Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Should Doctrine be Preached to the Unconverted?

Douglas Groothuis asked:
Why do so few sermons revel in the glory of Jesus Christ's matchless achievements and the eternal blessedness of knowing him? Why are so few sermons even focused primarily on God?
Perhaps it is because we forget that "real preaching is born in long and laborious study of the Word of God and in the agnony of the preacher soul" (Machen, p73).  Perhaps it is because forget that The Cross is where our life is found, where our righteousness is declared.

Spurgeon wrote:
"More and more am I jealous lest any views upon prophecy, church government, politics, or even systematic theology, should withdraw one of us from glorying in the cross of Christ.” (C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, I.83).
And as Mark Dever commented:
What stops us from so glorying in the cross? This is my threatening enemy.
What will encourage us to glory in it all the more? This is my loving friend.
Enemies abound, and we need many friends to urge us back to the cross. John Gresham Machen sounds a warning from 75 years ago, if we'll listen:

...According to the tendency of religious work which is prevalent at the present day, Christians doctrine, including the central doctrine of the atonement, is to be presented to people, if at all, after rather than before they have been saved.

The advocates of this method sometimes have kind things to say about doctrine; it is necessary, they admit, in its proper place. A man who has already entered upon holy living, some of them no doubt say, will go on to study his Bible and will attain an ever more correct view of Christ and of the meaning of Christ's death. But at the beginning all that, it is held, is unnecessary; at the beginning all that is needed is surrender of the human will. What a man needs to do first, it is thought, is to put away his sin by his own act of surrender; there is time enough later for doctrinal instruction.
Whether that non-doctrinal, anti-intellectualistic method of religious work is right or wrong, it may be observed at any rate that it is quite contrary to the New Testament from beginning to end. The New Testament does not, in the manner of these modern religious workers, offer a man salvation first and then preach the gospel to him afterwards; but it preaches the gospel to him first - with the blessed doctrine of the atonement at the center of it - and then, through his acceptance of that gospel, it brings salvation to his soul.
It was to the unconverted people that Paul preached in Galatia the message of the Cross of Christ; and when they accepted that message - that "doctrine" - they were saved...
--J. Gresham Machen, Notes on Galatians p165.First published in Christianity Today, 1931-1933.
The content of the gospel needs to be said. The doctrine must be communicated. But... the gospel of Jesus must be communicated and that effects much we say... and how we say it... More on that here:
You can't say that. Hard questions, real people, offensive Bible verses.