Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Where are the preachers?

I enjoy reading, but don't seem to have much opportunity to do so these days. I suppose that some of my most enjoyable reading has been biographies, autobiographies, and diary's of great Christians of the past. As a matter of fact, the largest section of my "library" (outside of commentaries) is biographical in nature. Recently I began reading one that I purchased a year or two back but haven't had the opportunity to read until recently. It is entitled The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. It was edited by Jonathan Edwards (the great Puritan theologian, preacher, and author) who was a friend of Brainerd.

When I picked the book up it was chiefly because I knew very little about Brainerd, but what I didn't notice is that this book also contains a brief biographical sketch of Edwards (pictured to the left).

Jonathan Edwards is a remarkable figure - this brief biography has given me a desire to read and re-read some of his writings and sermons. One item from this book that really struck me today was the following excerpt:

In September, 1720, just before his seventeenth birthday, Jonathan Edwards graduated from Yale College with the highest honors. He continued on in graduate study for nearly two years, and in June or July, 1722, was licensed to preach the gospel. In September, 1723, he received the degree of master of arts from Yale, and was elected as a tutor. Though he supplied the pulpit of a small church in New York City for several months, he could not agree to accept a permanent charge until he had spent six years in study after his graduation from college. Remarking that in this Jonathan Edwards was like John Calvin, who, even after he had published his Institutes of the Christian Religion, "did not consider himself as sufficiently mature in knowledge to undertake the pastoral office," Dr. Samuel Miller cannot resist the following observation: "When will young men, unspeakably inferior to these master-minds,both in capacity and attainment, learn to resist that spirit of superficial, presumptuous haste,which is hurrying them prematurely into the pulpit, and burdening the church, to a lamentable extent, with "blind leaders of the
(emphasis mine)

I suppose that the reason this sticks with me is because of much of what I've seen in my (admittedly brief) life and experience in church life. I've witnessed ordinations where men who didn't have the slightest grasp of basic theology were ordained and placed into senior pastorates. During much of my life in church (both in and out of Fundamentalism) I've heard preaching that was woefully lacking any doctrinal clarity and sound handling of the Word. I've become increasingly convinced that a man under the age of 35 probably ought not be in pastoral ministry. Furthermore, I'm not so sure that men who lack significant formal training have any business pastoring (with some exceptions).

I constantly read and hear the same question..."why has Fundamentalism seemingly gone to hell?" The answer is fairly simple: that's where much of the preaching has gone. Somewhere along the line a visible and vocal segment of Fundamentalism gave up solid Biblical exposition for a personality-driven brand of religion that is more about entertainment and ear-tickling than it is about expounding the truths of the Word of God. Sunday morning, tens of thousands of American Christian Fundamentalists will go to church and get yelled at about whatever the pet peeve of the preacher happens to be. Some of us are in better situations - we'll hear the Word of God faithfully exposited.

The more I read from the Puritan era the more convinced I become that the average parishioner of 200 years ago had a deeper understanding of theology and deeper fear and respect of God than the average clergyman does today. Read what a 20-year old Jonathan Edwards penned and you'll see what I mean.

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