Should Pastors Address Cultural Issues in the Pulpit?

Suggestions for Engaging Culture in the Pulpit

The question of addressing political and cultural issues in the pulpit can weigh a pastor down. Here are a few practical suggestions for the preacher to do what he is called to do (preach), and to help him form a method of addressing cultural issues from the pulpit when necessary.

Preach Expository Sermons

Many conversations are going on within evangelical circles regarding the method by which preachers use to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ each week. It is no surprise to anyone to see different ways of preaching used each week in the pulpit. However, the essential aspect for preachers to address cultural issues is for them to preach expository sermons. Many pastors and scholars would define expository sermons in a multitude of ways; however, Hershael York has a simple, yet practical definition. He explains that

“Expository preaching is any kind of preaching that shows people the meaning of a text and leads them to apply it to their lives.”[1]

Often, a preacher’s definition contains many different elements of what preaching is, and it confuses the one who is reading. York’s definition of expository preaching gets to the heart of expository preaching – interpreting a text that invokes application.

Application allows preachers to address cultural issues. Expository preaching is not merely a “step-by-step method” to address cultural issues. Instead, it will enable the preacher the opportunity to give authority to the Scriptures while he is preaching. Too often, churches and pastors believe it is their job to address specific “issues” and receive “Amens” from a particular corner of their sanctuary. However, Russell Moore observes that Jesus “never turned the sword of the Spirit into a security blanket for the already convinced.”[2] This method has become a staple mantra for evangelical churches. It is all too easy for believers (especially pastors) to address outsiders and condemn them for where they are living their lives wrong. However, this is not the method Jesus used, nor should it be our method. Our approach should be to show them their lack of righteousness and holiness, and we do so by interpreting a text of Scripture and applying to our hearers week after week.

Allow the Bible to Speak for Itself

The Bible does not need our help when it comes to addressing any issue, specifically cultural ones. Instead, the preacher should be looking to the Bible as his sole authority in the pulpit. The Bible, according to the author of Hebrews, is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible is sufficient, relevant, and powerful enough to engage with culture at any time. Therefore, the Pastor should rest on the foundational truth that the Bible is sufficient to speak for itself. God does not need preachers to help address cultural issues. Instead, the pastor, while preaching expository sermons, can allow the Bible to speak on its authority and with its power. The pastor is nothing more than a conduit through which the message is given. John Stott writes on crossing cultural barriers in preaching. Instead of being a zeitgeist, we should be determined to build our bridge from church to culture based on the Bible.[3] The way to build our bridge and address culture is by allowing the Bible to speak for itself. Kevin DeYoung says it best:

“I want my people to expect, that as a general rule, the Bible sets the agenda not my interests or what I think is relevant.”[4]

Do Not Allow Personal Interpretation to Override What the Bible Means to Say

As preachers, we cannot merely approach cultural issues in America and place a biblical passage on its rhetoric and call it a sermon.

Hershael York exclaims that we are not at liberty to tell a bank our understanding for a mortgage means we do not have to make a payment each month.[5] The same is true in the way we preach. There is one meaning of a particular text that can be made manifest in many different applications. That there are many different applications of one text does not indicate more than one original meaning. The Word of God is relevant to all life and spans generation after generation; this proves for many different forms of application but does not change the intended meaning of a particular passage. Therefore, it is not sufficient for a pastor to stand in the pulpit and claim 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the church’s statement of revival for America. Instead, he must allow the biblical text to dictate how he presents the application of such a passage within the context of modern America.

Allowing the original intended meaning of a text to be the foundation for application is one major focal point of expository preaching. When a pastor is preaching expository sermons, he is already allowing the biblical text to be the foundation and the sole source for the sermon. Therefore, it continues to afford the preacher liberty to preach with confidence because he is proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord.”

Use the Holy Spirit’s Guidance to Address Cultural Issues

Ultimately, the Holy Spirit must be the guide for a pastor when it comes to addressing cultural issues from the pulpit. Yes, expository sermons will allow the pastor to address issues as he preaches. However, sometimes, current events will necessitate a response from a pastor. Jonathan Leeman defines this process as principled pragmatism. Principled pragmatism says that we should use wisdom to do justice.

“We must start by asking God what he intends for us and for the world, lest we let some other god set the terms.”[6]

Mainly, Leeman’s approach takes the good from all forms of politics – liberalism, conservatism, and nationalism – and leaves the bad. We can do the same in our pulpits. Take the good from cultural issues and leave the bad. Of course, we must always expose sin and evil for what it is, yet we can still do so in a loving, Christ-centered manner.

Conclusion

Pastors need a methodical approach to addressing cultural issues in the pulpit. The church is not the place to fix cultural problems – we have a public square for that purpose. However, the church can be a means through which God can reveal his truth and transform culture. Carl F. H. Henry writes, “The implications of this for evangelicalism seem clear. The battle against evil in all its forms must be pressed unsparingly; we must pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science in ethics – everywhere, in every field, we must pursue relentlessly.”[7] To do this, pastors must preach expository sermons. The expository sermon takes the text and interprets its original meaning and then applies it to the hearers’ lives. However, expository sermons also allow the Bible to do its bidding. No longer does the pastor have to depend upon his intellect or personality to address cultural issues because the Bible can speak for itself.

Another aspect of addressing cultural issues is that preachers do not have to try and make up an interpretation when they preach the Bible. Instead, they can allow the Bible to mean what it intends to say and communicate it with power and authority. The pastor cannot do any of these things without the consideration of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in their life.

Nevertheless, Christians are not to withdraw from culture. The answer, of course, is not retreating. Instead, Richard Mouw argues that Christians have a mandate (Gen. 1:28) from the Lord to live within the culture. He writes,

“This cultural mandate is an expression of God’s own investment in cultural formation, and it has in no way been canceled by the introduction of sin into the creation.”[8]

Our cultural interaction is not null and void because of the fall. If anything, it has been heightened because of how God aims to redeem creation and culture. Therefore, it is imperative for pastors to stay up to date on current events, but they should use discretion when addressing such things.


[1] Hershael W. York and Bert Decker. Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 33.

[2] Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville: B&H, 2015), 198.

[3] John R.W. Stott. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 139.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, “The Preacher and Politics: Seven Thoughts,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed July 14, 2019, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/preacher-politics-seven-thoughts/.

[5] York, Preaching with Bold Assurance, 30.

[6] Jonathan Leeman. How the Nations Rage: Rethinking the Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Nashville: B&H, 2018), 181.

[7] Carl F. H. Henry. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 86.

[8] Richard Mouw. The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.

Ben Campbell