Novelty in Preaching

“They took [Paul] and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’ ” (v. 19).

- Acts 17:16–34

New and improved”—advertisers learned long ago that they could use this slogan to appeal to Americans by changing something about a product and marketing it as novel and better. “Old and the same” just does not have the same ring in a culture that prizes novelty and the present moment.

Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with improving a product if it needs to be improved or with telling people that improvement has occurred. The problem comes when we try to improve something that is already perfect. We are speaking here of the Word of God. In an effort to increase the number of people in the pews or to make Christianity “fresh and exciting,” there has been no end to “improvements” on the gospel. Some have sought to improve the gospel by relegating preaching to a brief, biblically lacking homily after a worship service designed mainly for entertainment. Others have tried to improve the gospel by denying its less popular elements such as the reality of God’s wrath. Still others have attempted to improve the gospel by replacing it with a political cause or social program.

Such “improvements” are usually well intentioned, but they are in fact deadly. From the very beginning, the most dangerous threats to God’s people have come not from outside the covenant community but from within. They have come from false prophets—people who profess to serve the Lord but then ignore or alter God’s Word or replace it with a new and different message. We remain faithful to the Lord only by following the “ancient paths” (Jer. 6:16), the truths of God once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Let us not be out to preach and teach novelty but only that which is drawn from the sound interpretation of sacred Scripture.

For some people, such as those in today’s passage, these old teachings may sound new because they have never encountered them before. We are not referring to novelty in that sense. Neither are we talking about coming up with new, faithful illustrations to help impress these old truths on other people. What we are talking about are “innovative” doctrines that no one in church history has heard of before. If when we are studying we find something new and true, we have more likely found something true that others have taught, and some further study will reveal that others have had the same insights. Or, we have found something that is new but false. Being slow to adopt what is novel will help keep us on the right path.

Coram Deo

So often we think it takes courage to say something new. In our day, however, the truly courageous stand for what is true, regardless of its age. May we have the courage to proclaim the old truths of God’s Word as the only answer to the problems of this new era.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 13
Acts 20:17–38
2 Timothy 3:14
2 Peter 2

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.