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Follow-Up Post 1: Perceived Weaknesses of "Older" Fundamentalism - Preaching Concerns

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In my last post (my review of Nathan Crockett's presentation at a recent BJU Pastors/Wives Fellowship), I mentioned five things that Nathan listed as perceived weaknesses of the older generation of Fundamentalist by some of those in the younger generation of Fundamentalism.

Those five perceived weaknesses were:

1. Lack of mentoring
2. The rut of tradition
3. Unfair evaluation of certain evangelical ministries
4. Preaching concerns
* issue-oriented (rather than theologically-driven) preaching
* lack of expositional preaching
5. Unnecessary divisions

I appreciate the comments of Don Johnson and Andy Efting on that post and I am hoping that we can generate some continued discussion about all five of these areas.

I was originally going to take them in the order they were presented, but with Don's comments (which addressed all five) and with Andy's comments, which focused on the fourth point, I think I will start there and work my way to the other points.

The younger fundies apparently believe that one of the weaknesses of the older fundies is in the preaching of the older generation.

As is the case of most of these things, I believe that there are definitely some for whom the shoe fits and some for whom this accusation is very unfair.

As I would like to do with each one of these points, I wish to consider two things - 1) is the criticism legitimate and 2) what can/should be done in response.

Is this criticism legitimate?

As with most of these criticisms, the reality is that in many cases, the criticism are both true and false. And no, I am not being some type of post-modernist who believes in a lack of absolute truths. What I mean by this is that for some older fundamentalists, surely this is a legitimate criticism - and for some older fundamentalists, this is far from a legitimate criticism.

Have I heard some bad examples of preaching among Fundamentalists? Yes. Even at chapel at BJU - gasp, did I say that? However, I have also heard some pretty bad (even worse) examples of preaching from without the camp, so to speak. Have I heard some very good examples of preaching from Fundamentalists? Yes - and not just in Greenville at some "leading light" churches like Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. I had the privilege of serving at Hardingville Bible Church in New Jersey with one of the men who I feel is one of the best expositors in the country (I have repeatedly tried to encourage him or some folks around him to put his series on 2 Peter into print somewhere.) Are there good examples of preaching from non-Fundamentalists? Yes.

Here are a few things that strike me about this criticism, however.

1. It seems to me that an unfair comparison is being made in this regard between your "average" Fundamentalist pastor and the "leading lights" of the "Contemporary Evangelicalism" movement.

Is Big Mac a better preacher than little ole Frank Sansone? I am sure that he probably is. However, while I don't think we ought to necessarily be picking teams and making comparisons on things like this, I would say that I would put Minnick's series on Philippians up against even Mac's series on the same passage. Or Franklin's series on 2 Peter or Doran's message on 1 Corinthians 15 at the National Leadership Conference a couple of year's ago. It is an unwise and unfair comparison that pits the best of the one side verses the average or (even worse) a bad example of the other side.

I would contend that, on the whole, there is stronger preaching in fundamentalist churches than in non-fundamentalist churches. (Defining fundamentalism as "mainstream" fundamentalism, not IFBx types.)

***IMPORTANT: Having said that does not mean that 1. I think that we don't need to continually work on improving in this area or 2. I think the poor examples of preaching within Fundamentalism are somehow okay because a person is a Fundamentalist or because others do a poor job as well.

2. It seems that much of this criticism are centered in a unbalanced focus on expository preaching.

I will admit it is hard for me to write those words, because I am very partial to expository preaching. In fact, I was recently told by another pastor in town (who I have still not met personally, but hope to do so soon and who I don't believe would consider himself a Fundamentalist) who was at T4G recently that while he was talking to some guys at T4G he made the comment "I (meaning him) must be the only expository preacher in Salisbury" to which one of the persons he was talking to and who has heard me preach on a number of occasions, said, "No. Frank Sansone is down there as well."

I believe that a steady diet of expositional preaching is best for the believer (and the preacher). I would (in general) agree with the comments that Andy made on the previous thread that:

I think one of the most important things that pastoral ministry should do is to help their people think like God. There is no better way to do that, imo, than to work through the logic and progression of a passage within the context of a whole book. Not only do you get the point of the passage, but you get how God thinks about the whole thing and why and how things should fit together in our minds. God doesn't just give us bare lists of things to believe and do – He gives them in the context of logical thought.

And, as Nathan Crockett quoted one of his friends,
It concerns me because people in the pew learn to read and interpret their Bibles by how their preachers preach.

So, as I said, I believe that a steady diet of expositional preaching is best for the believer (and the preacher). However, even among those who agree with that statement, there are differences as to what that actually entails. Some seem to use the term "expository" to simply mean the preaching is faithful to the text and argue that therefore all preaching should be expository. To those, I say "Amen" on the conclusion, but I believe you are misusing the term expository and have simply exchanged "expository" for "Biblical" without really understanding that "expository" preaching is actually a sub-set of Biblical preaching.

Expository preaching is not just preaching that is faithful to the text, but is rather something very specific.

John A. Broadus (whose book On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons used to be the standard textbook for homiletics classes in a number of fundamental and conservative schools - including being used as our textbook for "Pulpit Speech" when I was a Bob Jones University) says this about expository sermons.

An expository sermon is one which is occupied mainly with the exposition of Scripture.

The expository sermon may be defined as a sermon that draws its divisions and the exploration of those divisions from the text.

It seems today that we have seen the pendulum in regards to preaching swing towards expository preaching - and, in doing so, it has (at least in some cases) swung too far. In an attempt to rightfully distance ourselves from a style of preaching that focuses on man's opinions in the name of topical preaching, younger fundamentalists have often embraced a mind-set that expository preaching is the ONLY Biblical preaching.

In doing so, however, they reject much preaching that is both Biblical and, at times, necessary. For instance, while I believe in a steady diet of expository preaching, the best way to faithfully handle most doctrinal matters is in a TOPICAL manner - gasp. For instance, to properly teach on the Trinity would seem to require a topical sermon. The same could be said with the hypostatic union. The reality is that to get a full Biblical picture on almost any topic would seem to require a topical sermon. (Hmm. Maybe there is a reason for the terminology :) )

3. It seems that much of this criticism is often used as an excuse.

Now, younger guys, please don't jump too hard on me because of saying this. However, I have noticed that the crowd who often decries the lack of expository preaching amongst older Fundamentalists usually reveres Charles Spurgeon. Now, I like Spurgeon a lot. One of my most valued possessions is a set of Spurgeon's sermons that I received from my wife's grandfather before he died. (Don Marken was a former church planter and missionary in Ohio with the American Sunday School Union for years.) However, it would not be unfair to say that many (most?) of the sermons from the "Prince of Preachers" would not qualify as expository sermons. In fact, I agree with some comments Nathan Crockett made in this area in his presentation - if an older pastor were to memorize one of Spurgeon's sermons and preach it as his own, many of these critics would likely criticize the sermon - until they found out it was one of Spurgeon's sermons.

I am not finished with my thoughts on this, but this is at least some initial thoughts on this matter and I thought I would at least get these up since I indicated in the comments of the last post that I would be responding today.

Just my (unfinished) thoughts,



Andy Efting said...

I completely agree with you about the need to include topical preaching, especially if you are going to deal with important doctrinal truths. I think there is a necessary place to deal with practical issues as well – separation, modesty, entertainment choices, just to name a few. Completely valid and necessary – to me that is part of shepherding. And, of course, it should all be done exegetically…I don’t think that should be controversial at all. I do think that people have a mindset that if it isn’t expository, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all. That type of thinking is very wrong-headed, imo.

As far as who is better or worse at preaching, I don’t really know. I really don’t listen to many guys outside of Fundamentalism, and the ones I do would be their star expositors, but only occasionally. I have no idea how the rank and file out there preach. To be honest, most of the preaching I hear within Fundamentalism comes from conferences that by their very nature tend to be topical in nature.

Here’s the problem (or at least a problem). I remember when I was working with the teens in my church and coming back from the Wilds, I was happy and depressed at the same time. I was depressed because I wanted to bottle what went on at the Wilds and produce it in our teen group. You know – the excitement, strong preaching, and commitment – everything that makes the Wilds so fun and so significant. I slowly began to realize, though, that you can’t run a church or a youth group like a camp. You can’t sustain that type of energy and really, the type of preaching that is done at the Wilds is not really the healthiest for long-term ministry within a local church context. Not every message can be on the same big-ticket topical issue, whether it be music, soul-winning, missions, whatever. They hit big themes that need to be hit, but if you only got a diet of that type of sermon, I don’t think that produces long-term growth. And to be honest, probably would result in a false view of sanctification. Local church ministry is slow growth ministry over the long haul. At camp you only got a week so you have to approach the situation from a different perspective. The problem comes when you try to make your church function like camp. That’s when I think we get into trouble.


Don Johnson said...

Amen to both of you. I completely agree with both Frank's post and Andy's follow-up.

Don Johnson
Jeremiah 33.3

Ryan said...

Frank, good thoughts, in general I agree with what you are saying. Sure, it would not be fair to compare your or my preaching ability with that of the T4G guys. As a younger guy though I would say as somewhat of a response that by and large the men who have been held up in the past as leading preachers of fundamentalism do pale in comparison to those held up by the more conservative elements of evangelicalism. Now I would agree that the trend appears to be changing and Minick/Doran/Bauder/Jordan etc are being recognized as some of the stronger preachers in our least by some. I am thankful for that change. But still most of your normal Bible conference / chapel speakers come far short (in content and focus not just speaking ability) than JMac/Piper/Dever etc. If you were to compare the conference speaking line-ups of fundys vs. evangelicals I wonder if your response would still stand. just sayin...

I also kind of wonder about your statement that preaching is stronger in fundy churches than in evangelical ones. (I think Don made the same claim elsewhere) How can one really evaluate that claim? You are also biasing the comparison by excluding IFBx'ers without likewise excluding the leftward extreme of evangelicalism. Besides,any sort of evidence to support that claim would most likely have to be anecdotal.

Not entirely disagreeing with your post, just playing a bit of the devil's advocate from a younger fundie's point of view.

Don Johnson said...

Ryan, for my part, I am quite willing to compare fundamentalist conferences in general with the popular evangelical conferences. I don't think fundamentalists need to hang their heads in shame, including many who some would label IFBx. There are several reasons for this, but for my money the better consistent Bible teachers and preachers are on the fundamentalist side, on average.

I do acknowledge that my experience is somewhat anecdotal, but it isn't the result of only having listened to one or two preachers to form my opinions. I have had the good fortune to hear hundreds of preachers on the fundamentalist side and ... not so many on the evangelical side. Besides that, my views are not based solely on hearing other preachers. There are other means of observation that tend to bolster the opinion for me.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Frank Sansone said...

Andy and Ryan,

I guess it would be pretty difficult to make a definitive statement in regards to the quality of preaching between the different "camps." Sorry if I came across as trying to do so.

I will quote myself, however, as saying: (is this weird?)

However, while I don't think we ought to necessarily be picking teams and making comparisons on things like this, I would say that I would put Minnick's series on Philippians up against even Mac's series on the same passage. Or Franklin's series on 2 Peter or Doran's message on 1 Corinthians 15 at the National Leadership Conference a couple of year's ago.


In regards to conferences, that is a pretty interesting question. I think it would be interesting to follow up on, although I am not sure I would have the time to do so right now. Assuming we focus on the more serious conferences (MACP, NLC with T4G, Shepherds, for instance) I would guess that the Fundies at least hold their own.

When you add chapel into the mix, however, I am not sure if the comparisons are still fair. While we may prefer it not to be so, there are a number of factors (relationships, connection between the church and school etc.) that may make the selection of chapel speakers into a little different category. (My guess is that this is true of both "camps, although I don't know.)


(I am very tired, so this may not be coherent.)