Exhortation, or scolding?

On Doug Wilson’s blog I saw this excerpt from The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes, which is depressingly accurate.

So the [good preacher] doesn’t stand in the pulpit to scold the congregation by essentially calling them bad dogs. It is striking how much of contemporary preaching reduces to this: ‘You bad, bad dogs! Look at what you did.’ And those in the pews respectfully cower and look like guilty golden retrievers who know they have disappointed the master once again.

It made me think of Dug, the dog in Pixar’s UP, and his “I do not like the Cone of Shame!” Unfortunately, I think there is something in us that dearly loves the Cone of Shame. Otherwise why come back week after week for another swat with the newspaper?

I think it was T. David Gordon, in his book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, who pointed out that there is a common variation on this them, namely “Those bad, bad dogs! Look at what they are doing!” At which the congregation mutters, self-satisfied, “Isn’t it a shame what some folks do in the name of Christ.” And the cleverest preachers phrase these exhortations in such a way that it is easy to take them as a general admonition—yes, yes, a good Christian should never do those bad things, or should try harder to do those good things—but hard to take them personally.

Why Galatians 5:4-5 doesn’t serve as a blanket prohibition of such preaching, I’ll never understand.

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.


One thought on “Exhortation, or scolding?

  1. Exhortation without grace is not Christian preaching. Preaching without Christ is worthless. No, it is worse than worthless – it is damnable.

    Shame is a good gift from God to drive us to Christ but like any other good gift it is usually misused by our enemy, ourselves, and others. Misused it drives us further from Christ, from the only One who can take that shame, from the only One who did take that shame and gave righteousness in return.

    We should oppose this kind of false gospel the way Paul did in Galatians.

    Thanks for the good thoughts once again, Rick.

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