Should pastors address controversial topics from the pulpit? Should they address subjects like abortion, LGBTQ issues or divorce and remarriage? And if so, should they tiptoe around these kinds of topics or hit them head on? In short, should we advocate for “hard preaching” on difficult issues?

Now, let us clarify, that “hard” preaching is NOT harsh preaching. There is a huge difference! “Hard preaching” is a reference to biblical accuracy and gospel zeal, no matter what the topic. Gospel preachers love to preach the comforting doctrines, but they are also willing to address the difficult doctrines and controversial topics where God’s Word is clear. Either way, they seek to preach with accuracy, passion, and above all, the anointing of God’s Spirit.

The well-known Puritan Pastor John Flavel once said that the only kind of preaching that did him any good was that which was “hissing hot.” In a similar vein, Charles Spurgeon once said that he loved those who thundered out the Word! John MacArthur (well-known pastor and Bible teacher in Southern California) has made the observation that soft preaching produces hard hearts, and hard preaching produces soft hearts.

I have to confess that (when it comes to listening to preaching) I like high-octane preaching. I’m not a fan of the lightweight, chipper, humorous, self-help “sermons” that have become so popular in many churches today. I like preaching that is biblical to the core, and contains some horseradish, cayenne pepper and hot mustard. This is true whether the sermon is about a “hard” topic or a pleasant topic.

A few years back, I picked up a volume of sermons by Asahel Nettleton who was a prominent preacher in the Second Great Awakening (1790-1840’s). As I started to flip through the sermon titles, I was struck by the “directness” of many of the titles. For example (and these are not just a few exceptions): “The Destruction of Hardened Sinners,” “The Final Judgment,” “The Certain Destruction of All Who Do Not Seek Salvation Rightly,” “Total Depravity,” “The Wicked Standing Before the Judgment Seat” or “Sinners Entreated to Be Reconciled to God.” Nettleton also preached straightforward sermons about God’s love and mercy, such as “Rejoice Young Men,” “The Perseverance of the Saints,” “The Burdened Sinner Invited to Christ” and “Salvation for the Lost.”

The point is that Nettleton didn’t shy away from the whole gospel. He preached both law and grace. And in both cases his preaching was “hissing hot.” How can true gospel preaching be anything less? This is what’s missing in much (popular) evangelical preaching. The current cultural climate dictates that preaching that “sells” has to be positive and upbeat. Apparently, however, the balanced gospel approach works, because God used men like Nettleton to fan the flames of revival big time. It’s estimated that over 30,000 were converted through his preaching ministry. Me-thinks that Johnny Mac is correct in saying that hard preaching is what truly produces soft hearts.