Review: Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the MessengersWhy Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By the title of this book I expected it to be somewhat playful, but Gordon is all business. It is a serious subject and a serious problem, so his serious manner is appropriate. He transparently states the state of things in the average pulpit today. Though anecdotal, anyone with church-going experience can verify his unscientific findings. His concern is not that there are no great preachers today, but rather that the average pulpit in the average church doesn’t even have average preaching, but less than mediocre preaching.

Usually churches respond to this problem by trying to make up for it in other ways. They fool about with styles of music, interior design and decoration, technology, nurseries, groups, programs, etc. If they address the preaching directly it is to push for the twenty minute, one thought type of message. Gordon points out this is like a hospital having an excessive death rate in surgeries and choosing to address it by banning the use of scalpels in the operating room.

He doesn’t merely bewail the state of things but seeks to uncover the problem root. He acknowledges seminaries are imperfect, but he can’t lay the blame there. He contends Johnnies don’t have the inculturation necessary to preach well before they even enter seminary. He lists three sensibilities a man must have cultivated before he even begins to learn to preach. 1) “the sensibility of the close reading of texts.” 2) “the sensibility of composed communication.” 3) “the sensibility of the significant.”

He concludes by recommending ways Johnnies can cultivate these sensibilities. He did not set out to write the definitive work on preaching, but rather to address requisite beginning. His case is well put and compelling. Any man who is called to preach must be aware of the limitations of his upbringing in the media ecology of today and he must be deliberate about cultivating the skills required to preach well. If this book gets a man pointed in this direction, then it is well worth it.

I found some parts less compelling than others. I also scratched my head at different times. For instance, Gordon made a point of not apologizing for his classic use of masculine pronouns. So he baldly states he will be uber-conservative, traditional, and stodgy on that point. However, he makes a point of this in order to say that his old school grammarian ways are not to be interpreted to exclude women. Say what? This is a book about preachers and preaching and you make a point of saying you’re not excluding women. So in the same breath he defends his curmudgeonly use of grammar, but in service of liberal, progressive error. I think Johnny the Apostle might say, “That maketh no sense.”

I still think it’s a worthy book but reading it might be like listening to a lecture from a professor with a bad comb-over. What he is saying is important, but those flyaways can be distracting.

View all my reviews

Review: The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do

The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to DoThe Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My thoughts on this book are mixed. It is well-written in terms of craft. The human interest stories are compelling. It does have some useful suggestions and advice, but I don’t know that it accomplished its own expectation. I am probably cynical when it comes to pursue-your-dreams and live-a-radical-life messages. So, keep that in mind.

The idea of selfless service was not absent, but it wasn’t prominent enough. There wasn’t any effort to resolve tensions. For example: it could be an act of complete selfishness and self-centeredness to leave everything and move to Burundi. It might not be so, but the tension wasn’t explored. Being published by Thomas Nelson, I expected more of a Christian worldview on vocation–finding our purpose in life is found in pursuing God’s kingdom and his righteousness first and the greatest is the least and servant of all. It seemed that kind of message was watered down and, instead, there was some fuzzy, mystical stuff about “calling” and some near motivational guru speak. The message comes across as your failing unless you’re living in some radical, unconventional way. Where does this sort of message leave the Bible’s idea of a blessed life as being a quiet peaceable life with loving family?

Again, it wasn’t all bad. Apparently, many have read it and profited from it.

View all my reviews

Review: On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing NonfictionOn Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everybody recommends some books because everybody recommends them. Being heard or read recommending them lends cachet in certain circles. Recommendations for those books are easy to find, but finding someone who actually read the book and can tell you what is good or useful about it is not easy. Zinsser’s book is not one of those books. Everybody recommends this book because it is excellent and worth reading.

This isn’t a technical grammar manual, but a book on writing clearly. Zinsser uses numerous examples to illustrate his points. If you read nothing else, read the chapter on clutter.

View all my reviews

Review: The 400 Silent Years

The 400 Silent YearsThe 400 Silent Years by H.A. Ironside
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting read. Ironside gives a brief account of the history of the Jews for the four centuries between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It was a period of unrest, fights for independence, unreliable associations, and the struggle for the purification of the nation. Ironside also gives a brief overview of the apocryphal literature of the period. It’s a book worth reading.

View all my reviews

Review: Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel

Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel
Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel by J. Mack Stiles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brief book is an excellent practical guide to personal evangelism. Stiles points out some things that have gone wrong and do go wrong. I appreciated the space he took clarifying the Gospel message that we should share and the examples he used. He gives us a good push where we need to be pushed to be more active and faithful in evangelism. Reading books on evangelism is one way we can improve. I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

« Previous PageNext Page »