In my Twinterview with Tim Challies, Jeremy Walker asked me to identify particular dangers facing the church in the West at this time. One of the dangers I mentioned was “Preaching becoming too academic and less evangelistic.” As that might be an enexpected danger to list alongside Militant Homosexuality, I’d like to take a few paragraphs just to explain what I mean by that.

There has been a welcome resurgence of expository preaching in the Reformed church over the last 20-30 years, and especially of “consecutive expository preaching” – preaching through books of the Bible, verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter. But together with that resurgence of consecutive expository preaching, there has also come a decline in what I would call “converting evangelistic preaching.”

What do I mean by “converting evangelistic preaching”? Let me give two negatives to begin with. I don’t mean teaching sermons with an evangelistic PS; a doctrinal sermon with a brief concluding appeal or call to the unconverted to seek Christ, believe in Christ, look to Christ, etc.

Neither, at the other extreme, do I mean content-less sermons made up simply of repeated evangelistic imperatives, commands, invitations, and exhortations; sermons that have nothing for the head but are all addressed to the heart or will.

What do I mean, then, by evangelistic preaching? Let me put it positively: Evangelistic preaching expounds God’s Word (it is expository) with the primary aim of the salvation of lost souls (rather than the instruction of God’s people). Stuart Olyott says it is to “preach from the Bible with the immediate aim of the immediate conversion of every soul in front of us.”

So, what really distinguishes evangelistic preaching from all other kinds of preaching is its obvious and unmistakable aim – conversion. Its target is unconverted hearers. And its conscious and deliberate aim is to call, invite, and command needy souls to repent and believe the Gospel.

Why has this kind of preaching become increasingly rare in many Reformed Churches? I’ll give you my answer next week, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it first.

  • John Ducommun

    “So, what really distinguishes evangelistic preaching from all other kinds of preaching is its obvious and unmistakable aim – conversion. Its target is unconverted hearers. And its conscious and deliberate aim is to call, invite, and command needy souls to repent and believe the Gospel.”

    I don’t have a problem with this type of preaching …. occasionally…but when this preaching is week after week after week, etc. (you get the idea) then when are the sheep fed? (John 21:15ff)

    How would one balance this type of “evangelistic preaching” with the charge to “exhortation and doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13?

    This, I think, might call into question the purpose of the church worship service. Is the overall purpose supposed to be primarily evangelistic or exhortation and doctrine?

    Just sayin’

    • Jeremy Walker

      John -

      It might also be worth pointing out that the probable presumption of David’s post is of more than one service on the Lord’s day. So, for example, it is quite possible that there could be a balance every Lord’s day, with one sermon being more directly evangelistic, and one sermon more explicitly instructive and directive. Therefore, in addition to the blessings of hearing the Christ declared, and having one’s heart drawn out to him afresh, the saints would receive more particular food.

      • David Murray

        That’s right Jeremy, I’m assuming two services on a Lord’s Day.

  • David Murray

    Well, it’s easy to make any good thing look extreme. You might be surprised as well at how much Christians enjoy being evangelized all over again. They also love hearing sermons addressed to their inconverted family members. Never felt more prayerful in church than when a preacher is preaching to lost souls sitting beside me.

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  • Jeremy Walker

    Might I suggest that one reason why such preaching is rare is because we are afraid: afraid of doing it badly, afraid of seeing no results, afraid of exposing our ignorance or carelessness.

    Also, I wonder if we are putting the cart before the horse. Do we say to ourselves, “When there are more unbelievers present, I shall preach more explicitly evangelistically,” rather than “I shall preach more explicitly evangelistically, in the hopes of gathering unbelievers”?

    May I offer one further thought: if we want to preach evangelistically, we may need to get outside the walls of our buildings to do so. There are no lack of people who need the gospel; should we go out and compel them to come in to the kingdom?

    I hope that this gets the ball rolling . . .

    • David Murray

      Fear is definitely a factor, and yes especially if we are not used to it. I agree also that evangelistic preaching will draw unbelievers. At least, believers will be more willing to ask unbelievers to come.

  • Shawn Anderson

    “Why has this kind of preaching become increasingly rare in many Reformed Churches? I’ll give you my answer next week, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it first.”

    1) Maybe it is because we have made an unnecessary bifurcation between instructional preaching and evangelistic preaching, between preaching to believers and to unbelievers.

    The preacher should see how the text aims at the heart of the believer and the unbeliever. He should see how the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and sanctification.

    Consider the preaching of our Lord, who preached to the converted and unconverted, in the same sermons. While tax collectors and prostitutes gathered around him, the scribes and pharisees had to show up to see what was going on. And in that gathering, Jesus was able to speak to both.

    Paul gives instruction of how worship ought to be conducted, assuming a context of both believers and unbelievers (1 Cor 14). Though, admittedly, he does “double-back to established churches in order to ‘strengthen,’ ‘encourage,’ and ‘teach’ believers”. (see,

    If all sermons are preaching the Gospel, shouldn’t they include both instruction and a call to faith and repentance?

    2) Another issue may be our understanding of the sins we struggle with.

    Sure Christians and non-Christians struggle differently with sin, due to the grace of God, faith in His Word, the power of the Holy Spirit, intercession of Son and Spirit, etc.

    And Christians may not be bold in their sins like unbelievers are. But we still have the same root — the flesh — enticing us away from righteousness, and from love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    The Gospel addresses the idols of the heart that both believers and unbelievers are given to. And calls both to faith and love through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

    3) Another issue may be our understanding of the Gospel.

    Maybe we see the Gospel as so simple (you=sinner, Jesus=Savior) that we don’t appreciate the multi-faceted expression of the Gospel: slavery/deliverance, defeat/victory, disease/healing, poverty/wealth, ruin/restoration, wandering/coming home, lost/being found, humiliation/exaltation, etc. (1 Cor 1:18-31)

    I was very impacted by your conference on Evangelism, and I remember fondly “Evangelism: The Message” where you identified 20 things that the Gospel is NOT. People are often called to the wrong person/thing.

    4) But most fearfully, there may be some who really think that Jesus is a means to a greater end.

    Maybe we see the Gospel as so elementary that we don’t appreciate the life-long process of maturity in Christ through the Gospel. We often think of starting with “getting saved” then advancing to doctrine or law or social engagement, like the Galatians. We can perpetually remain in a knowledge about Jesus and never be confronted with how little we know Jesus. Christians and non-Christians need this week after week. Every text of Scripture provides such a confrontation, whether explicitly or implicitly.

    These are just some random thoughts off the top of my head – maybe something in there touches the pulse of what you are talking about.

    • David Murray

      Shawn, I agree, that most sermons should have both instruction for Christians and an address to unbelievers. However, I’m arguing for some sermons that have a much greater balance of address to unbelievers. Of course there will still be instruction in that.

      And yes, I think when people hear “preach the Gospel to unbelievers” they tend to have a caricature in their minds of one kind of sermons. But as you say, an evangelistic sermons can be and should be multi-faceted.

  • Raymond

    Could a factor be hyper-covenantalism? By that I mean an assumption that most, if not all hearers are partakers of salvation via covenant membership? If most (all) are saved, evangelistic preaching is ‘preaching to the choir’, and instruction is all that is needed.

    • David Murray

      I’m afraid, very afraid, that this could be at the root of most of the rarity today, Raymond.

  • Nick Horton

    I wonder if the problem is in the false dichotomy of evangelism and teaching. I don’t see a sermon as being wholly one or the other, with no ability to mix. If we accept that as Jesus said, the whole of the Bible is about Him, then we can quite naturally evangelize in our teaching. Every verse of scripture is for the glory of God, to which we can testify and call sinners to repentance and faith to receive the grace of God.

    I should hope that in whatever text is preached, doctrine forms the foundation upon which the Gospel is laid. Doctrine aids our understanding of who God is. We cannot understand the Gospel without understanding who we are, and who God is. God draws by grace through faith in Him. We must preach then Him, his divine attributes, his character, as revealed in His word. God calls us to preach the Gospel so that some might hear and believe. Romans 10:14-17. God saves by His power and decision through the vehicle of the Gospel preached.

    I would hesitate to guess the reason that preaching has drifted away from evangelism. Does the “frozen chosen” moniker apply? Have our hearts grown so cold because we have lost our first love? God saves sinners, yes. God is the one who draws, God is the one who regenerates, produces faith, and justifies. Yet we must not forget He has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching the Gospel as a means to His end. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

  • David Compton

    I am fully convinced that what is seriously lacking, in any kind of evangelistic preaching these days, is an emphasis on the imperatives and demands of the Moral Law (Ten Commandments)- that lost sinners might be convicted of their sinful condition and the necessity of God’s justice having to be satisfied through the atoning death of Christ.

    Christ began his public ministry by drawing attention to the proper understanding of the extent of the Ten commandments in the Sermon on the Mount in which He says ” Do not think I have come to destroy the Law or the prophets.I did not come to destroy but to fulfill’ Matthew 5:17…..whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so,shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven:but whoever does and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.” Verse 19. These words are addressed to the converted as well as the unconverted.

    The Law should be preached to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Paul says in Romans 7:7-25. ” I would not have known sin except through the Law.For I would have not known covetousness unless the law had said ‘You shall not covet”.

    The Law should be preached as a rule of life for the Believer.The life of righteousness and responsibility of the converted person to live a righteous life before a Holy God and his neighbour is clearly defined in the first and second table of the Law.

    The Law should be preached to ‘search’ the hearts of men that they would not deceive themselves as to their state before God.

    It is only against this background that the Gospel can be clearly preached and in my estimation this is sorely lacking in most preaching in North America these days.

    • David Murray

      Yes, there’s such a fear of legalism that the law has almost disappeared not just from being a guide to the Christian life, but also as a means of conviction.

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  • Michael

    It’s become rare because many Reformed preachers (in and out of the YRR movement), while affirming a calvinism that is evangelistic and while also affirming the free offer of the Gospel have in reality become functional hypercalvinists. Many have begun to elevate the Standards or the Forms of Unity above God’s own Word and consequently have become more concerned about proving how Reformed they are than about holding for the Word of Truth.

    • David Murray

      Functional hypercalvinism. Now that hits a nail on the head, I fear.

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  • Allen Snyder

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