I take great pride in preaching each Sunday. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study, including translating the text.
So, as I drove to my parents on Christmas Eve, I heard two Christmas sermons on the radio. I hesitate to call them ,,Christmas" or ,,sermons". The name of Jesus was used, but the content of the sermons (I seemed to think they were really pep talks) did not focus on: the gospel or the meaning of Jesus being born as our Savior. What has happened to the state of Christian preaching in America?
It used to be that Evangelical churches prided themselves in preaching about the pure gospel of Christ crucified. There are still some that take this preaching seriously. I heard a Baptist friend preach over the summer, and he did an good job of preaching the gospel. The Baptist church also seemed very committed to remaining faithful in really preaching the gospel. In this respect they were very evangelical and Lutheran.
However, what passes as Evangelical preaching in the 21st century leaves a lot to be desired. I perceive that part of this dilemma is based on the whole church growth methodology that is focused on mere statistics and numbers rather than faithful preaching of the gospel. Too many churches are obsessed with being a business and pursuing commerical avenues of success. It reminds me of the 16th century Catholic Church. In many ways the modern Evangelical Church is similar to 16th century Catholicism.
Evangelical preaching, true evangelical preaching that is concerned about Christ crucified and risen for us sinners is always going to be small potatoes compared to what we are shown on TV with a slick presentation and polished delivery. If the message isn't focused on Christ crucified, then it isn't evangelical. If the message isn't focused on the gospel, then it isn't preaching.
Preaching isn't easy. It takes a good deal of preparation. But the underlying foundation is not rocket science: it's proclaiming Christ crucified and what that means for us. There are so many ways to proclaim this. Lutherans are fond of the forensic method, namely, that justification is described in legal terms of guilt and forgiveness. Jack Preus III wrote a book several years back that looked at other ways to preach evangelically that did not rely solely on a forensic approach.
I view preaching as an art. True masters are rare, but I have read and heard many who are quite good. Unfortunately, modern Evangelical preachers rarely fall into those categories. Much of what I read and hear from them can best be described as children finger painting.
Honestly, we don't need all sorts of gimmicks, jokes, object lessons, etc. What we need to be doing is preaching the pure gospel. If you are consistent with this, over time you will become rather good at preaching Christ crucified.
Our market-engineered society wants fancy presentations. But one of the best preachers I have been blessed to hear and read is Dr. Norman Nagel. He read from his manuscript (this is very much contrary to what we were taught in preaching classes!), but His preaching dripped with the gospel. That's the kind of passion we need: gospel overflowing. Another wonderful preacher is Dr. Rossow. He is very polished, and is a master at using language and imagery to soak you with the gospel. Walter Keller is another great preacher who is a master of Pauline preaching. There are countless other examples.
Evangelical preachers need to get back to really preaching the pure gospel. Americans need to really, really hear the proclamation that Christ died for their sins.