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.