Johnny Can’t Preach – Part 1

As an individual whose main responsibility is to preach week-in-and-week-out, I am always ready to read an article or book or listen to someone who might help me in my weekly endeavor of preaching.  As soon as I finished preaching Matthew 3:1-12 this past Sunday my mind was preoccupied with the sermon I would preach in nearly seven days; truly, it is a burden (a good one) that pastors deal with every week.  That being said, a friend of mine recommended the book Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon and I have thoroughly enjoyed it thus far.  In order for me to glean/retain as much of it as I can, I’m going to write a short summary of each chapter.  Here is the summary for Chapter 1 – Johnny Can’t Preach.

What was the sermon about?  What was the preacher’s main point?  Or how did he glean that point from that text?…am I missing something here?  Did that illustration really support his point or did it seem confusing to you?  What was he aiming at?  What am I supposed to do in response to the message…if anything?  Those are questions that occupy my mind as I prepare each week in my study to preach and they’re questions that typically come to the forefront of my mind as I finish preaching on Sunday or soon thereafter.  My hope and goal in preaching is first and foremost to accurately understand and preach the truth of whatever passage I am preaching, and in so doing honor and glorify God as a “worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  But also, my hope and goal is to bring a word that people can understand and then apply to their life.

Gordon states, “I really desire something fairly simple for my family: to be able to talk intelligently about the sermon on Sunday afternoon or throughout the week.  And to do this, all I really desire is the ability to answer three questions:  What was the point or thrust of the sermon?  Was this point adequately established in the text that was read?  Were the applications legitimate applications of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversations about other possible applications? (pp. 19).

Further, Gordon shares seven aspects from Robert Lewis Dabney’s Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric that he believes are essential for every sermon.  What follows each aspect is a “test” of questions designed to help the listener ascertain whether or not the sermon met the criteria.  Here they are:

  1. Textual Fidelity – “Does the significant point of the sermon arise out of the significant point of the text?  Is the thrust of the sermon merely an aside in the text?” (pp. 24).
  2. Unity – “If ten people are asked after the sermon what the sermon was about, will at least eight of them give the same (or a similar) answer?” (pp. 24).
  3. Evangelical Tone – “Do hearers get the impression that the minister is for them (eager to see them richly blessed by a gracious God), or against them (eager to put them in their place, scold them, reprimand them, or punish them)?  Is it his desire to see them reconciled to and blessed by a pardoning God?” (pp. 25).
  4. Instructiveness – “Does the sermon signficantly engage the mind, or is the sermon full of commonplace clichés, slogans, and general truths?” (pp. 26).
  5. Movement – “Do the earlier parts of the sermon contribute to the latter parts’ full effect?  Does the address have intellectual (and consequently emotional) momentum?” (pp. 26).
  6. Point – “Is the effect of the sermon, on those who believe it, similar?  If it encouraged one, did it ten to encourage all, and for the same reason?” (pp. 27).
  7. Order – “Could the hearers compare notes and reproduce the outline of the sermon?  If they could not reproduce the outline, could they state how it progressed from one part to another?” (pp. 27).

It’s been a good read so far and I look forward to delving into chapter 2 soon.  But for now, I’m off to study and prepare for, yes, you guessed it, a sermon.  Until then…

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