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Archive for the ‘preaching’ Category

Preaching-George-WhitefieldThat was how Wesley and Whitfield would describe their evangelistic efforts.  Sounds so simple: just offer them Christ.

And it’s so joyous too.  Nothing brings home to me the graciousness of my Lord as much as offering Him to others.  The availability of Jesus is so tangible when you just lift Him up before people and say “Want Him?  He’s yours.”

But it’s so easy to fall short of it.

Here’s how:

* We offer them “cool” not Christ

We spend our time reassuring people that they don’t have to be a geek to be a Christian.  Christians can be trendy too.

* We offer them “credibility” not Christ

We spend all our time reassuring people that they don’t need to be brainless to be a Christian.  Christians can be clever too.

* We offer them a creed not Christ.

Creeds are essential, I’m not suggesting we can divorce the personal from the propositional.  But teaching people 6 doctrines is not offering them Christ.

* We offer them a course not Christ.

Courses are brilliant, I’ve seen many people become Christians on things like Christianity Explored.  But offering a course is not offering them Christ.

Now, good evangelism might have all sorts of apt cultural references and thoughtful critiques of modern assumptions. It will certainly convey creedal truths and if it’s followed by courses where Christ is also offered – that is an excellent thing.

But whatever else happens, it ought to offer Christ, oughtn’t it?  Shouldn’t it placard the Person and work of Jesus and ask “Will you receive Him?”

Here’s some reasons I think we don’t.  (And I genuinely say “we” – I fail at this all the time.)

1. We think cool, credibility, creeds and courses are more attractive than Jesus. Of course we’d never say that.  We’d rarely dare to articulate the thought.  But I wonder whether it’s there.

2. We imagine that the gospel is a process rather than a Person. Again, if cornered we’d swear black and blue that faith is an event and the gospel a revelation. But if our evangelism is all processes perhaps we’ve begun to think of the evangel itself as a process.

3. We don’t honestly think people will become Christians. Allied to point number 2, we’ve bought into some social science view of conversion and reckon that “people are much further back these days” and “we just need to bring them on a few steps towards faith.”

4.  We don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. We don’t actually think the power of Almighty God is unleashed when the Word is preached. So instead we trust to the resources of the flesh.

5. We refuse to be as vulnerable as the Lord we proclaim. Paul knew that a foolish message (1 Cor 1:18-25) meant a foolish people (v26-31) and a foolish messenger (2:1-5).  But we don’t want to be cruciform evangelists, opening our arms to a world who will despise and belittle the word of the cross.  We want to show the world how wise and strong we are.

What do you think?

Anything to add?

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Road-to-EmmausAt Ed Stetzer’s Blog he’s about to host a series of posts on Christ-centred preaching. The contributors are

  • Dr. Daniel Block (Wheaton College)
  • Dr. David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Walt Kaiser (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Bryan Chapell (Grace Presbyterian in Peoria, IL)

I’m looking forward to David Murray’s contribution but first up to bat is Daniel Block who’s posted the first half of his contribution here.

Block begins by saying that not enough people wrestle with this issue since they basically neglect the OT. “Because they preach primarily, if not exclusively, from the New Testament their preaching is almost by definition Christ-centered.”

I’m not convinced. Why should preaching from the NT be “by definition” Christ-centred?  I’ve certainly heard my fair share of Christless sermon on the fruit of the Spirit, the Jerusalem council,  the pastoral epistles, even the sermon on the mount. No-one should have to endure such things, but many of us have.  A sermon is not rendered Christ-centred because it’s derived from the Greek, rather than Hebrew Scriptures.  (Read here for more on Christ in the New Testament).

Block goes on to list some benefits of ‘Christ-centred preaching’, the first of which is:

  1. Christ-centered preaching has a long history, beginning with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers (especially Luther), and extending to more a recent revival Christ-centered preaching in some circles

This is a heck of a concession for Block to make! How will he out-argue this hermeneutical tradition that traces back to reformers, fathers and apostles!?

He doesn’t say. Not in this post. Instead Block moves to his own misgivings about Christ-centred hermeneutics:

Christo-centric preaching often morphs into a Christo-centric hermeneutic, which demands that we find Christ in every text.

Notice how Christ is being spoken of here? An item of knowledge located in some texts (and not in others).

Instead Block wants us to have a grander vision of the sweep of God’s revelation. He writes: “The Scriptures consist of many different genres and address many different concerns. Not all speak of Christ.”  Again – how is Christ being considered here?  One concern among many.  I’m sure Block would say that He’s the ultimate concern (he wants a christotelic hermeneutic – one that ends up with Christ).  But I can’t help feeling that the vision we need to expand here is our vision of Christ Himself. 

Block’s second misgiving about Christ-centred hermeneutics is this:

Christ-centered preaching may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture.

Well there might be folks with a low view of Scripture snipping out of their OT’s everything that they can’t squeeze into some narrow Christocentric hermeneutic. I’m sure things like that happen. But let’s be honest, preachers pull that kind of fast one with both testaments don’t they? And isn’t it also possible that those who take Block’s protests to heart end up reflecting a low view of Christ.  After all He is called the Image of the invisible God, the Word of the Father, the Radiance of God’s glory, the Exact Representation of His Being, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the One Moses wrote about. If we don’t reflect that Christ-centredness in our handling of God’s revelation then can we be said to be properly handling God’s revelation?

But of course, there’s a way of doing both.  There’s a way of having the highest regard for Scripture and for Christ. It means reading the Scriptures as already and intentionally Christian. If you do so you can honour both Christ and Scripture and you are never asked to trade one off against the other. But, of course, to do so is to concede that the OT Scriptures just are Christ-centred in all their historical particularity.

Block says that Luke 24 is misunderstood to mean that all the Scriptures do concern Jesus. It’s just that, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus ran through the particular verses that did actually refer to Him. Presumably then the vast majority of the Old Testament does not “concern Him” in the Luke 24 sense. I suppose that kind of reading is possible but it doesn’t deal with any of those solus Christus verses above.

Block then says “Few proverbs in the book of Proverbs speak of Jesus.” Well the proverbs themselves only come after 9 chapters of deep theology in which the royal son is introduced to Wisdom. And, emphatically, Wisdom is not introduced as the accumulation of pithy aphorisms but the personal co-Creator of the universe in Whom is life and grace. The royal son is invited to feast with Wisdom and then out come the pithy sayings.

This example from Proverbs might help to clarify what I mean by Christocentric hermeneutics. I’m not talking about allegorizing from an isolated verse and making an improbable leap to the cross. I’m taking the proverbs very much in context, seeing their source in Christ and also expecting to see a certain cruciformity to them as I read them individually (e.g. Why does a gentle answer turn away wrath? I will wonder aloud, Prov 15:1).  All of them flow from Christ and are shaped by Him – the Righteous Royal Son in whom all the treasures of Wisdom reside (Colossians 2:3)

Finally (for this initial post), Block contests:

Rather than clarifying many First Testament texts, Christ-centered preaching may rob them of both their literary quality and their spiritual force.

I grant that this is indeed a danger. But it’s a danger inherent in all preaching, no matter what the preacher’s hermeneutical grid.  We’ve all got a grid and therefore we’re all in danger of missing what’s there in order to preach our system.

But is there a grid that is given by the Scriptures themselves? Surely the answer is Yes, and the fact Block lists ‘the apostles’ as teachers of the christocentric hermeneutic gives the game away.

If we follow them then our conviction will be that the OT Scriptures in all their concrete details and historical particularity are already Messianic through and through.  Isn’t that the grid that’s going to make you delve deepest into the OT and herald Christ from every passage?

Let me finish by pointing again to Nathan Pitchford’s brilliant short article on the Reformer’s Hermeneutic. He shows how, for the reformers, the literal meaning was the Christ-centred meaning.  Today, however, the “literal” meaning has come to mean “the naturalistic” meaning which is kept separate from any centre in Christ.  He finishes by showing 6 ways the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

Read the whole thing

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grunewald_crucifixion

Adapted from an earlier post

I’m all for trinity.  Trinity this and trinity that.  Clicking on my trinity tag is like typing Google into Google – you may just BREAK THE INTERNET.

But here’s the thing – “The Trinity” does not reveal God.  Jesus reveals God (might I add, by the Spirit).  That’s the trinity.  But “The Trinity” is not the image of the invisible God.  “The Trinity” is not the Mediator between a Distant-Power-God and today’s agnostic enquirer.  Rublev’s is not the Icon of the unseen LORD – Jesus is.

Today Christians are awaking more and more to the wonder of trinity and that’s very exciting.  Without trinity there is no gospel.  There is no other God but Jesus with His Father and Spirit.  And, in Jesus, we participate in that divine nature.  These truths need shouting from the rooftops.

But… in our excitement to lift up the wonder of the intra-trinitarian life, there is a danger.  The danger is that Jesus might not be the Way in to “God is love.”  Instead natural theology provides the in. The argument runs something like this: “We all know that love is lovely, well wouldn’t it be nice if God was love in just the way we all understand love….”  See the danger?

A million Facebook profiles speak of “Love” as ultimate.  But 1 John 4 has in mind a very particular kind of love when it describes the love that God is (1 John 4:8-10).  The love which God is shows up in propitiatory sacrifice.  Christ crucified is the Image of God.  He shows us the poured-out-life of eternity.  Trinitarian love is cruciform love.

This means we don’t have to be amazing orators, waxing lyrical about perichoresis and such.  In order to be trinitarian, here’s all we need to do:  We need to point to the Jesus of Scripture.  We don’t need to paint verbal Rublevs so much as paint Jesus in biblical colours.  We just need to hold Him up in His true identity: He is the Christ, the Son of God.

If you want to be trinitarian, obsess yourself with Jesus.

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AUDIO DOWNLOAD

Here Carl Trueman speaks about Luther’s doctrine of the Word and our need, today, to recover a theology of preaching.

The Word of God transforms the reality of the world. That is the power of preaching, that is the power of the pulpit…

I’m convinced that while much time is spent at seminaries, rightly, teaching the technical aspects of preaching… it is equally important that preachers understand the nature of the theological action which they perform when they stand in a pulpit.

It’s a vital, vital need.  I think evangelicalism would be transformed if we came to a deep appreciation of what preaching actually is.

Here’s my effort on Theology Network to bang that drum….

It is often said that the real issue in preaching is not ‘How to?’ but ‘How can?’  How can a preacher stand before a congregation and dare to speak ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’?  The ‘How can?’ is by far the more pressing question.  And yet, in the textbooks, at the conferences and in preaching groups it seems the ‘How to?’ is the perennial concern.  Notes or full script?  Powerpoint or no?  Topical sermons or lectio continua?  These questions abound.  Even issues like ‘how to address the heart?’ or ‘how to preach wisdom literature?’ threaten to drown out proper theological reflection.  All the while the ‘How can?’ question stands above our practice demanding an answer.

Our silence on this issue could simply reflect the pragmatic spirit of our age.  We want to know what ‘works’ so we can copy it.  But I suggest there is a deeper problem.  Fundamentally we have an impoverished theology of revelation which fails to appreciate what evangelicals from another age held dear – namely that God Himself addresses us in preaching.

FULL ARTICLE

Seminars on Luther’s Theology of the Three-fold Word

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Levy

Steve Levy on Ephesians 6:19-20; Ezekiel 37

If you preach, please listen, and pray.

If you listen to preaching, please listen, and pray.

If you know someone who preaches, please pass it on.

So they can listen. And pray.

I firmly believe that evangelicalism would be revolutionized if we had a true theology of preaching. This sermon both models and exhorts us towards that kind of proclamation. And prayer.

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adam-eveAre you imagining it right now?

What was Adam’s work according to Genesis 2?

Well verse 15 says he was rested in the garden to serve it and keep it.  What’s that going to look like?

Well we’re all thinking of hoes and ploughs and honest labour and thank God for Genesis 2 and the Protestant work ethic etc, etc,.

Now clearly there’s a time and a place for all of that and certainly Adam is made a co-creator with the LORD, a co-gardener too (v5).  None of what follows should be read as anti-physical labour or anything of the sort.  But probably our picture of Adam’s garden work is massively distorted by the fall.

Just for starters, we probably imagined him clothed.  And we probably imagined him sweating.  (cf Gen 3:17-19).  It’s actually very hard to disentangle our thinking from the all-pervasive effects of the fall.  But let’s try to do it…

According to what we read in Genesis 2, what does Adam actually do in his pre-fallen state?  He preaches (v19-20).  He doesn’t just talk to the animals, he names them.  Not at a distance but all the animals are brought to him to find their true identity.  As head of the old creation, Adam graciously speaks their true Adam-determined identities into existence.  And in this pre-fallen state, they simply receive his verdict and are constituted as who they are by his powerful word.  By his effective speech-act he declares who they really are – he preaches to the whole creation (cf Mark 16:15).

You could even say that all Adam does in his pre-fall work is preach.  He preaches to all creation and then ‘dies’ for his bride!

Through his words in Genesis 2, creation is brought under his feet.  Through his silence in Genesis 3, creation unravels.

People often talk about God’s creation agenda in a way that divorces it from His redemptive agenda.  They talk of His cultural mandate in a way that divorces it from the great commission.  But right from the beginning proclamation is at the very heart of all God’s ways and works.

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preacherFor more vitrio-verse on “preaching” check out this hymn.

And here is a poem to encapsulate all that’s worst about show-pulpitry…

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“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture,” he loudly proclaims
“Our rule and our guide, Our fount and our frame.
We stand on the bible, for better, for worse
But let me give vent to my own bluster first.”

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, so let me digress –
To warn you of others who do not confess
Our creed guaranteed to produce a revival:
We are the ones who honour the bible.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though some shun our scheme
Daring to preach on one verse, or a theme!
I really must warn you about all our rivals,
And then I will ask you to take up your bibles.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, and so I rehearse
Our constant insistence on verse by verse.
Methodical, logical, slowly proceeding,
This is our system, now, what was our reading?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but don’t be naive,
The troubles with preaching you would not believe.
We must invest time in Corinthian Gnostics,
The value of genre and Hebrew acrostics.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, a difficult book,
But do not despair for to me you can look.
The dirty great chasm between then and now
Is bridg’d by my painstaking, expert know-how.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, The clock is against us!
I fear that I shan’t do this passage its justice.
We’ve only got time for a mere  bible dip,
Yet before we explore – a joke and a quip.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but first let me quote
From Shakespeare and Churchill, a drole anecdote,
My children’s exploits and the signs of the times,
The state of the church, and, my, how time flies!

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, just time for essentials,
But, wait, have I listed my many credentials?
My friends in high places, the people I meet,
The man I converted in the aeroplane seat?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, although it’s a drag
I’ll lighten the tone with a mother-in-law gag.
And stories I’ve stolen from preachers at will.
Consider it sugar to sweeten the pill.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though sixty six books –
This story of glory’s more plain than it looks.
Distilling its filling through splendid oration,
You’ll see it boils down to this fine illustration.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, the detail’s not vital,
I’ve spent all my time on a memorable title
And quaint turns of phrase that will please only me,
And predictable points, beginning with ‘P’.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, my time is now through,
My pithy summation will just have to do.
You guessed it the moment my sermon began:
God is the Boss. Submit to His plan.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, And now let us pray,
‘I thank You my Father You made me this way,
Not like all those others about whom we’ve heard
For I am the preacher who honours Your word.’”

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