The language of a sermon
This Sunday, one of our congregation came up to me after I had preached Jude 20-25 and said "nice speech, pastor." I was a little bemused. I suppose, in some ways, my sermon was a speech – I was speaking. But a sermon is more than a speech or a talk or an address. I understand that we might use those terms on occasion, especially with unbelievers present. But we mustn't be ashamed of proclamation language. Like many others, I recoil when, as a preacher, I am introduced with "now Adrian is going to explain the Bible to us" or "now Adrian is going to come and talk." A sermon is not less than those things, but it is certainly more.
And the danger of reduced language is that it soon becomes a reality. Introduce me too many times with the "explain the Bible" thing and, after a while, I might just start doing that and nothing else. We have a South African evangelist in our church – a great man! – and when he is leading the service, he always says, "now Adrian is going to come and preach to us." I like that. He's not ashamed of what preaching is and what a sermon should be. And neither must we be. Moreoever, we have to teach our congregations to believe that a sermon is more than a talk or a speech. It's only when they understand this (humanly speaking) that they will pray, listen and act on God's word as we pray and long that they would.
How to read the Bible through the Jesus lens
This is a book I really wanted to like. Each book of the Bible is taken in turn and using a biblical theological framework the theme of the book is explained (in a pithy sentence) together with what the author calls "the Jesus lens" (essentially how the book relates to Christ) and "contemporary applications" (which does what it says on the tin). The idea is great – imagine a well presented, short-ish (250pp) summary of Bible books that would be useful on your own bookshelf and something you might want to give to others.
Does it work, though?
Here in the office we haven't read it all through. What we've done is take the two or three books that we're working on in detail at the moment and read those chapters. It's those books we're best placed on to comment, otherwise we're just commenting as generalists.
First of all, I looked at Ezra, my current study project. The Ezra chapter is good, theme "God brings the exiles back to Jerusalem and directs that the temple should be built" gets a thumbs up. The lines to Christ are appropriately drawn (new kind of temple, new kind of building etc) and the applications are sharp. A good start. Then I turned to Numbers. This chapter is poorer, though it still has useful stuff in it. The theme is weaker, "God chastens his disobedient people but reaffirms his intent to bring them into the promised land." Scripture is much blunter about this disobedience and it is telling that in this chapter Michael Williams refers neither to 1 Cor 10 nor Hebrews 3/4, two of the major commentaries on Numbers in the NT.
Robin looked at Leviticus. Proverbs and 1 Corinthians. He's much cleverer than me, so he has these three projects on the go at the same time. He thought the analysis in each of these chapters was warm, but not quite spot on; it could be sharper.
Christoph Christopherson thought the chapter on Job good, though once again the theme sentence was a bit thin. He said that four pages on the psalms is always going to be a struggle to do justice to a diverse book, but it was particularly weaker here on lines to Christ. Good on John, he said, but weaker on Romans. He did have a quick flick through Deuteronomy and said the Jesus lens section there was excellent.
So, all in all a book we really wanted to like. The direction and aim are admirable – but for us it didn't quite click. More B than A student, we might say. That's not to say that it might not serve a purpose, particularly with those starting out reading the Bible for themselves. But we hoped for a little more…
Weakness and authority in preaching
I have been reading very slowly through 2 Corinthians in my personal bible reading; it has been doing me a lot of good. In chapter 13, Paul is grappling with the tension between weakness and strength in a matter of apostolic discipline in the church. They were asking (v3) for proof that Christ was speaking through Paul. Then he says of Christ that, "He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him in our dealing with you."
Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2012
Here are some fascinating EMA stats:
- in the last twenty years over 5,500 different people have attended the EMA
- in the last five years over 2,500 different people have attended the EMA
- last year we welcomed over 300 new delegates
Perhaps that all sounds a little daunting? Maybe, but it's a cause for great rejoicing too. It's still a drop in the ocean of course, but praise God that younger men are being raised up to serve in local churches. And just like local churches we have to work hard to make everybody welcome. Just like newcomers in the church, we want to welcome, integrate, listen and grow to depend on those who have been around for less time than we have. It's the same for us all at the EMA. We plan hard to make it enjoyable and useful for everyone, newcomer or not.
And it's also why, in 2013, we're on the move to a bigger venue with – and this is key – bigger networking and meeting space, so that seeing friends and making new ones continues to be a key part of the EMA. For the moment, places are filling up at this year's event. We need to know how to preach to the heart; who can say that they have this sorted? So make a date to be with us, we look forward to seeing you whether it's the first time you've been or the 29th.
Books of the Bible like never before
Don't normally link to things from Challies blog – everyone reads it anyway!! But, just in case you missed it, this is very pleasing indeed. Free downloads in high quality.
It's a great joy to have David Cook back with us. David is the recently retired principal of the Sydney Missionary and Bible College and he will be leading three evenings on the book of Acts this Spring. The session will run on Mondays 16th, 23rd and 30th April from 6.30pm until around 9pm. Each evening costs £12 and includes light supper and refreshments. The evenings are great for getting a handle on the book of Acts and some of the issues that arise when teaching it. As such it will be suitable for anybody with teaching or preaching responsibilities, including occasional preachers and group study leaders. Why not encourage your teams to come along if they are within reach of London? Let's make the most of David whilst he is here! Book here.
Preaching for your heart
Here is Vaughan Roberts at the Women in Ministry conference last month, preaching on the heart. Session 1 is a biblical overview on the heart, then session 2 a sermon on Psalm 27 and session 3 a sermon on John 4. Important, and worth your time, for the sake of your own heart…..
Enjoyed an evening at the opera (*) last week with Mrs R. I say 'enjoyed' but it all actually ended in disappointment. It was fine, lovely even, almost until the very last minute. We went to see Mozart's Don Giovanni which is the tale of a serial cad, the Don, who spends his whole time seducing (and even murdering to help his cause). No shame or regret even though he leaves a trail of battered women behind him. As the opera builds to a climax this trail gets longer and longer. FInally, his murder victim (the father of one of his conquests) appears and drags him down to hell. The cast reappear on stage rejoicing in his judgement and warning the audience not to think they can get away with such immorality.
It was good up to this point. But then, right at the end, the curtain dropped away to reveal hell itself where we saw Don Giovanni grinning from ear to ear with holding a woman in his arms. Hell had been rewritten for the 21st century as the place where evil doers get to keep on doing the things they love, rather than suffering the consequence of their rebellion against God. The audience cheered. Good old Don, good on him. Bravo!
I don't think either Mozart or the librettist (da Ponte) were particularly moral, but they lived in times when people believed actions had consequences. Today we have the caricature of hell being a place where we can spend an eternity doing all the wrong things (which, let's face it, are the fun things after all) we've spent a lifetime doing; that's not so bad. It makes preaching on hell hard work. There is a whole lot to undo, even if people get the idea of eternity in the first place.
Strangely, this was also the subject of the very first EMA I attended – 1994, I think, over in Westminster Central Hall. I was working in the city, but had been taken along by my pastor as he tried to encourage me into ministry (it failed). Bruce Milne expounded this very topic, later it became an excellent book, the BST guide to heaven and hell.
* for those worried about this pretentious hobby, this is (almost) my only one.
Book review: The hardest sermons you’ll ever have to preach
I've not long finished reading this excellent book. It's a collection of sermons (twenty five of them), together with some short explanatory introductions preached on a variety of occasions. Most are funerals (death of a child, miscarriage, sudden death, murder) etc, situations that one hopes never to have to deal with and when one does, is almost always underprepared. These funeral sermons make up the bulk of the chapters. Then there are some extras like national tragedy, celebrity death and so on. It's a moving book because each sermon (even though the names are sometimes changed) are all grounded in real situations, many of which are individual tragedies. It's also a hard book to read – imagine downloading 25 funeral sermons and sitting through them all.
But it's ultimately worth it for the thinking process behind individual sermons and the way that the pastors choose texts and expound them. I think it's a book worth having, even if you only turn it to once or twice in a pastoral lifetime. But it does have flaws. Few of the sermons are truly expository. I think that's a shame. I can understand how funeral sermons, in particular, call for a very special kind of preaching; but I cannot see why we are so loathe to drop a method we believe in so fervently for every other kind of preaching. Preach on a text by all means, but do the same work, even if you use different language. My best funeral sermons, humanly speaking, have been those where I have stuck to the text.
My second problem with the book is that it seems to take for granted, for the most part, the salvation of those who die in childbirth or those with learning difficulties. I realise that this is a relatively orthodox position within evangelicalism, but not everyone holds it (including me). It makes funeral preaching in some circumstances very difficult; but I'm uncomfortable with the implied inclusivism that the position necessitates. Perhaps a book like this is not the place to address the issue, but I would have liked to see some of the chapters represent a different position.
Still, all said and done, it's worth the cover price.
Spring Younger Ministers Conference
This year's Spring Younger Ministers Conference takes place from Tuesday 8th May to Friday 11th May. We've got David Cook and Evangelist/Historian John Dickson coming (both from Australia). It's almost full, so if you're planning on coming (or know someone who is) please do book soon to avoid disappointment. There are about 8 or 9 places left. See you there. Book here. If you've not been before, the conferences are a great way to meet with others and keep fresh in the task of Christian ministry. And the sun normally shines….