Bible based vs biblical
Often, we tend to describe our preaching and church ministry as 'Bible-based.' That sounds worthy and noble. What more could you want when looking for a church or hope for when leading one? But are things quite that simple? A few years ago now we published a book of addresses from past EMAs including contributions from Sinclair Ferguson, Melvin Tinker, Johnny Prime and Mr Jackman. David's address was on just this subject and I was rereading it today. He argues that it is possible to be bible-based but not biblical. This is because it is possible to read the Bible and look at the Bible without listening to the Bible. Therein lies the difference. And the danger for every evangelical. David describes the potential for movement:
We can shift from being governed by Scripture in the contents and methods of ministry, to regarding the Bible as a possessions over which we have control, a source book that acts as a springboard for our more 'relevant' approach. In the end, what happens in the church is that we start to domesticate God's word, we tame it to suit our pulpit purposes. Evangelicals often talk about having a Bible based ministry, but from that base they can safely travel over the hills and far away! What we should be concerned for is a thoroughly biblical ministry, seeking for ourselves and for our churches to have what was memorably said of John Bunyan: that he had bibline blood. In order to avoid this situation, preachers need to maintain confidence in the word of God that is preached and in the preaching of the word of God. We need to regain certain inescapable priorities, not just an intellectual position, but as a bloodstream of our ministry.
And surely, we must never think 'that could never happen to me…' The road is littered with good evangelicals who seem to have lost their way. That's why the EMA is so important to us. One of its functions, at least, is to maintain the inescapably priority of preaching in the bloodstream of our ministry. It's been great to see guys booking on for the EMA who have not been for a few years. Whether you're a regular or not, do come and join us. We need one another to maintain these priorities.
Ash on Romans
There are many, many good commentaries on Romans. I'm studying the book at the moment, and for commentary use I'm using Murray (now replaced by Moo in the NICOT) and Tom Schreiner's volume in the Baker Exegetical Series in the main. But time and time again, I find myself casting a glance at Christopher Ash's two volumes in our Teaching series. They really are super for preachers. Having just come back from India, I also appreciate the value of these books as a main commentary for those whose English is not brilliant and for those just starting to get to grips with expository preaching. Which got me thinking? Have you overseas, English-speaking partners that you could send a set to? They would be a very welcome addition to any preachers' library, but particularly those African, Asian and South American preachers who perhaps don't have seminary level education and are just getting to grips with expository preaching. These are just the job. There are two volumes for Romans, Volume 1 and, er, Volume 2.
The story of Chris Huhne and Vicky Price is a sad one indeed. Both will now spend at least four months in prison (half the term) for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It's a tale with a twist because, as you will know if you've been following it, the only reason that it came to light is because Miss Price wanted to get revenge on her cheating husband. She certainly did that, ruining his career, but dragging herself down in the process. As a Times letter writer pointed out this week, there is an old Chinese proverb, 'if you're going to go for revenge, you'd better dig two graves.'
However, the proclaimer blog is not about moralising on the downfall of others. I don't want to do that. But I do want to point out that this is a biblical lesson that preachers would do well to hear. 'Do not take revenge my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, "it is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.' (Romans 12.19). In fact, the Apostle goes on to say, we should treat our enemies the reverse of the way they might expect to be treated, or that they have treated us.
Preachers need to hear this counter cultural warning. How so? For our preaching and our people? No, for our own hearts. For in ministry, it is easy to feel aggrieved and even angry at the slightest criticism, however minor (or valid). And we being to plot. We begin to wish that people who set themselves against us 'would get a taste of their own medicine' (sounds slightly less aggressive than revenge, doesn't it?). And when some misfortune overtakes someone who has had the temerity to criticise us, then we don't feel compassion for them (and all the other pastoral responses); rather, we utter a stifled "YES!" when no one else is listening. Sound familiar?
We shouldn't kid ourselves that revenge is not an issue for preachers.
And if we are intent on pursuing it, we should dig two graves.
Why justification by faith alone really matters
I've been thinking recently about Romans. That's mainly because we're preaching through it at church and I've been given some real plums (Romans 3.21-28 and Romans 5.1-11). What a joy to study these wonderful passages again. But it also means that I've been sitting under other people's ministry, from which I've benefitted enormously. This time around I've been really struck by the many and varied applications that Paul hitches to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Some of them are obvious (Rom 5.1 and Rom 8.1 are two great examples). But there are others too, less obvious perhaps but no less valid for it. For example the thrust of his argument in chapter 4 is one of the great missions passages in the Bible. It's funny really, that even in such dense theological argument (as many people see it), there are rich seams of application just there for the preaching.
But it's closer to home even than that. Here is a doctrine to be cherished in my own heart. No wonder the Reformers were delighted to see it, preach it, live it, die for it. It stands at the heart of the Christian faith and has enormous implications. But wonderfully, because of the finished work of Jesus, we will never be more justified before our righteous God than we are right at this moment. Isn't that an incredible truth? I'm praying through it this week, using Romans, and asking God to let it inform my life and my preaching.
C***c R****f Humbug
The Comic Relief Police are out in force this week. "Want to buy a pen for £1 for Comic Relief?" (Rymans, where PT staff enjoy their lunchtimes). No? You miserable so and so. Well, actually, the assistant didn't actually accuse me like that, but I could read the face.
- first, it seems somewhat irresponsible to give to general campaigns without first doing some groundwork. This is not a CR dig, but a broader point. There is little or no visibility of where your giving is actually going when you donate to general campaigns. That's OK for Christian organisations (and there are plenty of worthy ones that we support corporately and personally), but for those who are not, how do you know how your money is being spent? I think churches should be nurturing specific relationships, either with individuals or projects or trusted organisations. That seems a more appropriate way to give.
- second, more specifically, some of CR's projects may be Christianly dubious. That's because they give to alleviate injustice and they have a broader view of justice than you or I. Wherever your draw the line on this (and we may all have different views), there may be one or two projects (amongst a myriad of many good and worthy projects) which cross it. For example, in the most recent published list, CR fund the Gay and Lesbian Youth Parliament. Now, Christians should be reaching out with the gospel to people from all kinds of backgrounds graciously and generously, but I don't personally think that is where Christian money should be going.
You must make your own decisions, of course. But the Christian principles remain: Give generously. But give wisely too.
PT iOS app
Don't forget if you're on iOS (iPad, iPhone or new generation iPod) you can download the PT app for free. This will give you easy access to the audio material from our website and the blog. We're sorry that since iOS6 it hasn't been working, but it's up and running again. Crucially it will allow you to both stream and download audio to enable you to decide how best to access online material.
Ask your wife
It's interesting being on a wives' conference. Here are 100 women, all married for some time, all in ministry some time. What do you think would be the overwhelming answer if I asked them for their husband's besetting sin?
There are nuances of course. And there will almost certainly be root causes that lead to overwork. However, overwhelmingly this is the thing that comes up time and time again in conversations I've had with some of the wives here.
Without wanting to be too blunt and direct: sort it out! You will be able to rationalise and spiritualise it, of course. That's the danger of being a Bible man. It's often easy to justify those respectable sins biblically. But ultimately it will blunt marriage and ministry and it is not glorifying to God. Catch it before it's too late.
If you've time.
Ministers and pornography
You're a church minister. You regularly preach to your congregation about sexual purity, after al it comes up again and again in the Bible, especially in the NT epistles. You're a modern preacher and so you're able to talk frankly about sex, same-sex attraction and related issues. You are even clear about the dangers and pervasiveness of pornography.
But you're hooked yourself. And you can't tell anybody about it.
I've not got any statistics but I reckon (from anecdotal conversations) that's it more common than we might imagine or confess, especially in our circles. There's a shame attached, rightly of course, which makes us very wary about saying anything to anybody. What can you do? My plea is for you to get pastoral help. But here are a few other points:
- Name it for what it is. It is adultery in your heart (see Matt 5.28). Our teenage boys at school may be told it is about harmless release, but that is simply untrue, a lie of the Devil.
- Understand that it will require serious remedy (Matt 5.29-30). You are kidding yourself if you think you can fix this easily. It requires real heart change.
- That said, don't despise practical help. CovenantEyes is well known. We use a similar package called SafeEyes. There are other similar packages available.
- Smart phones make carrying this addiction much simpler. If that is the way you access porn and you cannot kick it, then trade your phone down.
- Work out the root sin. I think an addiction to pornography reflects the sin of discontent. Ultimately this is discontent with Christ. More practically, if you are married, this is a discontent with your wife. Worse still, when you start to watch pornograhy you begin to demand things in the bedroom that might be common online, but are not, I believe, natural in marriage: I include anal sex in this list. So the discontent spreads.
- Sharpen your prayers. Work out the root sin and tackle this in your prayers. Don't just ask God to help you fix the problem but change your heart and tackle the root sins.
Wives, wives and more wives
Away at the moment on our spring wives' conference: one of our favourite conferences. There's me and Jonathan Carswell (so, 1½ men then). Oh, and 100 wives. It's a joyous occasion seeing these ministry wives supporting and encouraging each other. A happy and useful time. If you're in the first few years of ministry, then we've got a wives conference just for you. It runs from July 8 to 13 at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire. It was a nice place anyway, but they're doing it up a bit more. This is a luxury place to relax, make and keep friends and sit under God's word. And in July, Hothorpe is even nicer than in March. Perhaps you're reading this and you're a ministry wife just starting out? It would be good to see you. Perhaps you're married to one? Find a way to invest in her and let her come. She'll benefit and so, indirectly, will you. This year's teachers are Christopher Ash and Carrie Sandom. You can book online here. We're filling up, but at present there are still some places left. And if you are coming, who else could you bring along for her encouragement?
Facebook and all that
Sat down last night and watched a Channel 4 drama on a few weeks ago in a series by Charlie Brooker called Black Mirror: Be right back (available on 4oD here). The one off dramas are set in the near future and pick up and develop some current themes. Last night's viewing was mixed. Warning: some bad language and a couple of scenes of sexual nature (but no nudity). However, the message was very thought provoking. Essentially this is the plot.
A facebook addict dies in a car accident and his widow is able to recreate his personality and voice through signing up to a service that takes all his online information and processes it into a computer generated voice avatar. Doesn't sound so crazy. This guy had posted an enormous amount of stuff online. And ironically, his wife had been fed up with his phone use before his death, but afterwards became addicted herself because she wanted to hear his voice. She was then offered a pilot programme where, using synthetic skin, his actual body could be reproduced.
It was a dark tale touching on death, grief, relationships – but above all, social media. Mrs R and I found it fascinating in the sense we talked a lot about it afterwards and that rarely happens with TV shows. It also got me thinking about Tim Chester's very useful posts about Facebook which are now in a book, Will you be my Facebook friend. Short, punchy and also thought provoking (without the bad language and sex!). We're also running a seminar on the pastoral implications of technology at this year's EMA led by Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas: really, really important stuff for every pastor. You can book online now.