The Centrality of the Gospel in Preaching 7
It is certainly true that the gospel can solicit an emotional response. In writing this, I am reflecting on the past week’s services in which the content of the message of the cross, along with the music supporting the message’s content, brought many attending the services to tears. God has given us the ability to feel, and emotions expressed in praise to God are appropriate. Yet emotionalism, or emotion for the sake of emotion, cannot be the reason we worship.
Jonathan Edwards wrote in his Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections (1746) that it was the duty of the pastor “to elevate, to raise the emotions of my hearers (he used the word affections) as high as I possibly can, provided that they are elevated by the truth and in proportion to the nature of the truth.”
The liberal social gospel has undermined the centrality of the gospel in preaching. The solving of social problems has become more important than communicating how one’s alienation from God can be reconciled only through the gospel. Physical hunger and starvation of the body for many has become a greater concern than addressing the spiritual deadness of the soul.
While it is certainly biblical to address the physical needs of people, see James 2:14-26, it must never be done at the expense of failing to share the gospel. Rather, the ministry to people’s physical needs is because of the church’s realization of the greater underlying burden and need for Christ.
However, these aforementioned items are symptomatic of a greater malady affecting the church of Jesus Christ in general, and the centrality of the gospel in preaching in particular. The issue to which I refer is the rejection of the sovereign grace of God.
The lack of understanding, or the outright rejection of, the sovereignty of God in salvation, his sovereign grace, the reality of God-given faith, monergistic regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the sinner’s repentance from sin, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not only fundamentally undermining the centrality of the gospel in preaching but also has the residual impact of replacing the centrality of the gospel with correspondingly worthless substitutes. In many churches what passes for the gospel is nothing more than what one theologian called “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” The gospel, and the wonderful joy that results from it, has been replaced with a man centered, self-help philosophy that views man as better than he actually is.
Rather than a spiritual dead man, remember Lazarus, that needs to be resurrected unto new life in Christ by the one true sovereign God; man prefers to think of himself as at worst someone who is spiritually ill and in need of a corresponding spiritual pill to restore his health. In his opinion, fallen man’s spiritual needs may be better met and served by new age and reincarnation author and actress Shirley MacLaine than by the gospel of Jesus Christ.