Am I Johnny? Hopefully not. Maybe I am. Even if I’m not Johnny I need to think through the message of ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’ just as much as the person who is Johnny. This book is written by a man who thought this might be his last message and has one simple aim, better preaching!
T. David Gordon is passionate about good preaching. Unfortunately there is lots of bad preaching taking place in pulpits. So this short book ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’ is his appeal to preachers to do something about it. And it’s a great book, one of the best that I’ve read this year.
The book begins by pointing to some reasons why much preaching today is so poor. Some of the reasons he gives for this is the absence of Dabney’s ‘Cardinal Requisites’, sermons are too long as measured in minutes-beyond-interest of the hearers, ministers are resistant to annual reviews, and because of changes in the dominant media.
Two areas he then focuses on are how the changes in media have affected the way that preachers read (chapter 2) and write (chapter 3).
He says that people now read for information and content without an appreciation for how it has been written. The pace of television and other electronic media puts in danger, close reading of the texts and an ability to apprehend what is really significant. The effect of this is seen in sermons which lack a close reading of the text and which focus on trivial matters.
Also he says that speaking to people without seeing them (talking on the phone) has lead to preachers becomes less skilled at reading people’s reactions when they preach. Sermons are not as carefully composed as they once were because when we speak on the phone we say more words without the unity, order and movement we have when writing a letter.
The points about reading and writing he makes are helpful but it’s chapter 4 where he really nails the reason why preaching is poor. The problem he says is that the point of so many sermons isn’t worth making. The focus of the sermon should be the person, character and work of Christ but this is absent in much of the preaching today. This is something I need to continually remind myself as I prepare to preach, and his reference to Chapell’s ‘fallen-condition-focus’ is helpful in encouraging me to do this.
But the situation is not hopeless and in final chapter he suggests things that preachers can do to improve their preaching. There are ideas on how to improve your reading and writing, the encouragement to make time to reflect on what is significant and to have your sermons reviewed. Ultimately though, the way to improve preaching is for preacher to exalt Christ from their pulpits.
I would definitely recommend ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’. He makes load of great points which are worth reflecting on further.