Johnny Can’t Preach – Chapter 2

This chapter, which was one of the shorter ones in an already short book, was particularly eye-opening.  The premise of the chapter is that there is a skill in reading.  Much of the time, most individuals read for the purposes of simply gleaning information.  I say “simply” because there isn’t much skill involved in reading something solely for informational purposes, whether that’s a passage of Scripture, a novel, or a piece of poetry.  Gordon states that this practice of reading hinders preachers from the analytical, exegetical, investigative efforts that should mark a preacher’s preparation in ascertaining the meaning of a text and then discerning how to deliver the meaning and application of a particular text.  I found this very convicting.  In fact, let me quote one section of his book in its entirety so you can better see what Gordon is referring to.  

“How does this phenomenon affect them as preachers?  Well, they read the Bible the same way they read everything else:  virtually speed-reading, scanning it for its most overt content.  What is this passage about? they ask as they read, but they don’t raise questions about how the passage is constructed.  It’s almost as though a version of Microsoft Word were built into their brains that causes them to see some of the words in a biblical paragraph in boldface, as the theologically, spiritually, or morally important words stand out in bold from the rest of the paragraph. They read John 3:16 the same way the read Romans 5:8; each is “about” the love of God, but they don’t notice much more than that, and their sermon on God’s love from John 3:16 is probably not different form their sermon on God’s love from Romans 5:8.  Thus, they never really notice (and therefore do not and cannot preach) the distinctive thing affirmed about God’s love in John 3 or Romans 5.  Their reading does not stimulate them to rethink anything, and since the text doesn’t stimulate them particularly (but serves merely as a reminder of what they already know), their sermon is not particularly stimulating to their hearers.” (pp. 46-47)

Gordon attributes this characteristic of most people’s reading practices to several things.  First, he mentions the obvious influence of the presence of electronic media.  Our media-driven culture hinders the necessary focus and attention that preaching requires when we study the Scriptures.  He then insightfully and interestingly speaks of the effects of the curse of sin from Genesis 3.  The world as Adam and Eve knew it before their partaking of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was perfect.  The world freely and abundantly gave them whatever they wanted.  Now, there is toil, labor and frustration in man’s work.  And this certainly has application with respect to a preacher’s role in working hard to show himself approved as he studies the Scriptures.

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