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Book review: “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” by T. David Gordon.

Why Johnny Can't PreachI just completed the book Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon. It is a well thought-out thesis addressing the source of the problem with the ineffective preaching in most Christian churches in the West.

Gordon highlights some of the reasons why preaching in the West is a failure (and consequently some of these are the very reasons why people like Osteen, Warren, Driscoll, Schuller, Noble, and the likes are so popular).

Gordon advances the (lost) notion that preaching from the pulpit should be Christ-centered (it’s sad he has to even mention that which should be a foregone conclusion). His call is reminiscent of a similar call I was sounding back in 2007 with a short post entitled A Sobering Call To Pastors, Preachers, And Teachers.

Christ-centered preaching is the New Testament way of advancing the Gospel that has sadly been hijacked by the hirelings and replaced with preaching such as Moralism messages, How-To lectures, Introspective talks, and the ever popular Culture War sermons.

These things, Gordon says, are valid as “occasional secondary results of Christ-centered preaching” (save the How-To lectures), but they should never be the purpose of preaching.

Gordon also directs us to Robert Lewis Dabney’s seven Cardinal Requisites of preaching; the seven things every sermon should contain to be effective that unfortunately most American sermons are missing on a regular basis.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach is a book that every preacher, pastor, and teacher who’s serious about their call to feed the flock should read. It will undoubtedly help to make the bad preacher (bad not by his doctrine but by his delivery) good, and the good preacher better in his proclamation of the only thing that matters: Christ and Him crucified!

Here’s a quote from the book:

Several of the more incompetent preachers I’ve heard have jumped on the emergent bandwagon, and their ministerial careers are undergoing a resurgence now, as people flock to hear their enthusiastic worship leaders and to ogle their PowePoint presentations. Their churches are no longer moribund, but then the annual carnival isn’t either–it, too, is full of enthusiasm, activity, and lively entertainment. But I’m not sure these emergent activities have any more spiritual effect than the pig races at the carnival.

Here’s another quote:

While it is not my purpose here to present an in-depth discussion of the so-called contemporary worship that has crept across the Christian landscape like a plague, I must observe here how profoundly trite it ordinarily is. Pop music, as an idion, simply cannot address that which is weighty . . . its idiom itelf is faddish, glib, superficial. Therefore, serious lyrics don’t fit in this idiom (nor does there appear to be any effort to accomplish this). Though lamentale, it is not at all surprising to me that the church in a trivial culture becomes a trivial church with trivial liturgy. I am fairly seriously considering following this book with another: Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.

You can purchase this book here at the Westminster Seminary Bookstore.

3 comments on “Book review: “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” by T. David Gordon.

  1. I’m waiting for some books to arrive in the mail, and this is one of them. I’m very much looking forward to reading it and have been blessed hearing T. David Gordon interviewed on several podcasts.

    Can I ask why you kept referring to “Wells” and not “Gordon.”

  2. Nathan:

    You asked,

    Can I ask why you kept referring to “Wells” and not “Gordon.”

    That is a very good question, of which I have absolutely no answer for. :o)

    I truly haven’t the foggiest idea why I wrote Wells instead of Gordon, but thanks for the heads-up, it’s been fixed.

    - The Pilgrim

  3. Since I dedicated the book to my old friend and former colleague, David F. Wells, and since I would never have taken the interest I now take in the relation of culture to church and theology, I am both delighted and honored that you have confused us. Feel free to refer to me as “Wells” whenever you wish!
    Blessings,
    T. David Gordon

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