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Readers of this blog will know that here at PT we’re about expository preaching. As well as doing what Martin Luther said and ‘beating our heads against the text until it yields’, expository preachers need to have both a strong biblical theology and a clear systematic theology. My hunch is that here in the UK at least, we’re stronger on the former than the latter.
Perhaps part of the problem is that there still hasn’t been a show-stopping systematic theology since Louis Berkhof published his in 1932. In terms of good recent ones, the two main ones have been by Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) and Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith). If these were Bible translations, Grudem’s is like the NIV (very accessible but not altogether accurate), and Reymond’s is like the ESV (much safer and more consistently reformed, but less accessible).
Help may well have arrived in the shape of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology just released from Zondervan – The Christian Faith, a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. I am hoping to read it properly over the summer, but dipping in it seems both very reliable and highly readable. Two things have caught my attention so far. The first is that union with Christ – a strangely neglected Biblical theme – plays a prominent part in Horton’s scheme. And second that Horton has a great section on how Scripture is a covenant document.
I’ll let you know more fully how good this new systematic theology is once I have read it properly. But early indications are that it looks like it might be the Berkhof of the 21stCentury….
Carl Trueman’s Republocrat
I've just spent an enjoyable day reading Carl Trueman's Republocrat (it's not a long book). I didn't bother with it when it first came out because I thought it would be focused on the US political scene. But after a friend read it (and recommended that I read it too) and also after reading Guy Davies' review, I thought I would give it a try. In fact, although it does have a lot to say about the US scene, Carl also relates his observations to UK politics and politics/church life in general – stuff I found very stimulating and useful. Moreover, you don't need to agree with his conclusions to find that the book, as Michael Horton says in his commendation, "will delight, frustrate and encourage healthy discussions that we have needed to have for a long time."
Others have reviewed the book better than I could, but two observations struck me forcibly. The first is that the politics of the left has changed. It used to be interested in protecting the interests of those unable to speak up for themselves – the poor, the marginalised, the unemployed, the unhealthy and so on. But somewhere along the line, the oppressed changed. "Oppression was psychologised " (p10).
For someone like me, here lies the heart of the problem of the New Left; once the concerns of the Left shifted from material, empirical issues – hunger, thirst, nakedness, poverty, disease – to pyschological categories, the door was open to everyone to become a victim and for anyone with a lobby group to make his or her issue the Big One for this generation…..this is why media outrage that greets a perceived racist or homophobic comment often far outstrips that which greets scenes of poverty and famine…
The second, almost by-the-way, observation is to do with church membership. Again, the boy Carl is noticeably perceptive:
There are those, of course, who argue that church membership is not mentioned in Scripture and therefore unbiblical. This is not the place to address this objection; suffice it here to say that church membership is the practical expression of clear principles of commitment to one another and respect for an established leadership, which are both stated in the Bible. The real problem, I suspect, with many who argue that church membership is unbiblical is not that their consciences are wounded by the notion, but rather that they want to avoid commitment. They want to treat the church as they treat, say, a supermarket or a cinema; they go along and take what they need without the troublesome issues created by a personal commitment.
The book has much more to it than these two (almsot incidental) insights, of course. I loved reading it and found it very stimulating and warmly commend it.
Carl is coming to our November autumn ministers conference for which booking is now open.
EMA 2011 – David Foster Wallace quote
I've also had a few emails asking for the David Foster Wallace quote. Wallace was an avowed atheist who committed suicide in 2008. Keller says this is a useful quote in evangelism. It is taken from a Wall Street Journal article – you can read the whole article here.
Because there's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
EMA prayer (and public praying)
I've had a couple of emails this morning about the opening prayer on Day 2 of the EMA. Is it written down somewhere – i.e. did I nick it! Well, yes… and no. I';m a great believer in public prayer of writing out prayers or at least where prayers are going. I find that helps my extempore praying when I lead churches from the front. It makes sure I am theologically accurate and trinitarian and warmly pastoral – or at least, it's an attempt to do so. So, yes, I the prayer is written out, but no, I didn't nick it from anywhere. It's all my own work, honest. Here is it, if you're interested (or something like it, as a sermon manuscript, I don't stick to it completely):
Almighty God and everlasting Father; we stand in wonder at the amazing grace you have shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ;
For you are mighty, over all the universe;
You are holy, without any sin or deceit;
You are awesome, your word is sufficient to create planets and stars;
You are majestic, ruling and reigning over your creation;
You, O Lord God, are high and lifted up.
And what are we? What is man that you are mindful of him? What is man that you care for him?
And yet, we praise you that you, the high and exalted One have, in your gracious plan lifted man up and crowned him with glory and honour. But, O Lord, we don't see it yet. O, we long for the day when we see it – but we don't see it yet.
But we do see Jesus. Thank you that we see Jesus. Thank you that we see the One who was made a little lower than the angels for a little while;
Thank you that we see the One who was cut off for sins but not his own;
Thank you that we see the One who has swallowed up Satan and his pretended throne;
Thank you that we see the One who gives us his merits;
Thank you for helping us see Jesus.
Today, help us to see more of him. By your Spirit help us to know how to serve him. In your word help us to hear his voice.
Almighty God and everlasting Father; we stand in wonder at the amazing grace you have shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his name. Amen.
EMA 2011 Peterson Acts quote
Keller referred several times to David Peterson's Acts commentary (in the Pillar series). Sadly, we only had a couple in the bookshop becasue (a) we didn't know he was going to refer to it and (b) it's a £45 book (which, BTW is a little steep). Here is the relevant passage:
The speeches in Acts are framed in a way that suits their context. and each has distinctive elements that could be identified with the speaker concerned. There are also common features in the mission speeches to Jewish audiences, which include the fulfillment of scriptural promises regarding God's covenant promises and Davidis kingship….the saving significance of Jesus' life, death and resurrection-ascension….and a call to turn to Jesus with faith (or to repent) and recent the benefits…..Luke's two specific examples of preaching to pagan audiences begin by asserting a doctrine of creation in opposition to a polytheistic and idolatrous worldview.
Tim used this as part of his scriptural evidence for contextualisation (a word he used cautiously). The commentary may be £45 but it is a stonker!
A different kind of mid week meeting
Anybody in church ministry knows that it can be hard to make midweek meetings work. Substandard Bible leaders, unenthusiastic members, tired contributors, bypath meadows – these are the bane of small groups. Thankfully there are lots of good materials to help and some churches which model excellent midweek groups – e.g. St Helen's just up the road from us. But, increasingly, I think there is not one size fits all. Here's something we did for a few years back at our old church and we are now putting into place in one of the groups at my current church.
- We read Sunday's passage together
- We review the sermon. Did we understand it? What were the main points? Can we explain it to those who were absent?
- We spend some time in the passage answering 3 or 4 application questions that arise from the sermon
- We pray it in – specifically, intentionally and for one another
- We share pastoral concerns and encourage one another, praying for one another.
There are some immediately obvious advantages:
- it reinforces the whole church Sunday teaching
- it helps those who missed it
- it helps sharpen the application from the general to the specific
- it is easier at the end of a long working day
- it enourages us to support one another pastorally/spiritually
- it is easier to lead
I know several churches who do it. Perhaps (and I only say this if you are struggling in small groups), it's worth a try?
EMA 2011 music
Quite a lot of people have asked me for a list of the things we sung at this year's EMA – so here goes. Where they are available online, I've linked to the source. I've done them in the order we sang them. Hymn words we tend to sing from Praise! (which means slightly modernised words). For the hymns I've put the names of the tunes in brackets.
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Neander)(Lobe den Herren)
- The grace of my God (Giles)
- Your blood speaks a better word (Redman) with a verse/chorus of When peace like a river (Spafford)
- O Church arise (Townend/Getty)
- Yes, finished the Messiah dies (Wesley, tune by John Kelly)
- Hear the call of the kingdom (Townend/Getty)
- Behold our God (Altrogge/Baird)
- Alas! And did my Saviour bleed (Watts)(Crimond)
- Your glorious cause, O Lord (Kauflin)
- Preachers of the God of grace (Idle)(Aberystwyth)
- God of majesty and splendour (Alan Clifford)(Regent Square)
- Loved before the dawn of time (Townend/Small)
- Sovereign Lord, we sing your glory (Ninnis)(Abbots Leigh)
Carson article from EMA
What has the internet done for you?
David Wells second session at the EMA yesterday was about the effects of the internet. Sadly, I couldn't get to it all (conference director's plague) and I will have to catch up with the video/audio recording. But I did note down this interesting thought which got me thinking about things webbish. David had been explaining how technology has annihilated distance. You no longer "have to be there to know." Community, he said, has been a real casualty and we have replaced community with proximity thinking that if we are near people we are in a community with them (has significant implications for church life). This is the statement that got me thinking though:
We give the psychological appearance of omniscience because we have technological omnipresence.