And he is right on two major counts. First, Gordon is right to pin the reason why Johnny can't preach on the cultural forces that have affected the way ministerial students and young ministers read texts and compose arguments. Most of us in the educational world bemoan the inability of many of our students to produce basic outlines, shape rudimentary arguments, or craft reasoned essays. Some of us even go so far as to give students a basic framework in the syllabus for writing the essays for which we look and yet it is shocking how students are unable to follow even such suggestions.
This is an aside by way of example. In one syllabus, I have: "the first three paragraphs of your essay are introductory, so tell me who wrote the book, where does the author teach, what does the author say are his reasons for writing the book, and finally what is his argument; in the next two pages, summarize his argument in three major points; in the next two pages, evaluate his argument in the light of class readings and lectures; in the final paragraph suggest whether you liked the book and whether you would recommend it to another." You would be surprised how few students can even follow this basic formula for a book review essay.
Further, many students cannot read texts closely. As a teacher, some of my most disappointing classes have been electives run seminar style, based on the close reading of primary source texts. When students are unable to reference "chapter and verse" from Kuyper, Edwards, Bushnell or Hodge, pointing the class to a particular page, summarizing the point, and advancing the argument, it devolves to me having to do that for the class. In the end, many of these electives become my own running dialogue with the text with the students listening in. This may provide a nice modeling opportunity, but it is disappointing--because I hope to learn from the students, which doesn't happen when I do all the talking.
Some of the Covenant Seminary faculty have talked about whether we need to rework the MDiv curriculum to include a first semester professional seminar, which would cover things like "how to read a book" and "how to write a paper." Clearly our cultural forces and our educational system are failing to give our students the tools and sensitivities necessary to read texts well and compose clear arguments. And, as Gordon notes, this will inevitably affect the way men preach.
Second, Gordon is right that the content of preaching must center repeatedly and insistently on the person and work of Jesus Christ. His discussion of the evangelical content of preaching in chapter four is priceless--he diagnoses four alternative types of preaching (moralism, how-to, introspection, culture warrior), demonstrates the difficulties, and points back to robust Christ-centered exposition. And while I may quibble with one point--namely, when he observes that the pulpit is almost never the place to enforce moral behavior or raise questions for the complacent to examine themselves (pp. 90-1); I wonder then what he would do with the imperative sections of Paul's Epistles--the main point does not lose its force.
A thoughtful and thought-provoking book, it was well-worth the two hours it took me to breeze through the 100 pages or so. But the points that Gordon raises will be with me for weeks, months, and even years to come. In fact, I think I need to go now--I'm going to buy Shakespeare's sonnets and have myself a good read.