Moralistic Preaching, David and Goliath, and Seeing God’s Glory in Christ

In this episode of the Holy Joys Podcast, Johnathan Arnold and David Fry discuss moralistic preaching and related themes:

  • Moralism in the Pelagian controversy
  • Monergism vs. Synergism
  • God as the initiator of all good
  • Human cooperation with grace
  • Premodern exegesis and the fourfold method of interpretation
  • Examples such as David & Goliath and the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness
  • Transformation through seeing God’s glory in Christ
  • Preaching as putting God’s beauty on display

Quotes from Fry:

  • Probably the most glaring example of moralism is the “God will do his part if you do your part” mentality.
  • Wesleyan Arminians are often considered to be synergists, but that can come out as “God does his part when we do his part,” and that’s not good.
  • God is always the initiator of anything good—anything good in the world, anything good in me, any change of character for the good, is the product of the “God who works in us to will and to do.”
  • Many Christian sermons are no more Christian than what some motivational speakers might say about Scripture.
  • We should start with the text in a historical sense and allow it to inform our life now.
  • Moralism comes down to a Christological problem.
  • If Christ is exalted through my preaching, and if people exalt Christ through what they are hearing, then they will be changed.
  • We are not saying that pastors should not preach practically, but we must allow Scripture to speak to us theologically. We must read Scripture and preach it in such a way that it is informing and shaping our preaching and application, rather than us bouncing off ideas and saying, “Hey, that fits, it will preach!” 
  • Pastors have to demonstrate an appropriate way to approach Scripture. It is not a self-help book. It’s the Spirit’s Word to us. We have the Author Himself who indwells us to open up the riches of His grace and His salvation. It must be read theologically.

Quotes from Arnold:

  • We need a mindset shift that when we come to the text, we’re looking for Jesus. 
  • What if we think about the transformative power of beauty in our preaching? What if we think about preaching as worship? What if we think about the act of preaching as inviting others to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord? I think we have underestimated the transformative power of that.
  • Before you see the Bible as a roadmap to the Christian life, see the Bible as a mosaic that shows us Christ.
  • The Bible is a revelation of the triune God, and when we encounter the triune God in the Book, we’re changed and transformed. It is in that context that we’re able to receive, apply, and live out the applications that are important for daily living.
  • It’s one thing to affirm that victorious living comes from Christ; it’s another thing for our Christological convictions to shape our approach to the text, our preaching and teaching, and our emphasis.
  • Those with a moralistic tendency tend to be genuinely concerned for the transformation of Christians. But 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us how we are transformed: by seeing Christ.
  • We don’t want people who just conform to a list of rules; we want people to be changed. So moralistic preaching doesn’t even accomplish what some are setting out to do. It doesn’t accomplish real transformation because it’s more focused on us than on Christ.
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.