William H. Willimon graciously agreed to serve as the external reader for my dissertation on Christ-Centered Expository Preaching several years ago. He is an insightful thinker and a courageous critic. Willimon writes as a self-described mainline liberal in the United Methodist Church. I fear that his critique that much contemporary conservative preaching sounds like old liberal preaching is devastatingly accurate.
Here is a sample from his article Been There, Preached That: Today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals
If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage around in the Bible for a relevant answer.
The problem is, we’re starting with our current definitions of our problems. Maybe the Bible couldn’t care less about our problems, as we define them. Where did we get words like depression, anxiety, self-esteem, felt needs? Not from the Bible. In regard to depression, I can name you passages where the Bible appears to provoke depression rather than cure it! And my “felt needs,” before I meet the Bible, are usually the result of sin rather than the path to salvation.
I can just hear Jesus saying, “Look, if you’ve got a two-hundred-thousand-dollar mortgage, you’re supposed to be depressed!” The Bible doesn’t want to “help people.” It wants to help people in the name of Christ. Christ has a much different notion of our problems than we do. The Bible doesn’t just want to speak to us; it wants to change, convert, and detoxify us.
Each time we let the world set our homiletical agenda, scaling down our speech to that which anybody off the street can hear and understand without conversion or training, we lose the battle before it begins. We concede too much territory to the enemy.
A recent book called us The Psychological Society. We Americans tend to reduce all human longing, all human problems and their solutions to the psychological. As one of my students put it, “Modern American people tend to have psychological problems because that’s the only kind of problems we’re permitted to have.”
The psychology of the gospel – reducing salvation to self-esteem, sin to maladjustment, church to group therapy, and Jesus to Dear Abby – is our chief means of perverting the biblical text.
To read the whole article, click here (PDF).