Avoiding two extremes
Maximalism is a trend in the arts that finds its counterpart in some Reformed preaching today. The word can be used to describe the erroneous belief that every time any portion of Scripture is expounded, the gospel is being proclaimed.
Such a belief is incorrect, since texts like Galatians 3:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 show us clearly that the gospel is a distinct message within Scripture and is not merely to be equated with the systematic exposition of Scripture.
The maximalist approach, in effect, obscures the gospel message and blurs the distinction between preaching the gospel to win souls and preaching a teaching message to build up believers.
Such an emphasis often focuses on expository preaching to build up believers more than on preaching the gospel to win souls. And growth in congregations which adopt this approach is more often due to believers from other churches being attracted by expository preaching than by conversions to Christ.
This kind of growth derives from one congregation at the expense of others, so that ultimately there has been no increase in the kingdom of God.
The opposite trend is minimalism. In the arts world, minimalism strips down painting, music and poetry etc. to their most fundamental features. In gospel preaching, it strips the gospel down to its barest essentials. The widely used tract Four spiritual laws exemplifies this approach.
Minimalism has too often resulted in theological over-simplification and man-centredness. But Reformed preachers can be guilty of minimalism in gospel preaching in a number of different ways.
First, a kind of minimalism is displayed when the gospel message becomes a repetitive and predictable package: ‘You are a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners. You must repent and believe in Christ to be saved’.
While Reformed preachers who use this approach may avoid explicit Arminianism, their message has become stereotyped and boringly predictable.
It lacks flair in presentation, effectiveness in application and respect for the intelligence of its hearers. Nor does it do justice to the Bible passage being preached from, which is generally far richer in thought and application than such a presentation allows.
Second, there is minimalism when texts for gospel preaching are limited to the four Gospels and perhaps one or two other books from the New Testament; when the gospel is not preached freely from other books of the New Testament or the Old Testament.
Then, minimalistic attitudes are displayed when unbelievers are only directed to ‘gospel services’ and even discouraged from attending ‘teaching services’, regardless of whether or not they have a Christian background and the exposure they may already have had to Christian teaching.
While there is certainly a place for preachers in general to identify and apply those gospel truths best suited for unbelievers, we should not try to take over the work of the Holy Spirit by determining which passages and what topics God will choose to use in saving souls.
Another kind of minimalism is seen in the tendency to confine preaching the gospel to church services and similar formal settings.
Here there is a failure to take the gospel to individuals and small groups outside such settings and persist in seeking to reach them, until they are saved or make it clear that for them the gospel is unwanted.
So, let us look to the Lord for strength, wisdom, perseverance and balance in gospel preaching!
Let us ‘preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). And may the Lord fill us with his Spirit and bless us in his service.