and thereby betrays his calling. The Word confronts modern man, to disturb and attack him in order to lead him into the peace of God. This Word must never be distorted or obstructed by laziness or disobedience. The preacher, therefore, must have the courage to preach as he ought, courage that does not flinch from a direct attack and is unmoved by the consequences which may result from his obedience.”17
Moral Tone Deafness
It may simply be that the moral vacuum of the contemporary pulpit reflects the moral “tone deafness” of large segments of the church itself at this time in history. Many Christians and congregations simply have a “tin ear” when hearing the moral dimension of the gospel message.
There are many reasons for this inability to hear or to hear rightly. Especially in the white evangelical circles with which we are most familiar, a morally truncated rendering of the gospel message is widely, though not usually intentionally, embraced.
The Bible is understood to be the story of personal salvation and admission to heaven through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Human response essentially begins and ends with assent to belief in Jesus. The church’s mission consists solely in telling others this story in order that they might be saved and gain eternal life. Thus, the preaching in such churches almost exclusively consists of repeatedly retelling the story of Christ’s sacrificial death in order to “win souls.”
While this depiction may seem like a caricature to some readers, in our experience it is a quite fair summation of the life and work of many churches.18 And it is rooted, as Arthur Van Seters has noted, in a broader Christian privatism that represents a capitulation to those modem intellectual trends that pushed religion into the private sphere some three centuries ago. “With the emergence of the industrial world, mechanistic compartmentalization separated interconnected parts of society and set religion in a comer.”19 This kind of religion would deal only with the private, inner, and affective dimensions of life.
Such an understanding of the gospel cannot help but create and then reinforce, generation by generation, a morally unreflective Christian ethos. Congregations of the saved grow accustomed to hearing the basic salvation message again and again. Ministers grow accustomed to preaching such messages. Biblical texts replete with moral implications are instead mined for their (narrowly understood) evangelistic possibilities alone. Other texts with obvious moral impact are simply ignored. Such patterns of interpretation become deeply ingrained. Thus, the story of the rich young ruler (Mat. 19:16-29 and parallels) is preached as having nothing to do with money, wealth, or greed but is solely about one’s rejection of the offer of salvation.
Hence, the fundamentally moral message of the Old Testament prophets is silently clipped from the canon. After a while, the average minister s imply does not think about the broader rendering of the meaning of the gospel, and, if he or she does, is frequently met with bewilderment — “it’s time to get back to preaching the gospel, pastor!”
Of course, it is impossible for a congregation not to have some kind of moral ethos, for functional standards of character and conduct are part and parcel of any human community. As many have observed, nature abhors a vacuum. We observe that the most common pattern in evangelical churches, for better or for worse, is for the moral climate to consist of a hodgepodge of inherited and rarely discussed personal moral norms combined with broad local, regional, or national cultural values.
Thus, to take our own Southern Baptist context as an example, historically there has existed an informal but very real Baptist Christendom mentality, in which moral norms focus on abstinence-based personal moral standards: Baptists abstain from such things as alcohol, drugs, dancing, cursing, nonmarital sex, and so on. This has then been combined with a deeply enculturated, uncritical “God and country” conservatism that functions (very poorly) as a social ethic. Christian moral concern in this context consists of a quest for personal abstemiousness and freedom from the vices just listed. No social concern is to be found, no social change agenda, no critical mindedness — on the whole, a very limited moral vision. Much about it is commendable, but it is not a full-orbed biblical morality.
This cramped moral ethos can and often does exist without any preaching at all to reinforce it or any fresh thinking to either challenge or confirm it. It is simply “in the air.” Perhaps our readers from other traditions can substitute their own examples. The result is a moral tone deafness that exists because the moral dimension of the gospel message is not explored from the pulpit or anywhere else.
In the past two decades or so, as we noted above, the problem of silence related to the moral dimension of the gospel has been augmented in some sectors of the church by a new problem: the preaching of a politicized gospel suitable for use in culture wars.
In one sense, the source of this problem is the same as that discussed in the last section. Nature abhors a vacuum, and thus some kind of moral ethos will exist in a church. If that moral ethos is not consciously developed by the preaching and teaching minister, it will be supplied from somewhere else. The most likely candidate? supplier is the broader culture.
Therefore, it was probably inevitable that the cultural polarization of American society since the 1960s and 70s, which is perhaps the most significant cultural development in this nation in the latter third of the twentieth century, would find its way into the pulpit. In the absence of a coherent and authentic moral vision of the gospel message, a moral vision was supplied by the cultural warriors of both the left and the right.
On both sides, much of this preaching was reactive, a hurling of volleys across the barricades at the other side, sometimes in a manner indistinguishable from playground name calling. In no sense is this culture wars-type preaching anything like authentic gospel proclamation. Pity is due the congregations on either side that have had to suffer through it.
The Priority of Grace
As we conclude, we want to be clear about something we are not saying. Our concern for the moral dimension of Christian preaching does not imply a belief in its primacy over what James and John Carroll rightly call “the scandal of grace.”20 While we do not agree with Karl Barth that “the only reason for preaching is to show God’s work of justification,”21 we do believe that his is the primary reason for preaching. Frederick Buechner draws a distinction between the “particular truths” we must preach, on the one hand, and the “gospel truth,” on the other.22 The latter is the “too good not to be true” news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempted to make this same distinction through use of the terms penultimate to refer to ethics and ultimate to label God’s justifying grace in Jesus Christ: “Justification by grace and faith alone remains in every respect the final word … It is for the sake of the ultimate that we … speak of the penuitimate.”23 Christian living is to be a response of the highest moral seriousness to a God who has taken the initiative of grace toward us. But that divine initiative comes first.
Thus, our argument is about the penultimate rather than the ultimate dimension of the Christian message. But this does not render the penultimate insignificant. To preach justification by grace and nothing about the moral life that must follow leads to the strange condition among Christians, as Helmut Thielicke once so wonderfully described it, of “the devout heart gripped by God’s grace, but not yet pumping blood to the extremities of the body.” The result is a kind of moral “numbness in the extremities,” demonstrated by an unholy dichotomy between heart and hands, doctrine and life, church and world.24
That moral numbness, in turn, is not only unfaithful to Jesus our Lord but also can have quite specific and devastating consequences of its own in the societies in which we live. Thielicke mentions the perpetration of the Holocaust in his land, Germany, a land full of supposedly “saved by grace” Christians. Perhaps we can think of a few moral problems we ourselves face as a nation.
Reprinted from A Bolder Pulpit, by David P. Gushee and Robert H. Long. Ask for A Bolder Pulpit at your favorite bookstore, or contact the publisher (Judson Press) at 1-800-458-3766 or www.judsonpress.com.
1Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth (New York: HarperCollins, 1977), 18.
2See especially McNeil, The Preacher-Prophet in Mass Society, a title that reveals the author’s perspective on the matter.
3An exception is Elizabeth Achtemeier’s fine exposition of Genesis 3 in “The Story of Us All: A Christian Exposition of Genesis 3,” in Preaching Biblical Texts, ed. Fredrick C. Holmgren and Herman E. Schaalman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 1-10.
4Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City jail,” in James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), 298-99.
5Exceptions include Stan L. LeQuire, ed., The Best Preaching on Earth (Valley Forge: Judson, 1996); Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nature, God, and Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992); Dieter Hessel, ed., For Creation’s Sake (Philadelphia: Geneva, 1985).
6J. Alfred Smith, “Preaching and Social Concerns,” in Michael Duduit, ed., A Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992), 508.
8Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 12.
9Smith, “Preaching and Social Concerns,” 509.
10McNeil, Preacher-Prophet in Mass Society, 42.
11Smith, Social Crisis Preaching, 36-37.
12One homiletician who shares this concern about seminary training in preaching is Clyde E. Fant. See his Preaching for Today, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1987), preface.
13Quoted in Helmut Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965), 81.
14Quoted in John Maxwell, “Relationships: A New Beginning or a Bitter End,” (audio tape) INJOY Life Club 12, no. 10 (April 1997).
15Western Recorder (October 7, 1997), 8.
16Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church, 112.
17Karl Barth, The Preaching of the Gospel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 75-76. See also McNeil, Preacher-Prophet in Mass Society, especially 79-80, and Harris, Preaching Liberation, viii and passim.
18A recent evangelical classic that attempts to dismantle this misunderstanding of the gospel message is Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins, 1988).
19Arthur Van Seters, “Introduction: Widening Our Vision,” in Arthur Van Seters, ed., Preaching as a Social Ack Theology and Practice (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988), 20.
20James Carroll and John Carroll, Preaching the Hard Sayings of Jesus (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 65.
21Barth, Preaching of the Gospel 42.
22Buechner, Telling the Truth, 18-19, 35-36.
23Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 125; cf. 120-43.
24Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church, 10-12.
Reclaiming The Moral Dimension of Preaching
The primary problem with contemporary preaching is its silence in regard to the moral dimension of the “Christian gospel. We believe it is the single most neglected dimension of the Christian message as proclaimed from our nation’s pulpits.