What is the message a pastor must preach and a congregation must hear?
In his excellent (and free) e-mail newsletter, Preaching Now, Dr. Michael Duduit from preaching.com highlights the subtle, yet startling difference that cross-centered preaching makes:
"I recently had the privilege of preaching for J. Alfred Smith at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation in Oakland, CA. (We also jointly led a preaching conference the next day with about 80 attending.) Dr. Smith has a new book out called Speak Until Justice Wakes (Judson Press), and one of the chapters in this excellent though brief volume is on "Preaching the Cross." He observes:
"Popular preachers on the American scene seem to be steering clear of preaching the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems that in order for preachers sought after by Main Street to succeed in attracting the masses, they need to avoid preaching about the one who, according to the Scriptures, died for our sins.
"After all, people are attracted to practical preaching; that is, preaching designed to address human problems with human solutions. People love to hear preachers who make them forget present pain. They want the good news of peace, joy, contentment that is soon to be theirs. When people come with the burdens and cares of the week, they want the preacher to untie the Gordian knot of misery in favor of a God who assures them of prosperity.
"The god many seek today is the deity of upward social class mobility and middle-class prosperity. These listeners' hearts are not tuned to hear about the blood and gore of a Palestinian Jew dying helplessly and hopelessly on a Roman cross. . . .
"If the preaching of the cross is unpopular, if prosperity gospel and peace of mind preaching are preferred . . . what must preachers do who are loyal to preaching faithfully the biblical message with textual integrity? Peter Taylor Forsyth . . . addresses all these concerns in a classic called Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind:
Where your object is to secure your audience rather than your Gospel, preaching is sure to suffer. . . . It is one thing to rouse or persuade people to do something, to put themselves into something; it is another to have to induce them to trust somebody and renounce themselves for him. . . . The note of the preacher is the Gospel of a Savior. The orator stirs [people] to rally, the preacher invites them to be redeemed. Demosthenes fires his audience to attack Philip straightaway; Paul stirs them to die and rise with Christ. The orator, at most, may urge [people] to love their brother [and sister], the preacher beseeches them first to be reconciled to their Father.
"Forsyth says that we must preach Christ and not preach about Christ. We must place Christ before people. Christ, and not our oratory, draws persons to God. . . . What is there for us to preach but Jesus Christ -- crucified, dead, buried, and risen again for us?"