“Why Johnny Can’t Preach”

gordon-johnny-cant-preachIf you’re looking for a good book on preaching, you definitely want to check out T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  I realize that most of you theology buffs are thinking, “The last thing I want to read is a preaching book,” but I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.  The literary quality alone is the worth the price of the book ($9.99 at Amazon), and you can read it in one sitting.

Playing off the titles of Why Johnny Can’t Read (Rudolf Flesch, 1966) and Why Johnny Can’t Write (Linden and Whimbey, 1990), T. David Gordon argues, “that societal changes that led to the concerns expressed in the 1960’s to 1980’s in educational circles…have led to the natural cultural consequence that people cannot preach expositorily” (15).

Additionally, in light of the subtitle, The Media Have Shaped the Message, Gordon suggests “exposition of a text, whether sacred or secular, requires the development of certain human sensibilities which, if not developed, render the individual as incapable of preaching as if he had no larynx,” (16).  And, for clarification, he follows the previous sentence with, “But first, let me attempt to establish my thesis: that many ordained people simply can’t preach.”

Why Johnny Can’t Preach is made up of five short chapters:

1) “Johnny Can’t Preach,”

2) “Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 1: Johnny Can’t Read (Texts),”

3) “Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 2: Johnny Can’t Write,

4) “A Few Thoughts About Content,” and

5) “Teaching Johnny To Preach.”

The chapter headings are a clear enough outline of the content.  Gordon’s book provides both funny and profound insights into the state of preaching today, and offers strong suggestions to improve preaching today.  Allow me to end with a few quotes from the book.

Concerning ‘The Contemporary and Emergent Churches’—p. 33

My challenge to the contemporaneists and emergents is this: Show me a church where the preaching is good, and yet the church is still moribund….The moribund churches I’ve seen have been malpreached to death.  But the fact that large segments of the church are abandoning anything like traditional preaching altogether establishes my point: that Johnny can’t preach.  He preaches so poorly that even believers have come to disbelieve that God has chosen through the folly of preaching to save those who believe (1Cor. 1:21).

Concerning people who regularly read and write—p. 39

Those who write compose their thoughts more successfully than those who do not; they commit few of what I inelegantly call “sentence farts,” in which one begins a sentence, partway through realizes that it cannot be successfully completed, and therefore begins again.

Concerning the content of the sermon—p. 70-71

But it is never appropriate, in my estimation, for one word of moral counsel ever to proceed from a Christian pulpit that is not clearly, in its context, redemptive.  That is, even when the faithful exposition of particular texts requires some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commended behavior to be itself a matter of being rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ.

Concerning ‘How-To’ Preaching—p. 82

[How-to preaching] is worse than Pelagianism because it doesn’t even accept the burden of attempting to prove that the will is morally unencumbered by original sin; it assumes this heresy from the outset.

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Benjamin Quinn

Director of Student Development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and attends North Wake Church in Wake Forest. Benjamin grew up in Corinth, MS and received a BA in Biblical Studies from Union University in ’05, an MDiv in Christian Ministry at SEBTS in ’08, ThM in Christian Ethics at SEBTS in ’10, and is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Bristol in conjuction with the Paideia Centre for Public Theol0gy. Benjamin married his junior high sweetheart, Ashley, and has two children, Emma Claire and Campbell Schafers (“Camp”).

4 thoughts on ““Why Johnny Can’t Preach”

  1. This is the second review I’ve seen of this book in the last couple months, and I only want to read it more after reading this. Thanks very much.

  2. Keep the book recommendations coming. I took your advice, bought the book, and read it in two sittings! Sorry I didn’t get it done in one, but I had to get some other things done. The book was an excellent read and well worth the short time it took to read. It challenged me to be a better communicator, and reminded me of the importance of preaching Christocentrically (is that a word?). Keep the recommendations coming so we can sharpen up for the limited time we have with the church in preaching and proclaiming Christ crucified.

  3. Daniel,

    Always good to hear from you, brother. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Thanks for your faithfulness to Christ…and “Christocentrically” is a word 😉

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