“Boned Preaching” (W.G.T. Shedd)

Some comments by me interspersed:

“For some years past it has been a discouraging characteristic, that large audiences have been drawn together and held by a style of preaching that disparaged and oftentimes ridiculed evangelical truth. A great congregation and a popular speaker have, too frequently, been equivalent to reckless teaching and reckless hearing. The masses have been told that theology is a skeleton, and should be buried out of sight with other skeletons. Distinct and definite statements, especially those that relate to man’s guilt and danger, to the wrath of God and the necessity of fleeing from it, have been stigmatized as dry bones.”

Shedd describes preachers with some similarities to a Joel Osteen-type preacher.

“That incorrigible jester, Sydney Smith, told an old lady who asked him how he managed to keep cool during the very hot weather, that he took off his flesh and sat in his bones. These preachers reverse this method. They take out their bones and sit in their flesh. And what a mess they make of theology. What a flabby pulp is their sermonizing. Their discourse has no organization.”

But are they lost and of antichrist, Shedd? Those professing Christians whom Paul anathematized in Galatians 1:8-9 certainly “made a mess of theology.” But what does “make a mess of theology” mean for Shedd?

“‘A very eloquent talker indeed,’ said Hazlitt of a certain person, ‘if you let him start with no premises and come to no conclusion.’ The remark was untrue of the distinguished man respecting whom the acrid Hazlitt said it, but it is strictly true of certain pulpiteers who during the last decade have been styled by the newspapers the greatest preachers of the age.”

This work of Shedd was published in 1873 and during that time the secular newspapers were describing these reckless men as “the greatest preachers of the age.” Off the top of my head, I can recall TIME magazine (I think) magazine saying that Rick Warren was one of the top influential people in a certain year.

“Some of these sermons have been published, and constitute several volumes. He who should sit down and endeavor to deduce from them a series of truths for the guidance of man in his search for salvation, would be greatly perplexed.”

Several published volumes? I have no idea who it could be. But like many a tolerant Calvinist, Shedd could say that while this preacher put forth a “perplexing” view of say, justification, it would not necessarily mean that the perplexing preacher was not himself justified.

“Orthodoxy upon one page is contradicted by heresy on the next.”

You don’t say! What a rare thing it must be to come across so many “blessed inconsistencies”!

“The reader is told in one breath that he must seek salvation, and in the next that he is already safe enough. Regeneration is now the work of God, and now man’s self-improvement. From the mass of self-contradictions, however, the hearer is certain to derive the impression that the looser statement is the better of the two. The orthodoxy is, after all, merely a tub thrown for the whale to play with, while the harpoon is being aimed at his vitals. In this way the popular audience has been wheedled into the belief and reception of deadly error, under the guise of evangelical religion, and from a preacher of evangelical connections. From the pulpit and through the press, this kind of religious teaching has spread through society, and has seriously weakened the religious faith of the masses.”

I’m skeptical about whether there would be even a veneer of orthodoxy in the type of preacher/preaching Shedd describes. But I see application in Shedd’s whale illustration for the typical tolerant Calvinist of our day. The many orthodox statements by John Calvin is the tub thrown for the fashionable Calvinist whales to play with, while the heretical harpoon of universal atonement is being aimed at their vitals.

Shedd says that the popular audience is being wheedled (nice word)into accepting “deadly error.” Deadly? Really, now. How deadly is “deadly,” Shedd? Is it John W. Robbins of The Trinity Foundation¬†deadly? Or is it the author of 1 John 4:1-3, deadly? Oh, and the phrase “seriously weakened the religious faith of the masses.” So, a false gospel does not indicate that one is following a false christ. Nope. It only shows that their “faith” is being “weakened.” Just imagine how 1 John 4:1-3 would read if Shedd were to take up the pen.

“There are indications, now, of a change for the better. We hope that the worst has been seen, and that the tide has turned. The so-called ‘liberal’ religion begins to be looked at suspiciously. Men fear that loose theory is likely to end in loose practice, lax theology in lax morality. The common sense of men cannot be abused too long. The popular audience, after a time, becomes weary of self-contradictions, and desires to be fed, as St. Paul fed his audiences, ‘with knowledge and understanding.’ May we not expect that as the masses are now ready to go, day after day of the secular week, to hear the plain and unadorned, but thoroughly earnest and pungent statement of evangelical truth, from men who believe what they say, so they will continue to like this style, and that the period of boned preaching for the masses is over and gone” (W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy).

Where does Shedd get the notion that the “popular audience” becomes weary of self-contradictions? Shedd himself was blind to one of his most blatant self-contradictions, which was to affirm that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception while at the same time asserting that salvation was through the work of Jesus Christ alone!