Out of Context: John M. Buchanan

"Preachers need to be very careful before claiming they are God's mouthpiece. I think the preacher needs to be suggestive and not declarative. There are times in history when people (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) were called with some authority to say, 'This is wrong.' But we need to be cautious."

-John M. Buchanan pastors Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He is also editor and publisher of The Christian Century. Taken from "Biblical Authority & Today's Preacher" in the Winter 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.

March 06, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments


March 18, 2008  11:47am

I think we can freely speak for God when we are speaking from scripture (although we still must use caution). What I worry about are the people who say, "God told me ... the Northwest coastline would be hit by a tsunami" or "This is why God ... destroyed New Orleans." That is nothing more than fortune telling and, in my opinion, taking the Lord's name in vain in the worst possible way. We have to make a clear distinction between when it is God's Word and when it is just our opinion.

Report Abuse


March 09, 2008  11:16pm

I don't know why we would listen to someone who Pastors "4th Prebyterian." I mean, 4th? I'd like to hear what the Pasotr of 1st Presbyterian has to say!

Report Abuse


March 09, 2008  1:23am

The standard for God's leaders and the church is God's word. Not just an isolated reference, but the word spoken (whether directly quoted or paraphrased principle) in accord with itself. Specifically, we are to speak the truth in love to the people of God so they may grow by it. Speaking in love means the correct word spoken in the correct manner. This requires both wisdom and a genuine love for people. When we begin to use words of scripture to turn the world from sinful activities without seeking to bring people to Christ, I think we fall short of our mission – to seek and to save them that are lost. Getting the world to "stop sinning" is simply not enough. A heart turned to Christ is what is needed.

Report Abuse


March 08, 2008  2:53pm

I love this comment from Buchanan. To reach people today–especially "Generation Y", which knows only a world of harsh, partisan, polarizing, rhetoric–being cautious is exactly what preachers need to be. It is a lie furthering the distance between believers and non-believers that a lack of boldness is the number one thing hindering evangelism in this country. It seems as though too much boldness hinders evangelism just as much. I do not believe "caution" is an inappropriate word at all. To be cautious is not to be the opposite of bold (that is cowardice), but to be aware of your surroundings, or your context. And our present context is saturated with boldness. Buchanan recognizes that, currently, we are in need of a reminder of James 3:1... It is just as important for us to be sure we are not presuming to be God's mouthpiece, than it is to be sure we are not missing His call. At any rate, we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit that changes lives and the world, and His work is not dependent on how bold we are or are not.

Report Abuse

Richard Dennis Miller

March 08, 2008  7:43am

The question of whether to declare the word of God has nothing to do with the historical context of the preacher. In fact, it is prcisely Buchanan's attitude that has led the Church in the United States to its current impotent condition.

Report Abuse

Drew Hill

March 07, 2008  6:16pm

I do not think Pastor Buchanan is recommending that we be "cautious" in order to avoid offending others or inciting opposition. What we must avoid is the temptation to assume that we are God's unique oracle on earth. What I preach is not God's message just because it flew out of my mouth. It is only as the people of God hear the message and experience the illuminating and affirming work of the Holy Spirit - only then can the hearers say, "God has spoken to us today." It is a fearsome, fearful thing to speak for God.

Report Abuse


March 07, 2008  11:25am

Hmm...I'm not too sure that we're correctly interpreting what Buchanan is saying here. I most certainly believe we should boldly stand against evil, but I also don't think we have too look too far to find some embarrassingly blatant examples of preachers who claimed to be God's mouth piece, but who couldn't have been more wrong–or more damaging for that matter. Part of the problem is that so much of Christendom has so insulated itself from the world around them that they have grown ignorant and insensitive to the complexity of the social problems which lead to the decadence they are so quick to judge people on. The problems as well as the solutions are never so cut-and-dried, and we must be careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater by pushing people away from the only God who holds the wisdom, hope and providence to deliver them from that which is destroying them. Quoting Robertson McQuilken: "It is easier to go to one consistent extreme or another, than to remain in the center of Biblical tension." Seldom do we speak from that place, yet God's true word and will always come from there. It is human nature to surround ourselves with those who support our position, but without balance, we will ride that pendulum far to the right or left of the Truth. Unfortunately, it is typically those who are most radically leaning who are the most vocal, and thus, the most damaging in their delivery of "God's Words." Buchanan seems a wise man to me.

Report Abuse

Linda Lanouette

March 06, 2008  4:19pm

Everyone who names The Name of Christ should always speak up in the face of evil. That includes preachers, lay people, teachers and anyone else who is washed in His Blood. Keeping quiet is a sign that they are not Spirit filled and bold in Christ. How many times has someone kept quiet while others were tortured, murdered, or raped? We are always to fight the good fight of faith. It brings shame to Christians when evil it allowed to continue it's evil ways. How ridiculous to think that in a century, that only two people were suppose to speak up against evil. When one studies The Scriptures they will soon understand this concept of a bold tongue! It is always telling to me when people are quiet. They give themselves away.

Report Abuse


March 06, 2008  11:21am

""Preachers need to be very careful before claiming they are God's mouthpiece. I think the preacher needs to be suggestive and not declarative. There are times in history when people (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) were called with some authority to say, 'This is wrong.' But we need to be cautious."" Cautious? Why does the word "cautious" make me itch uncomfortably? Hmm, I think a better term for my Prebyterian brethren who are Pastor's is not cautiousness, but obedience to the will of G-d...yes? And yet obedience doesn't really capture the essence of my thoughts...hmmm, let's explore. Cautiousness, though in and of itself a good thing, can lead to spiritual and intellectual procastination on tough subjects that may not be so glamorous/popular to tackle with the general congregation. I think there is a deep-seated fear that if the elders and the Pastoral staff actually exemplfied the reality of spiritual and intellectual obedience to G-d's word there is an existential possibility of the general populace of the Church absconding with their tithes to much more comfortable, and spiritually denuded pews. Cautiousness allows us the flexibility to stave off a rendering of spiritual and intellectual judgement on those tough proto-biblical topics that have been sitting on the shelf for some time, ignored for so long to the detriment of the faith, and thus preserve the status quo of "we won't address this, and you won't go away." A form of "don't ask, don't tell" policy, yes? Perhaps, we should not use the word cautious, but rather we should use the word "faithful" instead. Faithful would say that regardless of our fears we submit to the will of G-d that whatever happens from our obedience to the word we will trust G-d. Yes, faithful...I'm much more comfortable with that word.

Report Abuse


March 06, 2008  9:15am

While they should be careful, they should also be bold. A fine line indeed, but if the Preacher doesn't speak with Divine boldness, then what kind of preaching would that be?

Report Abuse