Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Drawing his basic concept from the old book ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’, Dr. T David Gordon discusses his recent publication ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’ with the CTC panel at the Reformed Forum. whyjohnnycantpreach

Gordon’s book is basically a look at the deterioration of preaching in the media, multi-tasking age. Gordon draws much from Marshall Mcluhan and Neil Postman, who both suggest the decline of intellectual/literary thinking to the mass media of television and motion pictures.

The answer to why Johnny can’t preach is twofold: First, Johnny’s thinking has been shaped by the media. Gordon provides a vivid example of the problem. A preacher reads a very powerful passage of Scripture overflowing with potential. However, the sermon that follows ends up turning into something far from the passage, talking about parenting or marriage. How is this kind of thing possible? Gordon suggests this is possible because we are not used to seeing Scripture as being consequential, and so we read Scritpure we miss those things that are consequential. And that allows the preacher to be inconsequential.

The second reason Johnny can’t preach is because Johnny’s listeners don’t know how to listen to good preaching. It’s foreign to them. Gordon provides another vivid picture of this. A preacher received a comment from a church member that he had improved in his preaching. The preacher realized that it was not he who had improved, but his congregation who had improved in listening to preaching.

One friendly criticism I have is that sometimes these discussions about media go a little too far in vilifying the medium of the media, without giving adequate weight to the content. Marshall Mcluhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message”, and while on some level that is true, it’s not helpful to take that in isolation of other important factors. All forms of media are a tool. The tool is not the root problem. It’s abuse is the problem. I would whole-heartedly agree with Gordon that movie clips have no place in preaching, but I do that not on the ground of the medium, but on the overpowering emotional & sensual nature of the movie clip content itself. If we oversimplify it as a medium problem we haven’t sufficiently dealt with the reasons why.

And this leads us to vilify the use of Powerpoint just because of it’s ‘graphical’ nature. Yet no one ever criticized the use of overheads or blackboards (which R. C. Sproul uses) as an evil use of those mediums. Some preachers use Powerpoint very effectively. Others have no business using it. Powerpoint is a benign tool. The preacher who utilizes it is what counts.

Despite my minor criticism, this discussion is a very important one, and if you are a preacher you will gain some good insight from this lively discussion.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach >>>

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