The efforts that I have exerted in trying to get pastors of Bible believing churches to become practical in their use of the Scriptures, and in attempting to get them to speak about subjects that in a previous period were neglected, may have had some influence in turning the preaching of the pulpit around. It is incumbent on me, therefore, to do whatever I can to stop what I perceive to be an unwarranted retreat from the doctrinal teaching that is also a necessary part of the Christian’s weekly pulpit diet.
It has been a long time, for instance, since I have heard sermons on the Bible’s teaching about hell, judgment, wrath, and other such themes. “You travel in the wrong circles,” you may reply. Well, perhaps. But my circles are rather wide, and I hear a lot of preaching. I did not say that it was extinct, but I do think that preaching on these topics is being neglected. The dark side of things is taking a back seat to many of the brighter truths of Scripture. While it is wrong to neglect the latter as a previous generation did, it is also wrong to neglect the former. The biblical balance between the two must always be maintained.
The problem in the church historically has been a problem of balance. The problem is not in the Scriptures—there you will find a perfect balance in every area that is treated by its divinely inspired authors. No, the problem isn’t in the Bible; it is in the church. The history of the church could almost be written in terms of swings from one unbiblical extreme to the other. In one era love is emphasized over truth to the extent that truth is lost and love becomes nothing more than sticky sentimental nonsense. In another era, the opposite problem appears—usually as a reaction to the overemphasis of the former age: truth becomes the great concern, so great that love is stamped out in the pursuit of error. In the attempt to flush out every vestige of error hiding in the bushes, theological bloodhounds usurp the authority of the judgment angels whose appointed task is to separate the wheat from the tares. Certainly error must be dealt with—but in biblical ways; we do not have any right to invent novel ways of doing so.
The problem today seems to be a turning from the sterner teachings of the Scriptures to the more encouraging and happier ones. This is proceeding apace; preachers like to preach positively; people like to hear it. While teaching the latter, it is essential to maintain the former as well. Mount Gerazim, with its blessings, was paired in balance with Mount Ebal and its cursings; the tree of life was set over against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is the God of perfect balance; we must seek to approximate Him in this in all our preaching.
Along with extremes comes another problem. When a generation plummets headlong in one direction, heedless of the balancing truths in the other direction, all sorts of false ideas, imported from the outside, seemingly (but not really) saying the same thing are bought and sold as if they were the genuine biblical article. It is easy to do this because the correctives inherent in the neglected balancing truths are missing. That is why the increased concern for teaching about the image of God in man (to the exclusion of preaching about man’s sinful nature and propensities) by so many has been wedded to many false concepts gleaned from psychologists like Maslow and others concerning self-image and self-worth. In discussions of the area, the doctrine of sanctification has been eclipsed by the doctrine of justification.
“Surely I’m not guilty of an overemphasis on the happy side of the faith to the near exclusion of the grim side,” you may reply. Don’t be too sure. Check out your preaching for the past three years; you may be surprised at what you find. You may discover that the emphasis of the era in which you are living has had a greater impact on your ministry than you realize. At any rate, even if you are one of those rare, balanced persons who preaches away year after year, unaffected by the changing extremes all around him, it will not hurt you to do the examination anyway, since it will give you a greater perspective on the sort of emphases that you need to make over the next year or two. It is a good policy to plan broad sweeps of preaching anyway, so that you may stay in balance. And, even you, balanced as you may be, are a sinner who—if you are honest—must admit that you tend to ride your own hobbies to the neglect of biblical truths that balance. I dare you to try doing a three-year study without finding some!