Why Johnny Can't Preach

Why Johnny Can’t PreachI’ve just finished reading a short book by T. David Gordon, a professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, on the current state of preaching in America. The book is titled Why Johnny Can’t Preach. And it claims Johnny can’t preach because 1) Johnny can’t read and 2) Johnny can’t write. Gordon points to the rapid changes in the mass media culture of this country that have taken us from a literate society to a society based on images. And he says it’s killing preaching.

This book doesn’t come close to the ultimate work on the community and societal dangers of technology. Neil Postman’s masterpiece, Amusing Ourselves to Death, asks the questions we all should be asking about not what technology can do for us, but what technology is doing to us. His book, in my judgment, begins and ends all of those kinds of discussions. Every other conversation on this topic is a commentary on what Postman observed 30 years ago.

Gordon’s book isn’t bad. He points out that the “average weekday network news sound bite from a presidential candidate shrank from 42.3 seconds in 1968 to 9.8 seconds in 1988 (with only one percent of the bites lasting as long as 40 seconds that year). By 2000, the average was 7.8 seconds.” And he cleanly shows that these kinds of facts cause, and are a reflection of, an increasing inability to think seriously about serious things. He notes correctly that TVs and computers and cell phones are ruining us for personal communication, the skills to read and listen for more than just information and the talents to correctly organize and compose one’s thoughts. So, preachers are increasingly unable to preach. And, even if they were, the congregation is increasingly unable to discern good preaching if they hear it.

He’s right. He’s just a little over the top. His passion certainly shines through. But it’s unyielding and rigid.

Notice these lines about the way watching TV dulls our abilities to tell the difference between the significant and the insignificant: “Television-watching prohibits such discernment. One simply cannot regard the significant as more important than the insignificant, and then plop himself in front of a television for two to three hours an evening. The only way the conscience can survive such a colossal waste of a human life is for the individual to refuse to entertain the question of the difference between the significant and the insignificant.”

It’s good. It’s right. He’s dead-on right. But it’s a little much, don’t you think?

Gordon does spend half a chapter or so on the subject of moralisms in our Christian preaching, the practice of telling the congregation they need to shape up and start acting better, without a word of grace regarding how the Lord empowers us to act better. It’s preaching imperative without indicative. And I really struggle with that. I’m overly careful about it in my own preaching. I try to always include God’s grace through Christ and the power of his Spirit that enables us to live for him. Yet, I’ll ocassionally go back and still find moralisms all through my sermons.

Here’s Gordon on moralisms, which are, in his words, “never appropriate” unless they’re presented in the context of redemption: “Even when the faithful exposition of particular texts requires some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commended behavior to be itself a matter of being rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ. When properly done, the hearer longs to be rescued from that depravity from which no sinner can rescue himself; and the hearer rejoices to know that a kind and gracious God is both willing and able to begin that rescue, which will be completed in its glorification.”

That helps me. That helps me a lot. Focus, Allan, focus. That’s good stuff. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DaveTippettI regret the firing of Stars coach Dave Tippett, the nicest of the head coaches I ever had the pleasure of covering during my time in sports radio. His personality might have actually been a factor in his firing: too nice a guy. New Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who played the game hard and fair, who was everything you’d ever want in a team captain, is probably looking for a coach with a different kind of edge to try to make one or two quick postseason runs here with what is now an older team. Tippett was probably the right guy to take over for Ken Hitchcock who, despite taking the team to two Stanley Cup Finals and one title, had worn out his welcome with his star players. And it may be time for Tippett to go now, too. Who knows? But he was the last remaining of the four head coaches of Dallas’ major sports teams that I personally covered in my previous life. And one of my favorite. Although, I never got used to him without the mustache. Tippett was good for the Stars and he was good for his sport. He’ll catch on somewhere else. He’s too good not to. And I wish him all the best.


SharonToday is my little sister Sharon’s birthday. To honor her, go to Bonanza and flirt with the cook, build a “howsh,” sleep through a tornado, and take four weeks to return all phone calls. I love you, Sharon.




  1. Rob's Dad

    This could be an excellent discussion yet in a way you’ve done the same thing Gordon is concerned about – we get a sound bite where we would be better served to really dig into this because it truly is a deep subject.

    Postman’s masterpiece? Ease up on that one or at least plan on more time to dig into them.

    Tip will catch on, but will the spare DFW sports fan really remember him in 6 yrs?

    Happy birthday to your little sister – be nice to her.

    Rangers – very nice night for Millwood. Is there an ill wind blowing in Arlington with the bats? Never sit in the Lexus club seats – we splurged tonite and it was a huge mistake.

  2. Howard

    Everything you can say bad about TV is true. I have eliminated my TV over a year ago and cannot see myself going back. The experience is rewarding beyond measure. I have not only discovered a new outlook on TV (I find it totally boring) but on movies as well. I have stopped going to movies, because if we do not feed ourselves a constant diet of this stuff we loose our taste for it.

    You could do nothing better for the people you influence than to encourage them all to throw out their TVs. It is the best present a parent can give a child.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For spam filtering purposes, please copy the number 8524 to the field below: