Moralistic Preaching

I received an email about my last post from Jeremy Lowrey. Jeremy has given me permission to post this. If you’re interested in the subject, then please read on. I’d be interested in your comments. I will respond to some of Jeremy’s concerns in a future post.

I was going to talk about the song, but then I read the moralistic preaching article.
I’m frankly confused by the Michael Horton article linked.  I’m not trying to pick a fight, or at least I hope I’m not, but I truly am confused at what he is proposing, and concerned if its what I think it is.  I am a strong advocate of Christ-centered preaching – I probably quote I Corinthians 2:2 more than all other verses combined for just that reason.  Indeed, I agree wholeheartely with Mr. Horton’s thesis statement in the first sentence of his article.  And I don’t think I’m advocating “moralism” as Mr. Horton understands it.  But from there, I’m simply bewildered.
I think my primary problem is that it appears that Mr. Horton seriously conflates salvation and the life we are to live after we become “new creatures” in Christ.  Humility before God is essential, but I simply cannot concede that is all that is required of the saved.  Even under the Law, God was clear that what was required was that we “act justly,  love mercy, and to WALK humbly before our God.”  Micah 6:8.  Jesus called us to follow Him, the implication being that there is actually somewhere to go.  And that requires a (non-trivial) principled life (not based rules, although Mr. Horton uses the words confusingly and interchangeably).   I completely agree that when we come to God as sinners through Christ, we have nothing to offer.  But when we become a new creation in Him, we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10.   God has empowered us to be something more than we were.  Mr. Horton claims that “And the text, said they, was aimed not at offering heroes to emulate (even Jesus), but at proclamation of God’s redemptive act in the person and work of the God-Man. ”  Frankly, all I can say is emulation of Christ is exactly what the text (if not Mr. Calvin) calls us too.  Or what do we do with Paul’s directive to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  I Corinthians 11:1.  Or more specifically Jesus’ call to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Luke 9:23.  Christian humility is not simply a recognition or even a celebration of God’s redemptive power in our lives.  It is a living out of that power as followers, as bond-servants, committed to His purposes and His good works.  Not for justification, and not even for our own benefit . . . but for love.  John 14:15.
I also really take issue with the name-calling in the context of preaching styles (which appears to me to be a fairly dramatic change of topic).  The problem I have with most of the theology that has come up in the last, oh, 2000 years or so, is that it far too often seems to define itself by its perceived opposition (the action/reaction/re-reaction of the emergent church to the conventional church and vice-versa is a good recent case in point).  And this seems to lead far too often to fallacial “either/or” logic.  In this case, I think Mr. Horton’s theological assumption is that anyone who rejects “Reformation Preaching,” specifically as he defines it, believes in, or is at least teaching, justification by the law, or is simply teaching fluff.  In support of that proposition, there’s an awful lot of disguised ad hominem stuff (for instance, the implication that other preachers are uneducated and poorly read, particularly in regard to “hermeneutical aids, and the riches of centuries of theological scholarship”), and poorly paraphrased scripture (I Corinthians 1  seems to me actually to support the idea that God has often chosen the unscholarly, uneducated (fishermen for heaven’s sake!) and the weak to serve as his spokesmen).  I’m always leery of someone who tells me he’s teaching me to be humble and then bases his justification in doing so on a claim that he’s smarter (but apparently humbly so) or better educated about God than me.   Aspiring theologians need to spend some serious time studying Job’s friends.
The sad thing is, I agree that many of the problems Mr. Horton calls out are indeed problems in modern Christianity.  But the solution is not more scholarship and better preaching models, any more than it is marketing and self-help guides.  The solution is serious discipleship, and serious commitment to letting Christ live through us.

Thoughts? Comments?

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada