A theology of preaching (3)
So, what is preaching?
- Explaining the text
- Applying the Bible
- Proclaiming Christ
- Rebuking, correcting and encouraging?
- Logic on fire
All true and more besides. But none of them actually get to the root of what is going on when we preach.
"Communication from God is communion with God when met with a response of trust from us."
That's from Words of Life, written by our newest member of staff, Tim Ward. It's a truly excellent read and very strong on the theology of God's words and preaching. You could also check out Peter Adam's Speaking God's Words and Christopher Ash's The priority of preaching and Hearing the Spirit. I also found Carl Trueman's second talk on the Trinity and preaching at our Ministers Conference a few years back helpful (audio here, video here).
It's worth getting right, don't you think?
A theology of preaching (2)
Here are some statements.
The preaching of the word of God is the word of God
Heinrich Bullinger, that one. What we call the Second Helvetic Confession, but he called his Last Will and Testament. True story.
If preachers preach what is founded on the Scriptures, their word as far as it is agreeable to the mind of God, is to be considered as God's
Mr Simeon from Cambridge, no less. Or how about this:
Preaching is the most excellent part of the pastor's work.
That's Richard Baxter, that is, which considering how much time he spent door to door is a remarkable statement.
Are they right? If so, why? Many preachers feel that they are onto something, but couldn't prove it biblically, nor are they so comfortable, in this relativist age, with such bald statements.
The answer is wrapped up in how God makes himself known and how his actions and presence relate to his words. That is not just about a robust theology of the Bible, but a robust Christology (he is, after all, the Word of God) and a robust ecclesiology – three areas where we're often woefully weak.
Let's assume you believe that God's actions and his words are biblically tied together. Jot down, in just a few steps, how you get from there to a robust theology of preaching.
A theology of preaching
What's your theology of preaching? You're a preacher, right – so you must have a theology of preaching. Or else, why are you doing what you're doing?
I don't think this is such a bonkers question as it seems. Take the test:
- How confident about your theology of preaching would you say you are? Can you articulate your views biblically and succinctly?
- Do your church leaders share your theology of preaching? When did you last talk to them about it? What do they understand is going on when someone preaches?
- Does your church congregation share your theology of preaching? It's easy to find out. Listen in at the church prayer meeting.
Hmm. A slightly convicting list. For me, anyway. I've been thinking about this because I'm preparing a sermon for NWA on preaching. More on that tomorrow. For now, I reckon there's enough for you (and I) to be getting on with.
Mind the preaching gap
Here's my thesis – we (preachers) and our people probably have too low a view of preaching.
Here's George Eliot from her essay on evangelical preaching:
Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without the aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation in English society? Where is that Goshen of mediocrity in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity.
And here are Anthony Trollope's well worn verses from Barchester Towers or The Warden or one of that series (I forget which)…
There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips.
Both represent a pretty low view of preaching, I think you would agree. But what about you, Mr Preacher? I'm just preparing some seminars for New Word Alive, and my working thesis is 'faithful preaching is an encounter with the living God' or to put it more pithily into Swiss: "The preaching of the word of God is the word of God" (Heinrich Bullinger's Second Helvetic Confession).
Uncle Henry had it right. And that probably means our view of preaching is too low, or at least there is a gap between the reality and the truth. How's that great truth going to affect your preparation this week….?
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow
- There are some preachers who love to working through Bible books in their preaching at a very slow rate. This is the only way, so the argument goes, that preachers will be able to pick up detail and get into some of the richness of the text, drawing out specific and text-driven application. I agree. Dick does too as he said to me just recently, "why don't people just preach on one verse any more? It's a good discipline"
- There are some preachers who love to move apace. Moving swiftly through a book means that our people will understand the thrust of it and see where it is going and why: the wood will certainly not be lost for the trees. I agree.
Did you see what I did there? I agree with both. It is most certainly a case of both/and not either/or. The truth is one of these will be our more comfortable position. And very often we will look down upon those who share the contrary view. If you heard Lloyd-Jones preaching through Romans (or read the books), you will be scandalized that anyone should dare to preach Romans 5 in just two chunks (as we're doing at present). However, if you grew up with a faster pace you will be aghast at the thought of taking just one rich verse in Romans and preaching it. Where to even start?
Both can be done in an expository way. As Mr Lucas often says, expository preaching is not so much a method as a mindset. This came home to me as I study Romans for myself. I'm primarily using Schreiner, by the way, having used Moo previously. I'm enjoying it so far, though the test for me is always how these commentators handle 9-11. Just the last two mornings. I've been in Romans 5 going very slowly indeed. There's such richness here. And this morning just two verses (Romans 5:15-16). There are, of course, theological issues to wrestle with here, but notwithstanding these, there is also divine richness which – moving slowly – has taken my breath away. "Adam and Christ are analogous in that the status of all humanity depends on the work of Adam or the work of Christ" (Schreiner).
So, Mr Preacher, planning your preaching ahead. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
There are times when preachers need to say sorry.
- Sometimes, that's because they've simply got things wrong. We work hard at texts, doing our best to rightly divide the word of truth. But there is not infallability; we don't (thank goodness) speak ex cathedra. And when we get things wrong, we need to say that we have.
- Sometimes, that's because we say things the wrong way. This is easily done. We use a certain turn of phrase or expression that offends or upsets or simply doesn't convey what we're trying to convey.
- Sometimes, that's because things are taken the wrong way. We may have got things right, but we've not taken account of the weaker brother and we've sometimes preached as though Romans 14-15 didn't even exist. I'm not saying we should be so weak to give in on anything, but we can flog a hobby horse to death just to make a point, even when it doesn't have anything to do with the text.
In other words, there are times when it is right and meet to say sorry to a congregation. I'm not suggesting that this is a regular occurrence (at least, I hope not). But sometimes it's a necessary thing to do.
When those times come, how do you say sorry? I was thinking about this because of the story of Apple's being forced to apologise twice by a UK judge. The first time around (this was as a result of a court action with Samsung), they buried the apology so it could only be seen by scrolling down the page and they managed to turn the apology around into a defensive statement which ended up saying how cool Apple was. If you read the apology you'll see it's no apology at all.
The point is this: even when we do mess up (which we will from time to time), there's a way of saying sorry to our congregations which is no sorry at all. And if our people don't, from time to time, see appopriate, timely humble confession from us – how can we expect them to do likewise?
A dozen of the white
So, the Global ESV Study Bible.
Not a Crossway plan to dominate the world (what is it with the word 'global'?). Rather a really, really good resource for your overseas partners. This is an ESV study Bible with a soft-cover designed for the world, not just your study. It has all the normal features of an ESV Study Bible but includes access to the Global Study Bible online. I've taken a look at the site and I like it. It gives you an online Bible which you can annotate, highlight and plan a devotional schedule from it. You also have access to a Crossway account. The Bible itself it worth it, and the online access just adds a little cream and sugar.
You may wonder about softback. I did too. Might it get damaged more easily than hardback etc? Well, yes, probably. But the recipient can always put a cover on to protect it. It does make a difference though. My regular ESV study Bible comes in at 1.9kg (that's 450 lbs for those using imperial measures). This little baby is a snip at 0.9kg. That makes a huge difference to mailing or taking on a plane. (There are also hardback and tru tone versions available).
I like this initiative a lot. To crown it all, for every copy that is bought, Crossway will give an electronic copy away free. And for only £10.00 over at thinkivp.com (post paid) it represents brilliant value. We'll be featuring it as part of our missions project at this year's EMA – more of that soon.
Intrepid explorers and sailors used to ask for a dozen of the white when abroad. What about buying a dozen of these white mamas and sending them to a trusted partner. It would do the world of good.
An insight into the PT office
This is today's office view pic to make you feel like you're here in the building with us.
No, simply me walking around my office without my glasses on. Don't visit us. It's too dangerous. Or, at least, make sure I'm wearing my specs first.
And don't bother calling today. I won't be able to talk.
I was kindly sent an excerpt from Chuck Missler's book on Hidden Treasures in the Bible (you can read the excerpt here). The basic premise is that if you do a bit of mathematical jiggery pokery, hey presto! The camp arrangement when viewed from above (presumably from Moses Hot Air Balloon?) looks like a cross and the reason that Balaam was so terrified was that from his high vantage point he saw the sign to Jesus. It gets worse. David Ben Yakov's view is that this doesn't quite work as the numbers are not balanced, The cross would have a longer beam on one side than the other and how can a perfect God allow an imperfect sign. Never mind, he argues. Jesus was an asymmetrical man, with his heart to one side and therefore, the lopsided picture of the camp arrangement represents not a cross, but a man on a cross. Hey presto again!
It's all bonkers of course, and I hope you can see that. Heaven help your congregation if not. But it does beg the question of how we see Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures so here are a few random thoughts to bear in mind:
- Christ is always present in the triune Godhead. It is too easy to make a connection and say that the LORD (YHWH) is the Father. It's as though Jesus does not come into being until Matthew. We've got to be careful. There are places where the LORD clearly refers to the Father (Psalm 2, for instance). But otherwise, we need a broader view. Alec Motyer writes about this in the Baker Encylopaedia of the Bible, especially as it relates to the Incarnation: 'The incognito of Yahweh has finally been unveiled, not (as is often mistakenly thought) to expose him as God the Father, but as God the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit.'
- Christ is always anticipated in the Old Testament. This is the great value of a good Biblical theology. We understand where the Bible is heading and see how the patterns and flow build up to the great climax of the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ.
- Christ is often seen explicitly in the text. I guess this is what Missler is trying to spot. But Christ is not hidden. We use Scripture to interpret Scripture and to see how he is seen. So, in Numbers (for it is that book to which Missler refers), we have the rock from which the Israelites drank (1 Cor 10), we have the bronze snake (John 3), we have the star coming out of Jacob (Matthew 2.2?).
Be afraid, be very afraid of finding Christ by maths, constellation studies, strange dating schemes or tea leaves (just slipped that last one in) or even helicopter like birds eye view pictures of the tabernacle encampment. And in the meantime Missler and his pal Ben Yakov just might become Cornhill illustrations….
Spring Ministers Conference
Our two Spring ministers conferences are just around the corner. We've invited Peter Adam over from Australia to help us with both of them and we're greatly looking forward to his insightful ministry, this year focusing on the book of Revelation, its importance in church life and help for how to preach it. Even if you're not preaching Revelation soon, you will benefit from his help and spending time with other guys wrestling with church life.
Our ministers' conferences are always an encouragement to me. It's a privilege for those serving in the local church to get together to build one another up. Being in ministry, even in a large team, can be a lonely existence. Humanly speaking we need friendships with those who are serving in the same kind of setting in order to be able to keep going and stay faithful. So, we make sure our conferences are warm and friendly places to be. There is some work – though the preparation of tackling a book in a small group with one presentation per delegate is hugely outweighed by the benefit you get from it. We make sure there is free time. We make sure the expositions are for expositors and both speak to hearts and inform preaching. And the food…..oh my!
The Younger Ministers conference (2-10 May) has literally only a couple of spaces – first come, first served! However, for the Senior Ministers conference (29 Apr – 2 May) we've still got some room. Do think about joining us and why not ask a local friend to come along. I find this is a great way to seal and build local friendships. The time investment is worth the return. And it is yet another way, as I blogged last Friday, of making sure we keep on track. I hope to see you there.