I just finished T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It’s a fantastic little book (and I mean little! scarcely 100 pages of fairly large print). Every English-reading protestant preacher in the world needs to read it — even those that already can preach. (The toughest part might be finding non-antagonistic ways of convincing preachers to read it, since it is guaranteed to provoke and challenge. An attacking gift can only be counterproductive (“Hey Pastor, you should read this book, because your preaching really stinks!”). But if the walls of defensiveness could be breached to convince a preacher to read this book receptively, we can hope for a better response, such as OHS Horton’s blurb on the back cover, “I couldn’t help but wince as I recognized myself in Gordon’s descriptions, but he writes so clearly and convincingly that I couldn’t help but be grateful.”)
Anyways, in Chapter 4, “A Few Thoughts about Content,” Gordon tears down four common failed alternatives to Christological preaching: Moralism, How-To, Introspection, and “Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War.” That last section is almost worth quoting entire, but for now I’ll just provide the giant footnote in which Gordon justifies his use of “so-called” in this title. Enjoy…
I add so-called before culture war because I think the entire alleged “war” in the culture between the religious elements and the secular elements exists in the imagination. I do not deny the presence of those with a secular worldview and those with a religious worldview in our culture. I deny that there is anything new about this. Indeed, I believe much of the beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic was that they created a form of government that was impervious to any such wars, if citizens rightly understood what they were doing. Because individual liberty was more important for the founders than any good thing that a coercive federal government might conceivably do, the Republic was designed to be one in which religious liberty was respected and promoted, even the liberty to be irreligious. Many of the founders were essentially secularists (e.g., Thomas Jefferson), and others were ardently religious in the more orthodox sense (e.g., John Witherspoon). Jefferson never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Witherspoon would use federal power to coerce him; and Witherspoon never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Jefferson would use federal power to coerce him. Each believed in liberty, and was assured that the other did also. There was no “cultural war” between the two, even though there was a profound difference in worldview.
The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. France enforces secularism in public; Iran enforces religion in public. The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others.