The continuity of the covenants
A helpful lunchtime conversation recently with our resident Hebrews expert, Dr Jonathan Griffiths. I love PT lunchtimes: very eclectic! Anyway, this one was on the continuty of the covenants. How does the new relate to the old? Dr J suggested to me that you have to fundamentally decide whether your position is one of discontinuity, in which case the question you ask is "what does continues?" or continuity in which case you ask "what does not continue?" Either way, you've got to establish a theological starting point. Personally, it seems Hebrews 8 suggests strongly that the former is the right approach.
Have a good Friday!
How enemies conspire against the gospel
Read Ezra 4.7-16 this morning – the letter that Rehum and Shimshai send against the Israelites. It struck me again how enemies of the gospel twist the truth to suit their own ends:
- Rehum and Shimshai exaggerate those they represent (v10). It is highly unlikely that they do indeed speak for all the people whom they claim to speak for, but no matter, this just seems to enhance their objections.
- Rehum and Shimshai make leaps of logic to scare the king into submission. "If this city is built….the royal revenues will suffer" (v13). Quite a leap of argument. If this happens then that certainly will.
- Rehum and Shimshai choose the one topic that will get the King agitated. His coffers are depleted by the Greek wars fought by his predecessors. The threat of lost revenue strikes right at his heart.
- Rehum and Shimshai are selective with their history (v15). True, it is possible to look back into Jerusalem's history and see bleak moments (v16). But equally it is possible to look back to the time of Esther, for example, and see good history. That's how enemies work. They are always selective.
- Rehum and Shimshai exaggerate their claims. By verse 16 they are claiming that the whole of the Trans-Euphrates will be lost if Jerusalem is not stopped. Really? All of it?
Nothing changes. You can read exactly this kind of thing going on in Glasgow. Pray on for brothers and sisters at the Tron.
Preaching Acts or why Muslim men have beards but no moustaches
I had to prepare a talk and a sermon on Acts this last weekend. We're doing a little series called "reading the Bible for all its worth" where we help church members understand different genres of Scripture so that they can read the Bible well themselves. Last Sunday was Acts. You've got to decide when you preach it whether it is normative or descriptive. It seems the trend today is to choose the former. This post is about why that is the wrong approach.
- First of all, it's narrative. I think we can all agree on that. And the usual rules of narrative are that it is not, by virtue of being narrative, normative (that is not to say that it may be, more of that in a moment). We don't lay out fleeces for decision making. We don't grow our hair to make us strong. We don't die on a cross. Why should we jettison the rules of narrative for this one book of the Bible?
- Second, the book of Acts is not normatively consistent. For example, I was preaching on Acts 6.1-7 on Sunday. Good stuff. But the argument between various Jewish groups necessitates a change in the way the Apostles administer physical care. In chapter 4 money and food are brought to the apostles and, presumably, they distribute it. In Acts 6, this pattern changes. It has to. Which is normative? They can't both be.
- Third, normative applications often lead you down wrong paths. Most classically, the Ephesian disciples spoke in tongues so "all Christians must" – we hear this a lot around us. 1 Cor 12 proves that this is a falsehood, whatever you think of tongues today.
- Fourth, no one understands all of Acts normatively. Even the most ardent normative fan is selective. I don't know any church that has seven male deacons whose job is to wait on tables.
This was reinforced to me by one of our local missionaries who works amongst Muslim people. At a recent street event he was asked whether he was circumcised (!). Why? he replied. Because Jesus was circumcised and therefore you should be too, came the reply, This is the way a Muslim understands the Koran and the Hadith. Mohammed did it. So must I. Mr M had a beard. So must I. Mrs M told him she didn't like his moustaches. So he had a beard without a moustache. So must I. (Bet you never knew that!)
Instinctively we know that this is not the way to interpret narrative, so why do we apply it to Acts?
Now, before my friends who disagree get all hot under the collar let me qualify everything. Acts is, like other narrative an application of truth to situations. Therefore you need to read it in the light of the rest of Scripture – and especially, the apostles' teaching. Because of its post-cross timing, it is not surprising that many of the events of Acts do turn out to be normative, but they are so because they are timeless applications of new covenant truth, not because they are in Acts.
In other words, the very fact that many of the details of Acts do turn out to be normative has distracted us from thinking of the whole book properly as narrative and interpreting it in that light.
The boy Glen with his superb gospel presentation.
Inner London/Colchester Gospel Partnership Preachers Day
There's still time to book on for this Saturday's Preachers Day held here at London Bridge. Organised with the Inner London Gospel Partnership it's suitable for anybody within reach of London who wants help preaching or teaching. It will be suitable for occasional preachers (and even regular ones!), Bible study leaders and so on. At £10 it's excellent value and this year we have Nigel Styles teaching us on Ecclesiastes. It's great material and we thoroughly commend the day. Why not, even at this short notice, make an effort to come and grow in your Bible handling skills? We look forward to seeing you. Book here.
We've also organised a day with the East Anglia Gospel Partnership on the same day in Colchester. This one will be led by Jonathan Griffiths, our resident Hebrews expert and will be on….Hebrews. Previous days in Colchester have been a great success. Come and join us again to see how to preach and teach this really important New Testament book. Book here.
Pod on Channel 4: Excellent
Did you see Pod from UCCF on Channel 4 forethought? Superb.
It's not about what I prefer to believe or wish were true, but what I'm persuaded of is true.
Sorry, I can't embed – but you can watch it here.
Delivering a sermon
Whilst teaching international students last week I sat through an interesting presentation on sermon delivery with some obvious but helpful wisdom. The presenter outlined four principles for sermon delivery (my summary in brackets):
- not too slow and not too fast (i.e. good pace)
- not too high and not too low (i.e. good tone)
- not too soft and not too loud (i.e. good volume)
- not all the same (i.e. variation of above)
Helpful. And what if we struggle in these areas? Ask for help! Get a good friend to point things out to you. Create a culture in church where the preacher gets some feedback (this is not the same as inviting the whole congregation to do this!). And, in fact, you will quickly work things out. Go round and visit people in your church and ask them what they remember from last week's sermon, any questions they want to ask etc, and you will soon find out what people have been taking in and whether your delivery works. It's not rocket science, but it is foundational.
The preacher’s Bible
I once heard the Seattle pastor (whose name we don't seem to mention so much now) make a very helpful observation for pastors. Get yourself a good preaching Bible. I have often thought about this, and I guess to some extent it depends on your preaching style, but if you're the kind of pastor who likes to have a Bible in hand (either all the time or from time to time), it's worth some thought. Here are some observations:
- Obviously you want to have a Bible in the translation your church is using. But that's not quite as simple as it sounds. I think you want to have a Bible in the exact version your church is using – e.g. it may confuse people if you're preaching from a US English ESV and the church Bibles are anglicised. Little things may distract from your sermon. If you can get a Bible with the same pagination, then all well and good. The new UK's NIVs do this very well.
- Try to avoid a red letter Bible – there are theological reasons for this, but I don't want to make that point now. They can also be hard to read in less than perfect light. Black type is easier to scan, pick up and see in all kinds of light conditions.
- Avoid a Bible that is too heavy. Your arm will drop off. In fact, you don't need one with cross references etc – not for preaching.
- Go for 10 point text or more. Otherwise you will find it a strain.
- Leather is nice but not necessary. If you want a softback you get sometimes get tru-tone Bibles which fold back easily and are relatively durable. If you prefer a hardback you are onto a significant saving.
- Curiously some leather is very stiff and not very forgiving. This is especially true of bonded leather. For example, the new NIV leather is a very stiff cover and is OK for holding Bible open, but if you're after "floppiness" it won't do.
All of this assumes, of course, that you're choosing your Bible for substance not style. It's not just a "nice thing" – it's the word of God and you want to choose a version that will aid the preaching of the word of God.
Generally, the best Bibles are also the most expensive. It's a sad fact. The best UK bindings are, without doubt, RL Allan's. You'll need a few bob, though. However, for something that will last and be comfortable in hand, there's little to beat it.
NT Wright in the Times
A couple of weeks ago there was a nonsense letter in the Times about Scripture, faith and reason being the pillars of the Anglican church, with the conclusion that we can only read the Bible in the light of Enlightenment (and in particular German critical) thinking. The point being, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have no place in the Anglican communion. NT Wright replied brilliantly, with a very helpful assessment of what tradition (not faith) and reason have in the place of the church – in essence, being tools to interpret Scripture, no more. His letter is worth repeating – especially if you're the kind of preacher that needs, from time to time, to demolish the liberal interpretation argument.
Sir, The Church of England, says Peter Nancarrow (letter, Oct 8), “rests upon scripture, faith and reason”. The normal trio is actually “scripture, tradition and reason”. Classic Anglican theology does not see these as equal and parallel “sources”, to be played off against one another. They are interlocking methods. As we read the scriptural accounts which converge upon Jesus (on whom alone the Church rests), we do so in an ongoing dialogue with tradition (what the Church has said down the years) and with the proper use of reason (ruling out arbitrary, fanciful or speculative readings). This remains a complex and exhilarating task, not to be captured by caricature. The idea that the so-called “wings” of the Church “deny the intellectual progress marked by the Enlightenment” ignores most of the leading theological and biblical studies of the last generation, which have taken on the Enlightenment’s proper questions but frequently come up with different answers. In any case, “the intellectual approach of the present age” is hardly that of the Enlightenment. The massive and multilayered critique offered by “postmodernity” on the one hand, and actual contemporary historical scholarship on the other, has refuted or made redundant many 19th-century critical theories, including those of the Tübingen school, cited by Mr Nancarrow. To suggest that a “middle liberalism”, in between the two “wings”, is the natural result of using one’s intellect to grapple with 1st-century texts must itself be challenged, as much in the name of “reason” itself as of scripture, tradition, or anything else.
The Right Rev Professor N. T. Wright, St Mary’s College, St Andrews