Your own funeral preaching
Listening to the Bishop of London preaching at Margaret Thatcher's funeral. Readings before from Eph 6 and John 14. But the sermon? It's an exposition of Margaret and her words – very, very little on the Bible passage: in fact, more on TS Eliot than the Bible. What is going on? Preach the text, brother! I mention this not to diss the Bish, but as a challenge to our own funeral preaching – often hard pressed for time, maybe with little or no knowledge of the one who has died. But any preacher could do much worse than following this simple preacher's mantra – "preach the text."
Chewing the cud
As you may have seen from last week's blog posts, I was very moved by Bruce Ware's sessions at New Word Alive on the humanity of Christ. They got me thinking things over in terms of my own understanding, response and also, of course, how and what I preach. But what really has helped has been the coffee machine chats with colleagues here in the office and with friends at church.
I should point out at this stage that the office has a very smart coffee machine. This is nothing to do with the fact that we are all coffee snobs and like good Americanos. By no means! It has everything to do with the fact that it takes a long time to make a coffee with our machine and therefore you are thrown into unavoidable conversations with colleagues. These are the moments (as the beans are grinding and you are setting up the next espresso shot) that you can chew the cud over things you've been challenged by. In the last few weeks in the office I've had good conversations about the humanity of Christ, his impeccability and also the nature of indwelling sin (specifically my own) and how we fight it.
Preachers need this kind of sharpening, as iron sharpens iron. Ideally you want to get it in church where the primary purposes of God are worked out and where a preachers primary friendships should surely lie. But that won't work for everyone and it may well be that you need to be deliberate about setting up places which serve the same purpose as our coffee room here. But the point is this: you do need such places. It's a strong New Testament theme that we need each other to keep going. It's a means of grace.
It's why our ministers conferences allow time for sitting around and drinking coffee. It's why ministers 'fraternals' (great concept, often poorly executed) are so valuable. It's why time in the weekly diary spent with others (and not just pastoral basket cases) is so critical.
Who are you chewing the cud with? How often? How deeply? How honestly?
And to make it really worthwhile, just add (decent) coffee.
EMA featured books #2
Crossway have just published Bruce Ware's new book on the humanity of Christ, titled "The Man Christ Jesus: Theological reflections on the humanity of Christ." This is not a long book (140pp) but I can't recommend it highly enough. It's simply super. What is more it is accessible for the thinking church member – it's not just written at a level which only those with theological education could access (Donald MacLeod's The person of Christ must surely lead the way in this field). Bruce has eight very good and thorough chapters, some of which drill down into quite specific issues – like, for example, what did it mean that Jesus "grew in wisdom" and another on what it meant for Jesus to "grow in faith". All of these are brought home in useful and heart warming applications. As John Benton said in his review, "The book will make you think deeply, but most of all it will enable the reader to see Christ not as a distant Saviour but as our brother. It brings us closer to Jesus. We are thus led to greater appreciation, love and worship for the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is not going too far to say that Bruce Ware has produced a modern classic of evangelical literature here."
The book will be at the EMA together with 999 other titles…. Book now.
The humanity of Christ and sloppy teaching
New Word Alive felt a bit like a working holiday, but it was stirring nonetheless and one of the highlights for me was Bruce Ware on the humanity of Christ. He was largely going through material from his book (here) also explained in his recent EN interview here. There were several things that stirred me about it, not least that something like 500 people sat through four 75 minute sessions – going at a fairly rapid pace – on something that was both deep, stretching and mind blowing. It's not the sort of thing you could easily do in a church because of the variety of different levels, but it works well at something like NWA.
However, it was really the content that stirred me most. Evangelicals have so long been defending the deity of Christ that they have neglected the humanity he shares. This is crucial for understanding the temptations of Jesus (and how he helps us resist), the doctrine of the atonement and the command to follow in his footsteps.
And most of us don't get it right, I would venture. How many Sunday School lessons have looked at Jesus' miracles, for example, and said "Only God can do that!"? But what if, as Bruce asserted, Jesus does these miracles as the Messiah in the power of the Spirit (see Acts 10.38)? This is more than a simple nicety. It is critical that Jesus lived a fully human life for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us from our own human sin.
My only question is that I'm not sure Ware goes far enough. I say this cautiously. But he asserts that "most" things Jesus did were done in his humanity. "So although Jesus was fully God and fully man, it is remarkable and, for many, even startling to realise that he lived his life, for the most part, as a man in the power of the Spirit." (my italics). He uses the example of some miracles as being those Jesus did in his deity.
Hmm. Not sure. If Jesus could voluntarily switch between his deity and humanity (to use simple language – I realise that this is theologically imprecise), then it still raises problems about his full human life being counted to me. Moreover, what is going on at the Transfiguration, if not that one glimpse into his deity – not seen elsewhere in his life.
A minor quibble though. It did get me thinking, I wonder if we're actually teaching truth, especially to our youngsters. It's not that we're deliberately teaching falsehood, but I wonder if, on the humanity of Christ, we're just a bit sloppy.
And thank you NWA for stretching us.
Choosing songs for the EMA
It's taken a whole day to shortlist things we're going to sing at this year's EMA. You wouldn't believe the angst this causes. For the record, I'm driven by content (always first) musicality (singability), practicality (length). But it's still no easy task. So, the PT conference manager and I have been sitting around the piano in my office (I know, I know) trying out various things. We think we've just about nailed it. As it happens (and this wasn't deliberate) we've got something from 17th Century, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st. A few earlier things on the long list didn't make the final cut but will be stored up for another year.
As it happens, the book I highlighted yesterday has been very helpful. Let me expand a bit more on it. I found this particular section useful:
- worship has one object: the triune God himself
- worship has two contexts: worship scattered (what we do all the time) and worship gathered (what we do when we gather together)
- worship has three audiences: God, the church and the watching world
Mike Cosper proves all these robustly. Then he makes a very insightful observation – most worship trouble is caused by neglecting or confusing these categories. It works in lots of ways, but the answer each time is to regain a more balanced, biblical approach.
Reflecting on this book last night I wondered if it would not be too strong to say, here is a book every pastor and musician should read?
Oh, and no reveals yet. You'll have to come and sing with the 1,000 or so others….
EMA featured books #1
Over the next few weeks I want to do some mini reviews and highlight some of the featured books at this year's EMA. You can buy the book before the EMA of course, but if you're coming along, it's a good way of highlighting some titles to look out for. First up is Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper, a book about worship. It's rarely said, but here's a book about worship that I agree with! It's theologically robust and practically reliable. As someone who fulfills a dual role of pastor and church musician, I really found it beneficial. I think it will be good for church leaders and church musicians both. Here are some of my highlights:
- it includes a good biblical theology of worship in the broadest sense starting in the garden and drawing heavily on Greg Beale's temple imagery
- it draws a useful and robust distinction between scattered worship (all of life) and gathered worship (what we do when we come together). It neither denigrates nor elevates one above the other but maintains a healthy balance.
- it understands some of the turf wars in terms of confusion about what gathered worship is for and who its primary and secondary audiences are and, like others before, traces some of the current errors back to 19th Century revivalism where worship became a spectator sport rather than something that was intrinsically participative. This section on purposes of gathered worship is the strongest part of the book.
I think the author is a bit harsh on liturgical Anglicanism (seeing the imposition of the prayer book as having both positive and negative effects, but mostly negative: he sees the imposition of the prayer book as akin to modern video technology, robbing the local congregation of authentic worship). However, that criticism aside, this is a robust and helpful book. Mike Cosper, the author is from the Sojourn Music stable, but even if you don't share his musical tastes, you will find something useful here for local church life.
At present it's only available in the UK as an ebook, but it will be out and about in time for the EMA. See you there, book in hand.
One of the most exciting things about our new venue for the EMA is that we have more space for the EMA Bookstore; partnering this year with tenofthose.com. Previously we've been off site in a couple of different venues. Now we're on site and have an ideal venue for a bookstore. This year we've been very careful about book selection – there will be over 1,000 titles, each individually chosen and fulfilling one of three criteria:
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as followers of Christ themselves – books that will help you walk closely with our Lord
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as preachers of the word of God – books that will enable your ministry
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as leaders of congregations – books that will be good for your people
This focused and varied approach means that our EMA Bookstore will be more (though not less) than a pastor's paradise. It will stimulate you to think about books in your congregation and devotional life. We're delighted that publishers will be on hand to help with expertise. There will be an ebook station and, for the first time, a recommended commentary list of 200 titles (with each one in stock).
It's worth coming to the EMA for. Why not book now whilst you're thinking about it. But there will also be a public access point to the EMA Bookstore and if you have congregation members who live or work in London they would be very welcome on 24, 25 or 26 June from early till late. Send them in!
Engaging the written word of God
How wise is it to write a book review before you've finished the book? Not particularly. Especially when you know that you have at least one significant point of difference with the writer. But, never one to shirk a challenge, here I go anyway. The writer in question is Jim Packer (and the issue is Evangelicals and Catholics together, but one that I do not expect to occur in this particular volume). Paternoster have pulled together a collection of essays, articles and interviews with Packer which means this book (300+pp but retailing at an extraordinary £10.99) is a real value added treasure. The collection is divided up into three – articles etc on inerrancy, a second section on interpretation including a cogent and traditional case for women's ministry as being different from that of men, then a third section on preaching.
This is where, to be honest, I have spent most of my time, tying in, as it did, with some seminars I was running at New Word Alive. Packer is again orthodox on preaching, but it is an orthodoxy which has been somewhat lost and needs to be reclaimed. These contributions, therefore, were refreshing and timely.
"Preaching mediates not only God's authority, but also his presence and his power. Preaching effects an encounter not simply with the truth, but with God himself."
Well worth some of your English pounds or wait for the EMA for a very special price…
How things change
Been reading Paternoster's new collection of essays, articles and interviews by Jim Packer (more of this later in the week). But one very perceptive comment on the state of preaching and the church. Packer says that people used to say after preaching 'How did you get on?' meaning what did you learn, what did God teach you or reveal to you? Now, however, he argues, people are much more likely to say 'How did the preacher get on?' Do you see the subtle shift as people have begun to sit in judgement on the preaching rather than sit under its authority? As I said, a very perceptive comment which shows how much things have changed.
Take a break
We're taking an official break next week (1-5 April). Christopher and I are both speaking at New Word Alive, so you may get some live blogging, but there's nothing prepared! It's good to take a break from blogging (both writing and reading). Enjoy. We will too.