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.