The Nutrition Facts of Modern Preaching: Introduction

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Take a minute to think over the past several weeks of your eating habits. Have you consumed the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables? How was your protein intake? Are you drinking enough water? Virtually every modern study indicates that the average American is in poor physical health. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services states that the average American diet exceeds recommended guidelines in four key areas: calories from fats and added sugars; refined grains; sodium; and saturated fat.[1] Accordingly, the Center for Disease Control notes that more than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity.[2] Are we surprised though? We live in a fast-paced, fast-food culture that leaves little time for nutritional planning. There is an abundance of restaurants, but few with quality meals.

Now take a minute to think over the past several weeks of your church's sermons. If you're in a typical American church, your spiritual diet is just as bad as your physical diet—but with far worse consequences (cf. Matt. 10:28, 1 Tim. 4:8). The average, modern church is in poor spiritual health, cultivating parents who are in poor spiritual health, subsequently raising children who are in poor spiritual health. Are we really surprised though? We shouldn't be. Let's face it—there is an abundance of preaching, but little of it has any real value.

A Famine in the Land

Dr. Steve Lawson makes the following assessment:

This famine in pulpits across the nation reveals a loss of confidence in God's Word to perform its sacred work. While evangelicals affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, many have apparently abandoned their belief in its sufficiency to save and to sanctify. Rather than expounding the Word with growing vigor, many are turning to lesser strategies in an effort to resurrect dead ministries. But with each newly added novelty, the straightforward expounding of the Bible is being relegated to a secondary role, further starving the church. Doing God's work God's way requires an unwavering commitment to feeding people God's Word through relentless biblical preaching and teaching.[3]

Make no mistake about it, there is a lot of activity that is called preaching, but little of it is truly biblical. Therefore, the famine in the land is not in terms of sub-par, moralistic, superficial, eisegesis—there is plenty of that. No, the famine in the land is for biblical, doctrinal, Christ-exalting, verse-by-verse, expository preaching. And unfortunately, many modern church-goers are being fed the former, rather than the latter.

After all, it's not hard to find a topical sermon series hand-picked by a preacher, and the titles say it all:

"Rebuilding Broken Lives"

"What Happy Couples Know"

"Jesus Goes to Hollywood"

"Leader Slip: Cautionary Tales"

"Awesome: Building Great Relationships"

"The Keys to a Blessed Life"

"Five Spiritual Disciplines"

And on and on it goes. The sermons in most churches range from mundane to inane. Movie-based messages satirizing the latest Hollywood blockbuster are all too common. Topical talks catering to self-centered attendees are aplenty. Leadership lessons intended to motivated the unmotivated are not hard to find.

At times, the famine is obvious, like when so-called "pastor" Ed Young, Jr. drives an SUV on stage before giving his "talk."[4] At other times, the starvation is subtle—cliche words and bilblically sounding phrases mask the deficiencies—such as when preachers apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to the United States, or Jeremiah 29:11 to individuals. Wherever they fall on the spectrum, because these so-called "sermons" are laced with Bible verses, the average listener assumes all is well. Like scavenging through a landfill for dinner, a majority of modern preaching has the outward appearance of genuine food—and even temporarily fills the stomach—but ultimately leaves the hearer malnourished and ill.

Dumpster Divers

One scholar assesses the situation this way:

Part of me wishes to avoid proving the sordid truth: that preaching today is ordinarily poor. But I have come to recognize that many, many individuals today have never been under a steady diet of competent preaching. As a consequence, they are satisfied with what they hear because they have nothing better with which to compare it. Therefore, for many individuals, the kettle in which they live has always been at the boiling point, and they’ve simply adjusted to it. As starving children in Manila sift through the landfill for food, Christians in many churches today have never experienced genuinely soul-nourishing preaching, and so they just pick away at what is available to them, trying to find a morsel of spiritual sustenance or helpful counsel here or there.[5]

To put it bluntly, you have to be a pretty adept dumpster-diver in order to retrieve even the smallest theological morsel from the average pulpit. And frankly, it's astonishing to hear what passes as biblical instruction these days. But, when you're starving you'll settle for virtually anything.

With that said, what are some of the issues? Where are the deficiencies? Taking a look at the nutrition facts of modern preaching explains it all. In the next post, we'll peel back the label to begin dabbling in doctrinal dietetics.


References:

[1] "Facts & Statistics," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed May 27, 2018, https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html.

[2] "Adult Obesity Facts," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed December 6, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.

[3] Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2003), 26-27.

[4] Ed Young Jr., "Adult Children: Baggage (Part 1)," (presentation, Sunday sermon, Fellowship Church, Grapevine, TX, January 14, 2018), http://edyoungsermons.com/sermon/adult-children-baggage.

[5] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2009), 17.