Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Why Can’t Johnny Preach? That is a good question. And it is a troubling question too. To try to get at an answer, the Christ the Center panel interviewed Rev. Dr. T. David Gordon, minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College. Dr. Gordon is former pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashua, NH and associate professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. The panel discussed with Dr. Gordon the reasons why preaching has fallen on such hard times in our day and what can be done about it. Along the way, issues of media ecology are also discussed as they bear on the challenges various media present to the task of preaching and the task of listening to preaching. Listeners will find much food for thought in this provocative episode.
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Panel

  • T. David Gordon
  • Jeff Waddington
  • Jim Cassidy
  • Nick Batzig
  • Camden Bucey

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Bibliography

Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny can’t preach : the media have shaped the messengers. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2009.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. New Ed. Gingko Press, 2005.

Phillips, Richard, and Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Precious blood : the atoning work of Christ. Wheaton Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. 20th ed. Penguin (Non-Classics), 2005.

Reynolds, Gregory Edward. The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

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Tim H.

9 years ago

Super! I was hoping T. David was up this week.

Camden Bucey

9 years ago

Thanks Tim, we had fun with this one.

I want to apologize to everyone up front for the audio quality. For various reasons, I’ve had to use different equipment for this episode (and the next). The excessive noises won’t be an issue in the future (at least after the next episode).

T. David Gordon on Reformed Forum to discuss “Why Johnny cant Preach” « Relentless Grace

9 years ago

[…] with 2 comments At Grove City College there is a religion professor by the name of T. David Gordon, a great professor, godly man, and brilliant communicator.  My first encounter with him was during freshmen orientation for all new Christian thought majors.  He certainly teased me over my height, in his words I am two of him.  He encouraged all students to become English majors because we need to learn how to read and write, something you can only do by studying language.  He wanted us to be the best preachers we possibly could be, as much of what we were going to be taught would be replicated in the average seminary in the country.  (Something that is a challenge for me as I consider seminary education this summer/fall.)  If you know anything about T. David he wants us to understand how to communicate and how technology impacts that endeavor; he is a scholar in the field called “media ecology.”  I am going to buy his book later, but this is a brilliant interview with this fiesty man hosted by the guys at Reformed Forum. […]

Preaching is Absolutely Essential…and We Preachers Had Better Learn to Do it Right!

9 years ago

[…] Dr. T. David Gordon about his new book Why Johnny Can’t Preach which you can listen to here.  The book is an absolute delight to read.  However, the subject hits a little too close to home […]

Why Johnny Can’t Preach (1) « Heidelblog

9 years ago

[…] can hear an interview with Gordon at Reformed Forum. You can order this book from the Bookstore at Westminster Seminary […]

A Pilgrim's Redress

9 years ago

[…] You can hear a good interview with T. David Gordon by the guys at the Reformed Forum here. I highly recommend listening to this lecture, because he has as much to say to laypersons in the pew as he has to say to ministers in the pulpit. […]

» Do T.V., Movies and the Internet Impact Preaching? A Pilgrim’s Redress

9 years ago

[…] can hear a good interview with T. David Gordon by the guys at the Reformed Forum here. I highly recommend listening to this interview, because he […]

Baus

9 years ago

Camden and others,

Isn’t there something a little odd about Gordon’s thesis?

I haven’t read the book yet, but –prima facie– when Paul says that his own preaching lacked “wisdom of words” (1 Cor 1:17) … I always took that to mean both in substance (ie, not so-called wisdom apart from Christ) and in form (ie, not polished rhetorical style). Paul seems to indicate that his lack of rhetoric was actually fit for the gospel ministry, as it is marked primarily by the Spirit’s efficacy, and not an effect enhanced by following the natural laws of good public speaking.
I’m surprised this issue didn’t come up in the interview (or I don’t remember it being mentioned).

I don’t think the import of this would be that Paul is encouraging preachers to cultivate poor public speaking, but rather, to put it briefly, if Johnny can’t preach, then it’s because he’s not genuinely preaching Christ.

In my own experience (in various NAPARC denominations) the preaching is so poor because these the preachers still don’t believe that the Word rightly preached only and ever ultimately proclaims two things [in all its various particular ways]: 1) the person of Christ and His definitive accomplishment of full redemption for His people, and 2) how this applies to His people in union with Him.

None of this undermines the validity of oratory, rhetoric, and “media ecology” or whathaveyou. It’s just to say that the theological fundamentals still seem to be at stake. And Paul’s testimony seems to be that these fundamentals are both necessary and sufficient for “good preaching,” poor rhetoric not withstanding.

I’d love some feedback on this.

Ian Watson

9 years ago

The irony about what Paul says about his preaching is that if his letter writing is anything to go by then he was a very skilled rhetoritian. What Paul is getting at to the Corinthians (I think) is that the power of his arguements didn’t depend on rhetoric. In their culture they were more concerned with style than content. Paul’s point is that what counts is the content of the gospel. He refused to employ certain techniques that were dishonest (flattery for example). But I have no doubt that he used the science of rhetoric. It’s all over his letters.

Generally speaking, I want to support the idea of reading poetry. This advice was given to me by a very liberal preacher when I was a young man. It was probably the only good advice he could give! Since then I have read poetry regularly. Not to quote (though sometimes I do) but more to stimulate the mind, to open the mind to description and terseness of thought. If you don’t know where to start just buy an anthology of the classics.

Matthew Morizio

9 years ago

Agreed. Gordon is arguing for something that suits him quite well. Not a bad thing in itself…if you’ve got it, use it! Yet, this is certainly not the case that the Apostle Paul is making.

Nonetheless, I so appreciate his assessment of Reformed churches today…in too many cases being equivalent to mainline Liberal churches with their moralistic accent. The ol’ Law-Gospel-Law paradigm in action.

Peace,
Matthew

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Review & Giveaway) | Don't Eat The Fruit

9 years ago

[…] Gordon was on a podcast recently which is available from the Reformed Forum. It covers material not found in the book, and is interesting on its […]

Why Johnny Can’t Preach « Faith by Hearing

9 years ago

[…] Why Johnny Can’t Preach >>> […]

Why Johnny Can’t Preach (2) « Heidelblog

9 years ago

[…] reading, T. David Gordon, writing Between the first post and this one I listened to the excellent interview with David at Reformedforum.org. In the first chapter Gordon lays out his case that “Johnny […]

flotsam & jetsam (3.27.09) : EX vilis CATHEDRA

9 years ago

[…] Why Johnny Can’t Preach (an interview with the author).  An interesting series of posts about the book here:  Pt 1  Pt 2  Pt 3  Pt 4 […]

johnMark

9 years ago

Can anyone recommend which poetry to read? Particular authors, a certain book, etc.?

Thanks,

Mark

Camden Bucey

9 years ago

I’d like an answer to that question too! I can ask around and try to post something when I get some suggestions.

ruth

6 years ago

I’m just an old English teacher, so take this for what it’s worth. The British poets are tops–including John Donne, Milton, George Herbert, Wordsworth, Christina Rosetti, W.H. Auden and (though he was very close to being a universalist), George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul). T.S. Eliot’s later works. Mystics: Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The older I get, the more poetry (Christian poets) speak to me. Of the Americans, I really love Longfellow.

T. David Gordon

9 years ago

I suppose I should offer some help. Any anthology of poetry will do, but of course the more-comprehensive ones are better than the narrower ones (e.g. Oxford Book of 17th Century Verse is too narrow). Harold Bloom, the virtual dean of American poetry criticism from Yale, edited an anthology that includes many of his own interpretive essays also. If you had to own one volume of poetry, purchase Bloom’s 2007 The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Robert Frost.

T. David Gordon

More on preaching from Dr Gordon « The Wanderer

9 years ago

[…] You can also read a Word document with his outline and notes: Reformed Worship in the Electronic Age.doc; in addition Dr. Gordon did a roundtable discussion on these issues at the Reformed Forum. […]

Frederic Putnam

9 years ago

If you want to hone your understanding of poetry, the best book (which is also a good anthology) is Perrine’s Sound & Sense, by William Arp. There are 12 editions (the 13th is coming); any will do; I have found many at used book sales for $1 or less. It is also the center section of “Perrine’s Structure, Sound, & Sense” (same editor). The great advantage of a broad anthology (the kind that Dr Gordon recommends) is that you will meet a variety of poets, among whom you will almost certainly find favourites.

I highly recommend “The Oxford Book of … “… Children’s Verse”, “… English Verse”, and “… American Verse”, all of which I have found at used book sales for less than $5.

A final note: poetry is best read aloud, preferably more than once; it is helpful to hear how the “sound fits the sense” (apologies to Alexander Pope).

Fred Putnam

David Legg

8 years ago

Thanks for this interview, people.
I enjoyed the demolition of the use of PowerPoint during sermons.
It is important that people are not distracted from the preacher.
“The human neurology does its best work when it’s does a single thing.”
ie. listening to one preacher with ears and not being distracted by pictures or other visual stuff.
Thanks.

steve

8 years ago

Disclaimer – Have not read the book

but on the use of media to enhance communication (namely PowerPoint)… what about all the learning theory that tells us to use as many different modes of communication as possible in order to enhance learning and increase retention/application etc

Why Johnny Can’t Preach | Bully’s Blog

8 years ago

[…] can listen to a panel interview with T. David Gordon here, in which he has as much to say to the preacher’s audience as he does to the preacher. […]

^*(^&(*&

8 years ago

The “meat” of this interview starts at 7:00 min.

Josh

8 years ago

I’ve thought about using PowerPoint slides to mark the sections of the service. For example, when doing announcements, there would be a slide that simply says “Announcements”. During the sermon, I would have a slide with only the biblical reference on it, e.g. “John 1:1-4”. It is mainly a help for guests to follow along the order of the service.

Any thoughts? Do you think this would help or hinder the flow of the service?

Camden Bucey

8 years ago

I prefer not to have PowerPoint, but I wouldn’t say this is a terrible idea. In our “Luther and Media” episode Carl Trueman made a few comments about PowerPoint as well. He likes having PowerPoint for showing pictures of their missionaries before they pray for them. I believe they do take the picture down before the prayer though.

Latest Links | blog of dan

8 years ago

[…] Why Johnny Can’t Preach […]

Reformed Forum - Reformed Theology Podcasts, Videos, Blogs and More - » Blog Archive » Christ the Center 2010 March Madness

8 years ago

[…] (1) Why Johnny Can’t Preach with T. David Gordon #ctc60 (64) The Eschatology of Adoption with Dave Garner #ctc55 (32) The Masculine Mandate with Rick Phillips #ctc87 (33) The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes with Thabiti Anyabwile #ctc82 (16) The Church Fathers with Michael Haykin #ctc61 (49) The Doctrine of Assurance with Burk Parsons #ctc89 (17) The Importance of the Original Languages with Miles Van Pelt #ctc79 (48) Foreign Missions and Special Office with Mark Bube and Doug Clawson #ctc81 (9) A Brief History of Trinitarian Thought with Carl Trueman #ctc42 (56) The Defense of the Faith with K. Scott Oliphint #ctc36 (24) Credo-Baptism During the Reformation with James Dolezal #ctc96 (41) The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century with Ligon Duncan #ctc28 (25) Truth and Error in the Church with (none) #ctc84 (40) Van Til’s Trinitarian Theology with Lane Tipton #ctc49 (8) Christless Christianity with Michael Horton #ctc65 (57) William Perkins and the Development of Puritan Pre… with Joey Pipa #ctc91 (5) N.T. Wright’s Doctrine of Justification, Part 1 with Guy Waters #ctc58 (60) A God-Centered Approach to Language with Vern Poythress #ctc98 (28) Calvin and the Development of Covenant Theology with Peter Lillback #ctc45 (37) Deconstructing Evangelicalism with Darryl Hart #ctc47 (12) The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology with Fowler White and Keith Mathison #ctc64 (53) Luther and Media with Carl Trueman #ctc94 (21) Reformed Worship with Jon Payne #ctc68 (44) Redeeming Science with Vern Poythress #ctc52 (13) N.T. Wright’s Doctrine of Justification, Part 2 with Guy Waters #ctc59 (52) J. Gresham Machen with Darryl Hart #ctc32 (20) The Rule of Love with John Fesko #ctc78 (45) The New Shape of World Christianity with Mark Noll #ctc85 (29) Puritan Theology with James O’Brien #ctc62 (36) Paedocommunion with Cornelis Venema #ctc56 (4) Apologetics and Pastoral Ministry with David Robertson #ctc73 (61) Christian Essentialism with K. Scott Oliphint #ctc97 (3) The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism with Greg Beale #ctc54 (62) Meet the Puritans with Joel Beeke #ctc106 (30) The Relationship of Philosophy to Theology with (none) #ctc71 (35) The Reformed Doctrine of Justification with John Fesko #ctc38 (14) The God Who Is with Doug Kelly #ctc66 (51) Paul’s Two-Age Construction and Apologetics with Bill Dennison #ctc92 (19) A Comparison of Rahnerian to Reformed Apologetics with Camden Bucey #ctc74 (46) The Theology of Samuel Rutherford with Guy Richard #ctc83 (11) A Life in the Preaching Ministry with Eric Alexander #ctc69 (54) Sacrifices and Festivals in the Old Testament with Ben Shaw #ctc95 (22) Calvin as a Servant of the Word of God with Glen Clary #ctc75 (43) Thomas Boston: Preacher of the Fourfold State with Phil Ryken #ctc46 (27) New Testament Theology with Tom Schreiner #ctc88 (38) Cornelius Van Til: A Life with John Muether #ctc41 (6) Recovering the Reformed Confession with R. Scott Clark #ctc27 (59) The Eschatological Views of the Westminster Divine… with Jeff Jue #ctc31 (7) New Testament Textual Criticism in the 21st Centur… with Dan Wallace #ctc70 (58) Loving the Church with Ted Kluck #ctc86 (26) Sanctification and the Gospel with Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. #ctc57 (39) Church Membership with Guy Waters #ctc93 (10) The Regulative Principle of Worship with Derek Thomas #ctc80 (55) Restoration Prophecy in Ezra-Nehemiah with Matt Patton #ctc90 (23) Scripture and Doctrine in the Church with (none) #ctc72 (42) Apologetics and Islam with James White #ctc44 (15) God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament with Richard C. Gamble #ctc77 (50) Made in the USA with Steve Nichols #ctc48 (18) Thomas Aquinas with James Dolezal #ctc76 (47) The 100th Episode with (none) #ctc100 (31) The Song of David’s Son with Iain Campbell #ctc67 (34) Counterfeit Gods with Tim Keller #ctc101 (2) Geerhardus Vos with Danny Olinger #ctc63 (63) Herman Bavinck with Ron Gleason #ctc37 […]

Reformed Forum - Reformed Theology Podcasts, Videos, Blogs and More - » Blog Archive » The Sweet 16

8 years ago

[…] (1) Why Johnny Can’t Preach with T. David Gordon #ctc60 […]

Brian Lee

7 years ago

Great episode and interesting thread. Camden, I believe we met at PCRT at the White Horse Inn event, correct?

Just want to add that Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC will have T. David Gordon out to speak as a part of our “Preaching in the Capital” series this October, along with Gene Veith, Marva Dawn, and a speaker to be named later. Gordon will speak on Thursday, October 14, at 6:30 pm on the topic of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, but if we manage Q&A right we might get him to hold forth as well on Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.

Look us up on Facebook to get our event updates. Thanks.

Boss K.

7 years ago

Very relevant post called “The Word of God and the Man In The Pulpit”:

http://www.cleftintherock.org/2010/03/word-of-god-and-man-in-pulpit_2624.html

BK

>Do TV, Movies and the Internet Impact Preaching? « Pilgrims & Pastors

7 years ago

[…] can hear a good interview with T. David Gordon by the guys at the Reformed Forum here. I highly recommend listening to this interview, because he has as much to say to laypersons in the […]

Review: “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” (Part I) « think hard, think well

7 years ago

[…] at Grove City College (formerly at Gordon-Conwell) and is ordained in the PCA. I heard him speak about this book on the Reformed Forum a little while ago. As a novice preacher pursuing ordination to gospel ministry, as well as an […]

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