Thursday, November 19, 2020

Where Has All The Gospel Preaching Gone? by Roger Carswell

This little booklet came as a freebie with a book I ordered from It was very kind of the publishers to send me a gratis copy. Although it was a bit like receiving the gift of a book on losing weight, or how to smarten up your appearance. What is the giver trying to say? 

Roger Carswell is a gifted evangelist whose soul winning ministry has been wonderfully used of the Lord in the UK and beyond. He thinks he's spotted a gap, or maybe even a gaping hole in much of contemporary Evangelical preaching. There isn't much of the evangel in it. Expository preaching may expound a Bible passage and apply it to the congregation, but the gospel of salvation isn't necessarily proclaimed and a response called for.

Does Carswell have a point? Yes. Whatever text they are handling, preachers should always set the little story of a particular Bible chapter or verse in the context of the big story of God's redeeming grace. And Jesus is at the heart of that big story of creation, ruin, redemption and renewal. 

But it isn't simply a matter of bringing the gospel into a sermon. The gospel, or al least some aspect of the gospel should flow from the text, into the sermon and be applied to the congregation. That doesn't mean John 3:16 always gets tagged onto the end of every message. The gospel is as broad as it is deep in its declaration of the plight of man and the power of God. 

Regular hearers of our preaching should be left in no doubt that they are sinners who need to repent and believe in the Saviour who died for our sins and rose from the dead that we might be put right with God and have the hope of eternal life. 

It may be easier to do that when preaching from some Bible books/passages than others, but it can and should be done at all times. In the evenings I'm currently preaching through Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. You can't avoid proclaiming Jesus' saving crucifixion, resurrection, exaltation and new life in the Spirit. Peter even tells us how to apply the message, Acts 2:37-41. 

In the mornings I'm preaching through Jeremiah and the other week I gave a sermon on Jeremiah 10:1-16, 'The stupidity of idolatry and the supremacy of God'. 'Not very gospely', you might say. But my headings give the drift of the message: I. In our folly we put idols in God's place, II. Let us put God in his rightful place, III. In his grace God put Jesus in our place. The great exchange of the gospel undoes the grim exchange of sin. 

I think one thing pastors need to work on in giving their preaching an evangelistic edge is the introduction to their messages. This should flag up a link between the passage in hand and people's need to hear the good news of Jesus. The pandemic has highlighted the plight of man in sin, for which the gospel alone has the answer. Let's make that clear, rather than simply jump into the text with some remarks about the background of a passage, or whatever. 

Carswell argues his case for bold evangelistic preaching biblically and with the support of some of the great evangelistic preachers of the past such as C. H. Surgeon and Octavius Winslow. He could also have enlisted the help of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. While he is best known these days for his great expository series on Romans and Ephesians, on Sunday evenings at Westminster Chapel, he would herald the gospel that sinners might be saved. 

Maybe one of the reasons behind the decline of evangelistic preaching is that we tend to think of outreach primarily in terms of personal witness and small group study. The preaching of the Word to the gathered church is not necessarily seen as an evangelistic event. Perhaps it is assumed that every member of the congregation is already converted, but that is a dangerous assumption to make. 

Besides, non-Christians should be made welcome in our services. They need to hear the gospel if they are to be reconciled to God. Such was the case in the church gatherings of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. The fact that our services are now broadcast online for all to hear should make us all the more determined to proclaim the gospel that people might turn to Christ for salvation. 

A timely call for pastors to, 'preach the word... do the work of an evangelist', 2 Timothy 4:2, 5. 

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