Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Johnny Can't Preach, and Johnny Piper's Book on Preaching

Why Johnny Can't Preach by T.David Gordon (112 pages) and The Supremacy of God in Preaching (128 pages) are probably my favourite two books on preaching. I've only just finished the first, and I've had the joy of reading the latter several times over the last few years. Neither is a technical manual, but they're books for the heart.

With Piper you get what you expect - these are lectures from several years ago on preaching passionately. I remember getting the sense of need to rub peoples faces in the text of scripture from this book. Piper helps me see the gravity of preaching, almost overwhelmingly. His T4G06 message on "Why Expository Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God" carries a similar thrust.

Don Carson introduced Piper at The Gospel Coalition Conference 2009 saying his preaching is like a dog chewing on a bone. Chew it.

"...You shouldn't give a rip what I think the main point is.
What matters is can the people see it.
Show me the text. Like a dog, or whatever."

Gordon takes a different angle. He pleads that our problem is that we don't know what to do with Texts, and so since Preaching is inherently about declaring the message of the Bible we can't preach anymore. He appeals that we need to learn to read books and enjoy them as books, and that we need to learn to write for the sake of writing - to write letters and papers. Imagine, he says, trying to construct a biography "The Life and Letters of..." as would have been done in the past. No letters. Without learning to craft words we never learn to communicate well.

He also suggests listening to non-Christians speakers and taking lessons in public speaking. Maybe he wouldn't want to do a Driscoll and learn from Chris Rock, but there is surely much to gain from this pursuit - whether from watching The West Wing, Live at the Apollo, The Speaker, or anything else where words matter.

In someways Gordon appeals to a golden age, but I can't help but thinking we have lost something. It could be argued that he's longing for a literate age that is so locked away as to be beyond recovery, and his qualifications to be able to preach are tinged with the need to be bookish and literate. Perhaps Gordon overstates his case a little, but in this generation it is a case that needs to be stated.

I've attempted to spend a lot of my Bible time in OT Narrative and Wisdom literature in recent years, mostly because I wanted to immerse myself these books as literature, to appreciate the form God has spoken in and not just the contextless content. It's rewarding.

Similarly I'm trying to keep reading good books, fiction and otherwise to have myself used to good writing. And one of the many reasons I blog is that, perhaps not so much as writing handwritten letters, it helps me learn to write. Whether that's working is another question.

Why Johnny Can't Preach: T.David Gordon
The Supremacy of God in Preaching: John Piper
Tim Challies reviewed Why Johnny Can't Preach - including a careful warning that this book is good to serve preachers not to destroy them.

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