An Able and Faithful Ministry: talents
Following on from yesterday’s post about Samuel Miller, he spends just a short time in his inaugural sermon talking about talents. This is second qualification for an able and faithful ministry after piety. He is helpfully realistic: “not every minister must, of necessity, be a man of genius.” To which many of us breathe a sigh of relief. It’s something that’s worth picking up on, however. We aspire, of course, to be the best preachers we can be. But we are not all Stott or Lloyd-Jones or Lucas, and – guess what – that’s fine! We can burden ourselves with too much self-expectation.
What is interesting when it comes to talents is that Samuel Miller, to the normal abilities to teach (what doctor would ever be allowed to practise, he argues, without some demonstrable ability), turns his attention to what he calls “good sense.” Without this, he says, the effectiveness of a preacher will be seriously curtailed.
“Though a minister concentrated himself in all the piety and all the learning of the Christian church, yet if he had not a decent stock of good sense, for directing and applying his other qualifications, he would be worse than useless. Upon good sense depends all that is dignified, prudent, conciliatory, and respectable in private deportment; and all that is judicious, seasonable and calculated to edify in public ministration.” A minister without good sense, he argues, will end up in “drivelling childishness” which will bring the ministry and the Bible into contempt.
Not one to mince his words! How does he justify this biblically? Simple: he takes Jesus’ words in Matthew 10.16 and says that “good sense” is shorthand for being “as wise as serpents, as harmless as doves.”
There’s something in this for those in ministry today, including myself. We live in an angry world, where rights are claimed over responsibilities offered. We live in a litigious world, greedy for money. We live in an advertising world, where all kinds of shameless strategies are used to lure us into giving up our hard earned cash. We live in an infantile world, the world of the prank, where we trick others and then laugh at their reactions. In this climate, the preacher of the gospel of grace must be different. He must surely have good sense.
Matthew 10.16 is only a short verse. But it’s worth thinking about, working through and praying in.
An Able and Faithful Ministry: piety
In between other things, I’ve been reading James Garrestson’s new biography of Samuel Miller, one of the founders of Princeton Theological Seminary. It prompted me to read his inaugural sermon at the Seminary, preached on the text of 2 Timothy 2 (entitled “an able and faithful ministry” which Garretson then uses as his biography title). It’s a wide ranging sermon, more of a lecture really, but containing some valuable insights on ministry. The sermon is available online here, but I thought I would share some of what he says which still resonates today.
First up, Miller says that every minister needs to have evangelical piety. It is, he says, the “first requisite.” This is – as you might imagine – a kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo that some people assume piety to be, but rather, “that he is a regenerated man; that he has a living faith in that Saviour whom he preaches to others; that the love of Christ habitually constrains him; that he has himself walked those paths of humility, self-denial and holy communion with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, in which it is the business of his life to endeavour to lead his fellow men.”
This is indeed a high calling! And “without piety, he cannot be an able minister.” Miller argues that we too readily get excited about those who want to go into ministry (from his point of view, as families, from ours, more likely as churches) without really seeing any evidence of this godliness. “This kind of destination…is as dangerous as it is unwarranted.”
Moreover, and here it is particularly convicting for those in theological education, we convince ourselves that such institutions are “calculated for training up learned and eloquent men”. Thus, “accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to vital piety! Accursed be all that learning which disguises or is ashamed of vital piety. Accursed be all that learning which is not made subservient to the promotion and the glory of vital piety.”
It’s not that piety is everything (more of that tomorrow). But if it lacking, then a man in ministry is nothing. We might say, to put it in more modern language, that a preacher without a real, living and active faith is destined to destroy both himself and his ministry. All of which is a sobering thought for every preacher and teacher.
“Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13.5).
My favourite Christian book all googled up
One of my favourite Christian books, if not the favourite one is Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson’s The Bible in the British Museum. I keep giving away my copy so I have lost count of how many I have had. I like to think this is keeping young Clive and his dear wife in the style to which they are accustomed, but I rather doubt it.
There’s a new twist to the tale however. Google have now launched their Cultural Institute version of the British Museum. This is basically Google Street View on the inside; they have spent the last three months sending a little remote rover around the museum so it is fully online. It’s an amazing resource. You can see it here.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as actually visiting in person, but if that’s too much of a stretch, this is a really good second best. Although, it must be said, that without the guide it’s not nearly so much fun. Here’s what to do. Buy the book, fire up the Google machine, make yourself a coffee and rejoice in the Bible.
James in one mouthful
I had something of an epiphany last night. It came as we read James in one session at our small group. It’s an amazing way to take this unusual book in. I say unusual, not in a pejorative sense. It’s simply different from the Greek logic of Paul that we embrace so easily. James, as I’m sure you know, is much more Hebraic in its forms and logic so issues and themes get gnawed away at, then James switches tack, then returns to the same theme (try tracing through the theme of tongue and speech, for example).
There’s no mistake, as you read through, what the big issue is: the melodic line is very clear. James is calling his readers to true religion; religion where faith is matched by deeds: this is friendship with God. And seeing that big picture unlocks much of the so-called “bitty” nature of the book.
Actually, it’s not bitty at all when everything is connected back to that big thing. The irony for me is that we try to shoehorn James into a Pauline kind of structure, where it simply doesn’t work. It’s not that sections are entirely divorced from one another, that would be a preposterous suggestion. But the logical connections are decidedly not Pauline.
All of which, as we were reading, got me thinking. How do you preach a book like James in an expository manner – i.e. saying what God says? Two standard approaches fall short. Texting (just ripping out purple texts) is almost bound to ignore the connection to the whole. But even a more standard “few verses at a time, in order” approach may fail to do justice to the way the book works. It is more like Proverbs than Ephesians, after all.
So here’s something to ponder. What about preaching it thematically? Yep, thematic expositional preaching. I bet that puts the cat amongst the pigeons.
Our wives conferences have long been very popular. They are also a key part of our work of encouraging preachers: a married preacher is a God-made unit with his wife and if you want to invest in preachers, you have to invest in preachers’ wives and preachers’ marriages. We’ve long understood this. A weekday conference doesn’t work for every wife though. Some have paid employment during the week. Others have childcare or home teaching respsonibilities that make a Monday to Thursday very difficult.
So for 2016, after some consulation, we’re introducing a weekend wives conference. It is from 14-16 October (Friday evening to Sunday lunch) at Horwood House near Milton Keynes, a rather smart central location. It’s a lovely venue: a beautiful old manor house, warm and cosy with great facilities, inclding a pool, sauna and gym. Most importantly, however, it’s a chance to grow as a believer with thought provoking teaching and applied seminars. Lots of opportunities to chat and pray too.
We’ve just opened bookings here and we’d love to see you. Or, if you are a preacher, your wife. Pass it on.
Joan of Arc Olympics
My basketball team won last night. You might not think that a particular cause for rejoicing, but the fact is, they lost the first eighteen games of the season. Yes, you read that right. What is worse is that they lost the 10 games of last season so they were on a 28 run losing streak. Some kind of record. I needn’t bother you with why I support a US basketball team, nor why this particular team (the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers) are my team. It’s complicated. It just is. But they are my team and there you are.
So, last night it all came to an end. We won. Hurrah! Kind of. You see, I was rather glorying in suffering. One or two matches at the beginning of the season – well, that’s just bad luck. But an 18 run losing streak? That takes some going. I was rather proud.
There is a perverse kind of glorying in suffering that infuses many parts of life. “Everyone hates us and we don’t care” sing the Milwall fans. It spills over into ministry too. There are times (not all times) when ministry is hard. There are certainly sacrifices, not least financial, but emotional too. And ministers often seek (and find) pity if they care to search it out. It’s all pretty ugly. You certainly can’t glory in riches as a minister, but you can glory in your pity, and many do.
We tend not to spot this kind of boasting because it seems so, well, counter-intuitive. But I see it in my own heart and in many other ministers I speak to. It’s a kind of Joan of Arc Olympics, for which I am a shoe-in for the gold medal. And I just want to say to you what I say to myself.
Stop it. Just stop it. In Christ, Mr Preacher, you have everything already. Nothing can be added. The championship, to put it in NBA terms, is already in the bag. Now, that’s what you glory in.
Why preachers must think for themselves
Last weekend I had to produce an emergency sermon – a sermon in a hurry, you might say. We wanted a service that was responding to what had happened in Paris and planned a change to our programme. Out went 1 Kings 9 (to be resuscitated at a later date) and in came Luke 13. There’s no typical sermon prep time for me, but it’s rare that a sermon takes less than 8 hours work. And here I was, at 10am on a Saturday morning (a day off), sitting in my office with a blank sheet of paper.
At such times, I confess that I resort to the help of a commentary more than I would normally do so – more extensively and more quickly. I’m not ashamed of that – it’s the nature of ministry that such times sometimes come and I don’t think God is going to hold that against me!
So, here’s the thing. An otherwise excellent little commentary on Luke got things a little wrong. It was Leon Morris in the Tyndale series who points out that the two verb forms of metanoeo = “repent” in Luke 13 are different. One is a present imperative (in v3) and one is an aorist (in v5). I thought I would check. I only know a little Greek [insert standard kebab shop joke here, if you must]. But when I checked, I found that this wasn’t the case – at least, not in NA27 that I was using.
They are both the same – present, active subjunctives. Am I missing something here? Quite possible, and no doubt the emails will come flooding in like a small trickle. But in the circumstances, I believed it wrong to take Leon Morris’ application too far – that both one off and continuous repentance are in view in Jesus’ mind.
Commentaries are a great, great help. Don’t know where I would be without them, in fact. But every preacher still has to think for himself.
Picking up a little on Richard Pratt’s lines to NT application, I really like this idea of three ‘eras’ – the inaugural, the present and the future. Here’s a little expansion, particularly as it relates to the warfare of Joshua:
In terms of the inaugural work of Christ and his Apostles:
– there is an initial defeat for evil spirits
– there are initial warnings for humans
– there is initial salvation for humans
But Christ also has a present work which is reflected in Joshua:
– there is an ongoing defeat of evil spirits (Eph 6.11-12)[most people in our congregations don’t even believe in the presence of evil spirits]
– there are ongoing warnings for humans (2 Corinthians 10.1-6)
– there is ongoing salvation for humans (2 Corinthians 5.20)
There is also a future work which Joshua foreshadows:
– a final defeat for evil spirits (Revelation 19.13-15, 20.10)
– there is final judgement for humans
– there is a final salvation for humans
And of course, the final answer to the holy war question is if that you struggle with that, you ain’t seen nothing yet compared to what Jesus is one day going to do.
What do we do with holy war?
One of the hardest things for OT preachers is to work through what is going on when it comes to holy war – what does it really mean to totally devote things to destruction? It’s a tricky question, and a key objection to the battle scenes we find in Numbers, Judges, Joshua and on into the monarchy.
We had an excellent hour with Richard Pratt on just this topic. We’ll post the video soon, but here are some headlines. First, the word used to denote this holy destruction is a law word (Lev 27.28) where it is actually an act of piety. Various things given to God could be redeemed, but not those things that were ‘haram’ – they belonged totally to God and could not be bought back.
The culture of the time, of course, was to take things for yourselves, and this was as true in war as the rest of life. The culture was for the victors to take the plunder, including human plunder. To the victor the spoils. Thus, in the context of war, to devote something to destruction was actually an act of self-denial: it was to give to God wholly something that was normally reserved for yourself: it is, in that sense, an act of piety. This is why Achan’s sin (Joshua 7) is so terrible.
Second, we need to set the battles in the context of the larger battle that exists between God and Satan – a battle which begins in Genesis 3 and finally comes to an end in Revelation 21. This is the Lord’s battle – a vivid reminder of which is found in the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5-6) who is neither for Joshua nor his enemies, but for the Lord. In other words, the battles are not ethno-centric (committed to the propagation of one particular race) but deistic – God-centric, in other words.
Third, it is easy for us to think that just because we breathe air, we deserve to die (Pratt’s caricature, not mine!). Whilst true at one level, it is also true that there are particular kinds of wickedness that come up before God which deserve immediate judgement. To put it another way, not every city in the Bible is destroyed. Many are not. But there are some whose sins are so significant that they deserve judgement – Sodom and Gomorrah are a case in point.
Even the word gospel with its OT overtones (Isaiah 52.7) is a warfare term. We tend to reduce gospel to ‘believe and be saved’ but in fact it is an announcement of a battle victory.
All of this of course is a million miles away from a standard 21st Century perspectives where holy war is thought to be and reduced down to some kind of ethnic cleansing. That puts us on the back foot. But here is holy Scripture, and thinking more carefully about these issues allows us to think positively, as indeed we ought.
Christ in the Old Testament (again)
It’s been really useful to have Richard Pratt with us this last week. His sense of humour is so dry he’s almost an honorary Brit! He gave us three excellent sessions on Joshua for which the video will be available shortly. There were, as you might expect, some insights along the way – not least some of the richness with which he encouraged us to think about how we preach Christ from the Old Testament.
I found his teaching helpful because as I think about Christ in the Old Testament, I tend to think functionally: themes, types, trajectories, texts and so on. That’s a valid approach. But Richard’s reminder was that there are temporal ways to think about Christ in the Old Testament too.
The Old Testament, he argued, anticipates Christ in three ‘eras’ (though that is my terminology not his). It looks forward to his inaugural work; his present work; and his future work.
In other words, Christ is foreshadowed in what he has already done, in what, by his Spirit, he is presently doing and in what he will one day do. These three time periods (done, doing, will do) are constantly in view in the Old Testament. You can’t do all of these lines all the time, but these different lines of development give you rich seams with which to preach Christ and what it means to be in him.