The boy Glen with his superb gospel presentation.
Inner London/Colchester Gospel Partnership Preachers Day
There's still time to book on for this Saturday's Preachers Day held here at London Bridge. Organised with the Inner London Gospel Partnership it's suitable for anybody within reach of London who wants help preaching or teaching. It will be suitable for occasional preachers (and even regular ones!), Bible study leaders and so on. At £10 it's excellent value and this year we have Nigel Styles teaching us on Ecclesiastes. It's great material and we thoroughly commend the day. Why not, even at this short notice, make an effort to come and grow in your Bible handling skills? We look forward to seeing you. Book here.
We've also organised a day with the East Anglia Gospel Partnership on the same day in Colchester. This one will be led by Jonathan Griffiths, our resident Hebrews expert and will be on….Hebrews. Previous days in Colchester have been a great success. Come and join us again to see how to preach and teach this really important New Testament book. Book here.
Pod on Channel 4: Excellent
Did you see Pod from UCCF on Channel 4 forethought? Superb.
It's not about what I prefer to believe or wish were true, but what I'm persuaded of is true.
Sorry, I can't embed – but you can watch it here.
Delivering a sermon
Whilst teaching international students last week I sat through an interesting presentation on sermon delivery with some obvious but helpful wisdom. The presenter outlined four principles for sermon delivery (my summary in brackets):
- not too slow and not too fast (i.e. good pace)
- not too high and not too low (i.e. good tone)
- not too soft and not too loud (i.e. good volume)
- not all the same (i.e. variation of above)
Helpful. And what if we struggle in these areas? Ask for help! Get a good friend to point things out to you. Create a culture in church where the preacher gets some feedback (this is not the same as inviting the whole congregation to do this!). And, in fact, you will quickly work things out. Go round and visit people in your church and ask them what they remember from last week's sermon, any questions they want to ask etc, and you will soon find out what people have been taking in and whether your delivery works. It's not rocket science, but it is foundational.
The preacher’s Bible
I once heard the Seattle pastor (whose name we don't seem to mention so much now) make a very helpful observation for pastors. Get yourself a good preaching Bible. I have often thought about this, and I guess to some extent it depends on your preaching style, but if you're the kind of pastor who likes to have a Bible in hand (either all the time or from time to time), it's worth some thought. Here are some observations:
- Obviously you want to have a Bible in the translation your church is using. But that's not quite as simple as it sounds. I think you want to have a Bible in the exact version your church is using – e.g. it may confuse people if you're preaching from a US English ESV and the church Bibles are anglicised. Little things may distract from your sermon. If you can get a Bible with the same pagination, then all well and good. The new UK's NIVs do this very well.
- Try to avoid a red letter Bible – there are theological reasons for this, but I don't want to make that point now. They can also be hard to read in less than perfect light. Black type is easier to scan, pick up and see in all kinds of light conditions.
- Avoid a Bible that is too heavy. Your arm will drop off. In fact, you don't need one with cross references etc – not for preaching.
- Go for 10 point text or more. Otherwise you will find it a strain.
- Leather is nice but not necessary. If you want a softback you get sometimes get tru-tone Bibles which fold back easily and are relatively durable. If you prefer a hardback you are onto a significant saving.
- Curiously some leather is very stiff and not very forgiving. This is especially true of bonded leather. For example, the new NIV leather is a very stiff cover and is OK for holding Bible open, but if you're after "floppiness" it won't do.
All of this assumes, of course, that you're choosing your Bible for substance not style. It's not just a "nice thing" – it's the word of God and you want to choose a version that will aid the preaching of the word of God.
Generally, the best Bibles are also the most expensive. It's a sad fact. The best UK bindings are, without doubt, RL Allan's. You'll need a few bob, though. However, for something that will last and be comfortable in hand, there's little to beat it.
NT Wright in the Times
A couple of weeks ago there was a nonsense letter in the Times about Scripture, faith and reason being the pillars of the Anglican church, with the conclusion that we can only read the Bible in the light of Enlightenment (and in particular German critical) thinking. The point being, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have no place in the Anglican communion. NT Wright replied brilliantly, with a very helpful assessment of what tradition (not faith) and reason have in the place of the church – in essence, being tools to interpret Scripture, no more. His letter is worth repeating – especially if you're the kind of preacher that needs, from time to time, to demolish the liberal interpretation argument.
Sir, The Church of England, says Peter Nancarrow (letter, Oct 8), “rests upon scripture, faith and reason”. The normal trio is actually “scripture, tradition and reason”. Classic Anglican theology does not see these as equal and parallel “sources”, to be played off against one another. They are interlocking methods. As we read the scriptural accounts which converge upon Jesus (on whom alone the Church rests), we do so in an ongoing dialogue with tradition (what the Church has said down the years) and with the proper use of reason (ruling out arbitrary, fanciful or speculative readings). This remains a complex and exhilarating task, not to be captured by caricature. The idea that the so-called “wings” of the Church “deny the intellectual progress marked by the Enlightenment” ignores most of the leading theological and biblical studies of the last generation, which have taken on the Enlightenment’s proper questions but frequently come up with different answers. In any case, “the intellectual approach of the present age” is hardly that of the Enlightenment. The massive and multilayered critique offered by “postmodernity” on the one hand, and actual contemporary historical scholarship on the other, has refuted or made redundant many 19th-century critical theories, including those of the Tübingen school, cited by Mr Nancarrow. To suggest that a “middle liberalism”, in between the two “wings”, is the natural result of using one’s intellect to grapple with 1st-century texts must itself be challenged, as much in the name of “reason” itself as of scripture, tradition, or anything else.
The Right Rev Professor N. T. Wright, St Mary’s College, St Andrews
Good listening on iTunesU
We've launched a very small extension programme for Cornhill this year, targeted at those who, for whatever reasons, choose or are unable to go on to further study, but want to continue to learn. It's an exciting idea – and as part of it, I've been catching up with some of the excellent resources at iTunesU where several US colleges have put material online. This morning I walked over London Bridge (bike is sick) to the dulcet tones of Carl Trueman. He has a nice way of bringing history alive with asides and quips that make it enjoyable and instructive. Take this morning, on early medieval iconclasm. I paraphrase: "the way to get young men involved in church is to give them something to smash up and tell them they're doing it for the Lord." Tongue in cheek, of course, but brings Alcuin of York to life.
Here are three of the best (search through iTunes)
- Carl Trueman on Medieval Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary)
- David Wells Theological Survey (Gordon Conwell)(two series)
- John Frame on pastoral and social ethics (Reformed Theological Seminary)
When circumstances make us bonkers
I had to stay at home briefly the other morning to meet someone so, for a change, I was around for Radio 4's Thought for the Day. It was Lucy Winkett and – not to put too fine a point in it – she was bonkers. I'm not sure how much of what she said she actually believes, or how much she was trying to say Christian things in a way that people who weren't Christians understood. But it was still bonkers.
Before we cast too many stones, I'm sure that all of us shape what we say by circumstances. That's right and good, and part of being as wise as a serpent. But whilst circumstances should shape language and how we present things, it should not change the heart of what we say. We might want, at a funeral, say, to speak sensitively of the judgement to come, but we should not deny its reality.
It's a fine line. And in seeking to step carefully along it, I'm sure we often err both one and the other. But one thing is sure – if we start changing the gospel, however well meaning we may be – we are just as bonkers as Canon Lucy.
When you're studying a passage, inevitably you want to ask questions of the text to which there are not always answers. That's fine and good. And it's OK to think what the answers might be and whether they scan when comparing Scripture with Scripture. But it is easy to make too much of this kind of groundwork for application which must always be, at best, somewhat speculative.
Take Ezra 2, for example. It's a long list of names of those who returned to Jerusalem in 538BC. Names are grouped (broadly speaking) by leaders, geography, family and role and there are not a few mysteries. Take Nehemiah (Ezra 2.2). Who he? Could it be that the eponymous hero of the second part of this story made an early visit to Jerusalem? No wonder that he was so moved by the state of the capital in Nehemiah 1.
There's nothing in the immediate text to suggest yay or nay, but do some basic background work and you will discover that Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 1 in the year 445BC. Even if he were a very young adult leader in Ezra 2, that would make him at least 115 by the time of Nehemiah. Highly unlikely. That's a clear avenue of application to avoid.
But sometimes there are no answers. Take the small number of Levites who returned (compare Ezra 2.40 with Ezra 8.15-19 and 1 Chronicles 23). Why so few? I don't think there's a clear Scriptural answer. Fensham suggests that it may be because their work was lowly and so they didn't want to return. Possibly. but, do you see, there's no way of cross checking that fact, and so, I would suggest, that is not a legitimate line of application: "even if your work is lowly, you should still be committed to it."
It's not that it's unbiblical (See Col 3.23, for example). But it's not derived from the text and so it's you making a point, rather than God making a point, if you preach it that way.
Five things that have gone
Preachers are always behind the times. Here are five things no longer available, just in case you've forgotten. Many preachers do.
- Berni Inn. 1997.
- Russell Harty. 1988.
- Posthouse hotels. 1996.
- The Old Covenant. 33AD. Important one this. We cannot preach the Old Covenant. It is finished. When preaching from the Old Testament, therefore, we must preach the New Covenant. Duh!