As always, I am constantly in the hunt for good books that will inspire me toward more spiritual growth. One such book that I have benefited from over the years has been one written by John MacArthur in 1993. He wrote Ashamed of the Gospel as a call to action for biblical preaching, a lifestyle of holiness, and the great need for discernment in our times. More often than not the trends that MacArthur pointed out in our times mirrored what happened during the “Down Grade Controversy” in Charles Spurgeon’s times over 100 years ago. If you are interested in a challenging, thought-provoking book then you need to read it. If you are uncomfortable with a straight-forward and direct approach to the supposed new trends of the modern church era, save your money.
The book has been reprinted and there are several new chapters that have been added and some revisions have also taken place in the new edition. Suffice it to say that what was written nearly 20 years ago has almost come to pass. The subtitle of the book reflects that “when the church becomes like the world.” Theology and doctrine has taken a back seat to life “app” preaching. Life “app” preaching is that preaching which helps manage stress, work situations, raising kids, and a host of other ways to help make life very man-centered and not too God-focused. The power of Scripture has almost been totally discarded and when someone does point out that Scripture clearly addresses moral and social issues of the day, that person finds himself cast into the uncomfortable role of being judgmental. Worship has progressively become more focused on feeling than it has meaning which is backwards. If a man has meaning in his worship, you better believe that there will be feeling in his worship.
In Chapter 5, The Foolishness of God, MacArthur spends an important amount of time writing about the need for solid biblical preaching that radically opposes the wisdom of this world. The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God but a number of detractors in our times, particularly of doctrinal preaching, seem to think that worldly wisdom is so much better than God’s wisdom.
MacArthur makes the following comparisons based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:
1. Human wisdom is temporary while divine wisdom is eternal.
2. Human wisdom is impotent and divine wisdom is powerful.
3. Human wisdom is for the elite and divine wisdom is for all.
4. Human wisdom exalts man but divine wisdom glorifies God.
From the next chapter there are suggestions given to preachers about where to get their sermons from and a sort of how-to guide for modern preachers:
1. Visit those how-to sections in your local bookstores.
2. Regularly have a small group submit a list of their greatest challenges at home and on the job.
3. Similarly, acquire inventories of needs from several secular people in your community.
4. Periodically, examine issues of Time, Newsweek, and USA Today, as these publications tend to be on the cutting edge of the felt needs and fears that people are facing.
5. Apply practical aims to every study, message or program in your church.
6. Practice composing practical, catchy titles for your messages (sermons) from various biblical texts.
7. Limit your preaching to roughly 20 minutes, because boomers don’t have too much time to spare. And don’t forget to keep your messages light and informal, liberally sprinkling them with humor and personal anecdotes.
This is a list for weak and insipid preaching and it is also diametrically opposed to biblical ministry writes MacArthur.
In response to this idea, he quotes Douglas D. Webster about this user-friendly approach:
Biblical preaching was God-centered, sin-exposing, self-convicting and life-challenging—the direct opposite of today’s light, informal sermons that Christianize self-help and entertain better than they convict.
There are so many illustrations in today’s market-sensitive sermons that the hearer forgets the biblical truth that is being illustrated; so many personal anecdotes that the hearer knows the pastor better than she knows Christ; so many human-interest stories that listening to a sermon is easier than reading the Sunday paper; so practical that there is hardly anything to practice.
No wonder nominal Christians leave church feeling upbeat. Their self-esteem is safely intact. Their minds and hearts have been sparked and soothed with sound-bite theology, Christian maxims and a few practical pointers dealing with self-esteem, kids or work. But the question remains: has the Word of God been effectively and faithfully proclaimed, penetrating comfort zones and the veneer of self-satisfaction with the truth of Jesus Christ?
This is a just a taste of a very good book. My old copy has been read and re-read numerous times in the last several years and this one will fall into that same category.