Q&A 16 (Part 1): What are your five or six favorite living preachers?

Question: Who are your five or six favorite living preachers? Why? What can we learn from them?

Reply:

Let me begin by saying I am going to answer a question that was not raised: who are my favorite preachers living or dead? I simply cannot resist. Three of my favorite preachers of all time are now with the Lord. That would be W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers and Stephen Olford. Each of these men were anointed by God and used greatly for the building of the body of Christ.

Dr. Criswell was unique in so many ways. He, almost single-handedly, led a revival for expository preaching. His 1985 address at the SBC, “Shall We Live or Shall We Die,” was pivotal in the C.R. His voice was powerful and he had a commanding presence in the pulpit. He also proved you could have a PhD and still believe in the inerrant Word of God.

I never heard a more powerful preacher than Adrian Rogers. I guess you could say he was the total package! He had a voice like no one I have ever known, and he had a commanding presence in the pulpit that I believe was a result of his close and personal walk with the Lord. He is the godliest man I have ever known, and his impact on my life was enormous. He was such a clear and careful expositor who was also challenging and convicting in his preaching. I never heard him that I was not blessed. Of course the problem with Dr. Rogers is there is no one else like him. So, I learned from him the importance of fellowship with the Lord, the importance of illustrating well, and the importance of crafting a message that was easy to recall and made an impact on people.

Stephen Olford was a small man in terms of his physical stature but a mighty man in terms of his relationship with the Lord and power in the pulpit. I can remember listening to him as I would drive from Dallas to Fort Worth to attend seminary. One semester I listened as he walked straight through 2nd Corinthians. I was absolutely blown away at this man’s passion, careful exposition and ability to exhort us to be obedient to the Lord. The first time I ever heard him he preached a sermon on 1 Samuel 15 entitled “The Sin of Partial Obedience.” I was both overwhelmed and terrified by that message! These men have made a massive impact upon my life and I will forever be in their debt. In the next blog I will tackle the question I was asked concerning my favorite living preachers.

Exciting Announcement from the W. A. Criswell Library

One of my frustrations as a Baptist history professor is that many of my students, particularly those under age 35 or so, cannot name one well-known Southern Baptist preacher from the 20th century. In my Baptist history class last fall, there was not one student–not one–who had ever heard of George Truett, R. G. Lee, W. A. Criswell, Herschel Hobbs, or even Adrian Rogers. There were a couple who knew who Jerry Vines was, but that was because of the John 3:16 Conference and not because of his years of pastoral ministry. The only exceptions I find regularly are Billy Graham and Charles Stanley, though many of the students don’t know Graham is Southern Baptist and most know little about Stanley besides the fact that he comes on TV and he is Andy’s dad.

Part of this is just being young. I only knew of three well-known Baptist preachers before I graduated high school, and that was because a couple (Vines and Stanley) were on TV every Sunday morning and the other (Rogers) came on the radio every day. I was in college before I learned about many of our most well-known preachers, and that was in part because I was studying Baptist history and theology in my spare time by the time I was 22 (weird, I know).

Technology also plays a role in all of this. Earlier generations of Baptist collegians and seminarians knew who some of our leading preachers were because, like me, they heard them on the radio or watched them on TV. Southern Baptist megachurch pastors were among the pioneers of the so-called “electronic church,” and one result of that was that they were familiar figures at least regionally, and sometimes nationally. Today’s version of the electronic church is podcasting, which is one reason why one of the most well-known contemporary Southern Baptist pastors among my students is Matt Chandler, a Dallas pastor who is mostly uninvolved in the wider denomination. Chandler reaches them through technology, and–listen well–like Rogers on the radio and Vines on the tube, it doesn’t cost my students a dime.

As a guy who wants my generation (and coming generations) to appreciate their predecessors, I was thrilled to learn that the W. A. Criswell Sermon Library will soon make all of the famed pastor’s sermons available for download. Furthermore, they will podcast some of Dr. Criswell’s most popular sermon series. This will be an invaluable source of inspiration (and education!) for years to come. Many thanks to the folks at the Criswell Library for their diligent work in this matter–this is one young Southern Baptist who is thankful for their labor of love.

(Note: Love Worth Finding, the preaching ministry of the late Adrian Rogers, continues to make Dr. Rogers’ sermons and books available through the internet and podcast.)

I Have a Problem

I Have a Problem

By: Alvin Reid

I have a problem…

I have a problem with Martin Luther. Oh yes, I know he started the Reformation and we owe him much. Yes, he gave us great hymns, Sola Scriptura, and other important contributions. But he did not come far enough theologically for my tastes. And he liked beer too much.

I have a problem with John Wesley. Sure, he led a great awakening and helped to spare England from much the French experienced in the French Revolution. He led a missional movement that resulted in thousands and thousands of new believers and churches. But he quite frankly was a terrible example as a husband.

I have a problem with George Whitefield. Whitefield, that young, bold evangelist who came to the American colonies seven times during the Great Awakening, preaching to multiple thousands while only in his twenties, did much good for the gospel. He even started an orphanage in the colony of Georgia which is still in existence today. But he also had slaves at that orphanage. Though he treated them well and preached Christ to them, I have a real problem with that.

I have a problem with Jonathan Edwards. Sure, he helped lead a Great Awakening. Pretty impressive. He wrote some of the greatest writings on revival in history. He was a pastor, leader, missionary, and thinker. But he is just a little too Reformed for my tastes in his treatise Freedom of the Will.

I have a problem with Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon stands as one of the great Baptist preachers in history and is likely the most quoted. A pastor, leader, church planter, and soul winner, Spurgeon did much good. But he smoked a cigar, and I have a problem with that.

I have a problem with W.A. Criswell. The famous pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, did so much good for the gospel and the SBC during his time. Criswell was more innovative than many know in evangelism, and had a constant burden to see people saved. He played a vital role in the conservative resurgence. But Criswell allowed his numbers to be inflated, particularly in church membership, which has not been a good precedent.

I have a problem with Mark Driscoll. Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and recent speaker on our campus, has seen possibly more hardcore unchurched young adults come to Christ in the last decade than any church in the US. He has led a church planting movement as well. But sometimes his language is a little edgy for my tastes, and I interpret the Bible differently than does he on the place of alcohol.

I have a problem with Alvin Reid. Yes, I have a problem with myself. I am pretty sure I really love Jesus and my main motive in life is to bring glory to God. I love my family, my students, and my convention. But sometimes I have added to the institutionalism and programmatic ministry that plagues us now. And I have a problem with that.

Finally, I have a problem with my convention. I am a Southern Baptist. I have blogged before on why I am a Southern Baptist. But I have a problem with my convention, when we seem more intent on witch hunts than on contextualizing the gospel in our time, when we love to pick at each other’s differences than unite for the sake of the gospel, when we are more concerned about our total receipts than we are the lostness of our nation, when we continually confuse personal preferences with unchanging truth, and when we castigate younger men who love Jesus and His truth for simply doing what we taught them to do: study and honor the Word (when they come to different conclusions than some of us on secondary issues, they scratch their heads at the response they get). I was a supporter of the conservative resurgence before it was cool. But the resurgence I supported did not include a Pharisaical legalism that expects conformity in nonessentials. I supported a resurgence to stand on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, one that now has led me and many others to see the need for a Great Commission Resurgence to be built on the foundation laid by the conservative resurgence. I am tired of talking good younger men off the ledge from leaving the SBC.

So, I have a problem. I have many heroes. I did not name them all. But none of them are perfect. None of them are Jesus. I can live with that. I can honor people who may be more Landmark on the one hand or Reformed on the other than I am. I can learn from and respect people who love the Word and the Gospel yet who may do things a bit differently from me.

I wonder if I am the only one….