T4G: a few reflections: Celebrity Pastors
For the remainder of this week I'm going to offer a (very) few observations arising out of T4G. I had the privilege of going (along with a few other Brits). For a more detailed report you'll have to wait for next month's EN, but for now, here are my immediate thoughts – starting with the most contentious of issues – celebrity pastors.
It was brave of the organisers to tackle this subject with a panel discussion including Carl Trueman, the anti-celebrity celebrity. You can read Carl's surprising observations here. The video/audio is not up online yet (not sure if it will be) but for what it's worth Carl articulated two problems with the celebrity culture:
- it sets up false aspirational models for young men entering ministry which are deadly to their own ministries and often mean they leave ministry early and disappointed.
- it creates a disjoint between preaching and the local church. In the panel itself this issue was never really answered – and it is a particular issue of the internet age which does need tackling.
It's true that the US effusiveness on show here made this Brit, at least, cringe. During some of the introductions I was searching in vain for the vomit bag whilst all those around me were a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' (come on, this is Kentucky). But hold on a moment. Before we cast the stones let's remember we live in glass houses too. What are these guys doing on stage when they big one another up as they do?
First, as another Brit here helpfully pointed out to me, they are crossing tribal boundaries. There are people here from loads of different evangelical tribes. These long and effusive introductions serve a purpose. They give confidence to one tribe (e.g. Sovereign Grace) that a speaker from another is to be trusted and listened to.
But perhaps more importantly for us, they are also evidence of leaders being honoured (Phil 2.29 and 1 Tim 5.17). True, it's being done in a particular way that makes me feel uncomfortable. But surely our sin is of the other extreme? How rarely we honour those who deserve it! We have done this in the past. It is of the greatest irony that we Brits spent decades eulogising two men of national influence whom we spoke about in hushed terms (Llloyd-Jones and Stott). Our sadness now is that we have few national leaders to replace them. And could this be because we have not honoured where honour is due?
So, keep your stones in your pocket, I say.
The office is closed today and Easter Monday for the UK bank holiday weekend. But what a weekend! Every Sunday is a time to remember the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But having a weekend set apart to do that, in particular, is a great joy. For,
He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification (Romans 4.25)
If you want to learn Greek, there are lots of resources around. Corey Keating has a list of online resources here. Some of the links are worth following through. I learnt in a class using the classic Elements of New Testament Greek, now updated from the version I used. Truth is, I found this Basics of Biblical Greek workbook by Mounce more useful in its approach (which is more pragmatic than purist). Corey has a long list of many other resources and their various merits or otherwise here. The truth is, however, that the resource I use more than any other, is my Bible software. I use Logos, but other software gives you pretty much the same functionality. It allows me to click through to dictionaries, grammars etc very easily.
The danger, of course, is that such resources can make you lazy. So I still take a Greek Bible to church to read along every now and again (not every week). And when I print out a passage to work on I still print out a Greek column to refer to. To be honest, it's a discipline I find really quite difficult, but ultimately rewarding. Two points are worth emphasising:
- you're studying original languages to help you get to grips with the text better. That doesn't mean that Greek has to make it into your sermons. Our English Bible translations are good; you'd better have a good reason to undermine them in a sermon. And if it's just pride that's making you quote the original or say something like "it's slightly better in the original; let me give you my own translation" – then just STOP IT!
- I'm not sure (unless you're a highly disciplined scholar comfortable with languages) that there's any substitute for learning with someone. Even if it's a pair of you working through a book together, there's value. I'm very grateful for my friend Simon who – back in the day – always did better than me in Greek classes, but we sat next to one another and helped one another along. Cheers, mate!
Do languages matter….?
Does a preacher need original languages?
This post could go on for a long time. I think the simple answer is "no." Understanding original languages is not a qualification for being able to preach and teach God's people. History tells us that.
The more complex answer is "sort of." Now, at this point I have to nail my colours to the mast. My Greek is basic, but OK. Despite numerous attempts, my Hebrews is non existent. And as for my Aramaic…..
[Which I think kind of answers the question. Not many 'original language' proponents I know have good Aramaic, yet you need it for a couple of books of the BIble].
Anyhow. Sort of. That's my answer. I think there's a sliding scale. At the top of the scale is fluency in Biblical Languages. Great if you can get it. Of course it is. And it is one of the things that a college or seminary education can give you. Good teachers. Time to learn. Etc.
But what if you've only got one biblical language? That's helpful too. I think if you had to choose one, it should probably be NT Greek.
And failing that? I think a knowledge of how Biblical languages work is really, really helpful. For example, there are plenty of tools that will tell me the tense and voice and mood of various words. A basic knowledge of alphabet allows me to look up vocabulary in a dictionary.
And then? Tell your occasional preachers in church, the man who's never learnt a biblical language and never will be able to do, that that's all right. Tell him to have confidence in his English Bible. Tell him to use commentaries wisely. Tell him which ones to use which will help him.
I think the answer to the Biblical language question is "as much as you can manage; but it doesn't make you less of a preacher if you cannot." So, do languages matter. Yes. And no.
And over next few days we'll flag up a few resources we've used and found helpful.
Ephesians and the church on fire
I've just been doing the final editing for Teaching Ephesians, due out in a couple of months and ably written by Simon Austen. What I love about his book is that he relates everything in Ephesians (especially the well known passages) to the big ideas that are going on – especially the purposes of God in Christ and the power of the Spirit to make one new man – and that the church is the foretaste of the ultimate purposes of God – no wonder it attracts Satan's demonic activity. It is surprising how much difference this makes to well known passages ("be filled with the Spirit", "put on the full armour of God" even "wives, submit to your husbands"). I'm reminded once again that knowing how something fits into its context makes a big difference as we wrestle with both meaning and application.
The church, therefore, in all its wonder, is the present expression of eternity, a demonstration of where history is heading. She has been described as ‘God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future.’ But as such, the church is under attack. If it is by our love one for another that the world might see we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34, 35); if the church thereby becomes the most powerful apologetic for the gospel, then it will be the church which finds herself under attack. No wonder it is so difficult to ‘be church.’ Our battle to be what we are in Christ is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Satan does not want the church either to be formed (by gospel proclamation) or to live as it should (in gospel ethics). And he does not want the church to live as the church (what we might call ‘Gospel living’). And so we need the armour of God, the armour he gives to his Messiah in battle; the armour of Christ. As we put on his armour, as we understand who we are in Christ, so the battle can be won. For Christ has been exalted far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. It is in him that the battle to be the church is won. No wonder Paul is so keen to make it clear that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ and that we have been raised with him. We can be the church and we understand the significance of our identity being in him.
And so Ephesians does have a single theme, from which many implications flow; a theme of what it means to be the church, in Christ, reconciled and raised with him; and what that new community, created in the heavenly realms, should look like in the earthly realm. ‘A proper understanding of God’s intention in Christ has to do with each of these two spheres and what is represented by them, as well as the bond between the two.’
It is wonderfully heartening to know that the churches of which we are a part and within which we minister are not the irrelevant rumps that society would have us believe, but a profound picture of where history is heading and a living apologetic for the gospel. When we unlock Ephesians we set the church on fire.
Speeding up through the Exodus tabernacle passages
Hands up whose preached through Exodus and got faster when it comes to all the Tabernacle building regs (chapters 25-30). Thought so. Me too. But these chapters are hardly incidental. In fact, wondrously and almost beyond our imagining, the tabernacle they describe "what is in heaven" (Hebrews 8.5). "That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle, 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'"
So, back in Exodus, we need to have a fundamental shift in our thinking in order to do justice to what is going on. In the words of Ed Clowney (and I paraphrase): "At Sinai, God gave not only his law but his presence" – and that is why so much is written about the tabernacle. Now, slow down in those chapters, preacher.
A colourful phrase
I suggested on Tuesday that using notes allowed one to make use of one or two memorable phrases, phrases with colour and life and vitality. Here's one example I've just read in our forthcoming book Teaching Ephesians by Simon Austen. It is on the section Ephesians 6:10-20:
When the church lives as the church, Satan sniffs the smoke of the lake of fire (Rev 20).
Ooh! I love that. That is a phrase with colour and impact.
I was asked this week what books I was taking away at Easter (a week's holiday then a five day trip to the US for T4G, but back at home base for Good Friday and Easter Sunday). I must confess I hadn't given this too much thought and so listed some books I need to read for reviews and for possible EMA stage recommendations. I was rightly told by Mrs R when I got home that work books should stay at work. She was right. When you're in ministry you're reading a lot and I find it is actually quite hard to take Christian books away and not be in work mode – so in order to relax and unwind I need to take some non Christian stuff. Good old Mrs R. If you're a heavy reader AND you find it hard to leave work behind, I recommend this – at the very least take some Christian material that is very different from the normal kind of thing you might read. I know some mighty men read John Owen on the beach, but for most of us mere mortals, something else works better to refresh and recharge our minds as well as our hearts.
(Please no postcards about my lack of spirituality)
Here, then is my reading whilst I am away. Not sure how much of it I will manage, but I will have a go:
- Between the assassinations by Aravind Adiga. I enjoyed his first book (White Tiger) and I love anything about India
- Double Cross: Ben Macintyre: this is the story of double agents in WWII. I love anything he writes and this is right up my street.
- God is back: John Micklethwait. This is more of a thinking book about the resurgence of religion
- Stonemouth: Iain Banks. Never really been an Iain Bnks fan, but I'm going to try again
- Sugar Girls by Duncan Barrett. It's difficult to live in the east end of London and escape the Tate and Lyle factories down at the docks. I smell them as I cycle around. The syrup tin is not only the oldest recognisable trademark, but is also, to my knowledge, the only product in Sainsbury with a Bible text (and associated image) on it.
There, Robin, is your answer!
A few people have asked for examples of sermon notes. I'm extremely hesitant to do this because, quite simply, what works for me is unlikely to work for you. And vice versa. However, having written about sermon notes, I now feel under some sort of moral obligation to reveal my hand. Here are two kinds. The notes on the left I tend to use when I'm very familiar with my material which is not, sadly I confess, as often as it should be. The notes on the right are more common. I tend to use a full manuscript, as you can see, but I highlight certain words in my prep and tend to preach from the highlighted words. I used to go through a state of writing out just the highlighted words, but realised that I was only doing that for my own pride and satisfaction. For those interested, the notes on the right are annotated on an iPad from which I preach. Perhaps I might post on that another time. It will now be my life's work to get the notes of some of my colleagues onto the blog, as I don't want to face the ignominy alone.
Is preaching without notes the most authentic? Part 2
As a follow up to this post about preaching without notes, here are some more thoughts; I've had these because I've just listened to a recording of a sermon. I try to do this fairly regularly to keep in touch with guys and keep in touch with preaching. Contrary to what some people think, there is no PT model of preaching in terms of style etc and so listening to people preach is a great way of learning for oneself as well as hearing the general trends and issues that need addressing.
This particular sermon was one preached without notes and whereas my previous post was theoretical, this one is practical. I want to say again that preaching without notes is not necesarily more spiritual than preaching with. There is, of course, good preaching with notes and good preaching without. There is bad preaching with notes and bad preaching without. But preaching without notes, particularly if you're not suited to it, does not make the sermon necessarily better.
In this particular case, here are some of my observations. I make these cautiously. I wasn't there in person and I know that the Spirit of God takes even my rubbish words and uses them in preaching. Moreover there was lots of good content, it had all the right things. However:
- the sermon was very repetitive; key phrases kept resurfacing. Sometimes this is helpful; but at times it felt like these were just padding time and didn't add anything to the message
- there was little logical flow – more a series of separate ideas. Of course, good prep can negate this. As can even a very brief set of notes.
- sentences were often chopped in half. I'm not sure. Why this was. But it was. And after a while. It became annoying. It may be. Because the speaker. Was thinking of. His next line.
- there were no beautiful words. I know we're not making parliamentary speeches. And our speech needs to be for the farm boy as much as for the scholar. Nevertheless, as many great preachers have observed over the years – a nice phrase here and there with colour and warmth can really bring otherwise solid but uninspiring words alive. (There is a brilliant chapter here on Christian eloquence by John Piper)
- there was little variation. I like variation in tone and speed and volume. Sometimes using notes actually helps this – for example as a preacher feels a bit freer in a section he knows well
The observant will note, rightly, that none of these are necessarily faults of speaking without notes. I agree. And if someone is good at doing so, then all of them can be overcome. But interestingly, in this particular case, these weaknesses (which may be down to lack of confidence or experience) can all be overcome by using notes. So, I'm hestitant to make hard and fast rules for myself, let alone others. But preaching without notes is not the most authentic. This is true theoretically. It is true practically.