In a rapidly changing culture, more and more Christians are discussing the importance of cultural engagement. Yet what role does preaching play in cultural engagement and cultural formation? What dangers should we avoid?
To help us answer these questions, we turned to Jim Shaddix. Dr. Shaddix is the W. A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching at Southeastern Seminary. In addition, he is an accomplished preacher and author.
In part one of our interview, Dr. Shaddix explained why and how preachers can engage culture. Here’s part two of our conversation:
What are some dangers to preaching and cultural engagement? How can we avoid these dangers?
“When seeking to engage culture, preachers must be aware of several potential pitfalls. One of the biggest is neglecting it! As I indicated earlier, preaching for life transformation in individuals must be our priority and our primary approach to pastoral preaching. But our prophetic role as preachers demands that we bring God’s Word to bear on cultural issues and norms that are contrary to the gospel. And the pastor can’t shy away from confronting the culture about sin by using his expositional sermon series as an excuse.
“Pastoral preaching can be organized into three types. Systematic exposition ought to be our bread-and-butter, where we’re methodically working through books of the Bible or extended portions of it. This helps people become biblically literate and exposes them to God’s ordained truth in context. Doctrinal instruction is where we teach people the great doctrines of the faith and ground them therein. This ought to be an intentional part of a pastor’s fare. But we also are responsible for prophetic response, and that’s when we bring God’s word to bear on specific cultural values and circumstances. The faithful pastor won’t neglect any of these three kinds of preaching.
Preachers must remember that it is a high crime to put words in God’s mouth.
“Another danger of preaching for cultural engagement has to do with the starting place for our sermons. We can get sermon ideas from just about anywhere. But just because we have a sermon idea doesn’t mean we have something to preach. We always need to ask the question, ‘Did God talk about this subject in His Word?’ If He did, then we’ve got something to say and a sermon to preach. If He didn’t, then we have no authoritative basis on which to proclaim, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ We may have some opinions about certain cultural characteristics that God didn’t address, but our opinions are vastly different from preaching God’s Word. And preachers must be very careful to distinguish between the two. Many a topical sermon has been born out of a preacher’s desire to address a particular subject for which he had no direct biblical teaching.
“Anytime we start with a cultural issue, and fail to determine whether or not God addressed the subject, we run the risk of giving people our opinions instead of His Word. And whenever we present our unfounded opinions — even under the guise of preaching — we still end up saying what God did not say. Preachers must remember that it is a high crime to put words in God’s mouth. Neither culture nor the individuals who inhabit it will be transformed with our thoughts and opinions that are not driven by God’s Word. So whenever we start with a cultural issue that we think needs to be addressed, we need to search the canon of Scripture to see if God talked about it. On the other hand, when we are faithful to preach systematically through God’s Word, we are always sure to address the cultural norms that He has determined to address, whether directly or with theological implications and timeless truths.
“Another pitfall of cultural engagement that preachers need to keep on their radar is the tendency to adopt pet peeve topics and turn them into hobby horses and bully pulpits. All of us will have particular issues about which we are especially burdened. If we’re not careful, however, we can find ourselves addressing those subjects in every sermon, or at least preaching sermons on them on a regular basis. Doing so can create imbalance in our people’s spiritual diets, as well as undermine our integrity as prophets of God. Again, systematic exposition as a regular preaching diet will guard us from this danger. If we allow God’s Word to dictate the amount of time we dedicate to any given subject, then we are sure to provide our people a proper balance of the various spiritual food groups He has ordained.”
What preachers do this well? Who would you recommend?
“I’m thankful for the many faithful expositors who are prophetically engaging and shaping our culture through good exposition of God’s Word. Neither time nor space allows me to mention them all. But I would commend Tim Keller, David Platt, Tony Evans and John MacArthur as just a few representative examples of preachers who are expounding God’s Word and influencing culture. All of these men have wed systematic exposition and cultural engagement throughout their ministries, and have been good examples of balanced prophetic voices in pastoral contexts.”
 Jim Shaddix, The Passion Driven Sermon: Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 112.