13 September 2008

Shakespeare, Bo Peep, Dr. Seuss, and biblical preaching

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following Spurgeon excerpt is from "Christ Lifted Up," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, 5 July 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, London.
by Phil Johnson

    was impelled to post the following Spurgeon excerpt because of a sermon series currently getting a lot of publicity and kudos from the scions of the "relevant" approach to preaching:

The ad campaign alone was appalling enough. Then I heard portions of the actual sermons on Way of the Master Radio this week (10 Sep 2008), and I have to say these are the most horrifically abominable sermons I have ever heard from any quasi-evangelical pulpit. The level to which this stuff has sunk is so inane that it's impossible to parody.

I say this in all seriousness: the guy who preached this Seuss series should resign from ministry and spend the rest of his life pleading with God for mercy. If you think I am exaggerating, listen to the series for yourself.

John MacArthur used to say if you're using Scripture as a springboard to say whatever you want rather than teaching your people what the Bible actually says, you might as well exegete "Little Bo Peep." And he did a 90-second parody of how that could be done using the style of preaching so many contemporary evangelicals seem to favor. MacArthur, of course, was using a classic reductio argument, employing an example no one (or so we thought) would ever seriously consider imitating. Here's an audio clip:

John MacArthur "exegeting" Little Bo Peep.
Spurgeon says essentially the same thing about preaching Shakespeare in this week's excerpt.

Brethren, we need to get back to the gospel. Here's Spurgeon:

he minister ought to preach Christ in opposition to mere morality. How many ministers in London could preach as well out of Shakespeare as the Bible, for all they want is a moral maxim. The good man never thinks of mentioning regeneration. He sometimes talks of moral renovation. He does not think of talking about perseverance by grace. No, continuance in well-doing is his perpetual cry.

He does not think of preaching "believe and be saved." No; his continual exhortation is, "Good Christian people, say your prayers, and behave well, and by these means you shall enter the kingdom of heaven." The sum and substance of his gospel is that we can do very well without Christ, that although certainly there is a little amiss in us, yet if we just mend our ways in some little degree, that old text, "except a man be born again," need not trouble us.

If you want to be made drunkards, if you want to be made dishonest, if you want to be taught every vice in the world, go and hear a moral preacher. These gentlemen, in their attempts to reform and make people moral, are the men that lead them from morality.

Hear the testimony of holy Bishop Lavington, "We have long been attempting to reform the nation by moral preaching. With what effect? None. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity. We must change our voice; we must preach Christ and him crucified; nothing but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation."
C. H. Spurgeon


Kim said...

That clip of "Thus Sayeth Bo-Peep" made me laugh so hard!

That made my day.

Phil said...

Amen, Spurgeon.

Phil said...

'The law was added so that the trespass might INCREASE'(Rom5v20,NIV,my emphasis).'...the POWER of sin is the law'(1Cor15v56,NIV,my emphasis).'Sin shall not be your master,BECAUSE you are not under law, but under grace.'(Rom6v14,NIV,my emphasis).'

FX Turk said...

Just wanted to point out that if you go to the Oaks website and pull up their core beliefs, they believe that you are born again when you have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and you speak in tongues.

Just wanted to point that out. Because I wanted to see if that would drive the meta here to 10,000 comments.

Mike Riccardi said...

This is such a good point to make. The scope of Biblical preaching is explaining what the text says, not using the text to say what we want to say.

It's important to realize that we can fail this way even when we're preaching verse-by-verse through a book. Many pastors think all expository preaching means is going in order a couple of verses at a time. But then they read the text, pray, and say, "I was in the grocery store last week..."

I also often hear men take 3 or so points from a text, state them, and then defend them and illustrate them with jokes and anecdotes. How tired I am of that! When the people of God come to eat from the table of the Lord, they come knowing their food is His very word and nothing else. When I hear a point made, I'm waiting for some Scriptural authority to seal it to my heart. I'm ready to eat. And then I get fed jokes and anecdotes. I spit them out, because they're not good for food.

These are also ways we don't exposit, or preach, the text. May we be mindful of them.

David Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Kyle said...

I went to the website and listened to the sermons, wow. This is the sort of thing that clearly indicates neither the preacher, or anyone who renders approval, knows the Almighty God revealed in Holy Scripture. But then, I suppose it has its place, at least for those who do not want to know Him or His Christ.

markG said...

I listened to most of the sermon on 1 Seuss 4:1-11 (subtitled 'Oh the Places You'll Go'). And the thing that strikes me is the reverence that the guy has. You can almost hear a trembling in his voice when he quotes the first epistle of Seuss. So powerful.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Okay, "Bo Peep" cracked me up, but trying to listen to "Oh the places you'll go"...

Stop! My head is going to explode!

"Oh, the inanity!"

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Oh, the website (Oaks') is a veritable treasure trove!

One of my favorites... the "Classic" service, geared for the 50+ crowd. Their definition of "Classic"?

"Hugs, hymns, and hallelujahs"!

And don't miss the sermon series based on "your favorite reality TV shows".

doug4 said...

Did you see the “Love Songs” series? It may be worse than the Suess.

"Love Songs" is a series in which we'll explore 1 Corinthians 13 together to find out what love really is. Don't miss this exciting series and be sure to invite your friends.

April 15 "Stop in the Name of Love."
April 22 "I Wanna Know What Love Is."
April 29 "The Power of Love."

A sermon series on Foreigner, The Supremes , and Celine Dion? That is wrong on so many levels.

It would be funny if it wasn't sad, so terribly, terribly sad.

Randy Talley said...

As a follow-up to Frank's comment, The Oaks' doctrinal statement (the "16 Fundamental Truths" link) says this about God:

There is only One True God–revealed in three persons...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (commonly known as the Trinity).

REVEALED in three persons? That sounds more like either modalism or a dumbed-down definition of the Trinity.

I started listening to the "Horton" sermon and gave up. It's scary to think that some people would call that relevant.

And you'd think they would head for more modern children's books that Dr. Seuss. After all, these books are 40-50 years old - rather ancient and irrelevant to today's culture, wouldn't you think?

FX Turk said...

Randy --

I took it to be a dumb dumbed-down expression of the trinity because they -did- say "Trinity", expressing that Father, SOn and Spirit are "persons". Modalists often refuse to use that word to describe their belief. And exaggerated emphasis on "One God" with the concession "manifested in" Father, Son and Spirit is the more common modalist tack.

But you're right - ugh.

Solameanie said...


Oneness Pentecostalism was the first thing I thought of when the Oaks' salvation formula was mentioned.

As to the rest, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The only encouragement I have to offer is that it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Barbara said...

Exegeting Seuss and Bo-peep...how about simply exegeting nature? I thought the Porpoise-Driven Life (a parody)was classic.

Stefan Ewing said...

The preachers whom Spurgeon speaks of...it strikes me that there many such preachers today, in a wide variety of denominations. That's certainly where the liberal mainline churches are at, let alone any number of pseudo-evangelical churches.

The Little Bo Peep "sermon" was a gem.

Phil said...

Hmm...perhaps many a 'conservative'church,too...Be they christian Saducees or christian pharisees...or Christians fallen away from grace.

Stefan Ewing said...

Sure, absolutely.

Speaking of church, it's time to go there....

Randy Talley said...

Frank - good point. I was straddling the fence on whether to give them the benefit of the doubt. I let the utter nonsense contained in the sermon sway me when I shouldn't have.

Then again, watered down preaching has a tendency to betray an ignorance, and very low view, of God and His Word.


David Rudd said...

would anyone have an objection to this kind of "teaching" if it wasn't happening from the pulpit on a sunday morning?

(i'm speaking of style not substance, as i would assume we would all take offense at errant teaching regardless of content)

Randy Talley said...

David, I think I know what you're getting at, but I see this Dr. Seuss approach as something very different from the legitimate use of parables to teach spiritual truth.

I was in college when Star Wars came out (the first time). Soon afterwards, tracts and books showed up on the shelves of Christian bookstores trying to use that movie to teach spiritual truth. The problem was that it didn't label The Force for the new age drivel that it was. Instead, these well meaning but misguided folks tried to push the idea that The Force was God Himself.

Jesus used real life situations when he spoke in parables. When He wasn't doing that, He took the direct approach. Why muddy the waters with a fantasy approach?

And THAT is something applicable both in and out of the pulpit.

Barbara said...

David, I'm confused by your question. How can one use this kind of style without sacrificing the substance of the Gospel? Is the body of Christ here to feed the sheep or amuse the goats?

Yes, if what is being taught is anything church-related: you know, the stuff that has to do with the glorious blessings of the eternal Kingdom through the blood sacrifice of God's Holy, perfect Son in my place for my abhorrent sin and how my life can be lived out in utter humble gratitude for that...somehow watered down to even be able to begin to fit in with the Cat in the Hat then yeah - I would object. I don't see this appropriate even for a kindergarten class. There is an inherent lack of that funny little thing called, "fear of the Almighty God" in this sort of thing.

greglong said...

The 3 main points from "Horton Lays the Egg":

1.Horton reminds us that God is faithful 100%.

2. Horton reminds us that God's timing is always perfect.

3. The elephant bird [that hatches out of the egg upon which Horton was sitting] reminds of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ because Jesus had to come fully God and fully man--a unique, one-of-a-kind creature that had never been seen before.

coldwell said...

Dr MacArthur's 'Bo Peep' reminds me of Johnny Standley's "It's in the Book" of 40 -50 years ago...

Barbara said...

In light of the explanation above of the three biblical points brought out by Horton the elephant, I reiterate my above comment regarding the Porpoise (not purpose) Driven Life.

If you haven't seen the video clip, consider this your monitor/keyboard spew warning.

Titus said...

The sad part is that I linked over and listened to the "sermon" because I couldn't believe someone was that dumb. I was wrong.

God come quickly.

David Rudd said...

Randy and Barbara,

I'm not making any big point, and this is not the best example to use because i would suggest that the one sermon i listened to was so full of theological errors that it is hard not to throw out the "delivery" as erroneous as well...


i've often read dr. seuss and though that he does seem to be teaching some truths that are not dissimilar to Scripture.

now, if i was preaching, i might use seuss as an illustration, not the text; but if i'm reading seuss to my children at night, is it okay for me to have some fun laughing at the silliness of the story, but then use it to teach them a biblical truth?

W. Ian Hall said...

Great post - although there are different degrees of this habit of using scripture as a pretext rather than a text the practice in general is an abominable misuse of the pulpit.

Mike Riccardi said...

Here's my question for you David.

Why would you want to?

Phil Johnson said...

David Rudd: "if i'm reading seuss to my children at night, is it okay for me to have some fun laughing at the silliness of the story, but then use it to teach them a biblical truth?"

I do think these sermons from Seuss illustrate pretty clearly why it's not always possible to draw a clear line between "style" and "substance" as neatly as your original question suggested. Here the "style" is all about replacing Scripture with some other "substance."

As for teaching your kids, of course it's right to teach your children spiritual lessons in any context, even when you are reading Seuss. But use the text of Scripture rather than the text of The Cat in the Hat as the authority you point them back to.

You said you would use Seuss as an illustration, but not your text, when you preach. You did not say why you wouldn't use Seuss as a text in your preaching, so I'm not sure what your thinking is on that. But I could give you five reasons why that's a bad idea, and it's a bad idea to take a similar approach with your children for precisely the same reasons.

In fact, it might be a worse idea to treat Horton Hatches an Egg like Scripture in training your children than to do that with adults. Presumably, most of the ADULTS in that guy's audience understand there is a vast difference between the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and the nonsense of Seuss.

Or on second thought, maybe those people are clueless about that. They evidently pay this guy a salary to make a burlesque of their religion.

greglong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moon said...

I heard that silliness on WOTM radio as well, they might of as well "preached" from AESOP's Fables, at least those stories have morals at the end..but Dr. Seuss?...but seriously now I can't stand listening to stuff like that, to reject such beautiful truths in Scripture for nonsense like Dr. Seuss...uhg...

greglong said...

Although I might not necessarily be opposed to using Dr. Suess as an illustration (he is my favorite poet, BTW), there is a world of difference between doing that and basing a sermon series on it. Where is your starting point...the Bible or culture?

But the biggest problem here is that the preacher is performing eisegesis on Dr. Suess. Was Dr. Suess' point really that GOD is faithful 100%? No, it was that WE should be faithful to keep our promises.

Was the hatching of the egg at 51 weeks at all designed to teach us that God's timing is always perfect? No, it seems to be merely an ironic plot twist.

Was the hatching of the elephant-bird at all intended to point us to the hypostatic union of Christ? No, it seems to be Horton's reward and the bird's comeuppance.

The point is, if this pastor is going to read his own meaning into the text of Dr. Suess, what can we expect him to do with the text of Scripture?

Randy Talley said...

And - sadly - we've done a wonderful job of shoving the Spurgeon excerpt into a corner.

Phil - as usual, this week's Spurgeon post was a great choice. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"The minister ought to preach Christ in opposition to mere morality."

Amen. There is an enormous difference between these two preaching positions. There is no morality apart from the gospel of Christ. And there is no authority from which to teach about the nature of God and the gospel of Christ than the Bible. Even something as 'culturally relevant' as Doc Suess. Again, a text without a context is a pretext.

Phil stated that we need to get back to the gospel. Sadly, in many pulpits there is nothing to get back to, they've never been there. They're simply moving farther away from the gospel and the Word.

Anonymous said...

frank turk: Just wanted to point out that if you go to the Oaks website and pull up their core beliefs, they believe that you are born again when you have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and you speak in tongues.

So what's your point, Frank? Are you inferring some connection between a charismatically-driven low view of Scripture, and Dr. Suess sermons? Please, stop being so vague. But then again, certainty is overrated...

Becky Schell said...

I shouldn't be, but I am always amazed at how the things that Spurgeon wrote, about the problems the church was facing then, are problems we face today. Can you imagine what his reaction would be to the Seuss series? I can, it would probably be like yours and mine: he would be sickened, sad, outraged and jealous for God's Word.

Anonymous said...

The MacArthur and the Spurgeon...right on! The "Theologgins for you noggins" - wow...this being done in the name of Christ? Paul would be so....well...I'll let Mark Driscoll put in the appropriate word. :-)

Patrick Durkee said...

The Dr. Seuss sermons certainly don't surprise me - it's just repackaging for adults what churches have been trying to feed youth groups for years.


Andreas said...

This kind of remind me of the guy who exegeted "row, row, row your boat".. It was featured on WOTMR as well..

Excuse me for saying so, but I wished this only happened in the US.. :(

The world needs the gospel!