The Danger of Moral Preaching

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Introduction

As a preacher, not only am I concerned about how I preach, but also how preaching is done in many churches. Also, as a pastor, not only am I concerned about what our congregants are eating spiritually (or not), but also what other churches are eating spiritually (or not).

One of the things I lament is how little the Old Testament (OT) is preached in many evangelical churches today. For example, out of the 27 churches in the Gospel Coalition Bay Area Regional Chapter (GCBARC), which our church is also part of, there is only a few churches that are preaching regularly from the OT. And the GCBARC is supposed to be the largest conservative evangelical organization that churches are part of in the Bay Area! We are only a small sample within much of the broader evangelicals, yet only a few churches are preaching the OT. That explains why so many professing Christians today have so little understanding about the OT, how the New Testament (NT) is connected to the Old, and how the gospel does not start with Jesus in the NT but actually in the OT.

Because there is so much disconnection with the OT, many simply perceive the OT as a collection of random stories. Hence, people fail to see the metanarrative of the entire Bible. As a result, many do not make Christological connections. So, people simply overlook in seeing Jesus Christ in the OT.

Also, not only I lament for little preaching that churches are hearing from the OT, but also, when they do hear from the OT, so often the preaching that is done from the OT is nothing short of mere moral sermons. They lack doctrinal substance. They lack the gospel indicatives. They lack Christological connections. For instance, when people hear the story of David and Goliath, so often Goliath is referred to some “giant problems” in life that can be slayed with little stones of faith. But is that the main point of the story? Like the story of David and Goliath, there are many stories in the OT that have been misinterpreted and misapplied. Genesis 22 is another example.

In typical sermons from Genesis 22, examples of moral preaching are common. The message is, for instance, just as Abraham obeyed, so should we, as if that is the primary point of the narrative. Another point may be that we should all be willing to make a great sacrifice just as Abraham did, as if that is the focal point of the story. Another point may be that we should also all trust our father just as Isaac did. While all those (moral) points are not necessarily wrong or immoral, they are not the primary point of the passage. Hence, let me explain why moral preaching is dangerous.

The Danger of Moral Preaching

First of all, moral preaching often has basic hermeneutical error. That is because they (sermon or preaching) often start from the text and go straight to the applications (i.e., the moral applications). Moral preaching fails to deal with the grammar, history, and theology of the narrative and the text.

Secondly, moral preaching is dangerous because it provides little or nothing about the gospel. It fails to show what ways the narrative points out the gospel indicatives. You can point out the moral lessons from any stories in the Bible, but that does not mean you have preached the gospel or pointed out the gospel indicatives. In fact, a preacher may preach from a Gospel book (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), yet fails to preach the gospel.

Thirdly, moral preaching is dangerous because it is man-centered than God-centered. That is because moral preaching focuses on what man needs to do than what God has done. Generally, the moral sermons are imperatives with little or no indicatives of who God is and what he has done. Moral preaching truly promotes behavioral change without the gospel. Moral preaching is a great tool that promotes legalism.

Fourthly, moral preaching offers little or no connection to Christ. It fails to show what ways the narrative shows the glimpse or typology of Jesus Christ. In theology this refers to the progressive revelation of God. That is, in Scripture, especially, in the OT (doubly so in Genesis and other books in the Pentateuch), God reveals his redemptive truths (i.e., the plan of redemption through Christ) not all at once, but slowly in little glimpses until Christ finally comes to fulfill in the NT.

The moral preaching really does injustice to what Jesus commands what we should do with the OT. In fact, it was Jesus who commanded to search the Scriptures (i.e. the OT) because the OT testifies or bears witness about him (John 5:39). Did you hear that? Jesus commanded us to search the OT and see him there because the OT testifies about him!

Also, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, explained the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). That pretty much summarizes the entire OT (the writings of Moses and all the prophets). This clearly implies that Jesus made Christological connections of himself to the OT. I wish I could have been to such Bible study when Jesus was making such connections!

Moreover, in Luke 24:44 Jesus said, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Again, that pretty much summarizes the entire OT. And Jesus clearly states that the entire OT are written about him. So, that is our duty when we read and study the OT. We ought to make connections to Christ. We ought to see the gospel indicatives and theological significance. All these things, moral preaching fails to do.