Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘evangelicalism’

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

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

.

“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.’”

.

Read Full Post »

preacherWe don’t need better preaching, we need a better gospel.

Yes I’m being provocative and hyperbolous.  Let me remind you that this is a blog.

What I mean is this: there’s a lot of focus on becoming better preachers.  The real need is to preach a better gospel.

These thoughts were prompted by a Spurgeon comment as quoted by CJ Mahaney at T4G 2008:

“Whitefield and Wesley might preach the gospel better but they cannot preach a better gospel.”

Spurgeon’s point is that the power is in the gospel, not the preacher.  Amen.  But if the gospel preached aint the gospel, then we need a better one.

‘Better gospel?’ you ask – how can you improve on the good news?

Well you can’t improve on the biblical gospel.  But you can darned well improve on the gospel preached by some.  Here’s a false one I hear around the traps (there are others, but this is the devil I know best):

‘God is power.  We must submit.  Since we don’t, God has a plan B.  It’s a wonderfully clever mechanism called penal substitutionary atonement.  For those who profess faith in penal substitutionary atonement (and submit the whole of their lives to God in total self-surrender and who pass on this ‘gospel’ and persevere to the bitter end), then… well… they will avoid hell.  Probably.’

Lord save us from well illustrated and applied, passionate, persuasive and prayerful preaching of this ‘gospel’.  Remember that the evangelism of the Pharisees made converts twice as much sons of hell as they were. (Matt 23:15)

What a thought! The perversion of a false gospel is multiplied in those it converts.  Preachers – don’t work on your preaching, work on your gospel.

.

Read Full Post »

London Men’s Convention ended a few hours ago.  The subject was “Faithful”.  And, apparently, the Faithful One is me.  Or at least that’s how so much of it came across (the opening of Rico’s talk excepted).

Men leaving the Albert Hall could be divided into those saying “Grrrrr”  and those saying “Grrrrr”.

The vast majority of Grrrrrs were resolutions towards godliness.  And this time they really, really, really mean it.  My Grrrr was frustration.  A day spent together with men who want to hear the word of Christ.  What glories we could have been singing about on the train home.

Instead, all the conversation was about ourselves – “Gosh, that was convicting.”  And all the tweets I’ve read have said “Tough”, “Hard-hitting”, “Challenging”, even “Super-challenging.”  I found it none of those things.  It is not tough to tell conservative evangelicals they need to repent more.  It’s really not.  To tell bible guys who have paid good money to attend a conference called “Faithful” that they need to smarten up and get serious for Jesus is not challenging.  It is boring.  It is predictable.  And it is the safest preaching imaginable. It is 100% guaranteed to be lapped up by all.

Preaching the free grace of Jesus for sinners – that would be challenging.  Mega-challenging I’d say.  That would get the tweets in a flutter.  That would produce resistance and angry opposition.  But it’d also get people talking about Jesus.

If you were there, you might disagree with my assessment of the day.  You might disagree with my theology.  But my one plea is this – even if you want to argue that men need pep rallies like this in order to be “faithful” – don’t pretend that it’s brave to preach like that.  It is not brave to preach law.  It’s brave to preach gospel.

Read Full Post »

Double Standards

Here are some double standards I’m aware of from my corner of conservative evangelicalism:

* When we preach “Come to Christ and you won’t have such a lousy eternity” it’s “God-centred.”

* When they preach “Come to Christ and you won’t have such a lousy life” it’s “man-centred”

.

* When our preachers go outside the text for 6 historical witnesses to support its truth it’s because we value the word.

* When their preachers go outside the text for 6 inspiring stories to support its truth it’s because they don’t value the word.

.

* When we run a toddler group for the community it’s gospel ministry.

* When they offer DIY around the local housing estate it’s a social gospel.

.

Others???

Read Full Post »

O thou brain — exalted, senior,
Holding forth from pulpit’s throne.
Feed us with thy academia,
Meted out in monotone.
‘We could never,
‘We could never,
‘Plumb such myst’ries on our own.’

Hear the classics now recited,
Tumbling from thy tutored lips.
Nooks ignored are now ignited,
By thy greek and latin quips.
‘O how richly
‘O how richly,
‘Wisdom from each sentence drips.’

Teach us frames to fathom glory,
Scriptures’ tale doth not agree.
Pure distil the Jesus story,
Into subtle sophistry.
‘All was darkness
‘All was darkness,
‘Till thou spoke and now we see.’

Pompous, ponderous, proud, pretentious,
Leaning o’er thy preacher’s perch.
Pressing out the sap that quenches,
Thirst for knowledge, Eden’s search.
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Till inflated is thy church’

O thou noble mind pray guide us,
Through the darkness and the lies.
Warn us from thy foul deriders,
We shall fear, avoid, despise.
‘Raise a banner
‘Raise a banner
‘We shall chant thy tribal cries.’

How to mark our true devotion?
What could ever count as praise?
But to clone thy stale emotion,
Forced to feign thy learned ways.
‘Where’s my pulpit?
‘Where’s my pulpit?
‘I’ll abide there all my days.’

Marching strong into the brightness,
Resolute, we set our face.
Staunch persistence, clothed in rightness,
Rectitude, our saving grace.
‘Call us onward
‘Call us onward
‘Grimly to our resting place.’

Then one day in vindication,
Face to face at last we’ll see
Precious few in that location,
Gathered with thy coterie.
‘Now receive us
‘Now receive us
‘To thy ‘ternal library.’

.

The tune for Praise My Soul works

.

.

Read Full Post »

Those two things aren’t the same you know.  But often we forget that.  Especially as we try to live in community.  I mean, think about it – what helps our Christian communities function?

Surely we get along because we all play nice, right?  Empowered by the gospel of course.  We have to add that caveat.  But now that it’s added we settle down to the real glue for any community: being nice.  When people are nice, communities flourish.  When people are not nice communities fall apart.  This is obvious.

Just look at Colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Yep.  See?  Be nice.  Be nice and everyone will get along.  Cover over all that nastiness with sweetness.  Or polite reserve.  Or effusive flattery.  Whatever you do, don’t be nasty.  The minute someone’s nasty, it’s over.

Really?

Well that would be the case if we were a part of any natural community.  What did Jesus say?  Pagans love those who love them.  (Matt 5:46-47).  You don’t need the Holy Spirit to do that.  You don’t need the supernatural grace of God.  You don’t need a new heart of flesh to be nice.

So what’s going to mark supernatural communities?

Look at how Colossians 3 continues…

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Col 3:13)

Natural communities don’t have this.  At the first hint of nastiness, natural community fractures.  But for Christians nastiness is an opportunity.  Here’s where we truly show ourselves to be the people of Jesus.  We forgive.

Many people think nastiness ends Christian community.  The gospel says nastiness is where Christian community begins.

What about blogging?  A million blogs can be nice.  It doesn’t make them Christian.  Now may Jesus deliver us from nasty Christian blogs.  Please Lord!  But niceness is not the cure.  Many may think they have a Christian blog because everyone is nice.  That doesn’t make it Christian.  It’s Christian if Christ is the glue.  It’s Christian if Christ in us answers nastiness for the sake of Christ and in the way of Christ.

We wouldn’t dream of getting right with our Father without going through the Mediator.  We wouldn’t dream of being nice enough for Him.  But we always assume that when we turn to family relations, the Mediator is surplus to requirements.  We imagine that we need Jesus for God but we need niceness for our brother.   How many Christian books on marriage, for instance, trumpet “communication” as the key to a good marriage!  But that’s just a gospel of works for community living.  No we need Jesus for God and neighbour.  Because we’re not nice.  We’re just not.  And communities that run on niceness haven’t begun to be Christian.   Inject some nastiness, then we’ll see if they’re Christian.

.

 

Read Full Post »

I first posted this after attending the 2009 London Men’s Convention.  I’m genuinely looking forward to the 2011 London Men’s Convention (with Mark Driscoll!) and will be going with 25 guys from our church.  I’m sure I’ll learn loads and be encouraged.  But I’ll still be asking the same questions I did two years ago…

———————————————————————————–

It’s an age-old question, but it’s taken the Flight of the Conchords to pose it again with aching poignancy:

What man?  Which man?  Who’s the man?
When’s a man a man?
What makes a man a man?
Am I a man?
Yes… technically I am.

.

.

On reflection there were two models of masculinity on show at the London Men’s Convention on Saturday.

The first was communicated in mainly non-verbal ways.  As John has put it, there was, at times, a ‘Top Gear’ spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars).  You can guess the kinds of things – jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums.  All the usual stuff.  There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, ‘Hey, you big bald son of a gun.  Not much hair on you is there? Baldy.  You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!’  That kind of thing.   Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD.  Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.

(Just as an aside – British men, the cruelty that passes for ‘banter’ among men is quite shocking for foreigners to cope with.  On one hand I speak as someone who’s lived here half his life and, for better and for worse, speaks the lingo.  I also speak as an Australian male.  But I confess that even we hard-headed convicts gape in wonder at the incessant jibes about ‘Fatty’ and ‘Who ate all the pies?’ when the man in question is only slightly overweight.  Or ‘baldy’, when we’re really dealing with a high forehead.  Or – and I dare not even name what red-heads are called in this country.  I would try to dissuade anyone with auburn hair or lighter from stepping foot in the British Isles.  The word “Ginger” could be followed by any number of appellations, most of them four-letter.  And this kind of culture is rife in the church too.  Last night in the pub I heard two Christian men speak about another Christian friend in shockingly unChristian ways.  But it was completely in keeping with this lads culture.)

Under this first model of masculinity we’re told that we have a God given masculinity to be lived out.  Which is true.  We’re told what a huge problem it is when men aren’t real men.  Which is true.  But then it’s basically assumed that everyone knows what a real man is.

So Mark Driscoll bemoans the prevalence of ‘chickified’ men in church.

Apparently the real men are those “watching a ball game, making money, climbing a mountain, shooting a gun, or working on their truck.”  And these are the men that are getting it done in the world.  So Driscoll wants these kind of men in the church.

Well.  Alright.  It’d be great to have them in church.  And yes, in some limited sense they’d make a welcome change from the other kind of false masculinity that abounds.  But let’s be clear – all natural masculinity is wicked.  Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted.  Whether the perversion occurs in the cowardly retreat direction or the aggressive domination direction, it’s a perversion.

The other model of masculinity came in Keller’s talk on the cross.  He took us to Gethsemane where Jesus was at His wits end, craving the support of friends, crying, sweating blood contemplating the cross.  The furnace of God’s wrath lay ahead of Him.  He begged His Father for another way.  But there was no other way to save us.  The prospect was simple: It was Him or us.  And so Jesus said ‘Father, Let it be me.’

That’s a man.

Laying down His life for others, bearing shame in their place, accepting weakness to strengthen them.  None of these things looked impressive.  He looked like a total failure, naked and choking to death on a cross.  He did not look manly.   And men from all sides told Him so.  They had all sorts of opinions about what Jesus needed to do to be a real man.  They were all wrong.  He reigned from that tree.  Here was the manliest thing ever done.

And it has nothing to do with back-slapping dudesmanship.  It’s not about being mechanical or sports-loving.  And it’s not threatened by aesthetic sensitivity or quiet thoughtfulness.  It’s defined by heart-felt, loving, sacrificial service.  It’s stepping into the roles Christ has for us and saying ‘My life for yours.  My weakness for your strength.  Father, Let it be me.’

Oh for real men!  Oh to be a real man.  But not like those ‘real men’ we’re told to be.

More posts on masculinity:

Three thoughts on headship

He said – She said

Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for real men?

What real men look like

Larry Crabb on gender

Spouse speak

Arian misogyny

.

Read Full Post »

About 10 years ago I wound up in the office of a Christian counsellor.  I couldn’t believe I was about to confess to depression.  Me, a church worker!  Me, conservative evangelicalism’s next big thing!

The cause?  Several very stressful things were happening in my life, but the tipping point into depression was a frustration with the gospel that was being preached around me.  And I fell flat on my face in despondency.

My counsellor took me to Jeremiah 2:13 and said (very graciously) I’d been digging some kind of broken well which had dried up.  Now I was slumped at this false life-source with a mouth full of mud.  He asked what the broken well might be.  In an instant I knew: “I need everyone to read the bible the same way I do”.  Not for the glory of Jesus, but to be right!

I asked “What should I do?”  He said, “Give up on it and turn back to Jesus.”  As soon as he said “Give up on it” my whole flesh rose up and said “Never!”  Instantly I knew that this idol had its hooks in me.  And it shocked me.

My theological paradigm had become my god.  And it was so subtle.  Because here’s the thing: I prided myself on the fact that my paradigm was uniquely Christ-centred.

But when I identified the pride issue a weight fell off my shoulders.  The issue was not the idiots out there, the issue was the arrogance in here.  I’d been thinking of it as a complicated issue of theological debate with no way through.  In fact it was a simple (but very ugly) issue of plain old sin.  And the gospel has a solution for sin.

Someone has wisely said that if you diagnose your problems as requiring anything less than the blood of Jesus for their solution, you haven’t diagnosed your real problem.  My hour with the counsellor cut through to the real problem.  But thankfully the real problem has a real solution.  And it’s already mine.  Or rather, He’s already mine.  I left that office with a massive weight off my shoulders.

Not that I didn’t think the issues mattered any more.  They did matter.  They still matter.  But I looked at them through a different lens.

For one thing, I started pitying the Christ-lite Christians around me – not despising them or competing with them.  But genuinely feeling sorry for them and wanting something better for them.  I gave up on being the one who would crush them in theological debate and started to think more in terms of sowing seeds and trusting the results to God!

I get this wrong all the time and there’s still much of the arrogant young man to me.  But I also think God’s been teaching me some things about how to live and minister among other Christians with whom I disagree.  I’ll share a few thoughts in no particular order:

* I love the saying (which I think goes back to Wesley?) that the way to handle opponents is “to out-live and out-love them, out-preach and out-pray them.”  That’s got to be the way forward. And I think it begins with repentance.  I repent of trusting in my christocentrism.  I turn to Christ!

* If I’m tempted to pride it’s good to turn to Elijah’s example in 1 Kings 19.  And to laugh at myself.  “I, only I am left!!” he says, exhausted by his own righteousness! “Ummm” says the LORD “I think you’ll find there’s thousands like you. Get some rest!”

* I find it very tempting to try and be John the Baptist – a voice crying in the wilderness.  But that’s not our calling.  We’re to get around others with the aroma of Christ.  And the aroma of ‘young hot-prot’ is not quite the same.

* When relating to church leaders, get a vision for what’s already good about their preaching, leading and ministry.  It’s so tempting to look for what they do badly and to miss the hundred things they do well.  Anything and everything we can rejoice in, we should.  Loudly.

* People can change.  Not through grand-standing argumentation.  But through a drip, drip, drip of gospel juiciness.

* I’m only beginning to learn this one:  Usually change happens when people taste the gospel dishes you serve up.  If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe.  Don’t start with the recipe: “Right, here are the ingredients you need – you’ve been doing it all wrong.  This is the order…”  Start by dishing out gospel goodness – then they’ll want the recipe.

And now, for the real wisdom on these issues – check out the comments… (don’t let me down guys)…

Read Full Post »

Evangelicals believe in conversion.  It’s absolutely foundational.  The human race is either in or out.  We’re born out.  We need to come in through Christ.

But then, what are we coming in to?  Because if you only think in terms of “in or out” then it might start to sound like the Christian community is the safe-house and the world is going to hell.  And the church says: “Bring em in, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.”  It’s us against the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the safe-house.

This sounds like the conservative Christian picture.  But it’s missing a key element.  God.

You see God is out-going.  The Father is a Sender – of His Son and Spirit.  We need to be in.  But we need to be in on the One who is ever going out.  Therefore, with Christ, the church says: “Get on out there, reach into the world in order to bless.”  It’s us for the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the outsider.

We must, by all means, believe in conversion.  But let’s understand what we are converted to.  We want people in, but we want them in on radical out-going-ness.

So it’s not so much in or out, it’s in on out.

Read Full Post »

Here are three assertions that trip off evangelical tongues, almost without a second thought.  They are the air we breathe.  Almost never challenged.  And almost never justified in any Scriptural sense.  Everyone just knows them.

Trouble is they’re not true.

.

Myth #1 – The prophets spoke better than they knew.

Take any text from, say, Handel’s Messiah.  Try to use it as justification for Messianic faith in the OT and count the seconds before someone counters “Ah, but they spoke better than they knew.”

What chapter of Hezekiah is that in again?  I forget.

Just pause for a second.  Why on earth should we think that?  Why shouldn’t we assume that “the prophets knew what they were talking about?”  Wouldn’t that be the most obvious assumption?

Why would we doubt that Isaiah knew what he was talking about?  Apart from a Darwinian belief in progress.  Apart from what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery.  Seriously, where have we got the idea that prophets – those whose job it is to enlighten the people – are actually so thick they can’t understand their own prophecies.  I mean that would be a really odd model of prophecy wouldn’t it?  But, you know, I’m willing to go with it – if the bible teaches it.  But where does the bible teach such a model of prophecy?

Caiaphas?  The murderer of Jesus?  His one off pronouncement is our model for Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel?

And yet the myth persists.  It is asserted very strongly and very often.  And it needs to be if pop-biblical-theology is to avoid imploding under the massive weight of OT evidence to the contrary.

But the thing is, it’s not true.

.

Myth #2 – No-one expected the kind of Messiah that Jesus was

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a home group bible study in my life where this myth was not mentioned at least once in the night.  “Well, of course, the people all expected the Christ to come on a war horse and overturn the Romans.”  Well it’s a decent guess that some Israelites might have been of that persuasion.  But show me the verse that says all Israel conceived of the Messiah only in such terms.

It seems like, relative to any supporting Scriptural evidence, this assertion is punching way above its weight in terms of its general acceptance among bible believers.

And in fact, there’s lots of Scriptural evidence that the people were well able to comprehend the kind of Messiah Jesus was.  At Christmas we remember Simeon holding the baby Jesus and rejoicing that he’d therefore seen salvation.  The kings from the east bowed to a child and the songs like the Magnificat are Scripture-full acknowledgements of what an upside down kind of king the Christ is.  Read on in John chapter 1 and you have Simon, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael perfectly able to comprehend that this carpenter was Messiah, King of Israel and Son of God.

Absolutely there were comprehension issues among the disciples – especially as the way of the cross was set before them (same with us right?).  But it’s just not the case that first century Israelites were unprepared for the kind of Messiah Jesus would be.  They were very prepared.  And the faithful among them (like Simeon and Anna) understood it very well.

.

Myth #3 – The Apostles read Messianic meaning into Hebrew texts that weren’t intended by the original authors.

Myth #1 is deployed whenever an Old Testament text threatens pop-biblical-theology TM.  Myth #3 is deployed whenever a New Testament text threatens the system:

“Ah yes, but Paul had apostolic warrant to reinterpret OT texts in ways not intended by the author.”

How very odd.  And to think Paul was able to reason in synagogues with Jews and win some over when apparently his claim is that he’s not giving Moses’ meaning but a new one!

Strange indeed, but ok, I’m willing to go with the weirdness because I imagine there must be explicit biblical warrant for it.  There must be a mountain of verses telling me about the apostolic re-reading of Hebrew texts.  Right?  And married to that, there’d have to be loads of verses telling us not to follow the Apostles in their exegesis because they were authorized to do weird stuff.

But, hmm.  Where are these verses?

And Paul even explicitly says “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen, that Christ would suffer and rise and bring light to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 26:22f).

So then, what’s driving this myth?

Could it be that the pressure to believe Myth 3 comes not from biblical arguments but from the need to protect against biblical arguments??  Could it be that Myth 3 is required as the only escape route pop-biblical-theology has from the mountain of NT verses stacked against it?

I’ll let you decide.

.

You might not think this is a very Christmassy theme.  Well think of it as answering this question: “Did Israel really sing ‘O Come O Come Immanuel’ or can we only put that song on their lips after the fact?”

.

Read Full Post »

Theology Network has just put up the second of my two papers on Mission and Evangelism (first one here).

Here’s an excerpt:

Picture an evangelist.

What are they doing?  What are they like?  Do you warm to them?

Now picture the person or persons most significant in bringing you to Christ.

What did they do?  What were they like?  Why did you warm to them?

How do your two sets of answers compare?

Invariably when people are asked to imagine “an evangelist” they picture a bold enthusiast with boundless energy.  A salesman who could sell ice to Eskimos but, praise God, now they’re selling Jesus.  They are born communicators and can turn a pub discussion of the off-side rule into a proclamation of Christ – our Last Defender.

We are inspired by them sometimes.  Daunted by them more often.  Do we warm to them?  Well, we’re grateful that they’re out there.  Because, Lord knows we couldn’t do what they do.  We are not “evangelists” – not like them anyway.  So God bless them in their efforts.

Every once in a while we’ll rein them in off the streets to turn their wild-eyed enthusiasm on us – drumming up support for the church’s next ‘big push.’  But once that’s over they will ride off into the sunset and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m exaggerating.  Slightly.  But, lest you think I’m setting up a straw-man, try this experiment at your church.  Raise the topic of ‘evangelizing your friends’ and then count down the seconds until someone complains ‘But I’m no Billy Graham.’

What does this kind of thinking betray?

It reveals, for one thing, a belief worryingly similar to that medieval division between clergy and laity. At root there is the constant guilt felt by ordinary folk who know their failings.  And then there’s the offer of some small relief.  The riff-raff can pay for professional Christians to live the really holy life for them.  The professionals (this strange breed of “evangelists”) are secretly delighted to be put on such a pedestal.  And inevitably these experts aggravate as much as alleviate the guilt feelings of the common folk.  But really, once the guilt is in place, the divide will follow.  And both sides will have strong reasons to reinforce it.

How can we possibly address this situation?  There’s a big problem here.  If anyone tries to remove the guilt from ordinary Christians they’ll be accused of building up the dividing wall:  Are you saying the ordinary folk are off the hook??  Are you saying only certain people can/should evangelize!!? And if anyone tries to remove the division they’ll be accused of guilt-mongering:  Are you saying everyone’s under this burden??  Are you saying we all need to be Billy Grahams!!?

But the gospel flushes that whole paradigm down the toilet where it belongs.  The gospel addresses both the guilt issue and the division issue.  And it doesn’t just re-balance them, it abolishes them.  Think of the priesthood of Christ.  It means the end of guilt.  And then think of the complement to that truth – the priesthood of all believers in Him.  It means the end of divisions.

So what would evangelism look like which glories in the perfect priesthood of Christ and the corporate priesthood of all believers?  What would evangelism look like if it was motivated not by the high-octane marketeers but by the goodness of the gospel itself?

Read the whole thing…

.

Read Full Post »

Now that I have your attention…

I’m getting very wary of arguments that run like this:

“Hey man, we’re not medieval, we’re protestants, there’s no secular / sacred divide.  Therefore it’s not that everyone should join Navigators – they can join Goldman Sachs, it’s all equally cool.  Cos, hey, Genesis, the Lord is a worker and gets His hands dirty and Adam was made as a worker.  There’s a divine dignity to all work, don’t try to put full time gospel ministry on a pedestal.  Everything’s equal now.”

There are parts of that argument to which I want to give a hearty Amen.  But…

It’s interesting that Gen 2:15 might be more literally translated:

“The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH”  Or even you could say “to WORSHIP and KEEP.”

All this has heavy temple/priestly connotations – just as the temple has lots of Eden connotations.

And of course when the true Man stands on the earth He describes His work (and that of the Father) in priestly (ie evangelistic terms) – e.g. John 4:23,34-38; 5:21-29).  And the kind of ’till the earth’ stuff that Jesus does is, well, priestly (ie evangelistic) – e.g. Matt 9:35-38; Matt 13:1-53)

Now we together are a priesthood in Him declaring the praises of the Father that pagans may glorify God (1 Pet 2:9-12). That’s true priestliness – bringing people  to God in the Priest – the Lord Jesus.

And that’s the real redemption of our labours – whether labours for Navigators or Goldman Sachs (both need redeeming).  We are to sow gospel seeds on whatever soils we find ourselves as priests in The Priest.  Whatever else is involved in the redemption of our labours – that has to be a key part.

And absolutely you don’t have to be ordained or “a full time gospel worker” (whatever that phrase means) to do that.  You might very well be ordained etc and not doing that.

But I just don’t believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard “as unto the Lord”!  The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant.  And so not all jobs are on a level.

We’re used to saying “If you can’t be moral in your job, it’s not a job for Christians.”  But I think we should be equally ready to say “If you can’t be priestly in your job, it’s not a job for Christians.”

But demolishing the medieval divide is not accomplished by denying priestliness to people.  It happens by affirming the priestliness (i.e. the evangelistic character) of all activities.

.

Read Full Post »

Together with this hymn, this is what really depresses me about the manner and method of today’s ‘conservative evangelical’ preaching.  As for the content… that’s what the rest of the blog is about…

.

“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, 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:
The Lord is the Boss, now 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 which we’ve heard
For I am the preacher who honours Your word.’”

.

Read Full Post »

First published two years ago (here)

CH Spurgeon:

…to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A purely didactic ministry, which should always appeal to the understanding, and should leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry…

I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being “sound”, and they themselves come to be sound, too; and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy, and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!

Now I don’t think I need to argue that such critique applies to the circles in which I move and which to some degree I represent.  In fact to defend against such critique could easily end up proving the accusation!  I take it on the chin and it hurts.

But why are we like this?

A thousand reasons – but let me point to something I’ve been thinking about lately.  This is by no means even a major cause of such ‘desiccated’ ‘soundness’ but I think it’s emblematic of some of our larger problems.

I’ll phrase it as a question:  Why do we have preaching groups?

By preaching groups I mean circles of preachers (whether professional or novice) who get together to critique one another’s talks.  As of three weeks ago I’m in one.  In fact I lead one, and I’ve found it a great pleasure thus far, but we should never be afraid of questioning why we do what we do.  So why do we have preaching groups?

On one level, we have these groups because fanning into flame God’s gifts is something best done within the body.  We do it because preaching, while being the word of God, is also a human act, and human acts can be practised and improved upon.  We do it because we care about preaching and want to test it against Scripture and its proper Focus in Christ. We do it because standing in the pulpit, 6 feet above contradiction, is a dangerous place for someone to be (especially a young male / recent convert – those who tend to populate the preaching groups I’m thinking about).

Well then, why have I never joined a preaching group until being asked to lead one recently?

One answer: pride.  Submitting myself voluntarily to the “pat, pat, stab” critique on a weekly basis was never my idea of fun.  I told myself “I’m not sure I fit the mould of what is expected of a sermon and I’m not sure I want to submit to that mould.”  But perhaps that translates better as “I know best what a good sermon is and aint nobody gonna tell me how to do it.”  There’s definitely a good dollup of that going on.

But then, there are people I’d take critique from.  It’s never easy I know, but there are some who I would welcome rifling through my sermons to shake ’em up good and proper.  But there’s something I’ve never quite trusted about the preaching groups that have been available to me in the past.

Top of the list of things I mistrust has to be this: Preaching for the sake of critique is extremely dangerous ground.  (Note well the italicized phrase, I don’t want to be misheard here).

I still remember the first time I learned that preaching groups existed in which people wrote talks not for the sake of public worship or their youth group but for the sake of critique within the group.  I can remember blinking in total disbelief and asking the person to clarify what he’d said at least 12 times.

The idea of a sermon written for the benefit of 9 other hot-prots with clip-boards and a 21 point check-list makes my head spin.  The thought that these groups, run according to this dynamic, would nurture a generation of such preachers gives me cold sweats.  Really it does.

Hear me on this.  Critique for the sake of preaching is a good and godly thing.  Preaching for the sake of critique is treacherous.

I’ve written elsewhere on preaching itself as the word of God, but if this is the case then there is a spirituality and an authority to preaching that means the forms of critique to which we submit it should be carefully considered.

Imagine, for instance, that the standard of public intercessory praying at your church was pretty poor. Imagine that you decided to do something about it.  You invite all those who pray publicly at your church to a few sessions that you’re running.  Now imagine that these sessions consisted of asking each member to get up and pray out loud using prayers they’d written in advance.  We’d listen in, pen in hand, marking the prayers according to a pre-determined criteria.  Good idea?

But you say – preaching is not the same.  Well, perhaps not exactly.  But perhaps it’s a lot closer to praying than you think.

I’m rambling really.  Let me just list ten dangers for preaching groups off the top of my head.  These are dangers mind – they are not inevitable:

  1. Preaching itself is not considered according to its proper nature – a divine encounter
  2. With this spiritual nature minimized, the preaching itself takes on a more cerebral tone (see Spurgoen quote)
  3. The preacher is sorely tempted to preach for critique rather than for the Lord and for the congregation
  4. The listeners are trained in standing over rather than sitting under the word
  5. Preachers are taught to pretend that they’re communicating to real people (and actually that can be how a lot of live preaching sounds too – could there be a link?)
  6. Check-lists for critique become old wineskins that will only accommodate old wine
  7. Therefore we learn to preach according to the check-list
  8. The audience for the sermon becomes extremely narrow
  9. Not only is it possible to be unaffected by the word (as we concentrate on its delivery), we can even be trained in such an innoculation.  A skill that transfers beyond the preaching group.
  10. Praise for sermons becomes professionalized and tempered “Thanks, that was helpful.”

Can you think of more?

Well what can be done?

Here are some pointers I’ve given to our group that I’m hoping to emphasize and re-emphasize as we go.

  1. Make sure you preach what you’ve prepared to real people.  It could be to your sunday school, your spouse, your best friend, I don’t care – but preach it to someone who doesn’t have a clip-board.  And prepare it with that audience in mind.  This is non-negotiable.  We are not preaching for the sake of critique.
  2. Let the preacher themselves tell you their criteria.  If they say for instance: ‘I’m just wanting to highlight a single verse or a single word from this passage’, then assess things according to that.  Now you can discuss what makes a good criterion at another point – but don’t judge people according to check-lists that won’t necessarily fit.
  3. First thing I ask after the sermon is delivered is addressed to the preacher: What spoke to you most from the word in preparation.
  4. Next thing I ask is to the listeners: what struck you most from the word that’s just been proclaimed.
  5. At that point we discuss how the word has impacted us – we spend time being hearers and receivers of the word
  6. Only then do we discuss ways that the preacher has blessed us in the particular manner that they brought it home.
  7. Critique comes in the form of assessing the preacher against their own criteria.
  8. In the spirit of Spurgeon, both its didactic and its emotional aspects are up for discussion.
  9. We give praise to God for His word and for His preacher.
  10. We give praise to the preacher and thank them for how they’ve blessed us

In an ideal world we’d do all this by watching a video of the talk given in its true setting, but that’s often unrealistic.

Now some of you will say – that’s what all preaching groups are like, why are you so fearful of them.  I don’t know.  Am I being too cautious about preaching groups?

.

Read Full Post »

A Letter of John Newton On the Snares and Difficulties Attending the Ministry of the Gospel:

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more. To say the truth, I am in some pain for you. Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies; your zeal is warm and your spirit is lively. With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher. The more you are so, the greater will your field of usefulness be: but, alas! you cannot yet know to what it will expose you.

It is like walking on ice. When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words: when you shall hear the well-meant, but often injudicious commendations, of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful: when you shall find, upon an intimation of your preaching in a strange place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel? It is easy for me to advise you to be humble, and for you to acknowledge the propriety of the advice; but while human nature remains in its present state, there will be almost the same connexion between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp. So, unless the Lord is constantly moistening our hearts (If I may so speak) by the influence of his Spirit, popularity will soon set us in a blaze.

…Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.

Read Full Post »

Get this.  Here’s Clark Pinnock as quoted by Mike Horton here:

I cannot deny that most believers end their earthly lives imperfectly sanctified and far from complete.  I cannot deny the wisdom in possibly giving them an opportunity to close the gap and grow to maturity after death. Obviously, evangelicals have not thought this question out.  It seems to me that we already have the possibility of a doctrine of purgatory. Our Wesleyan and Arminian thinking may need to be extended in this direction. Is a doctrine of purgatory not required by our doctrine of holiness?

Now, I don’t usually engage in Arminian bashing.  (Usually when I see such beat ups I want to side with the Arminian even if I agree with the critique).  But, with this quote… come on.  Seriously?  A protestant starts thinking that their theology requires a doctrine of purgatory?  Because evangelicals haven’t properly thought about it??  Really???

At that point, if not years sooner, shouldn’t Pinnock wake up and say “Hold on a minute.  I think I’ve become one of the baddies!”

…Like in this scene (perhaps Mitchell and Webb’s only funny sketch – though obviously Peep Show is untouchably awesome)…

This is not my attempt at a reductio ad Hitlerum.  I just relate to the whole process of waking up on the wrong side of a battle.

I remember my early days at a certain church where I found myself saying of a certain preacher that he really shouldn’t preach Christ so much and definitely not from certain Scriptures.  Let the reader understand.

At that point I had my own “Am I a baddy?” experience.  I’ve had others too.

What about you?  Have you had an “Are we the baddies?” experience??

.

Read Full Post »

Source:

“Now Betty, would you like to keep those salvations or will you trade them all for what’s in this box??”

.

Horrifimus maximus!

.

Read Full Post »

Today I heard one more story of a keen young gospel soldier recently married.  From what I can tell the wife is feeling abandoned, isolated and increasingly desperate.  And the husband is pressing on in his ministry service for the Lord!

If I had a minute with the young gun I’d ask him to read about John Wesley’s disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  (Read more here).  It should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier.

But the Wesley model is not dead.  I still remember the ringing endorsement our own marriage union gained from a leading UK evangelical while we were still engaged.  “You’re marrying well there Glen,” he said, “She’s a doubler.”  He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers.  Thus the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, “Is she a doubler?”

Now that might be a question you ask a prospective PA or church worker.  But if that’s the first question you want to ask your bride-to-be then, seriously, that’s the proof right there.  It’s not meant to be.  And you’re the problem!  If the prospect of being fruitful and multiplying with this woman inspires a ten year business plan, call it off now.  The kind of multiplication God has in mind is multiplication in which you commit to each other for their sakes.  And, fellas, the more you want to use her for other ends, the less multiplication’s gonna happen!

And I’m not just trying to make a cheap gag here.  The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union.  But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness.  I mean this physically but I mean it in every other way.  The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication which can only happen in and through the union and communion of husband and wife. That’s got to be the beating heart of it all.

Single people should definitely seek the Lord’s wisdom about who to marry.  Wesley should definitely not have married Molly.  If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that’s a real warning sign.  But what first needs to be sorted out in our thinking is the very nature of marriage itself.  It is not a ministry multiplication venture.  It is a covenant union, joined by God, reflecting Christ to the world.  And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and physical children.  Under God it cannot help but be fruitful and multiply.  But under God He will bring fruitfulness in very unexpected ways.  It will not be a multiplication one spouse’s prior ministry plans.  The old individual plans must die.  This will be a new union with a totally new kind of fruitfulness – much of which simply cannot be predicted.

But an understanding of marriage that is anything like a contractual business partnership will strike at the very heart of the covenant union.

I pray for this young couple, that there would be a death to the old individualist/contractual understanding.  And that out of that death would come new life in their union and communion.  And, yes, that out of that there may even come a wonderful fruitfulness.  But it will be His fruitfulness His way.

.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »