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The Proclaimer

Tackling obsessions

Have been reading Tony Merida's Faithful Preaching recently and was struck by this quote which is worth repeating as an encouragement to every preacher this Monday morning.

Numbers are important because people are important...However, this obsession with church growth which characterised the church in the 1980s and 1990s has the power to keep you from preaching for God's glory. The temptation is to do whatever works (pragmatism) in order to attract a crowd... A faithful preacher has a higher goal than merely putting people in the seat and paying the church's bills. We have a doxological purpose in preaching (glorifying God) before we have a numerical purpose (increasing attendance). At the same time, there is no reason to believe that you cannot grow a church through Christ-exalting exposition. We have many modern day examples of this reality.

Indeed, I would say, Christ-exalting exposition is the only way to grow a church. Nevertheless, his point stands. He continues:

Many of God's greatest preachers were not successful in the world's eyes. Isaiah was told that no one would respond positively to his message (Is. 6.8-13). Jesus preached to the 5,000+ after he fed them, and at the end of the sermon many walked away never to return (John 6.66). Great Puritan pastors like John Bunyan and Richard Baxter led relatively small congregations yet made an eternal impact. Measure success by faithfulness to your calling: declare God's word faithfully for the glory of God supremely. We will do this as we tend to our souls, as we preach for one primary audience, as we avoid competition and jealousy and as we avoid man-centred pragmatism.

(p.26-27)

Preaching holy war

It's difficult to preach pretty much any Old Testament book without coming to the rather vexed question of divine war [Incidentally, Tremper Longman III argues that "divine war" or "Yahweh war" is a better description than "holy way". I agree]. What are we to make of those total destruction passages and, indeed, much of the violence we find in the Old Testament. A recent book by Joseph Smith has ably made the point that this is a consistent theme running through the Scriptures. Christians don't really know what to do with these passages. And neither, often, do preachers. 

We know instinctively that the Chalke approach is wrong. Moses and Joshua did not "mishear" Yawheh's voice when he prescribed the kind of warfare that Israel must engage in (e.g. Deut 7 or Deut 20). It's easy to dismiss that kind of insipid Marcionism. But it's not easy to know what to replace it with. Some evangelicals just spiritualise everything: what is true of physical warfare in the OT is true of spiritual warfare in the New. That is right - but only up to a point. There's more, surely, because the final battle that Christ, the divine warrior fights, is hardly "just spiritual" - as we will discover, it is the most physical battle ever fought, winning for us eternal life in the Son's presence, but condemning to eternal physical destruction those who stand opposed to him.

It seems to me the Law passages help us because they explain the background to divine war. 

  1. Yahweh is the instigator of war (Deut 7.1), he decides who will be fought. He chooses the battles.
  2. Yahweh is the agent of war (Deut 7.2), he is the one who is doing the fighting. The Israelites must learn to fight in his strength alone.
  3. Yahweh is present in the war (Deut 20.1), his presence is made known by the Ark. The Ark is a physical reminder that this is Yahweh's war.
  4. Yahweh is always victor in the war (Deut 20.4), he delivers enemies to Israel. With Yahweh on side, there is never a battle defeat. Defeats come when Yawheh is absent or - worse - against his people.
  5. Yahweh is executing total judgement in war (Deut 20.18), his war is just. Everybody deserves destruction. Although the warfare to us sounds tyrannical, it is always just. 
  6. Yahweh displays grace to Israel in war (Deut 7.7-11), the only reason Israel is preserved. Israel also deserves destruction but is preserved through God's special choosing (though in apostasy is not excluded from God's just fighting).

Those seem lasting principles, even if the nature of the battle changes. But how does it change?

When Christ comes, he is presented as the divine warrior, the one who fulfils militaristic prophecy. But the gospels make clear he has come to wage war against root enemies, rather than physically superficial ones: death, Satan, sin. Those who are in Christ appropriate the victories that Christ has already delivered. But that is not all there is to say. There is still a final battle. There are still prophecies to be fulfilled in Christ and the imagery of Revelation is still physical. Therefore we should think of Christ the divine warrior having unfinished business.

This, then, helps us preach divine war. We need to apply the principles above to the battle we find ourselves in now. This is the spiritual battle which Christ our captain has already fought. But as we preach we must also point people forwards to the final battle, the dreadful and awful Day of the Lord when Yahweh will execute total judgement on the world and our only hope is to stand in the grace of God shown in Christ Jesus.

In other words, our warfare preaching, if I can call it that, must have both now and then aspects to it if we are to do justice to the sweep of the Bible's story. 

The first chapters of everything

I have just spent two glorious lunchtimes sitting on our roof in the springtime sun reading Alasdair Paine's new book on Genesis 1-4. It's a great read. Its based on sermons at Christ Church Westbourne and St Andrew the Great, Cambridge and both the preacher's and pastor's heart shine through. I found it devotionally engaging and stirring as well as useful for thinking how I might preach these important chapters. I've done that on a number of occasions, but this book made me want to do it again.

Alasdair keeps asking "what is this passage here for" and, as such, does not get sidetracked by non essential (though still important) issues which often cause sharp disagreement. He's not afraid to say what he thinks about various interpretations, however. He just doesn't let these cloud the primary reading of the text in its context. There will be those who will feel, of course, that this means he's missed the opportunity. Rather, I think it's a good example of model exposition where we let the text speak and draw us to Christ.

My boss warmly commends it, but there are plenty of things I disagree with him on, so I don't feel obliged to do likewise on the strength of his reading. Nevertheless, on the strength of my own, I do encourage you to buy and read this book. It will be an encouragement to you devotionally. And it will help you preach these passages well.

Thank you, Lord, for John Richardson

The best introduction to the book of Revelation is still far and away John Richardson's little primer. Worth its weight in gold, in fact. This week we learnt that John was called to glory, long before you might expect his earthly pilgrimage to have been completed. The Lord knows best. Our prayers are with Alison and we acknowledge our grateful thanks for a persuasive writer, teacher, pastor, theologican and good friend to PT. 

New IT initiative today

We're delighted to announce today a new initiative from PT. We've developed a highly sophisticated IT system that can automatically determine and evaluate Big Idea sentences provided they are made up of ten words or less. Provisionally titled Big Idea Logos Goal Evaluation, we have spent considerable time, energy and expertise designing a system which allows you to submit a 10 word or less Big Idea for any passage and receive back an evaluation scored 1-10, 1 being awful (completely missed it) to 10 being star preacher. With your evaluation you will also receive some pre-recorded encouragements (scores 5 and above) or rebukes (scores below 5). These are added for your personal edification and santificiation. To access this new service, simply send an email with the subject EVALUATE. The email should contain the passage reference and the Big Idea in less than ten words. Our system will automatically reject hypenated words, colons and semi-colons. Please make use of this new service by sending your Big Idea for evaluation to BILGE@proctrust.org.uk.

At the moment this service is in beta testing, so it will only be available until 12:00 noon today.

Why the hermeneutic matters

When working out OT lines of application, it's perfectly possible to get to at least one of the "right" answers (by which I mean appropriate) with the wrong hermeneutic. For example, you could look at parts of Jeremiah and see that his message was rejected and he faced great opposition to what he had to say. It would not be a wrong application (down the line) to say that the gospel we proclaim will be rejected and we should face great opposition.

But that's drawing a right lesson from a wrong reading. And that hermeneutic is going to get you into trouble. For drawing such direct lines leaves you in all kinds of quandries. I would explain, but I haven't time as I just have to go off to the potter's house and buy a jar. See what I did there?

The right hermeneutic matters if we are to get the appropriate lines of application every time and if we are to teach our people how to read the Bible for themselves. In this particular case, we must look at what happens when God's Word, his eternal Son, comes to earth. The rejection of Jeremiah's message foreshadows the rejection of the Son (see the parable of the tenants in Mark 12.1-12). Our own rejection, when it comes, comes not because we are in the line of Jeremiah, but because we are in the line of Christ. We should not be surprised when "men hate us" (Mark 13.13). It's part of what it means to joined to Christ.

Even if we sometimes get the right answer (though not, in this case, the full answer), the hermeneutic matters. It must.

Momentous moment

Today is the day that PT officially switches its shirt supplier from Boden to Joe Brown's of Leeds. I feel I've been here nearly five years and this is the time for this momentous change.

More seriously. (You saw through this, right?). Churches have cultures. Have you noticed? Sometimes pastors and preachers get very wound up about this. And sometimes they're right to do so. But we also need to know that no church can be a-cultural. Every church, even the newest church plant, has a history. Every church is made up of people who (we hope) reflect the area in which the church is situated. That means no church is a-cultural. And we need to lighten up a bit about this. 

Except.

Except where that culture shapes and determines us. Church leaders need to be discerning to spot when the culture of the church itself is shaping the church and therefore when it becomes self-determining. So we are right to react strongly against cultural bases that diminish or detract from the gospel. Those are battles worth fighting. 

But where you get your shirt from?

Unlikely.

The no make up selfie pastor

I've resisted the urge to post a no-make-up selfie. It's insanity multiplied. 

It did get me thinking however about Kathryn Jenkins. She has a nice voice. And she is normally well made up.

But her no-make-up selfie is not. A no-make-up selfie, that is. I'm not a make up expert despite living in a house full of girls, but I can see she's less made up than the picture above; however no-make-up this is not. 

It got me thinking about pastoring. There are pastors who appear in full make up all the time. Not literally, of course, but they present themselves to their congregations as more glamorous than they really are. I hope most of us would reject that approach as deceitful and actually unhelpful for ministry (see 1 Tim 4.15). So most of us know we have to strip away the facade. However, perhaps like Kathryn, we're not prepared to go all the way. That would be too painful. That would open us up to too much analysis. And so we're always wearing a little make up.

Please hear me. I'm not making a case for parading your sins in the pulpit nor making your unadorned self the centre of attention. But to our congregations we need to be those without make up. We need close friends who see us as we really are. We need to be honest with our leadership teams. And though preaching is a high calling where we step into the pulpit with the very authority of God's word, we need to do it in humility, honesty and straightforwardness.

No make up, in other words.  

 

 

An important new book

We're just finalising an exciting new book by Josh Moody and Robin Weekes entitled Burning Hearts. It's all about preaching to the affections, and it's been great reading it, editing it and thinking through this subject all over again for myself. The book is a clear and careful corrective - not calling us to preach emotionally, but to call us back to biblical preaching in its richest sense. Here's a taster:

What are affections? They are not touching, hugging, kissing, or (even) feeling: Affections are the movement of our thoughts, feelings, and will towards a desired object, person or event. An affection is what inclines us to something (whereas an effect is what results from something). Affections are what move us towards action.

When we talk about preaching to the affections, we do not mean preaching that is sentimental, or touchy-feely, or lacking intellectual rigor or content. That is not preaching to the affections; that is empty-headed preaching. Nor do we mean preaching that is lacking in close attention to the text of Scripture, or that skims over the surface of the passage in order to create an easy emotional high in the hearers.

Affections are more than emotions (though they include them). Affections are defined by their result: they are what happens within someone when action is produced. We all know it is possible to feel something and do nothing about it. We also all know it is possible to think something and do nothing about it. But when our feelings and our thoughts are combined with a decisive will-to-action, then the internal event that generates this movement is called “affections.”

Preaching to the affections is “affectional preaching” (not affectionate preaching). Preaching to the affections means preaching that targets the heart. And the heart in the Bible is not merely our feelings, nor merely our thinking, but both intertwined; the heart is the centre of who we are. Because affections are “what move us towards action,” affections are:

  • part of the brain’s response to data
  • necessary for rational functioning
  • no more fallen or sinful naturally than reason
  • orientated towards godly desires in the godly person
  • not proof in themselves that someone is spiritual

The book is deliberately straightforward. It is not long. But we do think it's important. Look out for it at the EMA.