The Deadly Danger of How-To Sermons

Timothy Raymond has given us an important reminder as we preach which is essential to a faithful preaching of the gospel: “The danger of a how-to.” The concern he raises, which is very real and much more prominent than one would wish is that preaching becomes a series of how-to messages, which in essence becomes moralistic preaching.

The concern, according to Raymond, is that the definition of a Christian has been changed so that it no longer refers to “someone who confesses the gospel and gives reasonable evidence thereunto,” but instead “a Christian is someone who strives to follow Christian ethics.”

Raymond lays much of the blame on pastors who have given in to the “how-to sermon. . . . ‘Six keys for raising happy children’, ‘Four secrets for a healthy marriage’, ‘Five principles for managing your money.’ ” The problem with such a sermon, he notes, is that “a steady diet of how-to sermons devoid of the gospel, or weak on the gospel, or vague on the gospel, or which simply tack-on the gospel at the end as a sort of formality, implicitly yet powerfully communicate that Christianity is a lifestyle first and a faith second. They place ethics at the core and beliefs at the periphery.”

This is not to suggest that there is no place for ethics or lifestyle. There is but it arises from the gospel, so the order and priority are essential or we miss the gospel and generate moralism. It must get the indicative, that which Christ has done, and the imperative, that which we are commanded in light of having believed and received what Christ has done, right: the indicative is foundational to the imperative; the imperative is grounded in the indicative. This means we embrace the gospel and affirm there are also entailments to the gospel.

In conclusion, “evangelicals are evangelicals not because we follow four principles, five keys, or six secrets. In the end, evangelicals are evangelicals because we build our lives on the gospel alone.”

I heartily concur. As we consider our lives and ministry, particularly our teaching and preaching, are we evangelical?

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