I struggle to speak simply. Although I regularly exhort the Cornhill students to convey their meaning with simplicity, I myself default to complexity in my own homiletic preparatory labours. (Yes, ok, I enjoyed concocting that dreadful sentence!) I had a little example this morning, when making final changes to my sermon for Christ Church Mayfair, our home church. I jotted down my opening sentence a bit like this; well, actually it wasn't quite as bad as this; I have complexified it, even hammed it up a bit to make a point: "The fundamental subject matter of this Psalm is summarised in the concluding two verses." That is true; and it is what I wanted to say. But I stepped back, looked at it, listened in my mind's ear to what it would sound like, and thought, "That sounds as if it is being read out from a clumsy civil service draft document, or a technical commentary." So I tried again: "What this Psalm is about is summed up in the final two verses." That was better. "What this Psalm is about" is colloquial, but gets what I mean across more directly than "fundamental subject matter of...". And "final" and "summed up" are closer to how most people speak than "concluding" and "summarised". But it still sounds a bit like a commentary, albeit a more popular one. How about this? "The last two verses sum up the Psalm." That's a lot sharper, isn't it? The shift from passive to active does a lot. I reckon it says in nine crisp syllables what had been twenty-four heavy Latinate syllables. Now I can say this and not feel as if a printed commentary is using me as a ventriloquist's doll. Worth labouring to be clear and straightforward, I reckon.
I'm a great believer that Christian leaders should read non Christian books. There's no particular theological reason for that. I want to be careful in saying Christians have much to learn from the world. Rather, reading about the world in which we live is a way we train ourselves to understand that God is sovereign over all things and uses not only weak Christian vessels - but even those who reject him to achieve his purposes. A broad reading does - if nothing else - help us grasp, understand and rejoice in common grace.I particularly love reading military books. I know, at this point that is enough to send people off to sleep. But there's more. I particularly like reading military biographies. I like biographies because understanding how people think, act and relate is definitely helpful when it comes to sharpening our preaching. War is a good background to such realities as it tends to bring out extremes in people, helping you understand fallen humanity even more closely. I was once told that pastors should read military history because it's the closest thing to pastoring. There's some truth in that, though once again, I wouldn't want to push it too far, but here are two books I've just finished which I've loved. I have to confess they were easy to read because they concern two of my heroes. First up is Alan Brooke's diaries from WWII. He was Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Churchill's right hand military man. He had the guts to stand up to Churchill and they had a kind of love-hate relationship. His war diaries are fascinating. There's also more than a hint of Christian faith, though it may be residual Northern Irish Protestantism talking. Here's an example when he writes about his second wife (his first had died in a car crash): I never realized that such happiness could exist on this earth, and even now when its magnitude makes parting all the harder to bear it has this compensation: that the memory of such happiness is in itself an inspiration which eases the burden. Through you I have been able to realize better than any other time in my life the perfection of God's works. And I thank God from the bottom of my heart for having brought us together. His clear thinking and glory-avoiding manner made a significant contribution to winning the war. Possibly one of our best of men. He's not wholly different from the man I think may be the USA's greatest WWII general - Omar Bradley. His autobiography has to be read in the same way as Brooke's - these are not peer-reviewed thoughts and words. Nevertheless, the GI General was truly a man of the people and had a resonance with the ordinary soldier which moved me greatly. If you're not yawning yet (and many of you may be), both of these are worth some time.
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Monday 22nd June 2015 –
Wednesday 24th June 2015
EMA 2015: Identity Crisis - Preaching to a confused world. Speakers will include Christopher Ash, Tim Keller, Mike Raiter, Andrew Reid, Vaughan Roberts, Bruce Ware and John Wyatt. We're confused about identity. We're confused about gender and sexuality. We're confused about race. We're confused about the beginning and end of life. The 2015 EMA will focus on a biblical theology of humanity: if we can be clear about the Bible's teaching on humanity, then we can be joyfully confident in our own identity in Christ and equipped to preach to a confused world. For those who are really looking ahead, the dates for EMA 2016 are 21st to 23rd June.
Cornhill Teaching Day Dublin 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014
Christopher Ash, Director of the PT Cornhill Training Course, will host a one day session on the book of Psalms for occasional bible preachers and teachers. The cost includes light refreshments but please bring your own lunch.
Started in 1991, PT Cornhill exists primarily to train preachers, as well as equipping men and women to teach the Bible in other contexts, such as youth/children's work and women's ministry. Click here for more details
Our "collections" are specially selected talks which have been grouped together to help you make the most of our resources. We are currently featuring a collection of pen portraits of major Christian figures from history by Vaughan Roberts given at EMA over a number of years. Or click here and use the collections filter to see other collections.