The Defective Preaching of Today’s
Reformed Churches Exemplified
by Stuart DiNenno
Below is a copy of a letter which was sent on October 30, 2023 to an ordained Christian minister named Michael Spangler in which I describe the great deficiencies of the preaching in the so-called Reformed churches today that make it ineffective for bringing men to repentance, using an examination of the recorded messages of Gavin Beers, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland Continuing at their Cornerstone Presbyterian Church of Burlington, North Carolina, as an example to illustrate my case.
I was given the sad truth about adult conversions that you refused to give me, by a woman who is a member of Cornerstone church. This woman told me that she has been attending the church with her husband since April 2016, both morning and evening on Sundays and again on Wednesdays for prayer meetings. When I asked her to give the total number of adult baptisms which she had witnessed or known of, among those who came to repentance and faith under the preaching at Cornerstone during the 7 1/2 years of her attendance, excluding those who believed prior to coming there, and excluding children who were baptized as infants and remained in the church, the answer she gave me was “I know of none.” Others also have told me the same about FCC churches and I could say the same from my own approximately nine year affiliation with the Atlanta FCC. (In case you are concerned about it, you should know that I did not make any accusations of unfaithfulness to the woman who gave me this information. I only asked her for some facts and confirmed that they matched my experience in the FCC.)
When you and I had our discussion about this matter on Facebook chat and you refused to give me the numbers of adult baptisms that you had witnessed in the OPC and FCC, I replied, “We both know that the answers to these questions paint a picture of abysmal failure, etc.”
You replied, “Yes, it’s a day of great spiritual declension and deadness.” This answer is a bit puzzling seeing that it was given in response to my singling out of the OPC and FCC for what I called their “abysmal failure” to make adult converts, but also knowing that at other times you have aggressively asserted that the FCC is a faithful church. Does this “great spiritual declension and deadness” of which you speak extend to the FCC or does it not? It seems that it would have to, in the context of our discussion about failing to make adult converts (and I have since found out that the FCC is actually worse than the OPC in this regard), but your insistence in other discussions that the FCC preaching is very faithful leaves me confused on this point.
About a minute later in the context of the same discussion, you also said, “I agree in most cases preaching is very deficient.” Again, we were talking about the failure of the OPC and FCC to make adult converts, so it seems you were acknowledging that FCC “preaching is very deficient” but in the past you have strongly denied it.
It is good for you to acknowledge that “it’s a day of great spiritual declension and deadness” and “in most cases preaching is very deficient,” but if you only meant these statements in a general way about American churches collectively (which does not really make sense in the context of our discussion) and you are refusing to see how they apply in particular to your own house — meaning in your own denomination, your own church, and your own preaching — then that is not a good thing.
Of course, the number of converts that a church makes is not the sole measure of its faithfulness, and we often hear churchmen cautioning other churchmen not to focus on numbers: “It is not the quantity of converts that we should be concerned about; it is the quality of those converts that matters.” This can be true, but is it not an even worse circumstance when there are no converts being made at all; where we are not able to be concerned about the quality of converts because there are none? And if you have to hide the facts about the virtual non-existence of adult conversions in the FCC (I have not been able to confirm that even one has ever occurred in their American congregations) in order to prevent me from writing what you called an “anti-church article,” then is this not likely an indication that something is seriously wrong with FCC preaching? If the truth can generate an “anti-church article,” then is the one who ferrets out that truth and exposes it the one to blame?
Perhaps you would answer that there are times when “the Lord shuts the windows of heaven,” so to speak, and that faithful preaching bears no fruit because it has no spiritual blessings accompanying it so that the hearts of the people are not opened to receive it. This is undeniably true, as we see in the examples of the prophets calling the Israelites to repentance and those calls being unheeded to their destruction. It could very well be the case in our day. Perhaps God is allowing Americans to “fill up the measure of their fathers” until “their iniquity is full” and His “wrath is come upon them to the uttermost,”and to this end has hardened their hearts so “that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand.”
But we should not assume that this is strictly a matter of faults in the hearing when it could very well also be a matter of faults in the preaching. And I am sure you would agree that the absence of faithful preaching in a nation is just as much a judgment upon it as is the lack of ears to hear it. God is sovereign over both the proclamation of the word and the reception of it. It is true that God, in His sovereignty, can use even highly flawed preaching to save souls, but it is also true that God, in His sovereignty, does not ordinarily regenerate where the preaching is unfaithful. Rather, God, in His sovereignty, ordinarily brings salvation to the elect hearers by causing the preaching to be faithful and bringing regeneration through the faithful words preached.
What I am getting at, in perhaps an overly roundabout way, is that you need to consider the fact that FCC preaching is not bearing the fruit of adult conversions because it is not as faithful as you would like to believe that it is. In fact, I believe that it is very unfaithful. But let me be crystal clear about what I mean: I do not dispute that FCC ministers preach much truth. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it is difficult to find anything that is doctrinally “off” in the preaching of FCC ministers. But the error is not in the doctrinal content of what they preach, the error lies in what is omitted from their preaching and in the manner that they preach what they do preach, and I am going to do my best to make you understand the defects that make it likely to be ineffective for conversion.
So where should we start? You have already agreed to respond to the same request sent to Gavin Beers and approximately fifty other ministers, so here it is:
“I’m looking for a video or audio recording of a strong presentation of the foundational gospel message that would be suitable for passing along to someone yet unconverted, something that contains clear definitions of sin and serves to convict the hearer of his guilt, speaks of eternal punishment, calls the sinner to repentance, and shows him the way of forgiveness through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I see that there are many recordings on Sermon Audio and I can search through them, but it is difficult to know exactly what is being preached based on the title alone, and so I thought I would ask if you could pick one that best fits my description and send me a link to it.”
As you can see, what I am asking for you to provide is a very basic gospel message, albeit a confrontational and convicting one. Please note that I added “speaks of eternal punishment” to the definition, because I do think this should be included in any evangelistic presentation, although I did not have it in the original request (and even with the shorter list that omitted “speaks of eternal punishment,” only one minister out of the fifty fulfilled the request). And, as I explained in my article about gospel preaching that you recently read, I do believe that an ideal evangelistic message should briefly address other topics beyond those I have specified above, such as the fall of man, human depravity, the new spiritual birth and others, but I am trying to keep the request simple and easy to fulfill.
I want to begin by making clear that I am not going to be nitpicking your messages looking for insignificant faults or exaggerating the ones I find. As I said near the beginning of my article about the failure of today’s preaching, which you recently read: Let the reader understand from the outset that I have not written this article in a captious spirit, seeking to “make a man an offender for a word.” (Isaiah 29:21). It is not that I am looking for perfection and complaining because I cannot find it, or finding fault with others merely because I think they should be doing things my way. It is a matter of foundational defects in today’s preaching that are far more serious than mere personal preferences or minor flaws.
Also, as I said in the same article, I am not claiming that no one can be saved unless preachers are careful to include every component contained in my list of what should be included in every evangelistic presentation, nor am I asserting that no one is ever saved through today’s preaching. In fact I believe that some men are saved outside of preaching altogether by reading the Bible and studying doctrine for themselves, and I cannot say that God does not sometimes use even a very weak gospel message to at least spark an interest in some to whom he eventually reveals the missing pieces of the puzzle so that they are saved. However, the ordinary means of salvation is through the preaching of the gospel and it is obvious that the more incomplete the message, the more unlikely it is to bear any fruit in those who hear it.
I likely won’t get around to listening to your messages until next week, even if you do send me links to them this week. In the meantime, I think it would be beneficial for you to read my general notes on Gavin Beers’ preaching contained in this message, as well as the particular notes on each of his sermons at the end of this message. As I have told you before, over the last few years I listened to ten of his sermons which were recommended to me (by you, others in the FCC, and by Gavin himself) in answer to the request stated above. I took notes on each sermon and sent two emails to Gavin in an attempt to correct him of what I believe are errors in his preaching (he never replied). Over the past several days, I even listened to all ten of the messages again to try to be sure that I did not miss anything and was not overstating my case. I believe my notes on his sermons will be profitable for you to read because I believe you may have the same errors in your own preaching and this is likely why you do not recognize them in his.
It seems to me that this same failure of recognition was exemplified several months ago when I referred you to listen to my “Great Matter” audio message which I specifically made as an example of a confrontational and convicting evangelistic message containing all the items I specified in my article about preaching the gospel. I was nonplussed when you listened to it and then said something to me like, “This is very good, and it’s what Gavin and I preach.” This is before I had listened to much of your preaching but I immediately thought, “Did he really listen to it? Gavin doesn’t preach anything like that.”
I know that you would rather not focus on Gavin, and I would prefer not to do so as well, but he is the only FCC minister whose preaching I have examined much, and I think you can obtain much benefit from my critiques of his messages, and that you should consider them carefully until I have time to listen to your recordings, give you some feedback, and then discuss them with you.
Also, you should know that among the reasons that I began to so carefully scrutinize Gavin’s preaching in the first place, over other Reformed ministers, is not because I have some kind of a grudge against Gavin or against the FCC, and was looking for faults that I could magnify. I have so little familiarity with Gavin that I cannot be a judge of his character and can hardly even call him an acquaintance, so I neither love the man nor hate him. As for the FCC, it is true that I do not have a high opinion of it, as you know, but I can acknowledge that it does manifest some superior attributes relative to the other denominations, at least in outward form. One of the real reasons I chose to more carefully examine Gavin’s messages is because he is one of the most highly regarded preachers in what many consider to be one of the most conservative Reformed denominations. I thought if I could clearly show that one of the FCC’s best men is preaching a defective message, then that, coupled with the dismal results of my survey of approximately fifty other ministers, would best serve to confirm my belief that the gospel is not being preached today. That is, not being preached in the sense that the sort of confrontational and convicting evangelistic messages which God ordinarily uses to convert sinners are not being preached. So please do not make the mistake of thinking that this is primarily about Gavin Beers when I speak of his preaching. I am only using him as a particular example of what is wrong in general with so-called Reformed preaching. If I had done a similar examination of the preaching of any of the other FCC ministers, or of any minister from among the OPC, PCA, or the other “conservative Reformed” denominations, I am nearly certain that I would have found the same serious defects.
Moreover, you have accused me of slanderously misrepresenting Gavin’s preaching and I need to set the record straight. This is my attempt to show you that my assessment of his preaching is accurate and not at all a misrepresentation. If I am successful at waking you up to this reality, then I expect you to make amends. Not that I need a formal apology from you but I just need to know that you will never again make the same accusations, such as telling me that I am doing wickedly and should be brought under ecclesiastical censure. I also need you to clear my name with those to whom you have communicated this charge against me. That is, those to whom you accused me of slandering Gavin, because I said that he does not faithfully communicate the gospel in a way that will convict men of their sins and bring them to repentance. After you see that what I have been saying about his preaching is in fact true, then you need to go to those persons and tell them that I was not slandering him. Next, you will need to make the appropriate changes in your preaching if what I am saying about Gavin’s preaching is true of your own. Lastly, you will need to go to Gavin himself to try to correct him and then correct other ministers in the FCC, if they are manifesting the same deficiencies in their own preaching (which I highly suspect is the case, though I have not examined their preaching as I have Gavin’s).
It is praiseworthy that you desire to step outside of the walls of your church’s meeting place and call to repentance, through your preaching at their own places of assembly, the sodomites, Jews, and Romanists for their wickedness. But they are only manifestations of the disease and not the disease itself, which is the fallen state of our so-called churches. If we had authentic Christianity and robust churches practicing it, then the sodomites, Jews, and Romanists would have been subdued long ago. They are only filling the vacuum left by the absence of genuine Christianity and you cannot replace something with nothing. Darkness can only be driven out with light. Therefore, your focus should be on restoring and propagating true religion in America. This must begin with a renewal of preaching: “Is it not clear, as you take a bird’s-eye view of Church history, that the decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching has declined? What is it that always heralds the dawn of a reformation or of a revival? It is renewed preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). You must primarily deal with the root cause of the degeneracy in our nation and only secondarily with the outworkings of it, by first looking within the professing Reformed church and addressing its infidelity before you begin to look without and condemn the infidelity of others.
By the way, you have my permission to forward this message directly to Gavin at any time. However, because I think it is much more likely that he will receive correction from you, and I have already tried to correct him on these points in the past and was ignored, if after you read this in its entirety you find yourself agreeing with me, then it would be best if you go directly to Gavin and make a similar case to him in your own words.
My notes on each of Gavin’s ten messages are at the end of this letter. When you read them, please keep in mind that all of these sermons were sent to me via links directly in response to my request asking for a message with certain basic components, and so the notes mostly focus on the specified items that were missing from those messages, not so much on other things contained in the messages or my overall opinion of each message. Please do not interpret my notes about the deficiencies as if I am saying that the messages have no value; I was mostly evaluating them only in terms of whether they did or did not contain what I believe to be essential parts of an evangelistic message, and, in most cases, I only noted the elements that were missing, not the ones that were included.
I want to give Gavin credit where it is due. There is actually quite a bit of sound teaching in his messages, and although I do not agree with 100% of what he teaches, it is hard to find fault in the expositions he gave of the various biblical texts in the ten sermon recordings sent to me via links. He does express what could be called gospel truths in that he often speaks of sin, judgment, hell, grace, faith, heaven, etc.; he refutes some false doctrines that are common today; his preaching contains orthodox teaching about the doctrines relating to Christ and His work, and of necessary theological concepts such as justification by faith and the innate depravity of man (although I have not heard them together in one message); and I have learned some new things from him just while reviewing the ten messages. Gavin also very often speaks of sin, in particular that it has alienated us from God, put us all under His wrath, and made us worthy of hell. He is not one of those who will only speak of the “peaches and cream” doctrines of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness while saying nothing about sin, judgment, and punishment.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that not one of the ten messages sent to me fulfilled my very basic request (and, as I have already said, I do believe it is best that items other than the few specified also be included in an evangelistic message, but I was trying to keep the request simple and easy to fulfill). There are some evangelistic ingredients in most of the messages, and there are times in maybe one or two of them (I did not count) when appeals to the unconverted in the congregation are explicitly made, but I could not call any of them “confrontational and convicting evangelistic messages” because they lack some basic items that I believe are necessary to make them effective for bringing the unconverted to faith. The primary (but not the only) omissions in what, by answering the request, were represented as evangelistic messages are, (1) an absence of any declaration of God’s law so that those in the congregation are convicted of their sins; and (2) very little or nothing about repentance.
In the majority of the ten messages, sin was not defined even very briefly in general terms, and except for one example of less than two minutes length in one message, particular transgressions of the moral law were never enumerated and presented in a confrontational and convicting way to the hearers. Also, many of the messages did not mention repentance at all, the ones that did gave no explanation of it or why it is necessary (except for the one sermon specifically about repentance which lacked all the other elements), and there was not a call to repentance directed to the congregation in any of them, except for at the end of the sermon about repentance (again, which lacked all the other elements). Even if all of the others had contained calls to repentance this would have been ineffective anyway because it is obvious that men are not likely to repent (nor see their need of a savior), if they have not been convicted of their sins. Since, in these messages, Gavin often does not even define sin in even a general sense, and does not confront his hearers with their transgressions of the law in a plain, direct, second-person accusatory way, it is doubtful that anyone would be so convicted. In most cases, if I noticed that the aforementioned convicting attributes were not present, then I did not take the time to carefully scrutinize the messages for the presence or absence of teaching about gospel concepts such as substitutionary atonement, the new birth, justification by faith, etc., or analyze the faithfulness of their presentation, and so I did not comment on these things in my notes, although there is no doubt that in many of the messages some or all of these doctrines were absent, or only lightly touched upon.
Now in case the objection should be raised that I am expecting too much from one message, and that the items I listed as omissions are given by Gavin in other sermons, I am reminding you here that all the fundamentals I am expecting to find in an evangelistic presentation were included in my one hour long audio message (some of Gavin’s sermons are just as long), and that same message included many more elements which I have not asked of others. So the request I made to the fifty ministers, including Gavin, was far from a stringent one, I did not ask for anything that I have not done myself, and I believe the request could be fulfilled even in a half-hour long message. Also, it should be obvious that spreading out the necessary components of an evangelistic presentation over many messages, when they easily could be given in one, is very far from the ideal for creating conviction and converting the lost, to say the least.
Also, please keep in mind, as I have told you before, that not one of the fifty ministers who were sent my request argued with my definition. No one replied and said, “a gospel message does not need to include everything you specified” or “that’s not a proper definition of a gospel presentation” or anything like that. There was no objection from Gavin or anyone else to what I was asking for. Everyone knew that these things should be included in an evangelistic message, so this is not a case of me asking for something that fits a non-standard definition of my own making or is out of the ordinary in any way; it is a message that should be very common and easy to find. Indeed, I do not think it would have been possible to simplify my request. Could I have asked for anything more basic than I did?
Now if you should say that I am judging some of Gavin’s messages as if they are evangelistic messages when they are not all meant to be so, then I will only ask you to explain why they were provided in answer to requests for an evangelistic message, and request you to provide links to messages of his that do fit the definition provided. Is it possible that Gavin misunderstood the inquiry twice? (He responded to a request I sent in 2020 and another in 2022.) This is very unlikely seeing how explicit it was and that I was only requesting a very basic sort of evangelistic message that every Christian minister should have preached numerous times.
Another possible objection (I am trying to anticipate them all) could be something like: “All of the messages of Gavin’s that you heard in the ten recordings are spoken to a congregation that listens to him every week, and so they hear him, in other messages at other times, give both definitions of sin in general terms and definitions of particular sins. Likewise with concepts about repentance and the need for it. They also are taught about these things from our catechisms. So while I agree that people need to know all about the elements you listed, our congregants have a very thorough knowledge about sin and repentance already and so don’t need to hear these things defined in an evangelistic message.”
My answer: Truth can be communicated in a way that is educational but not personally convicting. It is one thing to gain knowledge of concepts about sin, repentance and judgment, even a very thorough knowledge of these things, and quite another to be convicted of your own sins through a message that uses the law to point the finger of guilt directly at you in a confrontational, second-person way, while forcefully impressing upon you the need for repentance, demanding it from you, and warning you about the wrath of God that you will surely suffer if you do not repent. If all that were needed to convict men of sin and bring them to repentance were an intellectual understanding of the law and a knowledge of the doctrine of repentance, then we could make copies of all the questions in the Westminster Larger Catechism that address both, hand them out in the congregation, and give the preacher a few weeks off while the church members study them. Likewise with all the other doctrines of an evangelistic message.
Preaching must do more than just drop off the child at the schoolhouse once a week for instruction, so to speak. There must be times when it apprehends the criminal, drags him before the judge to be called to account for his numerous crimes, finds him guilty as charged, and then threatens to deliver him to the executioner, so that he, in fear and trembling, will cry out for mercy and forgiveness. It is not enough for a man to just understand facts about sin, judgment, and repentance; he must be faced in a personally convicting way with the guilt of his own evil deeds and know that he is condemned in himself according to the law, and then confronted with the fact that he is under God’s wrath already and on his way to an eternal punishment, unless he admits to his wickedness, he turns from it, and he follows the way, the truth, and the life as found only in Jesus Christ. And it should be obvious that these truths are going to be far more effectively impressed upon his soul, so as to be convicting and bring the fear of God upon him, if they are delivered in one cohesive message, and in a forceful and captivating manner, rather than merely communicated to him in pieces that he collects over an extended period of time. Assuming that an unconverted man were willing to remain under Gavin’s preaching for at least several months, I do not doubt that he eventually would accumulate all of the same essential truths in his mind, but expecting those not yet converted to remain in the church for long periods until all the pieces of the puzzle come together is unrealistic. Gavin, at the very least, should be delivering such complete evangelistic messages in his street preaching where it cannot be assumed that the hearers have any prior knowledge of biblical teachings, but I do not believe it can be said that he is fulfilling his duty as a minister, if he is not also occasionally, if not frequently, preaching to his congregants the sort of confrontational and convicting evangelistic messages that I have been describing, with all the necessary elements to make it effectual, and is instead leaving it up to his congregants to supply the missing components through their existing knowledge. The prophet of God must not only impart to men the information they need to examine themselves, he must also boldly confront men with the guilt of their sins and demand that they turn from them:
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
As I also said in my “gospel is not being preached” article: We must remember that true preaching is spiritually empowered and prophetic. Preaching can only truly be called Christian when it is performed by men anointed by God and infused with the Holy Spirit, and thereby made bold and effectual in their words. It bears much fruit because it has the blessing of God upon it and His power working through it. It should not be thought that the Lord is effectually working through a preacher, nor should it be expected that God will bless his preaching with an increase, when he is habitually shrinking back from confronting his congregation with unpleasant truths in a direct, confrontational, and convicting way, and instead trying to compensate for this infidelity by communicating truth in an oblique, fragmentary, or diluted manner, or through second-hand sources like catechisms which were made for instructing those already brought to repentance and faith.
Excerpting some quotes of highly-esteemed ministers out of my preaching article may help to reinforce my points, so I have included them below. This should not be necessary except for the fact that it seems many in “Reformed” circles today cannot accept even the simplest and plainest of logical reasoning unless it is bolstered by the authority of long-deceased theologians, and for the fact that some will try to deny my arguments by claiming that I am setting up a new standard that men of the past did not hold, so here are the obligatory confirming quotes:
“Teach them to know that natural venom and birth-poison, which moves the very hearts of us to rebel against the ordinances and the will of God. Prove that no man is righteous in the sight of God, but that we are all damned by the law. And then, when you have made them meek, and frightened them with the law, teach them the testament and promises which God has made to us in Christ, and how much he loves us in Christ.” (William Tyndale)
“The preacher’s first message is to teach penitence, removing offenses, proclaim the Law, humiliate and terrify the sinners.” (Martin Luther)
“The order of the Spirit’s work in bringing men to Christ, shows us to whom the invitation and offers of grace in Christ are to be made; for none are convinced of righteousness, that is, of the complete and perfect righteousness in Christ for their justification, until first they are convinced of sin; and consequently, no man comes to Christ by faith till his convictions of sin have awakened and distressed him (John 16:8,10). This being the order of the Spirit’s operation, the same order must be observed in gospel preaching.” (John Flavel)
“I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. Lower the law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt. This is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain, for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary when you have set aside the law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ. They will never accept grace till they have trembled before a just and holy law. Therefore the law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“The main danger confronting the pulpit in this matter is to assume that all who claim to be Christians, and who think they are Christians, and who are members of the Church, are therefore of necessity Christians. … This is dangerous and wrong for this reason, that if you assume so, you will tend therefore, in all your services, to preach in a manner suited to Christian believers. Your messages will always be instructional, and the evangelistic element and note will be neglected, perhaps almost entirely. This is a very great and grievous fallacy. Let me give you reasons for saying that. I would start with my own personal experience. For many years I thought I was a Christian when in fact I was not. It was only later that I came to see that I had never been a Christian, and became one. But I was a member of a church and attended my church and its services regularly. So anybody assuming, as most preachers did, that I was a Christian was making a false assumption. It was not a true assessment of my condition. I was received into the Church because I could give the right answers to various set questions; but I was never questioned or examined in an experimental sense. What I needed was preaching that would convict me of sin and make me see my need, and bring me to true repentance and tell me something about regeneration. But I never heard that. The preaching we had was always based on the assumption that we were all Christians, that we would not have been there in the congregation unless we were Christians. This, I think, has been one of the cardinal errors of the Church especially in this present century.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Now I imagine that you will be thinking of responding to the points made in the last two quotes, as you have to similar statements of my own in the past, with something like: “Gavin does not diminish the law and does not assume that everyone in the congregation is converted. He often teaches that the law is necessary both for bringing the unconverted to repentance and for the sanctification of the saints, and he frequently makes appeals directly to the unconverted in the congregation.” I don’t doubt that he makes such assertions about the law and I know that he makes appeals to the unconverted in his preaching. In fact, I remember in one of the sermons he specifically said it is evident that people need to see their need of salvation before they they will call on the name of the Lord, meaning that they have to be convicted of their sins before they will cry out to God for salvation. But these are empty words because the reality is that he almost never does what is necessary to create that conviction. He does very much diminish the law in that he does not use it in a confrontational and convicting way in his preaching. In the majority of his messages he does not define sin even in the simplest terms, let alone does he confront the congregation with particular sins through an exposition of the law (which could be done in fifteen minutes or less, if necessary). Also, it is true that Gavin does make emotional and impassioned pleas to the unconverted in the congregation exhorting them to come to Christ, but without first convicting them of their sins through the law, which he does not, and which is necessary to make them see their own guilt and understand their need for a savior, such pleas are not going to have much effect, if any at all.
While it is not my belief that no one ever can be converted by sermons which lack some of the fundamentals delineated in my request, I do believe that explicitly evangelistic sermons directed at the unconverted must be preached occasionally, and that these need to include what Martin Luther called the “first message” that will “humiliate and terrify the sinners,” by “proclaiming the law” and, as William Tyndale similarly stated, “teaches the people to know their natural venom and birth-poison” and “makes them meek and frightened with the law,” and contain, as Arthur Pink said, “a scriptural setting forth of the nature of that punishment which awaits the lost — the awfulness of it, the hopelessness of it, the unendurableness of it, the endlessness of it” and must also define repentance, speak of its necessity, and demand it, for as Thomas Watson put it, “there is no rowing to paradise except upon the stream of repenting tears.”
All of these are essentials that must be preached in an evangelistic message before proceeding to speak about the forgiveness of sins, the mercy of God, and the gracious reconciliation offered by Him through faith in Christ, otherwise it is not likely to be understood why forgiveness, mercy, and grace are needed. “The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation” (Luther) and today’s evangelistic messages, when they are preached at all, do little to create the necessary conviction of the guilt of sin. Preachers, such as Gavin, that fail to do so, should not be surprised if they see few conversions, especially if they are deliberately omitting certain elements, and purposely preaching in a way that fails to “humiliate and terrify the sinners” because they are fearful of giving offense to men (I am not accusing Gavin of deliberately making omissions for this reason; I always suspect that this is the case in any such flawed preaching, but I have no way of knowing that it is true in his case).
Do you remember in an email a few months ago I said that “if all, or nearly all, of the preaching leaves the great majority of the congregation in an impassive state and never, or almost never, elicits any strong passions (positive or negative), then I say that something is very wrong with it?” Well, I believe this is one of the things that’s very wrong with it. What I am now telling you about Gavin’s preaching is one of the reasons, and likely the primary reason, why you almost never see strong reactions to any of the preaching in “Reformed” churches, and why the overwhelming number of congregants during nearly every sermon could be described as dispassionate observers. It is simply because the preaching does not create the necessary conviction in those who hear it, and so it does not elicit any fervent responses (rare exceptions notwithstanding), let alone does it bring forth repentance. This is far from being a problem with Gavin Beers’ preaching only. His ministry is only one example of seriously defective preaching that is endemic to all the so-called Reformed ministers.
Now, if, after reading this letter to the end, you still believe that my assessment of Gavin’s preaching is erroneous, please do not reply with claims saying that I am wrong because you have heard him say this, or you have heard him say that. I can only judge his preaching by the messages that were provided to me by you, other FCC members, and Gavin himself, which were all sent in reply to my request. If you believe I am wrong about his preaching, then you are more than welcome to prove me so, but if you tell me that he does preach the sort of fundamental and essential evangelistic message I have been describing, then you will have to provide a recording of the same. That is to say: Don’t tell me what you have heard him preach; direct me to where I can hear him preach it. Gavin has over 1100 messages posted on the Sermon Audio website. If he preaches the sort of message I have been describing, then there should be numerous examples of it on that site, and it should be easy for him to provide a link to one when asked for it.
But that is enough of general comments about Gavin. I will soon move on to my particular comments on each of his ten messages that were sent to me in answer to my request. As I said above, I have listened to all of these more than once because I have tried to be careful not to overlook anything. I have also tried to be careful not to err in either exaggerating faults or downplaying them. But you don’t have to assume that my notes accurately represent the deficiencies in his messages. Take some time to listen to all these messages yourself, and as you do, take notes while asking yourself the following questions: When he talks about sin, is he defining it? If so, is he doing it in more than just very brief and general terms? If so, is he defining particular sins, such as through an exposition of the Ten Commandments, and confronting the hearers with their violations? If so, is he doing it in a strong, second-person, accusatory way? (e.g., “You are guilty of violating this commandment and you are under the wrath of God for your evil.”) Is he speaking about repentance? If so, is he defining it? If so, is he insisting on the necessity of it? If so, is he demanding it from his hearers in second-person terms? (e.g., “You must repent of going your own selfish way and you must submit to Jesus Christ”). All of this, along with the other fundamental items I listed in my request to the fifty ministers, and more, can easily be included in one message of average length, despite what some long-winded Reformed ministers might tell you. I made my “Great Matter” recording to be an example of an evangelistic message containing all the essentials, and more, and I believe you could benefit from listening to that again.
Michael, you don’t need to reply to me with answers to any the following questions, or to any of the other questions in this letter, but you should ask yourself these things: Is it not the single most important duty of a Christian preacher to communicate the message through which God ordinarily brings men to repentance and faith? Is it not true that if a preacher is not doing what is necessary to bring men to repentance, then he is failing to do his duty regardless of how faithful his preaching may appear to be by any other measure? Do we have the right to expect men to be brought to repentance by God through preaching which omits the most basic and convicting elements, or only presents them in a fragmentary and indirect way over many months, even if it is true that there are some who do repent in spite of such defective preaching? Is it not true that everything else a church does, and even the very existence of the church itself, depends on converting ungodly men into godly ones? If so, can we allow ourselves to be lax in this matter and not do our utmost to confront men with the fundamental convicting truths that are best suited to convert the soul at the earliest possible time and in one conscience-scalding message? Could it be that the feeble, if not moribund, state of what is called the church today is due to the fact that it is not subjected to the robust type of preaching that I have described? Even if the aforementioned deficiencies in preaching are a matter of honest oversight and men such as Gavin do not recognize the omissions in their preaching, does it change the fact that they are not adequately performing the most fundamental duty of a Christian minister and so are unfaithful to their calling whether they are aware of it or not?
I know that you consider Gavin to be your good friend and a true man of God, and that you also believe the FCC is a faithful church. It is commendable that you are loyal to both, and you should, by all means, strongly oppose me if you honestly believe that my accusations are unfounded. But please do not let loyalty blind you to reality and cause you to jump, in a knee-jerk fashion, to the defense of your pastor and your church because you are offended by my findings. Consider my words carefully, understand that I am speaking without malice against either Gavin or the FCC and with the full sincerity of my convictions, and that this is not so much about Gavin as it is about Reformed preachers in general, he being only one example among many of whom the same things could be said. Also, please be willing to accept that I might, just might, be recognizing something that you have not recognized, and this mostly due to the fact that I am separated from the fellowship of the men and organizations of which I speak and, therefore, am better able to examine them objectively because I am not being swayed by the emotional ties I might have, and not being influenced by the loss of relationships or other penalties I might face, if I were still among them.
One last point before I get to the notes on the individual messages: I understand that despite my best efforts, it may be the case that you still do not acknowledge the fact that the omissions I have documented amount to a grievous error in Gavin’s preaching. But we both know that the gospel is often defined in various ways, from something as narrow as the teaching of Romans 10:9 to something as wide as the teaching of the entire Bible, and so we could debate for days about when it legitimately can be said that a man is not preaching the gospel and still not come to an agreement. However, if the preaching of the gospel be defined as preaching the kind of confrontational and convicting evangelistic messages of the kind I have repeatedly defined in this letter, then unless you can produce some recordings that do fit the definition (I say “some” because there should be much more than one among his 1100 recordings and preaching such a message every four or five years is sorely inadequate), you cannot say that I was bearing false witness against him when I said that Gavin does not preach the gospel, and there is no reason for me to abstain from expressing the same judgment again as long as I am clear as to how I am defining my terms.
Here is the list of Gavin’s ten messages along with my notes for each one:
“What Is Repentance?” (preached July 17, 2016 and September 8, 2019, recommended by Gavin) I listened to both of Gavin’s messages on Sermon Audio which have this title because I was not sure which one he was recommending, but they are very similar. Neither fit the description of the message I asked him for. There is no explanation in either of basic concepts such as the atonement of Christ or justification through faith, and there is no definition of sin given, not even in a general sense, let alone any exposition of the moral law by which hearers would be convicted of their own particular sins (though at the end of both messages there is a plea directed toward the hearers that they repent). These have much useful teaching about what is true repentance and what it is not, but they are really instructional sermons for those who already are Christians rather evangelistic messages for those not yet converted, and it contains almost none of the elements that the latter requires (it seems obvious that these are not meant to be evangelistic messages, so I don’t know why he recommended them).
“A Desparate Soul Saved” (preached November 7, 2014, recommended by Trevor Kirkland, you will have to misspell the word desperate, as it is in the title, if you want to find it in a search on Sermon Audio) This is an exposition of Mark 5:24-34 in which the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years was healed by Christ. There is not even a general definition of sin in this message, let alone a definition of particular sins through the law and an application of it to those present. There is no mention of the ultimate punishment for sin and no mention of repentance at all, let alone a call to repent directed at the congregants.
“Whoever Calls Will Be Saved” (preached May 31, 2020, recommended by Gavin) Briefly at one point (less than two minutes from 11:08 to 12:54), he confronts the congregation with two particular sins (hating your brother is murder and a lustful eye is adultery). He also very briefly defines sin in the general sense (“sin is transgression of the law”) twice during the message. However, this is all of the law that is given and not only does he fail to call the hearers to repentance at any time but there is no mention of repentance at all in the entire message. This is the one message that comes closest to what I requested, but it does fall short.
“God’s Love Proved to Sinners” (preached January 5, 2020, recommended by Gavin) Once in the message he gives a general and very brief definition of sin, but he does not define particular sins, so does not confront the congregants with them. Early on in the message he mentions in one sentence the inability of the sinner to repent but there is nothing more than this about repentance — no explanation of what repentance is or the need for it, nor any command to the hearers to repent.
“Christ Among Thieves” (preached August 11, 2009, I do not have a record of who recommended it) This sermon deals with the difference between the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Christ. Sin is never defined, neither in a particular way such as might be accomplished through an exposition of the law, nor even in a very general sense. He mentions repentance a few times but does not define it or explain the need for it, nor is there a call to repentance directed at the congregation.
“Come to Me” (preached November 28, 2021, recommended by Gavin) He speaks about sin frequently in this message, as he often does, but gives no general or particular definitions of it, never mind a confrontational exposition of the law. He does mention repentance, but there is no definition of it, nor an explanation of why it is necessary, never mind a call to repentance directed at those present.
“Where Are You Going — Heaven or Hell?” (preached April 23, 2017, recommended by Gavin) He mentions sin more than a few times and eternal punishment, of course. But the message contains no definition of sins in particular and so no one is confronted with their sins, nor does it define sin even in very general terms, other than to mention the sin of rejecting the gospel. He mentions the need for repentance and faith in Christ in one sentence, but never defines repentance, nor explains why it is necessary, nor calls anyone to repentance.
“Justice and Justification” (preached August 5, 2012, recommended by Gavin) Everything in it is theologically accurate (as usual) but this is not an evangelistic sermon of the type I described. There is much talk of sin and it is defined in a very general sense once (at 13:14 “sin is the trangression of the law”), and eternal punishment is spoken of several times, but particular sins are never mentioned, much less directed at the hearers in an accusatory way, and there is no mention of repentance at all and so no one is ever told to repent.
“A Child in Our Image” (preached March 5, 2023, recommended by Michael Spangler) This is a sermon given before the baptism of a child in the church. It is a sermon on the fall of man, his depravity and the fact that this is passed on to all of us, and also teaches that Christians are recreated in the image of Christ, and explains what baptism represents. Sin is mentioned repeatedly (as usual) but there is no definition of it in the most general terms (as often), and particular sins are not defined nor presented in a confrontational way to the congregants (as always), other than the sin of Adam and Eve, and the fact that the guilt of sin and the corruption of it is passed on to us. Also, there is no call to repentance and no mention of repentance whatsoever in this message.
“Watch Your Mouth” (preached May 7, 2023, recommended by Michael Spangler) This is not an evangelistic sermon for the unconverted. There is no exposition of the law or presentation of the gospel in this. There is no explanation of who Jesus Christ is, or of His atonement, or our justification by faith, or anything about repentance. It is an instructional sermon for Christians warning them against sinning in their speech and teaching them how to properly use their speech (this is the one of which I said that there is nothing wrong with the pizza you gave me but I asked for a cheeseburger — in other words, it is a good message but nothing like what I requested).
Not only did I listen to the ten of Gavin’s sermons that were recommended to me in response to my request but, after I wrote all of the above, I also picked out six more of his sermons that I found by searching on Sermon Audio myself, which judging by their titles, I thought possibly could contain a convicting exposition of the law followed by a presentation of the gospel. I have listened to all of them and though some of them are quite good for what they are, in terms of an evangelistic presentation they are incomplete just like the ten noted above (although it should be understood that they were not represented as evangelistic messages because they were not given in answer to my request for the same). Some of them do have more of a focus on the law compared to the first ten, but those that do, have little about the gospel. The notes on them begin further down this page. I am still willing to listen to a few more, if you provide examples that you believe are contrary to what I have found. I want to allow for the possibility that I will be proved wrong, but I cannot spend the rest of my life listening to his sermons in an attempt to find the simple evangelistic message that I requested from him twice, and which he failed to deliver, and I believe no one can honestly say at this point that I have not made enough of an effort to get to the truth of the matter.
I have a few last general thoughts that occurred to me while I was listening to the additional six messages:
As far as I have been able to determine, all of Gavin’s messages are tailored to Christians and to those who have significant Bible knowledge already. To the best of my knowledge, he never preaches a message from which someone who is not a Christian, and has little or no education about Christianity, would be able to obtain a complete, albeit basic, grasp of the fundamental truths that he would need in order to be brought to repentance and faith, such as the example I gave in my “Great Matter” audio message, and there are many things in his messages that someone who is not knowledgeable about the Bible would not understand because it is assumed that he already does. I understand that Gavin is preaching to professing Christians every week, that the majority of his messages need to be doctrinally meaty in order to feed the sheep, and a certain amount of knowledge must be assumed when addressing believers — especially in long-established Reformed churches. I also understand that he cannot, and should not, restate all the fundamentals in every, or even most, sermons. However, I believe that there is a great need for the sort of simple, but confrontational and convicting, evangelistic messages targeted toward the unconverted, such as I have been seeking and which I have described more fully in my article about gospel preaching, and that these should be preached at least occasionally in every church.
A Reformed believer friend of mine who is in his late 70’s told me when we were discussing this matter, “the Baptists used to preach those kind of messages but the Reformed never have.” When he said “never have,” he meant that they never have done so in his hearing during the many years he has been attending Reformed churches. I believe he is correct about this. In fact, the only church of the fifty I surveyed that responded with a message containing all the basic elements I specified in my request was a Baptist church, despite the fact that Baptist churches were in the minority among those I contacted.
But I think that very few true converts are being made today in any of the so-called churches. This is the way American Evangelical and Reformed churches generally work: The more shallow and unbiblical they are, the more “converts” they make. The Evangelical mega-churches, most of which have become little more than amusement centers preaching self-help messages with a bit of Christianity sprinkled on top, baptize many adult “converts”, but the ultra-conservative Reformed churches make virtually no adult converts at all over many years, and the closer a church moves to the shallow and unbiblical side of the scale, the more so-called converts it makes. It is the complete opposite of the way it should be. I believe this is why America has so severely degenerated, why what identifies itself as Christianity today is spineless and worldly, and why what is called the church is living in peace, safety, comfort, and prosperity amidst a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe that defective preaching of the nature I have identified is at the root of it all.
Below are the notes for each of the six extra Gavin Beers messages.
“The Voice of Law and Gospel” (preached January 10, 2016) This is a sermon about the relationship between the law and the gospel, and how the former drives us to the latter. It does not contain any exposition of the moral law and so does not confront those present with the guilt of their own sins, and I did not hear even a very basic definition of sin. Also, I did not hear repentance mentioned at all, nor anyone being told to repent.
“What is Sin?” (preached May 5, 2021) In this message, sin is defined in general terms many times, there is teaching about the differences between sins of omission and commission, and about man’s depravity and inability to keep the law. There is also some exposition (not much of it, but some) of the moral law in a particular way (this is almost entirely absent from the other messages I heard). Also, the necessity to repent and believe the gospel was declared. But the gospel is never even basically defined in this message; it is assumed that everyone present knows much about Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, and already understands concepts such as substitutionary atonement, the new birth, justification by faith, etc.
“The Ten Commandments” (preached December 7, 2022) This is a very good sermon on the subject. It teaches many truths about the ten commandments in general and there is some exposition of the individual commandments by which those present could come to a knowledge of sin. He very briefly stated that the law should drive us to Christ and that Jesus is the law giver, the law keeper, and the propitiation for law breakers, but there was no more than two minutes of this in the entire message and there was nothing else of the gospel in it. Also, I do not remember hearing anything mentioned about repentance.
“Let Us Return to the Lord” (preached March 22, 2020) This is a sermon about repentance under the judgment of God, and he is using the Covid pandemic as an example (which I do not believe was a genuine pandemic, but that’s another matter). There is much talk of sin and repentance, but I did not hear a definition of sin even in general terms, and there is no exposition of the law by which sin might be made known to the congregation, and little or no presentation of gospel concepts.
“The Righteous Judgement of God” (preached January 6, 2007) This is a message about the return of Christ and the final judgment. There are many warnings in it to the unconverted about eternal punishment. But I heard no definition of sin, nor was there any exposition of the law by which sinners might be convicted. Also, the need for repentance is mentioned in one sentence but nothing else is said about it.
“The Eighth Commandment” (preached October 20, 2023) This is Gavin’s newest message on Sermon Audio. It is a useful exposition of this one commandment. At one point, he does direct a call to repentance at the children in the congregation for theft, but there is no presentation of the gospel in this message.