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  • Writer's picturePaige Patterson

Helpful Preaching

For years I have defined “good preaching” as “the art of helping your people read the Bible.” This definition is not intended to call into question the literacy of the people. Rather, the definition suggests that there is both theological and spiritual insight that an experienced pastor should bring to the text, which will be eye-opening to most members of a congregation. If a pastor is unable to do this, he may be pursuing the wrong endeavor. He is to be “apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). What should his instruction include if not theological truth applied to the spiritual development of his sheep?

Because God’s Word is the diet on which we should dine, the most cogent method for pursuing this spiritual nourishment is preaching through the books of the Bible with application to the demands of contemporary realities. The eternal qualities of the Word of God are thus magnified and the congregants depart for the field sufficiently armed for spiritual conflict. Probably, I would be identified as one who is dogmatic about that posture if the subject is “good preaching.”

Nevertheless, even I acknowledge that, as a result of the fallenness of man and the multiplicity of truth claims in the present social order, it should be a rare occasion when the preacher departs from his normal journey through the text in order to focus on some topic such as the claims of “social justice” as a substitute for justice as described in the Bible. Likewise, critical race theory or intersectionality, the twin shibboleths of current rebellion against God’s Word and should not be seen as the solution to the problems clearly addressed in Scripture. Even as one does expound God’s Word to his people, however, he would do well to baptize his message in the biblical text and with determination explicate the text. Here is a link to an index of a superb series of sermons on critical race theory by Pastor Ronnie Rogers of Oklahoma.

Dr. Gerald Harris, for many years a pastor and later the esteemed editor of The Christian Index,the state paper for the Georgia Baptist Convention, for 15 years, is the author of A History of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board 1972-2017, a lengthy and profound treatment of the recent history of Georgia Baptists. He has provided a recent example of a sermon that not only explicates the text of Acts 17:16-34 but also addresses the army of “isms” confronting the churches today. You can find a copy of this sermon here. While at it, check out Harris’ other classic books, Pardoned to Be Priests on the priesthood of believers and Blessings and Balderdash: Commentaries From the Christian Index, America’s Oldest Religious Publication, and A Gentle Zepher, A Mighty Wind: Silhouettes of the Life in the Spirit.

In this amazing, aforementioned sermon, Dr. Harris says:

1. “Athens was the greatest university town in the world; and men from all over the world came to Athens seeking knowledge. Athens was a city of many philosophies, beliefs and viewpoints as well as a city of many gods. It was said that there were more gods in Athens then in all the rest of Greece put together; and in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man. In the great city square men would gather day and night to discuss some new thought or idea.”

Assessing the impact of the “social justice” developments Harris notes:

2. “In our own Southern Baptist Convention, we declined by 287,655 members in 2019 – the greatest loss in 100 years. We have lost more than 2 million members since 2005 and during that time out national population grew by more than 35 million. We had 47,558 fewer people worshipping in our churches on an average Sunday and 10,694 fewer baptisms – the lowest number since WWII.”

The result in America is loss of truth. Harris states:

3. “In America, 67 percent of the adults agree that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Much worse is the fact that 52 percent of born again Christians think truth is relative. But God’s word is not relative. Psalm 119:89 says, ‘God’s Word is settled in heaven.’”

The impact of the reign of social justice in place of biblical justice is apparent:

4. “The issue of social justice has been magnified in our denomination to the extent that it has become a threat to the simplicity or clarity of the Gospel. In the 1960s and 70s we were having to deal with the heresy of the social gospel, but today it is the heresy of social justice. You will find 130 references to ‘justice’ in the Bible, but it is never preceded by the word ‘social.’ God cannot be the God of justice and social justice, because social justice is not just. Justice is getting what you deserve without favor. Social justice is getting what you don’t deserve, because you are favored.

Clearly needed is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Harris says:

5. “The sufficiency of Scripture is the biblical teaching that the Bible is all the revelation that is needed to equip believers for Christian life and service. The Bible reveals who God is, who we are, our broken status before God, our way of redemption, and the way we are to live as those redeemed by God.”

This way of preaching biblical messages about controversial topics of our social order is God-anointed. Thank you, Dr. Gerald Harris, for showing us the way.


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