- Paperback: 112 pages
- Publisher: P & R Publishing; unknown edition (February 27, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596381167
- ISBN-13: 978-1596381162
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 84 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers Paperback – February 27, 2009
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"No, it's not just you. There's a lot of disappointing preaching today, and it's not entirely due to departures from sound principles. It's also affected by the media culture in which we live. While there are helpful studies of popular culture and important books on proper biblical interpretation and theology, this book does both. I couldn't help but wince as I recognized myself in Gordon's descriptions, but he writes so clearly and convincingly that I couldn't help but be grateful." --Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California
"An insightful diagnosis of a serious problem in the life of the church. For this we should be grateful, as we should for the way out of the crisis to which this book ably points." --David F. Wells, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
"Adds more to the homiletical conversation than ten books twice its length. Dr. Gordon is saying things that no one else has said, perhaps because no one dares to. He brings two very important perspectives to bear on the serious business of preaching: finely tuned literary sensibilities and media ecology. Electronic media alter perception and dramatically transform the sensibilities of preachers and the rest of the culture. Gordon's analysis offers us hope that Johnny can learn to preach well." --Gregory Edward Reynolds, pastor, author of The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age
About the Author
T. David Gordon has been Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College since 1999. Previously, he was an Associate Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for 14 years and Pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church (Nashua, NH) for 9 years.
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Prior to writing this book, Gordon was diagnosed with cancer, and upon learning of his cancer he realized that he could have as little as one year to live. This information caused T. David Gordon to call out the bad preaching that was plaguing the evangelical church. As difficult of a time that that must have been for the Gordon family, this book proves to be prophetic, at least in the sense that it reestablished the foundations, calling, and expectations for all preachers, and Gordon does this by calling out the status quo and calling the sermon to be set apart from the influences of the world. Throughout the book, Gordon argues, “that many ordained people simply can’t preach” (16) and that is owing to the influence of image-based and electronic media that dominates our culture today.
As mentioned earlier, the book is rather short in length and it consists of only five chapters. The first chapter entitled, “Johnny Can’t Preach”, is clearly the longest chapter of the five and it is where T. David Gordon supports his claim. In this chapter the author sets out to convince his readers, which we should note are likely preachers or aspiring preachers, that they themselves are likely preachers that are failing to affectively handle the word of truth. He establishes early on a specific way that he goes about grading his sermons, he asks himself and others 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 application of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversation about other possible applications?” (19). These questions are quite simple; yet, he notes that so often neither him nor his family can answer the questions after listening to most sermons.
The claims of chapter one are established through a flow of subsections. The first is the “Anecdotal Evidence” in which Gordon gives his own personal evidences of why today’s preaching is predominately weak. The next sections is “The Testimony of a Ruling-Elder Rotarian”, here the author explains the encounters that he’s had with other church elders and their apathy towards poor preaching. Third, “The Common (Almost Universal) Evaluation of Ministers by Their Congregations”, this section may be the hardest to read as the author speaks about the constant poor grade that congregants give to their own preachers. Fourth, “Dabney’s ‘Cardinal Requisites’ Are Manifestly Absent”, Gordon commentates on the seven requisites that Robert Lewis Dabney believes each sermon should have, they are: textual fidelity, unity, evangelical tone, instructiveness, movement, point, and order. The last two subsections that Gordon includes is, “The Almost Universal Desire for Briefer Sermons” and “The Contemporary and Emergent Churches”. The first of these addresses a cultural occurrence, and the latter addresses a heretical movement that was seeking to reinvent preaching.
The next two chapters were briefly introduced in chapter one, but T. David Gordon elaborates greatly on his points in these pages. He states that Johnny can’t preach because he can’t read texts (chapter two) and because he can’t write (chapter three). This is where he describes the influences of the culture at the most depth. What Gordon argues is that ministers know how to read what a text says, but not how the text says it. They read at a superficial level, simply to get the reading over with and retain the information that it was giving. This superficial reading of texts is affecting a preacher while he prepares a sermon, which begins with analyzing the biblical text. Much of the poor preaching that Gordon has heard is owing to the preacher’s inability to read text thoroughly. Gordon says, “Our inability to read texts is a direct result of the presence of electronic media” (50). He goes on to say, “As a medium, reading cultivates a patient lengthy attention span, whereas television as a medium is impatient” (54). If preachers are being shaped by the mediums of the culture, they will likely suffer in their ability to read and produce sermons from what they have learned (or not learned).
The electronic mediums of our day also affect our ability to write. Because Johnny can’t read, and because Johnny spends most of his interactions with people in superficial conversations, Johnny will have a hard time articulating his point in a sermon. The author points this out through the mediums of the telephone, email, and the like. Through those mediums just mentioned, a writer can take as much time as possible to figure out the right way to articulate a sentence, this keeps them from having urgency, and word processors do much of the dirty work of editing so that a writer never needs to. For Johnny, a preacher who will likely write out a manuscript each week, this won’t be to his advantage as he seeks to articulate compelling words that will move his congregation.
Chapter four is the place where Gordon addresses the actual content of the sermon. This chapter can be summarized as “preach Christ” because this is what he argues throughout it. He introduces four failures in preaching which are: moralism, how-to, introspection, and social gospel / culture war. He critiques these, while still showing their appropriate contexts within the church, and gives the alternative of focusing on what the text actually communicates and focusing on the person and work of Christ.
Now that the author has proven to us that Johnny cannot preach and why he cannot preach, he gives Johnny some hope, which T. David Gordon writes about in chapter five. He offers help to each of the faults that is brought up throughout the book. Gordon considers the most important change that Johnny can make is to host an annual review with people who can constructively criticize him. He also offers helpful tips for improving Johnny’s reading skills, writing skills, and cultivating pre-homiletical sensibilities.
Why Johnny Can’t Preach is a small book that can serve a large amount of ministers. In particular, it can serve as a great warning to those discerning the call to ministry and who hope to preach. Young, potential ministers should know about the faults and weakness of their predecessors, and they should learn to avoid making those same errors. But also, while learning what preachers shouldn’t do, they learn about the alternatives that will make them into a faithful preacher of God’s word. Those feeling called to preaching should read this book well before ever being given a book on homiletics, and the reason why is because the preachers that T. David Gordon was criticizing were mainly preachers who went to seminary and were taught well on how to preach. Their issue was that their root problems weren’t ever exposed. Here in Why Johnny Can’t Preach the author addresses the root problems that most preachers have, and a young man will gain much value from his insights.
The greatest strength of this book is its prophetic nature. We may be able to confidently say that the Lord constructed the course of events in Gordon’s life so that he could address preachers precisely as he did. The Lord used Gordon for such a specific time in history as this one, one where preachers needed to be rebuked for their poor stewardship of the resources that the Lord has blessed them with and the poor shepherding that they have placed upon God’s flock.
However, even with this strength, much of T. David Gordon’s criticism stems from his personal, subjective views of how a sermon should be. This can be seen in how often Gordon generalizes the state of preaching based off of his personal experiences. While most readers will likely agree with his insights, the truth remains that many might have opposing views to those of Gordon. After all, many lives may be being impacted by the exact sermons that Gordon is rebuking. Whether this is a pure act of God’s mercy or an evidence of flawed opinions, many good and bad sermons are changing lives. We should pray that that continues to be the case.
At times it felt as if Gordon was calling all preachers to live in light of the “good old days” where there were readers galore and they all perfected the art of preaching. Yet, this isn’t the case. Many preachers prior to the twentieth century were just as poor as the preachers that we see today. Also, analytical reading doesn’t necessarily mean that one will become a great preacher and communicator of God’s word. A young man reading this book should take Gordon’s rebukes to heart and learn from them, but he shouldn’t conclude that knowing how to read deeply will cause him to be able to stand before people for forty-five minutes and keep them from getting bored. Surely we have all met someone who is well read, writes eloquently, and is intelligent, yet, they have no clue how to hold a crowds attention when standing before them.
Even with these criticisms of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, it remains a work that all preachers should consult, especially those who are young and searching on how to become a godly preacher. This book can light a fire and passion under one’s soul that will lift them up into the endeavor of preaching God’s word in season and out of season. We should not take the size of this book lightly; T. David Gordon has earned the right to be heard from preachers across the globe.
What are the reasons? Gordon makes a case that the gospel is being smothered by poor exposition of God's word. He goes on to suggest a number of ways preachers can get it right. They all will require both the preacher and the saints to do things differently. If you are attracted by the title of this book, you will not be disappointed by the contents. If you are an elder in your church and struggle with preaching, know then that these admonitions and advice also pertain to you and will require you to do some things differently.
I did not give this book five stars because I believe that Gordon might have been a bit more exhaustive with recommendations on how to preach, even if that was not what the book submitted as its thtesis. One suggestion that I have found helpful has been the memorization of Scripture because memorization obliges deep investigation and deep investigation leads to deep understanding and deep understanding leads to deep exposition which when preached, leads to transformed bodies in Christ.
Gordon probably alienates the people he desires to win over because of his tone, which borders on shrill at his most passionate moments. However, his point is valid, and those who disagree need to be able to articulate what it is they disagree with.
As an aside, I personally disagree with his conclusion that a Christi-centric preaching model will “fix” this problem. I would hope that sounds hermeneutics can be applied and excellent preaching still be practiced.