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

John the Baptist Eats Bear Grylls Babies For Breakfast

I appreciate the ministry of Paul Washer. He has a cutting way of encouraging young men to…man up. Yet Washer is considered by many in cultural Christianity to be a bit rough around the edges, too extreme, and too passionate in his plea for sinners (like me) to repent and cast themselves on the mercy of Christ.

I submit that those charges sound eerily familiar to a biblical character of the New Testament:

John the Baptist.

John the Baptist called seemingly sincere people seeking to be baptized by him a “brood of vipers.” He exclaimed vehemently the uncompromising message of broken repentance before the Messiah to any one with a functioning ear (Luke 3:7). He caused a curious stir among communities in Israel and garnered radical disciples to his ministry. He resided in desert caves, ate locusts and wild honey for breakfast, and dressed himself in camel-hair. I’m pretty sure he’d make Bear Grylls look like a cake eating mamma’s boy. John the Baptist was the original Chuck Norris, the only difference being that he was actually good at acting (according to Jewish historian, Josephus; )).

Now think of the ministers you know.

I am not suggesting preachers should take their dietary and fashion tips from a first century Nazarite Jew, but think about the ones you know or have seen on television. What strikes you most about them? Clean cut, with an inordinate amount of hair gel? Politically correct? Bleached teeth? Funny jokes? Nice suits and polished shoes? Great story tellers? Agreeable disposition? Typically, the sermon consists of three crisp points with a couple of relevant illustrations thrown in for good measure (maybe a lighthearted anecdote or two). None of these characteristics are bad in and of themselves, but unashamedly displaying them from the pulpit doth not a preacher make.

John was a real man.

A man’s man. A wild man. A real wild man’s man. A…you get the picture. His tone was blood earnest. His conviction unwavering. For the sake of the Bridegroom he chose to tear into his audience instead of tickling them (Luke 3:3). His weighty material directly flowed out of his love for Christ. Without displaying the sinful state of his audience they could never see their need for repentance, and without repentance they would never see their need for grace. He spoke the truth in love. But he spoke the truth. John loved his audience enough to tear their world apart in order for the Bridegroom to come and gently pick up the pieces. It was his prophetic calling.

Docile manners are not a virtue Scripture esteems greatly (neither am I saying niceness is a vice in Scripture).

The perfect man, Jesus, loved deeply, but he never was deemed “nice” by his closest followers. He was a table turning blasphemer to the most religious folk of His day.

The prophets of old loved their Jewish brethren, but none of their hearers would suggest “nice” as being one of their primary attributes. Broken hearted, men of sorrow, who spoke of shocking judgment coming to the unrepentant nation. Not nice. Not safe. Not sanitary.

The mighty blazing seraphim do not fly around the throne of God in exalted worship singing “NICE! NICE! NICE! Is the Lord of Hosts!” (read Isaiah 6:3, just read that whole chapter for a mindblow!)

Political correctness is the not an utmost concern of the Bridegroom’s friends. A tranquil American church currently majoring in manners watches as the world is dying under the weight of its own sin. It’s not nice to allow the winds of culture to dictate the force of our gospel message, especially when eternal life is at stake.

Sometimes a good sermon is like a roundhouse kick to the soul…just ask my boy John.

Bryan Daniels

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