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Popular and Relevant Verses Foolish and Irrelevant

An excerpt from Daniel L. Akin’s  A Future-Directed Proposal for the SBC in Southern Baptist Identity:

Seduced by the sirens of modernity we have jettisoned a word-based ministry that is expository in nature. We have, in our attempt to be popular and relevant, become foolish and irrelevant. Skiing across the surface needs of a fallen, sinful humanity, we have turned the pulpit into a pop-psychology sideshow and a feel-good pit stop. We have neglected preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word and the theology of God’s Word. Too many of our people know neither the content nor the doctrines of Scripture. Preaching the cross of Christ and the bloody atonement accomplished by his death is the exception rather than the norm. Some choose to focus on politics, others on the emotions, still others on relationships, and so on. If the Bible is used at all, it is usually as a proof-text out of context with no real connection to what the speaker is saying. For those of us who profess to believe both the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, there must be in our pulpits what I call “engaging exposition.” That is, there must be preaching that is biblical in content and dynamic in delivery, preaching that is expositional and theological on the one hand, and practical and applicable on the other. We must advocate an expositional method with a theological mindset under an evangelical mandate. It is preaching that models for our people how they should teach the Bible. Before it is too late, we need to heed the wise words of a liberal Methodist who has been down this modernist road and found it to be a dead end street. Listen to what William Willimon of Duke Divinity School says, and weep. In a fascinating article written in 1995 titled “Been There, Preached That,” Willimon sounds a prophetic warning to Southern Baptists:

I’m a mainline-liberal-Protestant-Methodist-type Christian. I know we’re soft on Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale has exercised a more powerful effect on our preaching than St. Paul . . . I know we play fast and loose with Scripture. But I’ve always had this fantasy that somewhere, like in Texas there were preachers who preached it all, Genesis to Revelation, without blinking an eye . . . I took great comfort in knowing that, even while I preached a pitifully compromised, “Pealed”-down gospel, that somewhere, good old Bible-believing preachers were offering their congregations the unadulterated Word, straight up.

Do you know how disillusioning it has been for me to realize that many of these self-proclaimed biblical preachers now sound more like liberal mainliners than liberal mainliners? At the very time those of us in the mainline, old-line, sidelined were repenting of our pop psychological pap and rediscovering the joy of disciplined biblical preaching, these “biblical preachers” were becoming “user friendly” and “inclusive,” taking their homiletical cues from the “felt needs” of us “boomers” and “busters” rather than the excruciating demands of the Bible.

I know why they do this . . . It all starts with American Christians wanting to be helpful to the present order, to be relevant (as the present order defines relevance). We so want to be invited to lunch at the White House or at least be interviewed on “Good Morning America.” So we adjust our language to the demands of the market, beginning with the world and its current infatuations rather than the Word and its peculiar judgments on our infatuations.

If you listen too much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage around in the Bible for a relevant answer.

Last fall, as I was preparing in my office for the Sunday service, the telephone rang. “Who’s preaching in Duke Chapel today?” asked a nasal, Yankee-sounding voice. I cleared my throat and answered. “The Reverend Doctor William Willimon.” “Who’s that?” asked the voice. “The Dean of the Chapel,” I answered in a sonorous tone. “I hope he won’t be preaching politics. I’ve had a rough week, and I need to hear about God. My Baptist church is so eaten up with politics, I’ve got to hear a sermon!”

Learn more about Southern Baptist Identity here.

June 24, 2009 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Author: Crossway Staff @ 12:24 pm | (2) Comments »


  1. Shouldn’t that be “versus” instead of “verses”?

    Comment by Barry Wallace — June 24, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  2. This is not only a prophetic warning for my Southern Baptist brothers but also for those of us in the Reformed Church in America!

    Comment by Paul Vroom — June 24, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

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