A very different Christmas
There are an increasing number of Christmas resources which you can use as part of your seasonal evangelism. Some of these are short and sweet; others longer. Some are for kids; some for adults. Some are for everybody; others are for those who are asking genuine questions. Some are for church use; some for personal use. I happen to think we need all of the above. Christmas is still a good time to share the gospel, by which I mean a good opportunity. It’s true that the opportunity may be diminishing: but even Richard Dawkins likes singing carols and you only have to see the wrath that follows councils renaming Christmas as Wintertide or some such stuff to know there is still an emotional attachment to the time of year.
Speaking as a non conformist, I wonder if there are fewer people coming to Christmas services? However, even if that decline is real and not just in my head, having good resources on tap is always important.
And that’s why I’m pleased to see Rico’s latest little book, A very different Christmas: what are you hoping for this year? This is not a short tract, and it’s not for someone who is not really interested. But it is engaging enough and short enough to be accessible to someone who has genuine questions or wants to find out a little more. In other words, perhaps the guy at the door who says “Interesting sermon” to which you, of course, reply “Why interesting?” AND “Let me give you something else to think about.”
Rico’s book, peppered with illustrations as you might imagine, is deep enough to be profound, long enough to cover quite a bit of ground, but short enough to digest at one sitting and still come back to. It’s difficult of course to review such books trying to put myself in the shoes of an unbeliever. But the book is clear about the gospel and its implications without being unnecessarily aggressive or rude.
I like it. A lot.
You ought to have some up your sleeve. So to speak.
Fed up with a false dichotomy
This week I’ve read yet another round of social media posts about Old Testament preaching. The complaint goes something like this: our OT preaching shouldn’t be entirely redemptive-historical. There needs to be moral objectivity too, for this is how the Apostles preached. “These things were written for us.”
I’ve got some sympathy with this if the kind of redemptive-historical preaching is Flat-Stanley one-dimensional, “Hey presto, it’s all about Jesus, don’t y’know!” preaching. There’s certainly too much of that.
But – and this is one of the most important things I believe about OT preaching – most complaints of this sort set up a false dichotomy between the OT being the Book of the Lamb and whether Christian preachers can draw moral lessons or not. The two are not in opposition. They must never be. For being people of the Spirit places us under an obligation to live according to the Spirit and not the flesh. An Old Testament sermon devoid of any imperatives would be a strange sermon indeed.
Moreover, Paul does not divorce the two. Yes, “these things were written for us”. But why? For the Israelites who wandered in the desert “all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10.4).
Many years ago, Ed Clowney (writing in 1961) prophetically saw that this non-tension might become an issue and lead to divorcing Christ from the OT in a desire to recover some ground in biblical theology. His comments are prescient:
“The redemptive historical approach necessarily yields ethical application, which is an essential part of preaching of the Word. Whenever we are confronted with the saving work of God culminating in Christ, we are faced with ethical demands. A religious response of faith and obedience is required…. The solution [to the apparent tension] is the organic relationship that exists in God’s great work of redemption and revelation.” (Ed Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 80-81).
I think if anyone ever asked me to say just one thing about preaching, it might well be this. There is no tension between the proclaiming of Christ and the moral obligations of the covenant. Those who see one and miss one or the other are missing the riches of the Scripture. I’m fed up with this false dichotomy.
EMA 2015: Tim Keller – humanity and preaching (2)
All this week, we’re having an EMA fest. It’s reading week at Cornhill and what better time to catch up with some good content from this year’s EMA. This second session from Tim Keller allowed for some interaction and challenge – and a rather bizarre set of Frozen links. Don’t worry – we know who is to blame….
EMA 2015: Tim Keller – humanity and preaching (1)
All this week, we’re having an EMA fest. It’s reading week at Cornhill and what better time to catch up with some good content from this year’s EMA. This, the first of Tim Keller’s two sessions, was immensely helpful. Tim at his best, I think.
EMA 2015: Christ glorified
All this week, we’re having an EMA fest. It’s reading week at Cornhill and what better time to catch up with some good content from this year’s EMA. Vaughan’s closing exposition gave us a really good finish. Come, Lord Jesus!
EMA 2015: Beginning and end of life
All this week, we’re having an EMA fest. It’s reading week at Cornhill and what better time to catch up with some good content from this year’s EMA. John Wyatt’s one off session was one of this year’s highlights. You can read the edited version in this month’s EN. But the real thing is better! A PDF of the Powerpoint slides can be found here.
EMA 2015: Christ Incarnate
All this week, we’re having an EMA fest. It’s reading week at Cornhill and what better time to catch up with some good content from this year’s EMA. I found Reuben’s exposition of Philippians 2 a really helpful challenge. I hope you do too.
Knocking holes in the boat
I’ve been reading GK’s essays on divorce (The superstition of divorce). Interesting stuff. From another era, obviously and many of the arguments he was challenging seem hopelessly outdated. But his line of attack interests me greatly. He is especially keen that in focusing on divorce the proponents of a loosened law (in his time) were missing the point of what marriage was for! It’s not an unfamiliar issue today – whether it is the argument for same sex marriage or egalitarianism (I’m not saying these are equivalent issues, they just happen to be two I’ve been thinking about). It is very easy to argue your case without thinking or engaging with the bigger issues at stake.
Here he is.
“There is perhaps no worse advice, nine times out of ten, than the advice to do the work that’s nearest. It is especially bad when it means, as it generally does, removing the obstacle that’s nearest. It means that men are not to behave like men but like mice; who nibble at the thing that’s nearest. The man, like the mouse, undermines what he cannot understand. Because he himself bumps into a thing, he calls it the nearest obstacle; though the obstacle may happen to be the pillar that holds up the whole roof over his head. He industriously removes the obstacle; and in return, the obstacle removes him, and much more valuable things than he…
“The chief thing to say about such reformers of marriage is that they cannot make head or tail of it. They do not know what it is, or what it is meant to be, or what its supporters suppose it to be; they never look at it, even when they are inside it. They do the work that’s nearest; which is poking holes in the bottom of a boat under the impression that they are digging in a garden. This question of what a thing is, and whether it is a garden or a boat, appears to them abstract and academic. They have no notion of how large is the idea they attack; or how relatively small appear the holes that they pick in it.”
Next week is the Cornhill reading week. We encourage the students to read all the time but this is the week we are them to particularly focus on one of three titles. You may be interested to know what they’re up to – you even want to read along.
Christopher Ash’s Job commentary (the longer Crossway one) is perhaps one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, certainly one of the best commentaries. I think this is Christopher at his best, and you will be greatly helped to read Job in ways you never have before. Because of the nature of Job and the struggle with suffering, this is a must for every minister of the gospel.
Don Carson’s Memoirs of an ordinary pastor is an immensely moving book about his father’s ministry. It is the main reason we’ve asked Don to come to the EMA next year, where our topic will be keeping going. It’s an insight into a different age, but more than that, it’s an insight into perseverance in an age of giving up.
Carson’s Jesus: the Son of God will be a more stretching read, but important nonetheless. Carson argues that much of the theological implication of this amazing truth has been lost. Carson ends the book with application for how Christians think, speak and act, so it is not just a seminary lecture.
Why not read along with us?
‘Bible handling’ is a phrase often heard around these parts: preachers need to be good ‘Bible handlers’. Unfortunately for me (and this says more about me, I readily acknowledge, than it does about anything else) the phrase most easily brings to mind a bizarre image of a preacher as a lion-tamer, holding a stick out to fend off a big book that’s trying to bite him. If I dwell on this too long I also picture that vicious book with sharp teeth in Harry Potter that needed a firm strap round it to stop it attacking you.
However of course (as I need to remind myself, in order to erase those images from my mind) it is a biblical phrase. Do your best, says Paul to Timothy, to present yourself to God as someone ‘who correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2.15).
So what is correct ‘handling’ of the word of truth? The immediate context is our best guide. And in that context we have a number of elements packed tightly together:
• direct application of the truth: an instruction to Timothy to warn the people ‘against quarrelling about words’ (v.14);
• the teaching of sound truth about Christ and us: an instruction to Timothy to remind God’s people of these things (vs.11-14a);
• the preacher’s own godliness and soundness: instructions to Timothy to flee evil desires, pursue godliness and avoid ‘stupid arguments’ (vs.16-26).
Teaching sound truth; applying it pointedly where it’s needed; guarding one’s own soundness of teaching and life.
It looks, in context, as if I need to have a firm eye on all three if I am to qualify as one who ‘correctly handles the word of truth’.