Author: Ken Yeo
Preaching is in danger in the 21st century. In his 1982 influential book, John Scott laid out three contemporary objectives for preaching. First, society is increasing anti-authority. People believe everything is relative and subjective. Second, technology like television and computer has distracted people’s attention from preaching. It is even more true today with the explosive use of mobile phones with videos and social media apps. Third, the Church has lost its confidence in the Gospel. As a result, many pastors are constantly tempted to rob their time of sermon preparation to serve in other capacities like administration, running church programs, counseling, and visitations. My thesis of this paper is to present biblical, theological, and logical arguments on why preaching is still necessary for the 21st century.
The Definition of Preaching
Since I will be arguing for the necessity of preaching, it is important to have a definition of it. Preaching is one of the many different types of ministries of the Word. The New Testament primarily uses three Greek verbs for preaching: euangelizomai, katangello, and kerysso. The most prominent of the three is kerysso.
I will use Dr. Warren’s definition of expository preaching for this paper: “The communication of a biblical proposition discovered from a Spirit-directed exegetical/theological interpretation of a biblical text (or texts) and applied by the Holy Spirit through a preacher to a specific audience for the glory of God.”
The Biblical Argument
God Has Spoken
God is the God who speaks. He spoke this universe into existence (Gen 1:1-31; Ps 33:9; Heb 11:3) and used His Word to make covenants with men (Gen 12:1; Ex 24:3-8; 2 Sam 7:8-16). In the Old Testament, God spoke through His chosen prophets. In the New Testament, God spoke through Christ and His disciples.
God’s Written Word
God did not only speak; He also instructed His messengers to write down His Word. For example, God instructed Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Ex 34:27). Similarly, God instructed Jeremiah, “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.” (Jer 30:2).
Likewise, in the New Covenant, God continued to speak through the first generation of Christ’s disciples, and they wrote down God’s Word so that future generations would know about the person and the work of Christ (Luke 1:1-4; Col 4:16; Rev 1:3). Paul as a minister in the New Covenant, taught that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness for the church (2 Tim 3:16).
God Speaks Through Jesus Christ
God spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament and through His Son in the New Testament (Heb 1:1-2). Jesus’s preaching is a crucial part of His ministry. When people heard that Jesus could perform miracles, they started to look for Him. But Christ told his disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38-39).
Christ Sent His Disciples to Preach His Word
Jesus did not only preach the Word of God; He also called and sent His disciples to preach His Word (Mark 3:14-15). Preaching became even more important after Christ ascended into heaven because He was no longer physically present on earth. Preaching has been vital in the assembly of God’s people since the beginning of the church. A significant event at the church’s beginning was Peter’s preaching, which converted 3000 (Acts 1:41). When the apostles faced other responsibilities, they recognized that their primary ministries were to preach and pray (Acts 6:2-4).
Not only did the apostles view preaching as their primary calling, but they also instructed the next generations of preachers to do the same. Paul urged Timothy to be ready in season and out of season to preach the word to reprove, rebuke, and exhort the church (2 Tim 4:1-2). The training of preachers is to be continued from one generation of preachers to the next (2 Tim 2:2).
Before the Christian canon was completed, Christ spoke directly to the apostles (Gal 1:11-12). The apostles’ ministries were to write (Rom 1:2; 4:3) and preach (Acts 17:2) the revealed Word of God. However, after the Christian canon was completed, God no longer gave new revelation to His church. Therefore, the preacher’s task is not to preach new revelation but to preach God’s written Word in the Scripture and apply it to their listeners.
God has called men as pastors to preach His Word throughout the church’s history. Although Pastors have other responsibilities, their chief task is “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (NASB, Col 1:25). They will be judged by their faithfulness to that calling.
Summary of the Biblical Argument
My biblical argument is that preaching is necessary for the 21st century because it is God’s ordained method of communication to His church. God has spoken, His Word has been written, and He has called His messengers throughout biblical history to speak His Word. After the close of the Christian canon, God continues to speak when preachers faithfully expound and apply God’s written Word to listeners. Next, we will discuss the theological arguments.
The Theological Arguments
First, preaching is necessary because preaching is theological. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological.” He argues that men’s real needs are not physical but spiritual. The only real solution to men’s needs is for them to hear and understand the theology in the Scripture. Many agencies in the world can solve men’s many problems. But only the Church alone can solve the spiritual problem, the real needs of men. And the primary method God has ordained the church to deliver the theology is through preaching (1 Tim 2:3-7).
Second, preaching is necessary because the doctrine of inerrancy demands the primacy of preaching in the church. John MacArthur wrote, “the only logical response to inerrant Scripture, then, is to preach it expositionally.”
Third, preaching is necessary because it is the means of salvation, both in justification and sanctification (Cor 1:28). We are saved on the redemption work of Christ on the cross. But if there is no preaching, the cross of Christ would be emptied of its power. When the word of the cross is preached, the power of God is manifested to us who are being saved (1 Cor 1:17-18). Furthermore, young believers are like newborn infants, they need pure spiritual milk, the word of God, to grow up into salvation, and the word is delivered through preaching (1 Pet 1:25-2:2).
Fourth, preaching is necessary because it is one of the marks of the church. Referring to Martin Luther, Edmund Clowney wrote, “The ministry of the Word and sacraments is, he says, ’a perpetual mark and characteristic of the Church.’” Without preaching, there is no church.
In summary, preaching is necessary because it is theological, it is the practical expression of the doctrine of inerrancy, and it is one of the means of salvation and marks of the church. Next, we will discuss the logical arguments.
The Logical Arguments
First, preaching is necessary in this postmodern world because God’s Word is better than the world’s philosophy. Paul wrote in response to the Greek philosophers’ scoffing at his preaching (Acts 17:18), “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor 1:20). Tim Keller, who preached in New York, a hotbed for worldly, made an experienced observation, “No one believes those worldviews anymore. Such will always be the case. The philosophies of the world will come and go, rise and fall, but the wisdom we preach – the Word of God – will still be there.”
Second, preaching is necessary because teaching is not preaching. The fact that preaching and teaching often appear together in Scripture (Matt 4:23; 1 Tim 5:17) implies they are related but different. Preaching involves three characteristics that are not always involved in teaching: exhortation, evangelism, and exultation. Exhortation urges hearers to repent and obey; evangelism heralds the Gospel to non-believers, and exultation leads God’s people to worship.
Third, preaching is necessary because the testimony of the church’s history is that the strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the pulpit. John Broadus wrote in 1870, “When the message from the pulpit has been uncertain and faltering, the church has been weak; when the pulpit has given a positive, declarative message, the church has been strong.” Almost a hundred and fifty years later, Steve Lawson made the same observation: “No church can rise any higher than its pulpit. The spiritual life of any congregation and its growth in grace will never exceed the high-water mark set by its pulpit.” A revival of true preaching has always heralded the revival in the church’s history. Without preaching, there will be no revival in the church.
Fourth, preaching is necessary because God’s people need a bridge to connect the biblical world to their world. That is the thesis of John Stott’s book, Between Two Worlds. Preaching connects two worlds divided by a deep rift of time, the biblical and modern. Without preaching, many people will find the Bible irrelevant.
Fifth, preaching is necessary because the Word of God needs to be proclaimed. People are confused about what the truth is. They are taught that truth is relative to the viewpoint of the person. Fake news on the Internet makes things worse. Personal and small group bible study is not sufficient. People are hungry for the truth to be heralded from the pulpit in a public setting. John Woodbridge wrote, “In today’s spiritually starved world, the need is patent for preachers of unimpeachable integrity who preach with full confidence in the authority and power of the Word of God and who desire to witness Scripture’s “great and glorious fruit” poured out.”
Lastly, preaching is necessary because no other method of communication can replace preaching. In today’s environment, anyone can get any information from books or online media. However, none of these media can substitute preaching. Paul wrote in the epistle to the Romans that he longed to be present with them to preach the Gospel (Rom 1:15). That means even reading an inspired letter will not substitute preaching.
In summary, my logical arguments for the necessity of preaching are that God’s Word is better than the world’s philosophy, teaching is not preaching, no church can rise any higher than its pulpit, preaching makes the Bible relevant, and the Word of God needs to be proclaimed.
In this paper, I have presented the biblical, theological, and logical arguments on why preaching is still necessary for the 21st century. If you are reading this paper, chances are you have been called to preach. Preaching is hard work. Sometimes you will be tempted to work on something else instead of preaching. I hope this paper will encourage you not to give up on your calling. By the grace of the Lord, continue to press on. Preach the Word!
I like to conclude with these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.”
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MacArthur, John. “The Mandate of Biblical Inerrancy.” In Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word Pub, 1992.
Merida, Tony. The Christ-Centered Expositor: A Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers. Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Academic, 2016.
Mohler, Albert. “The Primacy of Preaching.” In Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, edited by Don Kistler. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002.
Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Third edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014.
Stott, John. Between Two Worlds. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
Warren, Timothy. “PM5252 Topical Preaching Class Notes Parts 1-4.” Dallas Theological Seminary, 2022.
 John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 50–88.
 Lloyd-Jones made the same observation, see Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 13.
 Jonathan Griffiths, Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Study, New Studies in Biblical Theology 42 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 132.
 Timothy Warren, “PM5252 Topical Preaching Class Notes Parts 1-4” (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2022), 2.
 Mohler, “The Primacy of Preaching,” in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002), 16.
 Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 26.
 Kuruvilla urged preachers to preaching the pericope theology of a text, see Abraham Kuruvilla, A Vision for Preaching: Understanding the Heart of Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015), 106.
 John MacArthur, “The Mandate of Biblical Inerrancy,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word Pub, 1992), 23.
 Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 101.
 Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2016), 156.
 Tony Merida, The Christ-Centered Expositor: A Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers (Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Academic, 2016), 10.
 John Albert Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, ed. Vernon L. Stanfield, 4th ed (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 7.
 Steven J. Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Pubblishers, 2013), 16.
 Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 25.
 Stott, Between Two Worlds, 137–38.
 Benjamin K. Forrest et al., eds., A Legacy of Preaching: The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018), 18.
 Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, Third edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 3.
 Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 9.