11 June 2015

Manly preachers, manly preaching

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in April 2009. Phil offered his thoughts on "the church's failure to reach men."

As usual, the comments are closed.
Lots of people are talking these days about the church's failure to reach men. The problem is an old one. To a large degree it is rooted in the eighteenth-century tendency of post-puritan preachers to temper hard truths and cushion the message as much as possible.

Victorian-era preachers added an extra layer of complexity to the problem with their love of flowery rhetoric. Grandiloquence. Turgid oratory. Bloated, high-sounding language designed to impress listeners with the speaker's sophistication rather than rouse consciences with the power of God's Word.

Pulpits became soft places where men loved to show off their refinement. Manly passion was deemed vulgar and lowbrow.

Charles Spurgeon abhorred that trend. He exemplified the opposite style. In fact, when Spurgeon first took his pastorate in London, one of the earliest caricatures published in the London newspapers about Spurgeon pictured him casting the shadow of a young lion from his pulpit—and it contrasted him with a typical Anglican clergyman, who cast the shadow of an old woman.

Spurgeon hated the effeminate tendencies of the Victorian pulpit, and he did everything he could to model a different trend. He said it's OK to be meek, and we ought to work hard at being gentle. But, he said, don't be "indifferent to truth and righteousness. God [does not choose] milksops destitute of backbone, to wear his glory upon their faces. We have plenty of men made of sugar, nowadays, that melt into the stream of popular opinion; but [men like that will] never ascend into the hill of the Lord."

When Spurgeon lectured his students on preaching, he cautioned them strongly against adopting effeminate mannerisms. He said,
Abhor the practice of some men, who will not bring out the letter "r," such a habit is "vewys wuinous and wediculous, vewy wetched and wepwehensible."
"Mawwiage . . . "

Spurgeon went on. He told his preaching students:
Now and then a brother has the felissssity to possessss a mosssst winning and delicioussss lisssssp . . . . [That will] ruin any being who aims at manliness and force. I can scarcely conceive of Elijah lisping to Ahab, or Paul prettily chipping his words on Mars' hill. There may be a peculiar pathos about a weak and watery eye, and a faltering style. . . . Where [those things] are the result of intense passion, they are sublime; but some possess them by birth, and use them rather too freely: it is, to say the least, unnecessary for you to imitate them.
Spurgeon was a man's preacher, and his ministry reflected that. He influenced men—and he is still influencing men from the grave. And even though he was criticized and despised and belittled in his own time for being too aggressive in his defense of the truth, notice that we still read Spurgeon, and his words are still absolutely relevant to our times. But everyone has utterly forgotten all the effeminate preachers of that era who at the time were absolutely certain that they were more "relevant" because they were more in tune with their own times than Spurgeon was.

You know what? They were wrong. And they were wrong for the same reason people are wrong today to follow whatever is deemed stylish. We ought to let Scripture, not the trends of secular culture, define for us what the church should be like.