Now, here's an interesting idea. Some churches/groups struggle in meetings without music even though they would like some. There's now an iPhone/iPad app that provides music for songs and hymns broken down into sections and the user can select which section to play in which order, even changing in the middle of a song. The tracks are mixable, so you can have vocals or no vocals, guitars or no guitars etc. It seems really high quality and the transitions between different segments are seamless. There's one free track at the moment – and though it is not a song I would necessarily choose, it displays the abilities of the app very ably. It can also project song words. Each song is not cheap, at £1.49 each. But once you have spent the investment, you have a really good resource. I'm liking this a lot and can imagine situations where it would be very useful – e.g. when we sing in our small fellowship groups (you do this too, right?). Importantly, you can tailor each song to your own style. So if you're dependent on a recorded track you don't have to follow their set up, instrumentation, or repeat pattern. Result. Oh, and it's fun to use!!
More info here or search for iSingWorship in the app store (app is free).
Princeton Library online
The Princeton online library is an enormous and valuable resource. It is full of rare and useful books, over 55,000 of which have been digitsed. I have been reading, for example, The war and preaching by John Kelman, lectures given at Princeton during WWI. The later chapters have got some great stuff. Here's some advice about spending too much time on the art of preaching rather than the content…
Conscious art in preaching is doubly dangerous. It is dangerous to the preacher. Such a state of mind in the preacher obviously distracts his attention from the main purpose of his work. We have enumerated here three objects of preaching: testimony, education and appeal. But none of these can be rightly attained so long as the preacher is also aiming at creating an impression by his art. That can never be a legitimate object of preaching, and it has ruined many an able sermon.
But sermons which reveal the art with which they are composed are equally dangerous with respect to those who listen to them. Hatch's Lectures are full of the most startling suggestion as to this in their descriptions of those long sermons of the sophists that were delivered for the sake of the applause they drew…He reaches his climax in the account of Gregory of Nazianzus' greatest sermon, where his audience was so wedded to its search for art and not for conviction, thatr he broke forth in despair in his closing sentence, 'Farewell – ye are nearly all of you unfaithful to God' which the congregation greeted with a final outburst of applause.
Not the end of books
First up a confession. I love books. I love the feel. I love the smell (especially of old books). I love the crack when I break the spine of a new book in order to read it comfortably. But I'm no technophobe. I also have a kindle and read books on that and Mrs R, for one, is glad that there is now more luggage space on holiday rather than having to lug 20 hardbacks away with us.
So, I was saddened but not surprised to read last week that the Encylopaedia Britannica will be no more. When stocks of the current run (about six months worth) are depleted that will be it. It's certainly the end of an era. But it's not the end of books. You see the world wide net is brilliant for some kinds of books – chiefly reference and searchable resources. But it is not, and nor will be soon, the medium of choice for reading. The interweb undoubtedly helps my sermon prep – and I'm not talking about sermoncentral.com. Check a fact here. Brush up on a news story for an illustration there. Around the periphery it is immensely useful.
But at the heart, despite loving technology, my sermon prep is still paper based. And, though I have eBibles, my Bible will always be so. I may use an iPad for notes, but I will stand in the pulpit with a Bible in my hand.
And, as an article in the Times said last week, that's good news on more than one level:
“I am a bit heartbroken,” said AJ Jacobs, who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for his book The Know-it-all. “I loved the idea that all the world’s knowledge could be contained in those pages.”
The explorer Ernest Shackleton took a volume on his doomed expedition to Antarctica and is said to have burned it page by page to keep warm.
“You can’t do that with the internet,” Mr Jacobs said.
Is preaching without notes the most authentic?
In the IX marks journal there is a largely positive review of David Murray's How sermons work. I enjoyed the book (five of your English pounds well spent), but there were one or two places where I did not agree entirely with the point being made. I notice that Aaron Menikoff (the IX Marks reviewer) thinks the same:
Is it true that the preachers deemed most “authentic” shy away from sermon notes? I don’t think so. Yet Murray warns preachers not to use exhaustive manuscripts since “this age prefers to be spoken to personally and relationally. There is nothing more authentic than a man preaching eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart, without anything intervening” (149). This is a small point and it’s hardly crucial to Murray’s task. Still, it is a point I hear regularly, and I’m not sure it is accurate. Authenticity in preaching does not stem from the use or lack of notes, but from a preacher so engaged in the Word, so convinced of its relevance for today, so gripped himself by the power of the gospel, that his conviction is powerfully and spiritually evident—notes or no notes.
Two of our favourite online journals have new issues out and are worth checking out.
- The new edition of Credo is about mission and reads like an old fashioned missionary mag. I love it. A particularly moving article about Spain and the need there (so close to home), plus some good book reviews. Nicely presented too.
- The latest 9 marks journal is all about conversion and I read some really helpful stuff here. A really good (although short) article about the corporate nature of conversion and another on why putting belonging before believing is so dangerous. Both must reads. Here's an excerpt from the first article:
There can be no true reconciliation between humans until individual sinners first reconcile with God. The horizontal necessarily follows the vertical. Ecclesiology necessarily follows soteriology. Which is to say, the corporate element must not come first, lest we lose the whole thing. But it must come. Indeed, the corporate component must remain within the structure of the doctrine of conversion itself. Our corporate unity in Christ is not just an implication of conversion, it’s part of the very thing. Being reconciled to God’s people is distinct from but inseparable from being reconciled to God.
Resources for the psalms
I've posted a few times in the last week about the difficulty of preaching from the psalms. I maintain that they are not easy Bible passages to expound well, especially as we seek to faithfully proclaim Christ from all the Scriptures. Here's a book I've found remarkably helpful in thinking about understanding the psalms well and knowing how to preach them. It's Geoffrey Grogan's Prayer, Praise and Prophecy. Geoffrey died recently, but this volume is a great testimony to his love of the psalms and his desire that they be taught faithfully. This is what Dale Ralph Davis says about it:
Grogan has digested a mass of Psalms research and yet releases it in the most palatable and useful doses. I profited immensely from his treatment of the literary design of the Psalter; he helps us see in the psalms a consciously coherent work in five books rather than random bits of poetry. If I were teaching a course on the psalms, this would be my textbook.
It's hardback, and therefore not cheap. But what you will find between the boards is worth its weight in the coinage you will disburse.
ekklesia: just a few facts
Here's are some interesting facts based on my trusty Logos software:
- Uses of ekklesia in NT: 114
- translated as church/churches 108 times (ESV)
- translated as assembly 4 times
- translated as congregation 2 times (including, significantly, Acts 7.38)
- Uses of ekklesia in LXX: 100
- most of time it translates Hebrew qhl
- qhl (114 occurrences) translated assembly 90 of those times
- qhl never translated church
I think there are some missing links! Interesting too that Tyndale realised that church was a loaded word and only used it twice, once in Acts 14:13 and once in Acts 19:37. Quite a different context if you go and check those references out! Without wanting to get into arguments about replacement theology (terribly named), there is, whatever your position, a clear continuity between the people of God of the Old Testament and the New. Of course, we need to see that via Christ and his crucified work. Nevertheless, language carries over.
My only comfort
We saw last week that it was important to remember that the Old Covenant is not the New. This is especially true, I suggested, with some of the Old Covenant promises which only find their fulfillment in the New Creation, where they are gloriously and abundantly shown to be true and real. But we live in the 'not yet', not just the 'now.' Take the whole question of protection and the Lord's promise to save.
For example, take Psalm 55.16: "But I call to God and the Lord will save me." That might seem like a great comfort when we're struggling in life – perhaps someone doesn't like our preaching? Perhaps there is a church leader against us? Perhaps a close friend (like the situation in Psalm 55) has turned against us? Perhaps the persecution is not just words, but actions too. I know church leaders who face such things, even in the UK.
What then? Can we simply pray in Psalm 55.16 into our situation? I really believe we can cry out, "Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy" (verse 1). But the promise to save now is not, I would suggest, one for ours to claim as it was for David. Not in this life. And yet, many people assume that is precisely what God has promised. However, the facts do not bear out that interpretation; God universally saves now? Try telling that to the widow of Graham Staines and his two sons (d. 1999). Try telling that to the family of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (d.1945). Etc. Etc.
So, is there no comfort?
- Yes, there is eternal comfort: God's promise is fulfilled ultimately and supremely and finally in our resurrection into Christ.
- But there is immediate comfort too. Though God does miraculously preserve us, oftentimes when we don't even call to him, that is not our promise. Our immediate comfort is in the sovereignty of God. The comfort is that he is the Almighty. The comfort is that whatever happens to us is for our good.
Joshua Harris and the Simeon Trust
An interesting testimony here from Joshua Harris about preaching workshops that they run with the Simeon Trust. Like us, the Simeon Trust try to work on expository preaching with those attending; they work in the US, we work in the UK. Our preachers conferences are thus very similar, and you can still book onto our Senior Ministers conference in May here or there are one or two places left at the Younger Ministers conference which you can book onto here.
Why preachers give up on expository preaching
Just looking through some books for the EMA and I've just started reading this one: a collection of contributions edited by Carson and Keller entitled The Gospel at Center. In the opening chapter, there is a discussion about why people are rejecting evangelical Christianity and our response. I'm particular interested with their comment on expository preaching:
Over the last few years there has been a major push to abandon expository preaching for what is loosely called "narrative" preaching. The diagnosis goes something like this:
These are postmodern times, marked by the collapse of confidence in the Enlightenment project and a rational certainty about "truth". So now hearers are more intuitive than logical; they are reached more through images and stories than through propositions and principles. They are also allergic to authoritarian declarations. We must adapt to the less rational, non-authoritarian, narrative hungry sensibilities of our time.
In our understanding, it is a great mistake to jettison expository preaching in this way. But in some quarters, the response goes something like this: "Because postmodern people don't like our kind of preaching, we are going to give them more of it than ever." They are unwilling to admit that much conventional use of the expository method has tended to be pretty abstract, quite wooden and not related to life. It is also true that many traditional expository preachers like the "neatness" of preaching through the Epistles instead of the vivid visions and narratives of the Old Testament. But most importantly, expository preaching fails if it does not tie in every text, even the most discursive, into the great story of the gospel and mission of Jesus Christ.