Posts Tagged ‘preaching’

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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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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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.


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

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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…


“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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Here’s a man who proclaims the gospel every sermon.


We still have much to learn from Keller. And as a distillation of the preaching task it would be hard to improve on these four points (from this nifty little 9 page paper)…


Because the gospel is the root of both justification and sanctification.

The typical approach to the gospel is to see it as the ABC’s of Christian doctrine, or merely the minimum truth required to be saved, but to rely on more “advanced” biblical principles for progress in the Christian life. If that were the case, then we truly could not focus on both evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time. However, Martin Luther understood that the gospel is not only the way we receive salvation but is also the way to advance at every stage in the Christian life. This is why the first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was “All of life is repentance.”

Jonathan Edwards, in his Religious Affections, argues that belief and behavior are inextricably linked and that any failures in Christians are due to unbelief. The antidote to unbelief is a fresh telling of the gospel. Preaching, therefore, is not either for evangelism or edification, because all of us have the same underlying problem.


My sermons used to follow this approach:

+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of that text
+ Now go and live that way, and God will help you.

I came to realize over time that I was doing exactly what Edwards said would not work. I was relying on fear
and pride to prompt obedience to God. Although I was doing it indirectly and unconsciously, I was employing
preaching to trick the heart instead of reorienting the heart.

I have come to realize that my sermons need to follow a different outline:
+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of it
+ But we simply cannot do it
+ Ah—but there is One who did!
+ Now, through faith in him, you can begin to live this way.


There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: It is either about me or about Jesus. It is either advice to the listener or news from the Lord. It is either about what I must do or about what God has done.

Jesus is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light,
the bread. The Bible is not about you—it is about him.


We must not assume, for example, if our listeners are materialistic that they only need to be exhorted to give more. Though guilt may help with the day’s offering, it will not alter one’s life patterns. If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. They have not truly understood what it means to have all riches and treasures in Jesus Christ. It means their affections are causing them to cling to material riches as a source of security, hope, and beauty. Thus in preaching we must present Christ in the particular way that he replaces the hold of competing affections. This takes not just intellectual argument but the presentation of the beauty of Christ. Jonathan Edwards defined a nominal Christian as one who finds Christ useful, while a true Christian is one who finds Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.

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Dick Lucas (from here)

‘Have I got to interpret the Bible facts for you? I want to tell you it is a great relief to me that I don’t have to do that… Now it would be very grim thing if I had these 66 books of the Bible, all these thousands of pages, and God gave me the job of taking all this raw material and cooking it – so that I present to you an understanding of the Christian faith. That would be quite beyond my wisdom. It seems people are trying to do that but I am not trying to do that. No, the Bible writers have already cooked the material. That is, they have already prepared it so the finished product is here. The Bible is not asking us to interpret it. The Bible is an interpretation. My job is to tell you what the explanation is.’  (Dick Lucas)

Preachers are waiters not chefs.  We haven’t got to concoct a tasty message from raw and unpalatable ingredients.  We haven’t got to make the dish work through bold and imaginative combinations.  We haven’t got to water down the strong stuff or spice up the bland.  We haven’t got to flavour it to taste.

We just have to get the dish onto the table, as piping hot as possible and trying not to spill any.

Et voila!  Bon apetit!

No-one cares if their waiter can cook.  No-one wants to hear their waiter speak about their culinary abilities.

What’s actually helpful is if the waiter is something of a gourmand and can wax eloquent on the dish of the day.  Yes that can be very helpful.  As the waiter enthuses on the chef’s special, we swallow hard, widen our eyes, deepen our appetite.

What we need are food lovers not food technicians.

God save us from waiters who think they are chefs.  God grant us waiters with a passion for the plat du jour – Every day it’s Christ!

(And yes, I’ve now exhausted all the French I know).

And it all makes me think of Bish’s super-instinct.


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Well it’s nearly Advent so it’s time for preachers to think about Carols services, Christingles, Nativity plays, etc.

It’s also a time to miss a golden opportunity.  The golden opportunity is to preach a theology of incarnation.  But, year in and year out, this chance is missed in evangelical churches.

Our mentions of incarnation boil down to the Abrupt, the Apologetic or the Anselmian.

The Abrupt:

“God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

The Apologetic:

“Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

The Anselmian:

“God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. And there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

Where are the Athanasian, Atoning, Abasing themes?

The Athanasian Incarnation:

“In this marvellous exchange, He becomes what we are, that we might become what He is”?

The Atoning Incarnation:

“Here is God-With-Us, making us at-one in His very Person!”

The Abasing Incarnation:

My God is so small, so weak and so helpless, there’s nothing that He will not do… for you!

I wonder if we shy away from the Athanasian incarnation because we don’t want to get into (or don’t properly understand) the trinitarian theology that makes sense of it.

I wonder if we shy away from the Atoning incarnation because ontology has no place in our thinking about atonement.  (This is also why our Easter sermons contain no theology of resurrection – only a ‘proof that the cross worked’.)

I wonder if we shy away from the Abasing incarnation because we’re wedded to a theology of glory that refuses to countenance the little LORD Jesus.

If any of these guesses are anywhere near the mark, let me suggest a remedy.  Read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and hear the kind of Christmas message that has warmed the hearts of millions down through the ages.  Get started here as you listen to Mike Reeves read extracts.

And for what they’re worth, here are three of my own posts on incarnation:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(For good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

These are some talks in which I’ve tried to preach this theology…


Christmas is God laying hold of us – Hebrews 2:14-18

The Coming King – Psalm 72

In the beginning… – John 1:1-2

The Word became flesh – John 1:14

Christmas brings a crisis – John 1:15-18

Student Carols – Isaiah 9

Evangelistic carols service – Light shining in darkness – Isaiah 9:2-7 (different to the other Isaiah 9)

Luke 1:26-38

All-age: Christmas turns slaves to sons – Galatians 4:4-7

All-age Carols Talk: Christmas is weird – Phil 2:5-11


Here are some songs on the same theme and the Anti-Santy video


What resources have you found helpful?  Please share the wealth in comments…

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Grace-motivated, love-based Christian living.  Ahh, just listen to those phrases again: … grace-motivated… love-based…

We all want to talk about a walk that’s inspired by gratitude and which touches the heart.

And it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  But just realise: it’s law.  Pure unadulterated law.

The ten commandments begin with the LORD saying “You are my people, I saved you from slavery, now here’s a life lived in response to my salvation.”  The Israelites are God’s son (Exodus 4:22).  He loves his son and so saves him out of darkness.  He then brings Israel to himself apart from any good merit on their part.  And he teaches them some house rules.  Think of the law as “family manners.”  It outlines the life of the saved people.  It’s a life lived out of gratitude for a gracious salvation.  And it’s a life of love.  That’s how Moses summarized it.  It’s how Jesus summarized it (not to mention the Apostles also).  The law is grace-motivated, love-based living.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you say.  “I thought the law was all about duty-driven externalism and now we are immersed in the fresh waters of the gospel.  I thought the new way was about gratitude and heart-felt devotion? Isn’t that what makes it different?  Surely the old is about the will and duty and the new is about the heart and gratitude?”


The old was about the heart and gratitude too.  The law has always been grace-motivated and heart-felt.


So… what’s the difference?

The difference is not “external versus internal.”  The difference is “me versus HIM.”

So then.  Dear Preacher, when you speak of the glories of our life as saved people do not imagine you have escaped legalism because now you’re talking about a grace-motivated, heart-felt Christian walk.  Describing that life is quite simply “the law.”  Now the law is holy, righteous and good!  It’s wonderful.  Our hearts should thrill to hear of this outwardly focussed, joy-filled love of God and neighbour.  Yes, that is the good life.

But it’s not my life.  It’s the life of THE Son of God.  And I need Him given to me from the outside.  Given to me because I can’t live out the law.  No matter how grateful I’m told to be or how heart-felt I’m supposed to feel.  I am a sinner and I need Jesus.

So, preacher, tell me of this wonderful life.  But then, when I’m despairing because I know it’s not mine, tell me of Jesus.  Who lived it for me and who put my old failures to death.  Tell me He is given to me.  And leave me with gospel hope.

That is the job of the preacher

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Recently I wrote about communion in marriage (i.e. sex).

Modern, western approaches to sex are essentially memorialist (if you don’t know what that means, hang in there, explanation is on the way).

Our culture doesn’t believe that real union is effected by sex.  A union of bodies is not considered to be a union of persons – not necessarily.  And a vast amount of the sex that does happen is a remembrance of the real thing (i.e. porn).

In this post I want to examine the negative effects of memorialism in preaching.  But let’s just remind ourselves of what memorialism is.  Let’s consider the clash between Luther and Zwingli in the 16th century.

As these two men discussed the Lord’s Supper, Luther advocated the real presence of Christ “in, with and under” the elements of bread and wine.  “This is my body” Luther would quote.  In fact he scratched it onto his desk as the last word on the subject.  Zwingli considered Luther’s position to be “a perverse and impious superstition.”

Mike Reeves writes:

Luther believed that Christ’s body and blood are really present in the bread and wine, making the Lord’s Supper a gift of grace from God. Those who receive Christ in faith are blessed, those who take the Supper without faith face special judgement for despising Christ when offered to them.  Zwingli maintained that Christ’s body cannot literally be present in the bread, but is instead symbolized by the bread.  The Lord’s Supper for him was a mere symbol to help us commemorate Christ’s sacrifice and to signify our membership of his body.  Luther was horrified.  It looked to him as though Zwingli was turning the Supper into an opportunity for us to do something (i.e. commemorate and signify something about us). This, surely, meant that the Lord’s Supper would no longer be about grace but works.  Believing that Zwingli had fatally compromised the gospel, Luther refused to partner with him. (The Unquenchable Flame, p70)

Later in the same book, Mike makes the point that in the 16th and 17th centuries “there were no Lutherans among all the refugee theologians who came to England (something still felt today in the almost total lack of Lutheran flavour to English evangelicalism, which has always been much more Zwinglian and Calvinist).” (p129)

Now Calvin did believe in the real presence of Christ in the Supper, but I have to say, when it comes to the sacraments, modern evangelicalism, as I’ve encountered it, is decidedly memorialist.  I’ve met many who proudly maintain the real absence of Christ.

This kind of view tends to go hand in hand with a view of ministry that is not “word and sacrament” but almost self-consciously, word and not sacrament.  There is a deeply ingrained anti-ritualistic and, yes, even anti-physical streak to our evangelicalism.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to displace such thinking in this post – it’s not in my tiny stable of hobby-horses so I won’t be riding it very far.  Instead, let me direct attention away from the Lord’s table and onto ground that should be firmer for us: the pulpit.  Yet it’s my contention that Zwingli rules here also.  Our churches are beset by memorialist preaching.

If you ask me, this is the malady afflicting conservative evangelical churches today.  I know, I know, I’m a 34 year old nobody pontificating about the state of evangelicalism.  Well… allow a younger guy to let off some younger-guy steam.  If it makes you feel better, favourite the page and read it in 30 years when my opinion is worth slightly more than zero.  But if you want to take my rants for what they’re worth, here comes said rant…

Preachers simply do not believe that Christ is really present in the word that they speak.  How can I possibly judge that?  I listen.  I listen to their tone, their content, their manner, their prayers and to the preaching concerns they speak of out of the pulpit.  In all this, there seems to be very little confidence or expectation that they’re in the business of speaking God’s own word with His authority and power.  Modern preachers don’t even consider themselves to be heralds – let alone attempt the feat.  They are bible experts, textual critics, near eastern historians, cultural and ecclesiastical commentators and discipleship coaches.  They are anything and everything but bearers of God’s living word.  In short – they are memorialists.  They don’t think they’re doing anything to their hearers in the moment.  They seek merely to bring spiritual truths to the minds of the flock.

What is offered from the pulpit is like what’s offered at the table – mere tokens of a far-off reality.  The dispenser of such lifeless things hopes that spiritual sentiments will, somehow, be awakened in their hearers.  But it’s the hearers who will have to work at it because there’s no real presence in the word.  The action doesn’t happen in the gift of the words (either audible or visible).  For the Zwinglian, all the action happens between the ears of the recipient.

So memorialist preaching is aimed at educating, equipping and enthusing but not actually giving the hearer anything.  Christ is not handed over.  Not from the table and not from the pulpit.  Instead prompts, like post-it notes, are offered.  Little reminders.  Little to-do lists.  Little platitudes.  Little pep-talks.  “Now it’s down to you.  Just remember what I taught you.”

And perhaps the surest sign of memorialist preaching is a preacher who considers their job to be “explaining the Bible passage.”  Like a mere dispenser of bread, the preacher moves through the verses, picking off interesting tit-bits along the way.  And somehow, by the end, we’ve been given a commentary and not Christ.  This is pure Zwingli.

As Mike notes in The Unquenchable Flame,

Where Luther opened the Bible to find Christ, Zwingli sought more simply to open the Bible. (p69)

What a tragedy.  The preacher’s job is not to “preach Philippians”.  The preacher’s job is to preach Christ from Philippians.  So often the preacher just moves the bookmark forward, noting points of interest along the way. In so doing, they leave the listener to piece together whatever resolve or relief they can muster from the raw materials proffered.  This is not preaching.

Offer them Christ.  Hand Him over.  Placard Him from Scripture and say to the hearers “You want Him? He’s yours, here He is.”

You want to know what that sounds like?  I can’t do any better than point you to Mike himself – preaching on Philippians as it happens.

Download Mike Reeves on Philippians.

And may his gospel preaching sweeten the after-taste of this here rant.

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A little while ago I lamented a certain kind of evangelism that is all too common.  It’s basically the call to younger brother types to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech.  The evangelist will even feed them a ready made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation.  The whole encounter goes something like this:

“We all know who God is don’t we?  He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you?  Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced.  Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’.  And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you.  I guarantee it’ll work (becausetherewasthisthingcalledthecrosswhichyoudon’tneedtoknowaboutnow butIneedtocrowbaritinbecausethesewordsaremagic).  Anyway, the ball is now in your court.  It’s all down to you.  If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”

The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender.  Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to His call?

Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focussing on Christ.  Evangelism is speaking of Jesus.  It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news.  So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’  We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”

Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:

1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject.  You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.

2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving Christ as He’s offered in the gospel.  Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness.  What does that even mean?  What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean?   Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Look and live!”

3) Decision is dethroned. We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus.  Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe (Steve Holmes).   Because faith is a response to contemplating Christ.  The spotlight does not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response.  The spotlight falls on Christ Himself.

4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace.  You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him – the LORD our Righteousness.  In this way conversion and discipleship are held together.  The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.

5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits.  Instead the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus.  But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”

6) Because of this, you don’t have to fence all your promises of forgiveness and freedom and new life with ‘…if you really, truly, ruly believe’.  Since faith is receiving the Christ who is offered there’s no chance of the listener trusting an abstract promise in vain.  Those who receive Jesus receive Jesus.

7) The decision time at the end of the talk is de-emphasized.  It is not the business end of proceedings.  The real business is holding out Christ by the Spirit (and therefore in the word).  The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching.  They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching.  It’s not about a form of words that they must parrot at the end.  If you want to pray at the end that’s fine.  But it’s only confirming a receiving of Christ that’s occurred during the preaching.  Faith comes by hearing.

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Here is Richard Bewes speaking at a wonderful conference I attended  last week.

If you’re pressed for time, make sure you catch his talk on preaching.  Just the first 30 minutes blew the doors off.  Perhaps the best  introduction to the purpose and power of preaching I’ve ever heard:

Richard Bewes – Preaching

Richard Bewes – Preaching Q&A

Richard Bewes – Revival

Richard Bewes – Revelation 14



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When Samuel Rutherford preached in Wales, a woman kept returning to hear him despite the fact she couldn’t understand English.  A friend asked her why she came.  She replied that there was one word she could understand from the preacher: Christ.  And Rutherford’s sermons were so full of Christ, it did her good just to hear His name spoken.  (From this magnificent talk on Christ in Isaiah by Don Fortner)

How will you listen to the preaching tomorrow?

Even if you understand nothing else, listen for Christ.
Even if you disagree with everything else, listen for Christ.

He wants to feed you even if it comes through men of strange tongues!

And if you are preaching – you know what to give them!

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We all affirm that God speaks in preaching.  For Steve Levy, it oozes out of every pore.  His opening prayer is a plea:  “Father, please talk to us!”  His introduction is a plea: “I want everyone to hear this… children at the back, look at me…”  His conclusion is a plea:  “You need to call on the Lord who is calling your name!”  Every illustration is employed to grip the congregation and say – You!  You!  I’m talking to You!  And throughout he is constantly anticipating objections from the congregation, voicing their thoughts and answering them.  As a passionate believer in church, Steve does not prepare abstract messages for abstract people.  He never, for a minute, forgets that, through his preaching, Jesus is addressing these particular people here and now.   

As a member of his church said to me yesterday, “He looks at who’s in front of him, gets their attention and grips them with the Word. No nonsense!”  (For an example, check out this sermon preached with 70 non-Christian guests for a child’s thanksgiving).

Steve’s obviously a big believer in Christ in all of Scripture (see his book with Paul), but for he and Paul this isn’t a hobby horse to be ridden – it’s a deep conviction about the nature of revelation.  God does not so much communicate plans and programmes and patterns.  He gives us His Son.  Jesus is not some unifying principle of Scripture – He is the Content of what God offers in His word.  Therefore preaching is the communication of Jesus Himself.  As Steve says, “You can sum up the Bible in a word: Jesus.”  Steve’s preaching is a relentless offering of Christ with the (very!) pointed aim that we receive Him / look to Him /believe only in Him.  “Christ alone” preaching is “grace alone, faith alone” preaching.

If you imagine that this concentration on Christ makes for boring preaching, you’d be wrong.  Partly this is because Steve believes that the original authors of the Scriptures themselves were proclaiming Christ.  Therefore he’s not trying to rip gospel illustrations out of the Law and the Prophets (which gets very same-y).  Instead he preaches Christ in the distinctive manner of Moses and the Prophets (e.g. recently they built a tabernacle, dressed people up as priests and walked everyone through the gospel in Leviticus!).  When you preach Christ as intended by the Law and the Prophets it’s always variegated and interesting.

The other reason his preaching is never dull is a foundational belief in law-gospel.  I don’t think I’ve heard him phrase it as “law-gospel”, instead he’s told me he preaches a “raw gospel.”  But it’s the same thing!  His sermons are full of the exposing, death-dealing condemnation of Scripture’s demands.  He is brutally honest about his and our total inability to be who we should be.  And this is where he really connects.  He preaches the law not to spur us to goodness but to expose our badness.  And as he does so, it’s utterly compelling.

For instance, in his Hebrews 4-5 sermon below, he speaks, obviously, of Christ our great High Priest.  But his preaching brings out the wonder of Christ’s mediation because, first, he speaks of the double-edged sword of the word which puts us to death.  He allows the law to drive us to Christ and it makes the comfort of the High Priest all the sweeter.

The conservative evangelicalism with which I’m familiar is a thoroughly middle-class affair.  And maybe “law-gospel” doesn’t really happen in our churches because no-one’s bold enough to preach “raw gospel”!  A drug addict would feel completely understood under Steve’s preaching.  I wonder if he’d feel understood under mine.

So put it all together and you’ve got a Christ-obsessed, church-loving, shouty, Lloyd-Jones loving Welshman who preaches the gospel Sunday-in, Sunday-out.  What’s not to like!

Recent Sermons:

John 6:1-15

John 6:28-40

John 6:40-60

Hebrews 4:12-5:4

Mission Strategy


Classic Sermons:


Revelation 5

Isaiah 1


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Mike “Badda Bing” Reeves

Having appreciated Paul Blackham’s Christ-centredness we come to the Trinitarian riches of Mike Reeves.

Here’s a man obsessed with Christ who simply loves his Father in the infectious joy of the Spirit.  While other great minds are liable to dazzle you with technicalities and confuse you with the breadth of their knowledge, Mike uses his penetrating intellect to simplify.  He really only preaches the basics: God and Christ, grace and love.  Without doubt, they are profoundly set forth, but it’s the foundational truths which Mike proclaims.

And what’s terrifying is that, having heard the basics from Mike, we all realize “We didn’t know the basics!”  Not really.  We had assumed God, we had neglected the Trinity, we had missed our union with Christ… and the lack of grace and love in our lives was testimony.  We had thought that our foundations were fine.  We were messing around in the garden shed and Mike has called us back to the Centre.  Now that he’s drawn us back, nothing looks the same any more.  And we realize now the nature of the Christian life.  It’s looking again to Jesus.  Every day I forget.  Every day I seek life elsewhere.  And through the word proclaimed, I’m called back.  Mike concerns himself with the basics.  And in doing so, reminds us that the basics  are everything!

As a preacher Mike is the king of the “cheeky flick” – taking us to some obscure verse in Judges that ends up illuminating the whole passage.  With Mike, Scripture is a vast cathedral and he’s a very adept tour guide.  We don’t simply stare at the stained-glass window in the Lady Chapel, we get a sweep of the whole building.  But when we return to the window it’s all the clearer now.  This is such a healthy view of what “exposition” means and has certainly liberated me from a mechanical  practice of ‘verse-by-verse’.

Perhaps the element of Mike’s preaching most important to me is his obsession with the freeness of Jesus – given to sinners.  Given to me – even in all my wretchedness.  This is what’s so liberating about his preaching.  He is wonderfully trinitarian and has a thoroughly affective anthropology – seeing the centrality of the heart to our Christian lives.  But without our sure possession of Jesus by faith, these things would only end up condemning me.  What secures the Father’s love for me is my sure possession of Christ by faith – and Christ’s of me.  Our gracious union with Jesus is central to our enjoyment of all things in the Christian life.  And Mike preaches this to us relentlessly.  For that I am very grateful.


Recent Sermons:

Philippians from CEC Leeds


Classic Sermons:

Trinity part 12, 3,  4


The Loving Father

The Beautiful Son

The Heart-Melting Spirit


Mission from John’s Gospel

Why Go?


Job 42

Psalm 1

Luke 4:1-13

Matthew 26:36-46

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I don’t think I’d ever heard preaching until I heard Paul Blackham.  I’d heard a thousand exhortations.  I’d heard hundreds of expositions.  I’d heard autobiographical apologies and inspirational tales and world-weary battle-plans and state-of-the-nation addresses but not preaching.  Not a heralding of the living Christ.

And then I saw Paul Blackham climb into the All Souls, Langham Place pulpit.  He was younger then than I am now, but he opened his mouth like a prophet of old and said “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”   Then something unprecedented happened.  He preached as if he actually believed his introduction.  He spoke as one speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).  He didn’t weary me with the debates of the commentators, he didn’t show off his knowledge of the original languages, he didn’t waste my time trying to appear culturally relevant, he just – amazing to say it – he just preached.

I’d never, ever, heard anything like it.  And I rarely hear the like of it today.

Paul’s preaching is declarative in tone, doctrinal in content, devotional in aim.  In Old Testament or New, he is crystal clear that Christ is the point.  His life, His work, His blood, His glory.  This is the fire in his bones which he cannot hold in (Jeremiah 20:9).

I know that none of us are going to match his gifting – but can we please aim for these characteristics. Otherwise, really, why bother.


Recent Sermons:

Christ’s Sayings From the Cross (Seven 20 minute talks)


Older Classics:

Why isn’t good, good enough (Philippians 3) – video  audio.

Jesus Christ: Hope of the Ages (Genesis 3) – video  audio.

What of those who have never heard?  (Colossians 1)  audio.

To A City That Repented (Jonah)  audio.

Romansfest – 15 talks on Romans with Tom Parsons


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