1. The Kingdom of God
Almost twenty years ago, Dallas Willard exhorted the evangelical church to move past the “gospel of sin management,” which teaches Christians how to avoid sin and hell but not how to fall more in love with God. Today, many churches still ignore the central theme of Jesus’ message: the kingdom of God and its overarching implications for the church and individual believers. Our sermons must be saturated with the gospel of the kingdom of God, which calls the Christian to an ever-growing pursuit of discipleship.
2. Hard Sayings of the Old Testament
Most contemporary Christians fall within two camps: either ignoring the Old Testament entirely because of a deep-seated disdain for its stories, character, and God (!), or misappropriating Old Testament lessons as binding for Christians who are under a new covenant. On the contrary, if you work through difficult passages or themes of the Old Testament, there will be endless applications and your preaching will serve as a model for your congregation’s engagement with Scripture (see Epic of Eden by Sandy Richter).
3. Marks of the Almost Christian
In some regions of the country it is still common to identify as a Christian and believe that you are one by virtue of birth-right, or by assuming a certain set of political-cultural values. Three hundred years ago John Wesley and other leaders in the evangelical revivals rightly challenged nominal Christians to authentic repentance and holiness of heart and life. Our contemporary culture offers fresh mistaken assumptions about religious identity, when left unchallenged, will continue to perpetuate nominal Christianity.
4. The Apostles Creed
Is there any connection between doctrine and discipleship? Does it really matter what we believe, and why? The burden of clarifying the significance of creeds falls on the pastor. As one of the great ecumenical confessional statements of Christian history, the Apostles Creed is worth spending some time on, possibly as a sermon series. It may strengthen our catholic spirit and our local efforts at Christian unity, and may help direct our focus in worship, be it corporate or private. Timothy Tennent has done a good job of explaining the creed in popular language.
5. The Suffering Christian
Several distortions of the gospel are alive and well in the church today, with the prosperity gospel and the “American dream gospel” probably taking the lead. What place is there in our theology for the suffering disciple? How does your church handle pain, suffering, and lament as a community? Sermons that challenge the human-centeredness of our popular theologies, or the narcissistic bent our western selves tend toward are vital part of faithfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. Our churches must recover from believing the gospel is about improving our circumstances or helping us achieve upward mobility. See Seedbed’s list of resources on “Suffering and Evil.”
6. The Gospel and Contemporary Issues
Preachers, quite naturally, prefer to avoid issues that will divide or cause tension. But issues like globalization, racial reconciliation, poverty, consumerism, human rights, sexuality, etc. are all topics that demand our attention. If we avoid these topics, we fail as preachers in two respects: 1. The gospel we preach is de-contextualized and bears no connection to people’s lives and our current cultural climate; 2. Our congregations will look elsewhere for wisdom in navigating the difficult issues of our time.
Which topics would you add? Which ones have been especially difficult for your community, or resulted in sharp email critiques, or declining attendance?