The changing face of American culture and the priority of text-driven preaching

The only real constants in life are death and taxes.

This old adage in the life of American culture reflects the sentiment that some things never change and some things are always changing. For example, those who are 60 years of age or older will vividly remember seeing specific aisles at the grocery store roped off to fulfill the “Sunday Blue Laws” that restricted the purchase of certain items on Sundays. On the other hand, most young people in America have no knowledge of such restrictions but could not fathom a world without social media. There is not a teenager in America who is not connected to social media in some form or fashion. Twenty years ago, no such social media existed. Today, according to the latest Pew report, 68 percent of all Americans utilize Facebook, as do 2 billion other people worldwide.[1]

These changes are known as a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in thinking that results in a change of behavior. This shift reflects the globalized society that has rapidly developed since the turn of the 21st century.

How can this globalized society be properly explained? In recent months, a review of the last days of Princess Diana have flooded the airways with numerous implications; but, this one event is an excellent depiction of the globalized society that has evolved. From this one incident in August 1997, the ethnic diversity of our globalized society is clearly and vividly reflected. What we find is an English Princess with her Egyptian boyfriend in an auto accident in a French tunnel in a German car with a Dutch engine driven by a Belgian chauffeur who was high on Scottish whiskey being chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles with German cameras. The first doctor on the scene was an American.[2]

Such a globalized setting is not unprecedented in history. In the first century, the capital of the province of Achaia was the city of Corinth, and it, too, reflects such globalization. After being destroyed by an invading Roman army in 146 B.C., it was rebuilt in 44 B.C. before Julius Caesar’s death and was established as a Roman colony for retired Roman soldiers.

Located on a four-mile-wide isthmus connecting the Greek Peloponnesian to the mainland, Corinth became a globalized city for numerous reasons:

  1. It was a city of banking and commerce. Having sea ports on both the east and west sides of the city, Corinth became a gateway of trade, which brought great wealth to its inhabitants.
  2. It was a religious city that housed the great Pantheon Temple along with numerous altars for the worship of the various Greek gods of the day.
  3. It was also a city of great entertainment. The Greeks invented athletic contests in honor of their gods. The Isthmian Games were staged every two years in Corinth. The Pythain games took place every four years near Delphi along with the most famous of the games, which were held at Olympia in honor of Zeus.
  4. Finally, Corinth was known as a city of great evil and debauchery. The term from which the name Corinth is derived was used in the arts and theater to describe a citizen of Corinth who always displayed a life of drunkenness and sinfulness.[3]

These descriptors reflect many of the same aspects of our contemporary American culture. The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the world, consumed only by a desire for more wealth. It lives to be constantly entertained. It is more religious than ever before, yet the level of sin and corruption is at the highest peak in the history of our country. Like Corinth, America needs a moral and spiritual change.

The apostle Paul saw the need of his day as a spiritual need, and his remedy for that globalized self-absorbed society was placing a priority on biblical preaching. What is biblical preaching? Numerous definitions for biblical preaching can be found in the homiletic community today. Some advocate a topical approach to exposition while others prefer the genre of the narrative storytelling method of the new homiletic.

Paul, too, faced a plethora of methods to the task of effective communication, but he reveals his theology of preaching in the first two chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These chapters in 1 Corinthians tell much about the condition of the church of Corinth, but they also express Paul’s theology of preaching.

His theology of preaching involves a deep commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel as explained in the message of the cross of Christ. Paul vividly explains this in the first chapter, verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” In like fashion, verse 21 says, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe”; and also verse 23: “but we preach Christ crucified.”

After Paul’s encounter with the philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus (Acts 17), rather than utilizing the skilled rhetorical tools of the wisdom teachers of his day, Paul’s passion was to simply preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to God. This attitude expresses his understanding of biblical preaching.

At Southwestern Seminary, expository preaching has been refined to a more focused approach expressed as “text-driven” preaching. Rather than rely on the eloquence of man’s speech to enhance a topic or the use of some theatrical endeavor to impress the listener, the effective biblical preacher must be committed to interpreting the substance of a text in the context of the passage and communicate the truths revealed therein under the anointing of the Spirit of God.

This text-driven approach aims at allowing the preacher to simply be a tool in the work of interpretation and proclamation. Biblical, text-driven sermons that flow from the anointing of God to the people of God through the Word of God by the Spirit of God are the need of the hour.

No matter what the whimsical, emotional voice of the ever-changing tide of thought may be, the task and responsibility of the preacher is to be the faithful and passionate in delivering “the faith once delivered to the saints” to the glory of the Lord Jesus and the furtherance of the Kingdom. As Paul faced the folly of his first century cultural thinking and remained steadfast in the preaching of the Gospel, may the mandate of the 21st century preacher be reaffirmed, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” This is why the mandate of Southwestern Seminary is “Preach the Word, Reach the World.”


[1]Pew Research Center, “Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States.” Accessed on June 16, 2017 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media.
[2]Leonard Sweet, “What is Globalization? The Death of Princess Diana.” Accessed on January 14, 2006 from http://www.leonardsweet.org.
[3]John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), vii-viii.