Concerning Ed Stetzer’s Sermon at the SBC Annual Meeting

Before I write the two articles mentioned at the end of my last post, I need to offer some words concerning the final sermon of the SBC annual meeting. First, I would like to note that in trying to report on and offer an evaluation of the sermons preached at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this year, my primary (and almost exclusive) concern has been about whether the sermons were truly expositional. This concern for expositional preaching flows from my understanding of what Scripture is and of what it teaches about how it should be read. The Bible alone is sufficient for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Word of God is living and active and it alone is able to grant discernment of the human condition before God (cf. Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is powerful to change lives when it is carefully explained in a Christ-centered way (see John 5:39-47; Luke 24:27-32; Acts 8:30-35). Jesus read Scripture not as an allegory or parable but as an historically accurate document, and one in which every word was important (see Matthew 5:17-19). All of these observations lead to the conviction that the Bible should be taught in a grammatical-historical-Christocentric way.

All the sermons delivered at the Southern Baptist Convention this year were structured in a expositional, rather than topical, manner. An entire series of articles could be written on what expositional preaching is and what it is not. The two areas that I have been listening for in the sermons at the SBC annual meeting are: 1) Is the main point of the preacher the main point of the text? 2) Is the outline of the sermon derived from the flow of the argument within the text?

In terms of these criteria, the sermon by Ed Stetzer (LifeWay’s director of research) night-before-last given near the close of the Convention seemed to be stronger on criteria 2 than on criteria 1.

Stetzer preached from Acts 16:7-10, focusing on the phrase, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Here’s my outline of the sermon:

I. “Come over”

A. Wherever Paul was called, he went.

B. Paul engaged whatever culture he was sent to.

II. “Help us”

A. The greatest help we can give is the Gospel.

B. Looking to Paul’s words on this elsewhere, we see this means we must be agents of reconciliation.

But most of Stetzer’s sermon seemed to be devoted to the phrase “to Macedonia.” Based on this phrase, Stetzer spoke at length on the need to contextualize the Gospel message. Much of what he said was a helpful critique of traditionalism.

Two of his statements, however, were somewhat alarming:

1) “Preaching against culture is like preaching against someone’s house.” I’m not sure how far Stetzer meant this comment to be taken, but it seemed as if he was saying we should avoid preaching against culture altogether. I would agree with Pastor John MacArthur, however, that many aspects of today’s culture are poisonous and must be opposed with God’s truth. It is not so much like carelessly offending people by preaching against their house as it is carefully warning them that their house is infested with toxic mold, and they are in danger.

2) “There’s not one biblically mandated model of church.” If all Stetzer meant by this statement was that different churches will have different kinds of buildings or different instruments in music, then I agree. But Stetzer seemed to go beyond this to indicate that the Bible does not teach any model of church government- an issue I’ve addressed in a recent article. Stetzer said, “I believe God uses all forms of Scripturally sound churches.” But if God does indeed have a plan for how His church is to be governed and if He actually cares about how He is to be worshipped in His church, then many of Stetzer’s examples of different churches were not Scripturally sound.

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5 Comments on “Concerning Ed Stetzer’s Sermon at the SBC Annual Meeting”

  1. Carla Rolfe Says:

    Whenever I hear “contextualize the Gospel message” my own personal red flag goes up. Generally, although not exclusively, the people I have hear or read say this are people who declare that preaching the word isn’t enough to bring people to Christ. Those who believe this effectively deny the very word they’re preaching since it declares that it IS enough and is the power of God unto salvation.

    If preaching against culture is like preaching against someone’s house, and that house is full of sin (as our culture indeed is, and we all know it) then it’s high time more brothers take their pastoral calling as serious as it is and begin preaching against culture.

    Just my 2 cents.
    SDG


  2. Andrew,

    Let me briefly speak to the culture/contextualization issue.

    Regarding culture, I do not believe Stetzer is calling for an uncritical acceptance of our culture around us. If you go back and listen to his message, you will hear him saying that there are elements of culture which must be confronted and where we must live counter-cultural. However, there are things we can learn from culture, and if we are going to reach our world, we must be willing to discerningly engage it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is in part what it means to live missionally. MacArthur does not agree with this approach to culture, which I assume, is due to his view of the kingdom.

    I have come to see that there are culture warriors and watchdog bloggers who love to condemn the sight of the word “contextualization.” I find this really odd personally. The matter is not if we contextualize but how. Like anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Stetzer is calling for our churches to be more responsibile with the Great Commission by understanding that they are called to reach their world by living redemptively for the sake of the kingdom.

    I encourage anyone to read, or example, the Gospel Coalition Founding Documents, or the recent book Kevin Vanhoozer edited called Everyday Theology which speaks more in depth on this matter.

    On a separate note, I don’t particularly expect to hear expositional messages at a Convention or a conference. Now, if they stated that the goal or requirement is to have them to be expositional, then that is a different story. However, in the local church, I do expect expositional preaching/teaching.

  3. Carla Rolfe Says:

    Timmy,

    I’m not sure what a culture warrior is, but I do know that the term “watchdog blogger” is usually and unfortunately used as an insult toward those brothers and sisters out there that call for exercising Biblical discernment when it comes to modern trends & movements among the body. Some of the most passionate and well respected bloggers out there have had this label applied to them and that’s a disheartening thing.

    I don’t personally condemn at the sight of the word contextualization, but I do believe quite firmly that we need to be very cautious when we use that word, and how we actually live that out. It’s no secret that there is a movement within evangelicism that has and continues to go well over the line when it comes to making the message of Christ “culturally relevent”.

    While I certainly agree that we do need to be aware of and educated in whatever culture we’re in, or called to serve in, I also know that the Scriptures teach us that it is by the foolishness of preaching, and it is the power of God unto salvation – to simply declare the gospel. Bells & whistles (programs, events, functions & what have you) are not needed for Isaiah 55:11 to prove itself out in the lives of men & women, boys and girls.

    It’s pretty clear that there are some brothers and sisters out there that have either forgotten this, or ever knew it to begin with – hence the overzealous attempt to be so culturally relevent it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between them (language, lifestyle, etc.) and the lost community they’re trying to reach.

    Just another 2 cents.
    SDG


  4. Timmy:
    “there are elements of culture which must be confronted and where we must live counter-cultural. However, there are things we can learn from culture, and if we are going to reach our world, we must be willing to discerningly engage it with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
    -If this is the extent of what he meant, then I agree. I am with Carla, however, in that it has gotten to the point where the word “contextualize” does send up a red flag (sort of like the word “tolerance,” which should have be honored and used by Christians, but which has been perverted by culture so often). I think that the real problem comes when this word “contextualize” is used by people who do not think that God has much to say about how His church is to be structured or how He is to be worshiped within His church. The glory of God can easily be obscured by the quest for “coolness” (see 1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

    Carla:
    “I don’t personally condemn at the sight of the word contextualization, but I do believe quite firmly that we need to be very cautious when we use that word, and how we actually live that out. It’s no secret that there is a movement within evangelicism that has and continues to go well over the line when it comes to making the message of Christ ‘culturally relevent’.”
    -Agreed.


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