T. David Gordon wrote a powerful article in the latest Touchstone Magazine entitled “Sermon Pointers” (pp14-16). It’s aimed at the obsession of “relevance” in contemporary preaching. “You gotta meet them where they are” is the tired mantra of the modern pulpit. I couldn’t resist a few excerpts to embolden my preaching and encourage your subscription to this great publication.
To borrow language from the Lutheran tradition, the preacher declares both law and gospel. “Where they are” is this: Our hearers are law-breaking rebels who have revolted against the majesty of God (both in Adam and in themselves), and who therefore justly have fallen under his judgment and curse. This judgment and curse are not merely the source of the other “where they are” circumstances; they are those circumstances.
People may indeed be lonely, because of Genesis 3; they may be depressed; they may be dysfunctional; they may be neurotic, or anxious, or a host of other things. But none of these things constitutes “where they are.” Where they are is under God’s judgment and curse: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). Our universal circumstance is this: We must give an account to God. Outside of Christ, we, like Adam and Eve, are “naked and exposed” to God’s all-perceiving sight; only in Christ are we clothed with a redemptive covering.
Apostolic preaching did not discern “where they are”; apostolic preaching declared “where they are.” Further, “where they are” was not individually considered, but corporately considered. The apostles did not attempt to discern the particular “where they are” of each individual, but the general or corporate “where they are” of the entire race.
People do not ultimately need to be delivered from their dysfunctional families, their media-saturated culture, their Oedipal urges, their neuroses, or their various alienations; they need to be delivered from God’s judgment and curse. And their perception that all of these other matters are more important or relevant than God’s judgment and curse are merely evidence that they are under his judgment and curse, and that they need to repent of these very misperceptions.
I confess the temptation to compete with Dr. Philism for the attention of my congregation. But zingers, one-liners and platitudes are not the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. The gospel is. God help us.