On John Piper’s Blog, “What if you like the preaching, but not the truth?”

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One of John Piper’s most recent blog enteries on Desiring God, entitled What if you like the preaching, but not the truth?, really got my gears turning.

In it, John Piper illudes to the danger of being so eloquent in preaching, that someone could enjoy the masterful delivery without taking hold of the content. Because there is not open commenting on the Desiring God blog, I’m really hoping that we can begin discussing it here. Piper seems to be reserving his final verdict for the upcoming Pastor’s and National Conferences.

I wonder, is it even possible to preach “Unless you repent, You too will perish!” in such a ‘masterful way’ that people refusing to repent can enjoy the delivery? This seems dangerous. Should we be worried about avoiding this pitfall? How should we deal with this as preachers?

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8 Responses to “On John Piper’s Blog, “What if you like the preaching, but not the truth?””

  1. Marie Says:

    Hello Guys, I have just learned about you from the rebelution blog, and I think you message is great! I’m not interested in becoming a minister,preacher or pastor, but I know a few people who are, and they could really use this blog. I hope to pass it on some of us really need guidance. Anyway, good luck and thanks for the great message!!

  2. Bryce Says:

    Great post Jeff, and one that is particularly relevant to me personally as I am just starting to learn how to preach. In reading Piper’s blog entry, the last paragraph was one that really resonated with me. In it he warns young preachers to beware the “eloquence” of “hip” and “saavy” and “dress” and “slang.” I feel like this is my biggest challenge. Especially when preaching to people younger than, or the same age as myself.

    While thinking about this issue, I realized that there is another side to this coin. I think that if we as preachers focus too much on being “cool” or “with it” or “trendy” or whatever that we can turn off people there who are genuinely seeking truth. My brother is a good example of this. He went through a period where he was genuinely seeking truth, and during this period, he was really turned off by preaching that seemed to focus too much on the delivery and being cool. So, the flipside to this coin is that by being too eloquent we can be a distraction to the person who wants some truth.

    Obviously, there is a balance that needs to be struck when preaching. The hard part is finding that balance and staying there for the long haul. I don’t have any practical ideas regarding how one goes about doing this other than serious prayer. On that note, I do like Piper’s method of preaching. He steers pretty clear of using a lot of stories or joke or anything like that. Rather he preaches the word powerfully and passionately. He is the opposite of trendy and cool yet he is often so dead on. This is a really tough issue to figure out…

  3. Steve Marquardt Says:

    It seems to me that one of the best ways to avoid “eloquent preaching” without content and an unavoidable call for response is to ground the sermon in the content and context of Scripture.

    For a sermon to be grounded in Scripture, it obviously has to be based on solid exegesis and expository in nature. At the same time, I don’t think that everything which goes by the name “expository” really qualifies as such. What I mean is that many pastors and elders preach sermons that are filled with Bible verses (maybe even one extended passage of Scripture) but they are not focused on communicating the message which the biblical author intended. This is especially evident when preachers are preaching in the Old Testament-they seem so eager to finish with the Old Testament in order to bring in the light of the New Testament that they rarely recognize that they are abusing even the message of the New Testament in their exposition. Because of this, I really think that expository messages need to be grounded in Scripture (most agree on this definition) and in keeping with the biblical author’s intention.

    Beyond content, it also seems that preaching needs to be rooted in the context of Scripture, specifically the context of the passage being preached. I try to ask myself, “How does this passage fit in with the chapters before and after it?” and also “What effect does this passage have on the narrative flow of the book (or the argument of the Epistle, etc.)?” If we ask ourselves these questions, then we will be forced to wrestle with the question of whether our purpose in preaching is the same that the biblical author had in writing. This is important, because the biggest reason (in my judgment) that there is so much eloquent preaching with so little call for response is because we often preach passages with a different purpose and intention than the biblical authors originally had. Sometimes this happens because a pastor has a theological agenda that they are trying to promote (caring for the poor and needy, the sovereignty of God, political involvement, etc.), but when it does, the voice and call for response which the inspired author had are silenced underneath the voice of contemporary issues.

    I could be wrong on these points and I welcome feedback, but it seems to me that wrestling with these two issues-biblical content and biblical context-would bring us a long way in simply preaching for the sake of eloquence.

  4. Bryce Says:

    Really good point Steve, I totally agree. Far too often do we as preachers have an agenda when preparing our sermons and this almost always taints our exegesis and exposition. I think that all preachers are guilty of this on some level. Even with the safeguards of rooting the sermon in the content and context of Scripture, I still feel there is still the danger of “eloquence.”

    Even with good exegesis and exposition, It seems like there are many factors that could contribute to a preacher, a young one especially, falling into the trap of “eloquence.” For example, being overly self-conscious, overly prideful, any of these sort of emotions that mess with a preachers confidence.

    Even with good exegesis and exposition, I think “eloquence” is still a real danger.

  5. Michael Says:

    There is definitely a danger in seeking to be eloquent, but I have trouble seeing how Franklin’s admiration for Whitefield’s eloquence is Whitefield’s problem.

    Whitefield apparently had a natural charisma and eloquence that would undoubtedly show through in his preparation. Was he to seek instead to ignore that and even work against it in his preaching?

    No matter how hard anyone tries, some will be eloquent with minimal effort and others will never sound eloquent no matter how hard they try.

    I cannot believe that Dr. Piper wants preachers to seek a lesser degree of eloquence, but simply not to seek eloquence for eloquence’s sake.

    Calvin on his deathbed stated, “I always studied to be simple.” The lesson is that he thought and worked hard to state the truth as clearly and as easily to be understood as possible.

    If today’s preachers would show a similar concern for stating the truth in a clear way, making clear and careful connections to the text, some will sound eloquent and others will not, but in either case, the truth will be proclaimed, which is the point of preaching, anyway.

  6. Trevor Maitland Says:

    i think bryce was referring to the type of “eloquence” which steven was talking about earlier, that is, “eloquent preaching without content.” in any case, i agree with what michael said, and the quote from calvin is extremely relevant. some have to fight against verbosity or “eloquence” in order that the truth may be heard, while others will need to take measures (like possibly manuscripting) in order that they may not bore their hearers or cause their attention to wane…

    or should they? should men who are horrible speakers be preachers? should one, if he recognizes a lack of gifting in public speaking, see that as a lack of calling to preach? this question is, i think, more to the heart of the issue that we are getting at. is preaching a skill (which can be learned and sharpened) or merely a gift (which one has naturally?) or is it some blend of the two? should anyone be discouraged from preaching for lack of ability or lack of any other qualifications? these are some things which need to be hammered out…

    i look forward to the discussion.

  7. Tim McGhee Says:

    Paul: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect (1 Corinthians 1:17).

    Paul: I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

    Paul: whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

    Tim
    11,436 days

  8. Trevor Maitland Says:

    Tim,

    so you would equate what Paul did then to the modern day office of preacher, right? i guess i always think of him more as an evangelist. systematic use of the above Scriptures would lead me to believe that it is actually counterproductive to practice and work on your presentation in preaching because you might be making the cross of Christ “of no effect.”

    I guess what i’m saying is that those Scriptures don’t answer all of my questions about the above issue. Maybe it is that simple, but what then of the extensive work done by men of God over the centuries on the art of the sermon? was it to no avail? i just can’t believe that.

    trev

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