EMA: What I’m excited about…
This year’s EMA really excites me. That is, in part, because the subject matter is something that I think I need to learn more about and grasp. After all, God has called me to be a preacher and – for a time and in his goodness – someone who helps train others to preach. Therefore, it is essential that I understand and believe and hold onto the relationship between preaching and the revelation of God’s glory in the church. I’m convinced this is a much misunderstood (or not even considered at all) subject. Put bluntly, I don’t think preachers can afford not to grasp this and how it affects our preaching, our prayerfulness, our leadership – in fact, every area of church life. So, I’m particularly looking forward to Sinclair Ferguson’s two sessions on this important topic. But I’m also eagerly anticipating Vaughan’s pen portrait of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and, in particular, how he understood the ministry of the Spirit in relation to preaching. Vaughan’s pen portraits are a highlight of past years for me: Simeon, Whitefield, Schaeffer. He has the kind of mind which is able to sift large amounts of material and carefully bring out what we need to know but have missed, what we’ve spent too much time overemphasising, and what practical lessons we need to implement. I thought his Whitefield was a masterclass in this. Some may think that tackling MLJ is a poisoned chalice. But I think we will find that this one off session is particularly good. There’s still plenty of space and time to book, so why not free up the three days now (8-10 July) and I’ll look forward to seeing you and us growing together.
We're busy this week getting ready for three conferences, including the EMA. And so it's time to start telling you about some of the things coming up at the EMA. Take music for example: we're singing a mix of well known and new songs (with the bulk coming from the first category), old and new. All chosen for their gospel rich content. Over the next few days I will trail some of the new ones. Why not have a look and then when you come to sing them they will be at least a little familar. Here's the first – it's the Sovereign Grace version of Augustus Toplady's Now why this fear and unbelief? It's a superb hymn and eminently singable. We've sung it on a few conferences and it's also easily to learn. Give it a go. Or, better still, give it a go with us at this year's EMA. See you then. By the way, you don't need to play it or sing it in quite this way to make it meaningful! I'm sure you know that….
Continuing on from yesterday you might like to know we're also singing this new version of My hope is built on nothing less. The video gives you an idea in a broad sense. But you do need to know we're not octaving it (singing one part low and then another part really high) as they do here. I dislike that. A lot. I think it's one of the most manipulative things you can do in music. So we're going for a middle-of-the-road key! We've also added back in one or two more verses from Edward Mote's original. Still, if you know this version here you'll be able to raise the roof with us at the EMA as we sing about our certainty in Christ. Never mind the cheesy video. Learn the tune.
Why the long speeches?
I'm really appreciating Christopher's new book on Job in Crossway's Preaching the Word series. It's available in the UK at the EMA and afterwards. Here's some really helpful thinking about the repeated interventions of the comforters:
Why do we have to go on listening to these dreadful speeches? After all, God is going to tell us at the end of the book that they are wrong (Job 42.7). So what is the point of listening to them?…This is a natural question. One general answer is presumably to warn us not to be like them when our natural pharisaism causes grace to be leeched out of our conversation and we lapse into the religious certainties of grace-free philosophy or religion.
But the question is intensified after we have heard Bildad's spine tingling description of Hell in chapter 18 and when we are about to hear Zophar's equally terrifying description of judgement in chapter 20. What specifically is the benefit to us of having to listen to these detailed and deeply evocative descriptions of hell?
To answer this question, we need to acknowledge that the fault with these sermons is not only in their content but in their misapplication. They describe life under the judgement of God..before drawing the conclusion that Job is under the judgement of God. Their deduction is false. But their descriptions of hell are entirely accurate.
These sermons, like some of the laments in the Psalms, help us feel and experience through poetry just how dreadful it will ultimately be to fall under the wrath of God.
Christopher then suggests three explicit ways that helps us:
- they stand as a warning against the reality of hell. We must repent.
- they help us grasp the depth of the darkness and suffering that Jesus endured for us
- they help describe in some measure our experience in this age as we drink from the same cup from which Christ drank
Seen this way, there is every reason to go on listening to these "dreadful" speeches.
Three weeks to go…
…it's three weeks until the Evangelical Ministry Assembly. We'd love to see you from 8-10 July at the Barbican Centre in London. Don't forget we've some free accommodation still available with local families if you're struggling to find somewhere to stay. Do pass this invitation on to friends in ministry. We've planned the conference to serve those who are themselves serving in local churches and hope you can join us to be encouraged yourself and be an encouragement to others. I may be slightly biased, but I know what we're singing, what we're stocking in the Bookstall and – most importantly – what's being proclaimed from the front, so I want to say, with no hint of self-aggrandisement, make sure you come. Book here. If you're using twitter, use #EMA2014.
Careful who you call a heretic
Sometimes we have to call out false teachers. It’s the Bible way. We ought to do that soberly, carefully and wisely. There’s no place for a heresy hunter in the pulpit. That’s not just a personal opinion. Read Paul’s letters. See the balance and focus. He does name names. Sometimes. Not often, though. We need to be very careful in extending ourselves beyond his limits. And our naming should always be linked to shepherding the flock. We don’t call out false teachers because they are in the news particularly, or because we’ve read their latest book. We must think about our flock, what is good for them, what protects them.
I say this because I think there is a tendency within our circles to be rather liberal with the word heretic. I’m perhaps a bit sensitive to this at the moment because it’s a label that’s been thrown my way by Ted Williams book on New Calvinism. Or, to be more precise, he doesn’t use the precise word but says that we “change the terms of the gospel.” Serious stuff. I’m happy to let it pass; I don’t think it’s worth commenting on, other than to say it made me search my own heart to make sure I’m not too free with this serious word.
All this was reinforced for me this week when I was reading a Facebook post about someone who wanted some more info on covenant theology. Fair enough. But there was a short post from someone which said (I can’t remember exact words) “As long as you don’t want to know about New Covenant Theology. Heresy.” Here’s the danger of social media where words are cheap and fast. But heresy? Really? Moo – a heretic? Carson, likewise? For both, as far as I can make out, follow a form of NCT, at least.
I spent a happy week a few years ago leading a preaching conference in Cameroon. There were 100 mostly pentecostal pastors who all, almost without exception, believed in a form of prosperity teaching. I was immediately cautious. But on examination I discovered that this is not the maliciously derived prosperity teaching of some so-called churches but a genuine misunderstanding of the nature of the relationships between covenants and how revelation works. They were reading Malachi 3.10 and simply preaching it like it was. Now, you can’t call that heresy, I don’t believe. It’s wrong and they need help and direction, but these guys are not wolves in sheep’s clothing. Interesting then, that even a phenomena like prosperity teaching is not uniform, nor should we treat its exponents uniformly.
All of which is to say, careful who you call a heretic.
How much history do you need?
I'm starting a teaching series at Cornhill this morning on Ezra, one of my two specialist subjects. (I always felt it was good to have two, just in case I got through the first round of Mastermind.) We've got four weeks of getting our fingers dirty in the text, but we'll spend a good deal of today wrestling with some of the back story to make sure we have got both biblical and historical context spot on. But how important is that?
- I want to say it is more important for the preacher than it is for the hearer, certainly at a detailed level. In a book like Ezra, if you are going to wrestle with the detail of the text rather than just, say, the thrust of where each passage is going, you need to have done this work. It's the only way you will ultimately make sense of some of the divinely inspired commentary that is found within the text itself. Bible books are individually inspired to be part of the canon and so should not be read in splendid isolation. Here's an example. Go look up Ezra 4.2 and the enemies' claim to worship the same God "since the time of Esarhoddon." That's a scriptural story and in order to understand what is going on you need to have some grasp of 2 Kings 17.24 ff. So, I'm not ashamed to spend some quality time making sure the students get the back story right. It will be instrumental in getting the text right.
- But here's the thing. This is not the same as ensuring all our congregations understand the entirety of the back story. Many preachers make this mistake. It may be born out of pride: "Look what I've discovered and want you to know I know." It may be born out of a misunderstanding of preaching. "Let me tell you everything there is to know." Both are misplaced, Rather, we need to give our people enough back story simply to preach the message of the text. In Ezra, for example, it will be useful for folk to see a continuity between 2 Chr 36. It will helpful to say "this is right at the end of the time of Daniel: they've been in exile 60 years or so." That's good context. But it probably doesn't need a whole heap more.
Put it this way: what the preacher needs to know as part of his preparation is not what the congregation need to hear as part of the sermon. They are not and must not be the same thing.
What the parishoners think the clergy think the parishoners think the clergy do
Made me smile. A little. Too much golf to be close to reality.
Just a thought…
It's Bank Holiday Monday today in the UK (again, we get two in May). That means the office is empty. But here's an extraordinary thought, gleaned from my "Daily Trivia Calendar" – yes, such a thing exists and I LOVE it.
There are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the earth.
How to make the most of the EMA
The EMA runs from 8-10 July. We plan it as a conference, albeit a big one. But it is more than a conference. You could do a lot worse than coming along and sitting in the sessions, raising your voice in praise with 1,300 other church workers. But, graciously, God has made it more than that. Here are a few ideas:
- you can make the most of the EMA Bookstore. This year we will have 1,200 titles, of which some 150 will be brand new and ones you have not seen before. As part of this we stock at least three different kinds of level of commentary for each Bible book. You will find books that are good for you, and books that are good for your congregation. We want you to invest in both! Every book is discounted and there are some fantastic offers. The Bookstore opens early and closes late, so come and make the most of it.
- you can make the most of friendships. It is great to bring a friend or meet a friend at the EMA. We all get so busy in ministry that it is sometimes hard to carve out time for others and to develop ministry mates. The EMA is a great opportunity to do that. Breaks at the EMA are relatively short, but we've provided meeting points so it is easy to meet up. Why not arrange a breakfast or end of day coffee to develop those friendships which might otherwise be neglected?
- you can make the most of networks. Lots of the conservative evangelical world comes to the EMA. It means that the three days are a great opportunity to arrange to see others who, for example, are planting near you or working on something you're working on. These don't need to be deep friendships to be meaningful meetings.
- you can make the most of investment opportunity. These days "investment opportunity" sounds like an email from a North African widow who needs help wit her $20,000,000. But, in case you didn't know, that's just a sham. However, we should be investing in new generations of leaders, and I am wholeheartedly behind the idea of inviting along future leaders. I did so last night with a young guy in our church. Some of you will know that my lovable pastor, Pastor G, took me along to the 1994 EMA and there was no looking back.
All of this. And more. It's a conference too, you see.