The question posed in the title of this blog has, I believe, a simple answer. But before we get to that, some context.
A fascinating study just came out of the Pew Research Center. They analyzed 12,832 messages posted on church websites during the fall of 2020. They found that the elephants in the room of our world – the pandemic, the presidential election and all things race and racism – dominated the pulpit. In other words, we took the cultural bait. Pastors tackled the issues of the day and the questions of the day.
More than 80% of all churches heard at least one message on COVID. Two-thirds of all congregations heard at least one sermon on the election. Almost half heard at least one message on race.
But was this the appropriate thing to do? Should pastors speak to current events and cultural happenings or just stick to preaching the Bible?
Okay, as promised, here is my simple answer:
This is not an either/or decision, but a both/and. As theologian Karl Barth once said, every pastor should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
He made references to news events, tragedies, political issues, cultural and religious divides… all for the purpose of applying truth to people’s lives. The goal was the constant application of the gospel to life as it is playing out in the real world.
Let’s go further. If you aren’t bringing the Word of God to full life application and current events, then what you are bringing the Word of God to? It isn’t meant to be mere head knowledge. We are, as James reminds us, to be doers of the Word. Particularly when the events of our day are so deeply moral and spiritual in nature.
Really – scroll through cultural issues over the last 18 months or so, and tell me what was not a moral, ethical or spiritual issue:
- the meaning of “love of neighbor”
- is a nation favored by God?
- what does it mean to be a Christian leader?
Here’s the last 5%: While there is little doubt that the church and its leaders should address all issues of life through a biblical lens, bringing Scripture to bear on whatever is needed, the nature of the resistance to that is worth noting.
If you felt the Church was being too cultural, and not being biblical enough, was that because the Bible wasn’t being brought to bear on cultural issues or because you didn’t like the Bible’s verdict on cultural issues?
This is important.
I challenge you to defend saying the church shouldn’t speak out on, say, racism. It is a terrible evil and a stench in the nostrils of God. It is also clearly, uniformly, singled out in Scripture. To speak out against racism is to BE biblical. You can’t preach the Bible without denouncing racism.
But if you don’t like what the Bible says about race and racism, then we are on different turf. Because now you are not asking the Church to turn from culture to the Bible, you are asking the Church to address culture through your non-biblical lens; or to refuse to address culture through your non-biblical lens.
That we cannot and must not do.
So again, let’s address the question:
Are we to preach the Bible or address cultural issues?
The answer is clear:
James Emery White
“Pastors Often Discussed Election, Pandemic and Racism in Fall of 2020,” Pew Research Center, July 8, 2021, read online.
Kate Shellnutt, “How Thousands of Sermons Addressed the Crises of 2020,” Christianity Today, July 8, 2021, read online.
“Should Pastors Address Current Events in Their Sermons?” Christianity Today, November27, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.