Tag Archives: religion

My Preaching Essentials (Part 3)

PreacherVisionAnd the list continues from here and here
7. Clear. This one seems pretty obvious. However, I know how much fuzzy thinking can make fuzzy sermons. In addition, I know from personal experience (I repent!) how trying to sound smart can ruin a message. If the people don’t understand then you have communicated well. (Ephesians 4:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–10)
8. Expectant. This one is tough for me. I often settle into defeat too soon. It is easy for duty to become an end in itself. However, the Bible makes clear that God is powerful and that his word will accomplish much. I must preach with a heart that trusts God will accomplish his purposes. I must preach with confidence that God will finish what he started! (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 4:16; Isaiah 55:11)
9. Theological. Theology is the task of translating the timeless gospel to a particular culture. For that reason, theologians through the ages have used contemporary language and thought to explain the truth of God’s word. Just think about it. Why don’t we just read the Bible when we assemble as the church? Why do we do more than that? Why do we explain and apply the message? Are we adding to the timeless gospel? No, we are articulating the timeless message to our culture. The preacher is bridging the linguistic and cultural gap between the Bible and his audience. He is showing how the world of the Bible is the real world that makes sense of all our current experiences, hopes, and fears. A good preacher connects his audience to God’s word. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it.
John Stott
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My Preaching Essentials (Part 2)

PreacherVisionAnd the list continues…
4. PreparationSome circles emphasize extemporaneous preaching. I think there should be great freedom for the Spirit to work in a preaching setting. That being said, flexibility is usually enabled by preparation. Why should one carefully prepare? First, it is the model of Scripture.  When the apostles spoke, their message was theologically deep and biblically sound. They had pondered what they would say. When the Scripture writers wrote, they carefully crafted arguments with deep biblical connections and powerful rhetoric. The Biblical writers demonstrated great care in the way they used words. We would do well to emulate their example. Second, the text of Scripture is too important to teach flippantly. In addition, though it is able to be understood it is not always easy to understand. The distance between our language and the languages of the Bible, our culture and the cultures of the Bible, and our background and the backgrounds of the Bible necessitate care in teaching its message. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)
5. Honest. I know the temptation to preach ‘what works’. I know the ‘that’ll preach’ mentality. I know how my ego and desire for approval bids me sacrifice truth at the altar of utility. My appeal to preachers is to avoid pragmatism. Be honest with people even when the honest answer is not always the easiest thing to preach. Share your struggles. Preach the difficult texts.
Be honest about the text. Tell people when there is a passage that exceeds your understanding. Explain interpretive options when you don’t know which is best. The tendency for preachers is to yell louder and make statements of certainty to overshadow any doubts. However, the historical, textual, and hermeneutical difficulties make it tough to preach. Rejoice in the diversity and celebrate the difficulty. One example of a difficult text is the famous pericope de adulterae (the story of the adulterous woman) found in John 7:53–8:11. Whether or not this story really happened, the evidence is strong that it is not original to John’s gospel. The historical and textual evidence points fairly conclusively to it being a later addition. However, this story ‘will preach.’ It’s powerful and illustrates a lot of honest truths about Christ. However, what will preach and what is original to the Bible conflict (in this instance). I would implore preachers to trust the plan of God in the organization and content of Scripture. What is original is sufficient. Some hearers might be dismayed by such a choice but I think the harm done by glossing over the truth will be exposed when someone less amenable to Christianity uses Christian deceit or ignorance to undermine the truthfulness of the Bible. Be honest when you preach! (Colossians 2:8)
Be honest about yourself. Be honest about your sin. Be honest about your failures. Be honest about your limitations. Be honest about your sources. Be honest about your life. Be honest about your credentials. The end.  (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Titus 2:7)
6. Textual. This is a good counterbalance to my talk about originality. While the messenger is unique, the message is timeless. The text should determine the shape and structure of the message. I love Andy Stanley’s classic, Communicating for a Change. He has a lot of good information for communicators on how to memorably and winsomely engage an audience with a message. My biggest concern with his thesis is in regard to his ‘one point sermon.’ He lays out an argument from pragmatism. Essentially, people can only remember one point when you preach. In addition, the preacher can only really make an impact if he has a laser focus around one clear area. While I think people can remember, understand, and apply more than one point, my major critique is that the principle of a ‘one point message’ dare not overrun the logic of God’s Word. Sometimes a self-contained pericope contains multiple points. What if Paul uses multiple points to get his message across? Am I, the contemporary preacher, really confident that the original authors intent is of no value in this case? Am I willing to overrun the organization and rhetoric of the original text to make it more palatable for the modern audience? Ultimately, we only know God if he speaks to us. Let’s trust that what he said and how he said it is sufficient. For more on this, see Mark Dever and David Platt talking about the role of expository preaching in a healthy church. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)

My Preaching Essentials (Part 1)

PreacherVisionFor what it’s worth, I’ve been thinking a lot about preaching lately. I remember in seminary being very disappointed in my preaching class. Now that I’ve had the chance to think about it, I’ve compiled my thoughts on a few important criteria for a preacher. The order is not significant, so don’t read into it too much.
1. Authenticity. Gone are the days of the polished performance. The Bible speaks consistently of honesty and truth as essential to the Christian life. No radio voice here. No stage actors. The modern preacher is more akin to a stand-up comedian than a Shakespearean orator not because he tells jokes but because he tells the truth! Your listeners don’t need a performance, they need the truth. (1 Thessalonians 2:1–12)
2. Originality. With the internet anyone can find top notch preaching at the click of a mouse. There are enough quality sermons to fill an ipod for days. If your audience wants to hear John Piper, Danny Akin, David Platt, or any myriad of other preachers they can. But they are listening to you. Your church has called you to teach. They want to hear how God has gifted you. I’m not saying to speak only your opinions. Speak the timeless truth of God’s word but teach it from your unique perspective. Use the gospel-cultivated personal relationships you have within your local body of believers to meet people where they are and take them where they are to go. There is an atmosphere that cannot be duplicated via video.  (1 Corinthians 7:7)
3. Growth. A preacher should be growing in their knowledge and ability through the power of the Spirit. There is no room for stagnation or staleness. I’m not even sure that one should “settle into a groove” as they say. If one is growing, stretching, and being challenged by the cost of discipleship, then the message should reflect it. (2 Peter 3:18)

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more.  I for one don’t grieve this one bit.  I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good.  It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials.  It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice.  But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…

So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world.  If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.

This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.

This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.

HT: Alan Knox.

Some More Glenn Beck Discussion

Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here).  My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological).  Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention.  Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful).  Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.

One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of  SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”

Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful.  He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).

Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…

Beck said, “We can disagree on politics.  We can disagree on so much.  These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals.  They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches.  What they do agree on is that God is the answer.

It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category.  Whose God?

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…

Can’t “Science” and “Faith” Just Play Nice

I sometimes wonder why Christians feel the need to undermine scientific inquiry.  Science, when functioning genuinely as science, is a beneficial means of solving problems.

Believers are appalled when non-believers caricature the group because of the mistakes of a few.  I, for one, bristle at the notion that all Christians are mindless, superstitious, stooges.  However, I am aware that some Christians are likely thoughtless and ignorant about their beliefs and the reasons for those beliefs.  Is Christianity, therefore, an irrational myth created to assuage personal guilt and provide non-existent security?  Of course not.  It would be truly hypocritical (i.e., not Christ-like), then, to judge science by the faults of a few (or even many) scientist.

Science functions particularly well when playing by its own rules;  coming to tentative conclusions based on observations and reproducible results. Science is clearly a tool and not an absolute truth.  When science attempts to make truth claims that require faith rather than evidence, it has overstepped its bounds.  Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, however, one must be careful to distinguish bad science from all science.  In the same way, a believer must distinguish bad theology from all theology.

The scientists have given [man] the impression that there is nothing he cannot know, and false propagandists have told him that there is nothing he cannot have.

— Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences