The Expository Files

Why is "Doctrinal" Preaching Unpopular?

There is a tendency that is present among churches and Christians today which is quite disturbing. It is an apparent, general dislike of "doctrinal" preaching. Many seem bored with the careful exposition of Scripture. Others have unofficially rebelled against preaching that "contends for the faith" or "gives an answer," on the dubious grounds that it is too negative or controversial. As a consequence much preaching has turned to an unbalanced diet of preaching that is satisfied to deal only with matters of a positive, non-controversial nature. Lessons on attitudes and treatment of our fellow man are often perceived to be of the less offensive kind.

It should be emphasized here that these ("positive") kinds of themes do need to be preached on, and often. We are not being critical of "practical" lessons. Indeed, there have been times when perhaps the balance was tipped the other direction, and brethren received more than their fill of doctrinal or controversial preaching, to the neglect of the practical. But we must beware of the swing of the pendulum. Why are many Christians today not as interested in "doctrinal" preaching as in other kinds?

For one thing, as mentioned already, the preaching of Biblical doctrine is often controversial. The nature of the subject usually demands that false doctrines be refuted, or else the preacher has not done his job adequately (Jude 3; Phil. 1:17). Many equate controversy with negativism, and so it is rejected. But why? On what grounds have we decided that that which is negative is always bad, and that which is positive is always good? Have not some preached, "peace, peace, when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14)? And did not Jesus, the "prince of peace" bring a sword (Matt. 10:34)? Can we condemn the Lord for His controversial confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew 23? Could it be that we would be classed among those with "itching ears" who like to have their ears tickled (2 Tim. 4:1-4)?

Another reason that many have spurned the preaching of Biblical doctrine is that it is by nature often more tedious, and requires greater concentration and deeper thought than subjects of a more mundane nature. In an age of having our information spoon-fed to us over the TV, we have often become lazy students of God's word. Fewer Bibles are opened, and fewer notes are taken down because we have become lazy listeners. By this time many should have become teachers, but... (Heb. 5:11-14).

Others find such preaching too boring. We have come to demand of our preaching that it be entertaining, or it is not considered good preaching. And why not, when one considers the competition of the entertaining media that surround us daily. Frankly, the burden of "rightly dividing the word" (2 Tim. 2:15) is burden enough, without strapping preachers with the added burden of entertaining their audiences.

And, most tragically, doctrinal preaching is thought by many to be irrelevant, or at least less relevant to modern, everyday needs. We have failed to see how these doctrines touch and profoundly affect our spiritual and moral well-being. We have been too much influenced by the idea that "it doesn't matter what one believes anyway."

Through the preaching of sound doctrine is the only way we can preserve a pure faith. Faith (what we believe and trust) and practice (what we do with what we believe) are inseparably connected. Unscriptural practices or even immoral conduct take root in our lives only after we have lost sight of the true nature of God and of our relationship with Him. The great doctrines of the Word are needed to keep our thinking straight. False practice stems from false thinking. And we will never be able to teach other out of error and into the true service of Christ, without first being grounded ourselves. We need to maintain a healthy balance. To go too far in any direction is harmful. Our "hang-ups" regarding what we have called "doctrinal" preaching-dislike of controversy, laziness, or shallowness-must be reckoned with. Let us learn to love the great doctrines of God's Word.

By Dan Petty
From Expository Files 7.8; August 2000