Luther, preaching and the Universal Preaching Question
Mention "Luther" and "preaching" and the chances are you may be drawn into the debate about whether Luther believed in mediate regeneration. In particular it's this quote that gets people wondering:
I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble . . . I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.
Mediate regeneration is, essentially, that the word converts rather than the Spirit. Guy Davies has answered this critique here, here and here. It's not actually what I want to post on. Rather, I wanted to make the point that so much of the good stuff Luther believed about preaching has been lost in the cloud because of this worthy debate.
It was joyful, therefore, to hear Carl Trueman last week at New Word Alive. He took the church history stream and taught on four fairly eclectic characters: Athanasius, Luther, Pascal and J Gresham Machen. I was very struck by what he said about Luther – and here I paraphrase: "Justification by faith is about a key exchange between us and Christ. We receive Christ's life. He gets our death. But how does that exchange come to us? Through God's voice – through preaching. It's what makes preaching so critical. Preaching is powerful because it brings the very presence of God. That's a key idea in the Old Testament where the absence of God mirrored the absence of his words."
This preaching – a declaration that God has done certain things in Christ – is at the heart of Christian ministry. And it's why, at the end of every sermon, Luther wanted to ask himself the question, "Have I taken people to the Lord Jesus Christ?"
And it doesn't matter what you think about mediate regeneration, or if you even understand it, that is surely the Universal Preaching Question.
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The motivation for “Christ’s glorious preacher”
Ooh, this is convicting for every preacher, isn't it?
Let therefore the man who undertakes the strain of teaching never give heed to the good opinion of the outside world, nor be dejected in soul on account of such persons, but labouring at his sermons so that he may please God (for let this alone be his rule and determination in discharging the best kind of workmanship, not acclamation, not good opinions) if, indeed, he be praised by men let him not repudiate their applause and when his hearers do not offer this, let him not seek it, let him not grieve for it. For a sufficient consolation in his labours, and one greater than all, is when he is able to be conscious of arranging and ordering his teaching with a view to pleasing God. Chrysostom, On the priesthood, v.7
Old John (344-407) was "one of the most glorious preachers of the early church, or indeed of the church in any age" says Nick Needham (2,000 Years of Christ's Power Volume 1, p234) and then he quotes Chrysostom's commentary on Genesis to show how, had he been living today, I like to think he would have been a PT boy (!).
I know the principles of allegory from the writings of others. Some preachers will not admit the ordinary meaning of the Scriptures. They will not call water 'water' but something else. They interpret a plant or a fish according to the fancy of their own imagination; they change reptiles and wild beasts into something allegorical just like those who interpret the meaning of dreams according to their own personal ideas. But when I hear the word grass, I understand that it means 'grass.'
He was fighting the Alexandrian method (allegorical) and was a great believer in what we would now call the grammactical-historical method (sometimes called the Antiochene method). As things developed it was these two different opinions that led to some of the great controversies about the nature of Christ. The Antiochenes took a literal view of Christ's humanity and so, at worst, split apart his two natures. The Alexandrians took a more allegorical view and considered the humanity of Christ, at worst, almost an allegory of his actual divine being.
Still, all sorted now….!!
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David Cook at New Word Alive
Today is the last day of UK Christian holiday/festival New Word Alive. It's normally a great time away. However, I'm writing this post before the event, so I can't say whether 2011 is as good as previous years…but I prophesy with confidence that it may well be! We have a great speaker lined up this week – David Cook from Sydney Missionary Bible College. David is also a PT author and his book Teaching Acts is one of our best sellers. You can buy it online here. Look out for a new pocket version Introducing Acts hopefully coming soon…….
Bock on Luke
Our Cornhill students are currently doing some practice classes with evangelistic messages – not easy. This week they're using Luke's gospel and I've been doing some prep using Darrell Bock's excellent resources. Some authors are clearly specialists in one particular book, and Bock's is clearly Luke. Bock is professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and a great evangelical scholar. What I love about his work is that it is written at different levels which means that whatever your budget, you can access some of his work on Luke. This variety is good, because as you are about to see, a deep wallet is needed to own and read some of his work.
- Top of the pile is the two volume Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. These will set you back £72!! (If you have Logos and you buy them as ebooks you will pay even more – $120 which is equivalent to about £74). But these are cracking resources which will pay off in the long run. An alternative is to search around for second hand volumes – Amazon has some from £27 per volume. (BTW, Bock has also contributed the Acts volume in this series).
- More accessible and in one volume is the IVP New Testament Commentary. I find these of variable quality, but this one is good. It's yours for £12.99, newly out in paperback.
- Bock has also written the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary for Luke. Again, these are of variable quality, but Bock's volume on Luke is mostly very helpful indeed. RRP £17.99.
There's something for every preacher of Luke from his pen. All helpful. Here's what Carson has to say:
The Gospel of Luke is now well served by several major commentaries. Pride of place goes to the two volumes of Darrell Bock. it is recent, comprehensive, well written and intelligent. If you buy this one by Bock you do not need the other two commentaries on Luke that he has written….Bock's entry to the NIV Application series is one of the stronger volumes… (New Testament Commentary Survey Fifth Edition)
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PT Media Papers
There are three media papers on the PT website, all available as free downloads. We don't really produce these any more, but these three are top quality.
Sinclair Ferguson has written an excellent paper on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. This knotty issue that perplexes many ministers (and is a regular question on conferences and Cornhill) is addressed briefly but thoroughly by Sinclair. Well worth a look.
Willie Philip, now at St George's Tron and running Cornhill Scotland has written two papers, both excellent in their own way. The first addresses the whole question of biblical preaching. Don't think you know it all – this paper will reinforce the important place that preaching should have in any ministry. Even if it does not contain anything new for you, you will still find it stirring. His second is about preaching the OT Law. Now, Willie is a good presbyterian and I'm not sure he and I would agree on everything to do with the Law, I'm not entirely Westminster Standard on this. I guess many Christians would have slightly different views on the nuances of how we use the law etc. However, even for someone like me, there is a whole heap of stuff in this brief paper which is useful and helpful and I commend it warmly.
EMA 2007 audio from Tim Keller, Dick Lucas, Vaughan Roberts and others now free
‘Where there is smoke, there is fire. Criticisms are never completely baseless’
In the run up to this year’s EMA, we have just made the audio from EMA 2007 free to download. If you haven't been before, it’s a great foretaste of this year’s conference – especially as 2007 was the last time that Tim Keller spoke, and he’ll be back this year.
All the conference audio is available. The plenary sessions by Tim Keller focus on what it really means to be an Evangelical. Against a background of criticism from the wider world outside our movement, and fragmentation within it, it matters more than ever that we know exactly why we are evangelicals. And if we really believe these things, then they must shape our ministries and overcome our own cultural prejudices and failings.
The rest of the conference includes Dick Lucas taking us through Philippians; Vaughan Roberts looking at Daniel; Richard Cunningham on Persuasive Preaching; David Jackman on Training in the local church; and five seminars – Ministry in the City, Rural ministry, Who decides what the Bible means, the Emerging Church and Music and the Word.
This was the first PT conference I attended, and the first time I heard Tim Keller, so I'm hardly a disinterested party. But all the same, it really is worth listening to! You can download the conference here. And if that isn't enough for you, there is always more Tim Keller material – audio, written, etc. – at the Tim Keller wiki.
‘evangelicals are evangel people.’
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EMA booking open – seminar details released
The 2010 Evangelical Ministry Assembly is booking fast! We're about 75% full which means if you want to come, you need to book soon. We're really pleased with the way the programme is shaping up and can now release details of seminar leaders (in some cases each leader will be joined by one or two others).
This increasingly important topic will be dealt with by David Robertson. David is the minister of St Peter's Dundee (McCheyne's church) and also leads up Solas – the Centre for Public Christianity in Scotland. He has written movingly on McCheyne – and more recently has written the excellent little volume The Dawkins Letters.
Carrie Sandom is Associate Minister for women at St John's Tunbridge Wells and until recently was at Christchurch Mayfair. Carrie helps lead the PT Cornhill women's stream and leads our Women in Ministry conference. She will address issues related to communicating with women. Is this something that men even need to worry about? Doesn't preaching cross every barrier? Or are we naive to think that our preaching must be targeted. Carrie will help us through these questions.
Trevor Pearce is the youth worker at All Souls Langham Place and he helps lead the FIEC Contagious youth event. Trevor will help us through the minefield that is communicating with young people. Do we need to be hip to reach the young? Or can we simply ignore the issues that connecting with kids raise? Can children sit through a sermon for example? If so, how can we help them do it well?
Connecting with….muslim people
Increasingly, many of our cities and towns have a large muslim presence. Do we ignore it? How do we engage without comprising the gospel? Is a vision to reach muslim people just pie-in-the-sky. To lead this seminar we welcome two experienced men who are working amongst muslim people in Oxford and East London. We hope you will understand that we will not release their names here.
To book on the EMA please visit the microsite. Other main session speakers are Liam Goligher, Vaughan Roberts, Tim Keller and David F Wells.
It can go both ways
Most of the time the Christian press reports how Christians are restricted in speaking out about those things that Christians believe in. But it does, occasionally, go the other way too. Here is an interesting case from Northern Ireland, reported widely in the news last week, but which probably deserves a little more press.
Practical Ministry Seminars
Our best reviewed conferences are also the hardest to fill! I don't know why that is, perhaps because the thought of a few days away of intensive ministry and training seems a little daunting. I can understand that. But, invariably, those who come to the practical ministry seminars go away full of joy and saying how much they've been helped by both the group work and flexible pastoral time together. We've got some places free for our next Practical Ministry Seminar in May (23-26 May). Why not think about a last minute booking? As with all our conferences, we do not want cost to be an issue, so please contact us if cost would preclude you coming.
To get you in the mood, here's a review by a first timer from last year, Tim Silk.
What was helpful for me was the way the various ingredients were experienced together. It was great fun! The food was amazing! The people were almost normal! The focus was a robust declaration of Isaiah’s message in a broken world; and there was time to pray together. The conversation flowed between the Bible, our lives, and the different missional contexts in which we found ourselves. This was further facilitated by the evenings where we were taught from the Bible about the nature of following Jesus today.
This led on naturally to the consideration of various challenges we all faced. It was particularly helpful to be part of a group of leaders at a similar stage as it allowed us to help each other back to the heart of gospel ministry. It was a great investment of time and resources, because it allowed each of the encouraging ingredients to be experienced simultaneously, and allowed time to consider the issues. Whilst the planned input was really very helpful personally, it was the unplanned time available to talk through ministry challenges with others who had been there before that made it for me.
Just a rain shelter?
I heard one of the Jensens (forget which one now) once say about churches…"they're just rain shelters." Amen. Well, perhaps slightly more, but that is the essence of it. Trouble is, of course, many of church buildings are historic buildings as well, so everyone wants their piece of them. And try to move the pews just a few inches…..boy!
I wish we were free of all that stuff. I love architecture and great buildings and have failed in a recent campaign to have an historic building near us preserved (I noticed yesterday that the Poplar Labour Exchange – for that is the building) finally had demolition work started on it. Shame. However, in the tension that must be felt between history and function, function rules as far as I am concerned for church buildings.
I'm not sure I can prove this – but I wonder if churches get a harder time than necessary? Above is a picture of LSO St Lukes. The building is a Hawksmoor and John James creation, Grade I listed, but it fell into disrepair and the roof was removed some time ago. It basically became a shell. And then (and probably only then) was permission granted to do some radical work inside. Mrs R and I went there for a concert recently (for it is now a concert venue) and it is incredible. I love it! It would, by the way, also be a great church space, though the chances of any church being given approval to do something like this are fairly slim.
So yes, we want rain shelters – or, in truth, something a little more sophisticated. But we must battle authorities to get them. And perhaps this is one of the times where it is just slighly easier being a non-conformist. Many a time our buildings don't have the same kind of architectural or historical cachet associated with them so we can get away with more radical modelling.