Why Johnny Can’t Preach-The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

In “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” T. David Gordon observes the root of the absence of solid biblical preaching in evangelical pulpits today. As a one time pastor and professor of media ecology Gordon has some thought-provoking conclusions.

One of Gordon’s main points is this:

“Johnny” (used in a generic sense) lives in a heavily image driven culture. This wasn’t always the case. Sixty years ago America was a text driven culture. Newspapers, books, and classical language studies were the order of that day. Now Television, film, games, and IPhones rule the cultural landscape. Johnny’s (and our) ability to read and break down texts, especially ancient ones/Scripture, has severely atrophied as fast paced infotainment has risen in popularity.

Unlike past generations who were legitimately illiterate, we are a people who are a-literate. Meaning we are able to read but we choose not to. Sure, we read emails and “Twilight” novels, but we neglect the classics and the tough texts where real significance and satisfaction are found (Tolstoy, Shakespeare, etc.).

Johnny can’t read for linguistic and cultural nuances anymore. That is sad, because it is Johnny’s foremost responsibility to rightly preach a text…an inspired one at that. (2 Tim 3:16-4:2)

Instead of reading, television has now become the dominant cultural medium.

As a result, the lost art of writing careful composition has also been sacrificed at the altar of cultural expedience. Gordon suggests (I agree) that the practice of voracious reading and writing can only aid a preacher in his preaching. I think the history of the church can attest to this. Some of the greatest pastors and theologians have left behind libraries of personal literary work.

Reading and writing are not the only sensibilities in decline.

In this modern image-driven age, we are assaulted by a consistent torrent of meaningless images and information. The overload numbs our sensibilities to discern the significant from the insignificant.  From pop music, Jersey Shore, Facebook or Tosh.O, we are a culture dominated by the trite and irreverent. We are immersed in it like a fish in the sea. So not only can “Johnny” no longer read or write well, he can no longer see or feel what is truly weighty or significant in the gospel.

Gordon posits that this is one of the reasons expository sermons have become sparse in contemporary pulpits. Some Preacher’s only wish to gather a topical vignette that confirms whatever presuppositions they bring to the text. A sermon that consists of moralism, how-tos or a cultural war call is all too typical nowadays. But if preachers were to read Scripture carefully, they would see the Bible as a book on Christology, not these tertiary issues.

Gordon makes the point numerous times that the primary message emanating from every pulpit should be this: The fitness of the person and work of Jesus Christ to be a Savior to sinners. From Genesis to Revelation this is the ultimate thread and theme of Scripture.

The book(let) is only around 100 reading pages and does a succinct job of pinpointing many areas of cultural concern we may overlook. Though pastors are the subject it is worth a read for every lay leader, Sunday Teacher, or church attendee. In the last chapter Gordon gives hope to the collective “Johnny’s” by showing ways to cultivate latent reading, writing, and preaching talents.

I pray the Holy Spirit raises up such men to do the hard work of uplifting Christ in the pulpit. I pray these men will do the necessary preparatory work to preach this Christ well, for the good of lost man and to the glory of God.

Bryan Daniels


Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

2 thoughts on “Why Johnny Can’t Preach-The Media Have Shaped the Messengers”

  1. One of the reasons I think that “Johnny can’t preach” is because there is a clear lack of good models. Many of the younger guys have seen their pastors preach poorly, not knowing any better, and assume that is what you do. Then they go off to Bible College and seminary and learn how to do it just the way they are doing. Johnny is being taught to preach the way he does.

    When I was in Bible College 20 years ago, they fed us all the Church Growth crud. We bought it hook liine and sinker and then went out and did as we were taught. Ten years into it, you realize, this doesn’t work. It is the same thing here, in my humble opinion. That is the only thing that makes sense.

    1. Jim,

      Good thoughts! Gordon does mention Seminaries briefly in the book, but mainly to state even the best seminaries cannot reverse the way the culture has shaped Johnny. He does make a point as you do, that Johnny flat out doesn’t know the difference between effective preaching and seeker sensitive drivel, because he only has an ineffective model to emulate from his own background. As always, thanks for the input!

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