Saturday, June 13, 2009

Baptist Preaching (4)

As Baptists have grown and diversified it makes defining common characteristics more difficult. Perhaps, three well-known Baptists in current memory will help to demonstrate something of this preaching diversity, yet point to some continuing characteristics of Baptist preaching. Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rick Warren each represent important aspects of Baptist life and witness.

Undeniably, Billy Graham represents “evangelistic preaching” in remarkable ways. In his History of Preaching O.C. Edwards repeats the claim that “Billy Graham has probably preached to more people than any spokesman for the faith in all Christian history” – around twenty million people of whom one million have made “decisions for Christ.”[i] Graham’s emphasis on preaching personal salvation, literally holding up the Bible to demonstrate its authority, has challenged with clarity and passion. Further, his willingness to use developing technology testifies to resourceful pragmatism that sought to take advantage of every evangelistic means. Edward concludes that the most important reason explaining the power of his attraction lies in Graham’s trust in the authority of the Bible: “he has transparent conviction of his message’s utter truth. His most persuasive argument is ethos, the trustworthiness of the speaker, rather than the logos, reason, or pathos, the capacity to stir emotion.”[ii]

Graham’s evangelistic emphasis is particularly evident in the Southern Baptist denomination which forms the largest part of the Baptist world family (and has impacted many others through its missionary programmes). A survey of Southern Baptist preaching identified fifty preachers "with content as varied as the preachers themselves"[iii] but commonly, whatever the biblical message, an appeal to “walk the aisle” concludes the act of preaching. Evangelistic intentionality remains strong. However, Southern Baptists have also developed a broader homiletic tradition, bringing together informed interpretation of Scripture with concern for sermon structure, particularly through the influence of John Broadus (1827-1895) whose textbook on preaching became standard through the early part of the twentieth century. Interestingly, Broadus was not only concerned with content but with the role of imagination. When asked to sum up the key qualities of preaching he said: “Sympathy, sympathy, and sympathy” – a typical Baptist insight.

In contrast, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed a dimension of preaching with strong political emphasis that also greatly impacted society. Educated in a white, more liberal intellectual tradition (with influential white preachers!), he also studied examples of great African American preachers like Gardner Taylor (another Baptist). In his call to lead the civil rights movement, “his principle was to combine militancy with nonviolence, and his method was to use oratory that combined intellectual content with the power of classical African American preaching.”[iv] His expressive voice and tone deployed rhetorical devices such as repetition and assonance, achieving rhythm and musicality to his powerful preaching within the call-and-response interactions of black congregations. He demonstrated classic homiletic of the African American church by preaching in churches, masse meetings and other public gatherings that brought black preaching to the attention of the world.

His impact on black preaching, and especially black Baptist preaching continues to be hugely significant today, emphasizing God’s provision for his people, with prophetic challenge to systemic issues and holistic engagement with community. Because the majority perspective on preaching practice has been dominated by white males, only recently has the rich history of black preaching and its inextricable connection with culture been published. So, for example, paralleling C.H. Spurgeon (1836-1897), we now learn of Charles T. Walker who was called “the black Spurgeon,” born into slavery yet a prominent New York preacher.[v]

Rick Warren is probably the best known Baptist preacher today, through his ministry in Saddleback Church, California, and books such as “The Purpose Driven Church.” Regarded as a new breed of Baptist leader, savvy about communicating to a changing culture, his preaching is aimed at the “unchurched.” Aware of high levels of biblical illiteracy, his preaching begins with “needs” in the congregation and then connects with teaching in Scripture. Together with other mega church leaders, his “seeker sensitive” preaching has been widely influential though not without critics. However, Warren has also been heavily engaged with the gospel’s social repercussions, involving many in programmes to relieve poverty and disease. With intentionality and practical skills he represents preaching that builds local communities in order to serve others.

[i] O.C. Edwards, 775.
[ii] Ibid, 778.
[iii] R Earl Allen and Joel Gregory, Southern Baptist Preaching Today Nashville: Broadman, 1987, 3.
[iv] Edwards,
[v] Ibid, 532-535.


Ted Snyder said...

Hello my friend, I would just like to point out that those thee men are not and never were Baptist in the true sense of following Baptist doctrine.

They all preached or preach a false gospel and have no recognition from true Baptists or agreement with the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in Ted's view of how Billy Graham preached a false Gospel and just what is Ted's definition of a "true Baptist." I think it would come as a great surprise to Billy Graham that he was not a "true" Baptist.

dss said...

Mr. Snyder,

I am a Christian, although not a Baptist, yet I was saved at a Baptist church as a preteen. I would love for you to explain to me what you mean by your statement that Rick Warren, Dr. King and Billy Graham are preachers of a false doctrine. Are you assuming that because they preach with an emphasis on loving God and the sinners need to accept Christ that they accept the sin with the sinner? I am confident that I disagree with each of these men regarding the way they approach unbelievers but I have not judged them to be preaching heresy. Why do you believe that they are? Christ wanted to call sinners to repentance and to believe that he is the Christ. His anger burned against the self-righteous who he called hypocrites. We all need to be careful in our dealings with one another and especially our public dealings with one another brother. Satan desired to separate us one from another while the scriptures tell us that [unbelievers] will know us by our love [one for another]. Remember the log and the speck. We aren't to love heresy but what are your differences with these men? Do you truly believe that Billy Graham, of all of them, does not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God, and that God raised him from the dead? Remember, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, thou will be saved. What has Billy Graham been saying all these years to millions? Just that. I pray God leads us both in wisdom and truth and unites us by his Spirit. God's blessings.