Why are there so many stories in the Bible or why the Old Testament is so long?
Some brief notes from Iain Duguid's second session: Why are there so many stories in the Bible?
"In our culture, stories are for children and for the beach in the summer. We tend to regard stories as fluff, or at least less than fully serious. So why does the Bible, the most serious book in the world, contain so many stories?"
Here are his answers:
- a good story has a universal appeal. Not everybody loves to read theology textbooks, but people love a story. The youngest child or oldest saint can grasp and enjoy a well written narrative. Narrative has the unique ability to be both simple and profound, ministering to people of all ages and conditions. No wonder the Bible itself is one grand narrative.
- stories help put flesh on abstract ideas. "You shall not grumble" is an abstract idea. Numbers 11 explains it well….in a story. The narratives of Scripture similarly show us what the character of God means in practice and not just in theory. This is also why the Old Testament is so long. How you do display God-sized patience except in a long series of stories?
- stories are able to convey the complexity of life in the world in which we live. Life on earth is rarely simple and unambiguous. We are bit players in a much larger story and narrative is well suited to that idea.
We've been gettng into Numbers (even Numbers 33!!) and these points have been shown to be true. You'll have to wait for audio and video (hopefully next week or so).
Duguid: Why we need the gospel that changes
We're at the Senior Ministers' Conference at the moment and enjoying the ministry of Iain Duguid. Iain is a great OT scholar and is at Grove City College (if you're from the US you will understand that, if you're from the UK….). Iain's print ministry has always been a great help to me, now he's here in person and we've been usefully hearing about preaching Christ from the Old Testament.
His introduction to his subject has been particularly useful. It was a reminder that it is the gospel that changes and it is why we need the gospel – ALWAYS. He cautioned against what Newton called the "inefficacy of knowledge" – knowledge about the gospel does not change (isn't that a great challenge for preachers). The gospel changes. And it's why we need the gospel.
How much of our preaching is sharpened by this, asked Iain? He gave an illustration of a student on campus who is ordinarily scruffy, smelly and takes no care over his appearance. If he suddenly turns up one day smart and smelling of cologne, you know he's met a girl! This is what Thomas Chalmers calls "the expulsive power of a new affection" (try googling the sermon, it's great stuff).
If, said Iain, the Westminster Shorter Catechism is right and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, then the goal of preaching must be to help people glorify God and enjoy him forever. Does your preaching do this? Do you even think about it this way?
Called to the Ministry?
Last Sunday I had the privilege of speaking to over 100 students at a lunch at St Andrew the Great Church in Cambridge. I was asked to speak on the question, ‘who is called into paid Christian work?’ Perhaps rather controversially, I kicked off by showing that the NT’s answer to that question is no one! That is there seems to be no biblical indication that the NT office of pastor requires a special ‘calling’ in the same way that prophets and high priests were called in the OT. Indeed, the NT seems only to use the word ‘calling’ to describe the call to the Christian life in general (e.g. 2 Tim1:8-9).
That said, I do believe that we need many men and women to give themselves to full time Christian ministry both in this country and overseas. So here were the 6 answers I gave to the question ‘who is called into paid Christian work?’ I won’t unpack them, but will give the Bible verses I took people to and hope you can see where I was going.
1. Those whom Christ appoints – Eph 4:11
2. Those whom the church identifies
3. Those who are godly in life – 1 Tim 3:1-7
4. Those who are gifted to teach – 1 Tim 3:2
5. Those who understand the times – 2 Tim 4:1-5
6. Those who are prepared to suffer – 2 Tim 4:7-8
In his book Called to the Ministry Edmund Clowney wrote this: ‘The stairway to the ministry is not a grand staircase but a back stairwell that leads down to the servants’ quarters.’ (p.43). May the Lord of the harvest raise up and appoint many servants for His harvest field. The Cornhill Training Course is a great toe in the water to see if full time Bible teaching ministry is for you. If you can’t give us 2 years, how about coming on The Cornhill Summer School in the last week of June?
@thecross is a new book by John Benton published by EP. It grew out of sermons that John preached at Chertesy Street Baptist Church in Guildford. From the start it's obvious that this book is pastoral. John's got a big brain and he's a well known newspaper editor, but he is first and foremost a pastor and in this book, it shows. That makes the book both accessible and warmly applied, two necessary ingredients that can't always be taken for granted.
The burden of the book is not revolutionary nor that of novelty, but one of reminder:
The central burden of this book is to back to some passages of Scripture and rediscover, restate and rejoice in the breaktaking reality of what the cross of Christ achieved, which is the gospel preached by the apostle (p12)
I think it's fair to say that aim is neatly and carefully achieved. Pastors or mature Christians are unlikely to find theological stretch here, but that's hardly the point of the book. There is, however, warmth and vitality. Six chapters cover six essential ingredients: faith alone; penal substitution; justification; imputed righteousness; Christ's obedience and sanctification.
I was particularly struck by four and five. Much has been written on penal substitution in recent years and I wonder if that has meant we have neglected some other key doctrines. Therefore a chapter explaining imputation simply but profoundly is extraordinarily welcome, as is the chapter on the active obedience of Christ (which I posted on a few days ago) – forgiveness is not enough!
Even after the forgiveness of sins, there would still be an obligation to obey God perfectly. If the original promise of life to Adam was based on a probationary period of obedience, it seems strange to think that God would proceed to grant eternal life simply on the basis of man being forgiven for his sins and so returned to Adam's state of guiltlessness. Something more is required (p93)
Each chapter ends with a little story of a real person and an illustration of how the truth of the chapter has changed the life of that person. They are very helpful in terms of applying warmly what to some might seem rather cold doctrines. Bang on the money!
I did like this book:
- it warmed my heart even though it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know
- it stirred my imagination to think about a similar little series
- it made me think of people that I could pass the book onto – even perhaps serious seekers struggling with the cross? Certainly thinking church members who, like me, need to be constantly stirred by the truth that "Jesus died for sins."
Beautiful Christ in the ups and downs of ministry
Last week was a bit of a struggle in the PT office. We had moments of great joy, especially in planning for and thinking about the future, but also in seeing students grow and develop. We had moments of utter despair, particularly with government regulations, but other disappointments and sadnesses too. It's easy to be blown about by all these various trials and struggles; journeying to the top of the mountain, then falling down to the valley before the next peak of excitement hits.
I guess anybody in Christian ministry will feel this burden. It is Christian ministry. One moment the pastor is replying to criticisms about his last sermon and the next he gets an email in his box saying what a help the last message was. One moment his study is occupied by a struggling couple, the next he is reading the Bible with a future leader. One day he feels dry and weary in his walk with Christ; the next he finds prayer comes naturally and joyfully.
We're meant to feel some of this tension. We're not automaton Stepford pastors. We have to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Those ups and downs shape our ministry, focus our ministry and connect it to those God has given us. But we don't find our worth or value or joy in those moments. I've learn that last week.
We gather the staff to read briefly and pray each Monday and last Monday Robin shared a Flavel sermon he had read and found greatly helpful. Regular readers will know I'm a great Flavel fan (come on, a Puritan you can read and understand!!!). Here's a link to the sermon: Christ Altogether Lovely. (If you have the works, it's not in there, though there are plenty of other Flavel nuggets.) It's been a helpful corrective. Here's a taster:
Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!
Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ. Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.
Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely.
Prophetic preaching and why it is NEVER boring
Our short strapline ("When God's word is faithfully preached, God's voice is clearly heard") causes some to stumble. We know that. And it's always going to be the case that such short statements raise more questions than they answer. In various ways (not least in Christopher's excellent The Priority of Preaching) we try to answer those questions.
However, here's another way to think more broadly about what preaching is and why it is so important. Carl Trueman's hour long lecture at the recent Clarus conference is excellent. It's certainly challenging – not least the explanation about why preaching is NEVER boring (not real preaching anyhow). There's some good stuff here, including why preaching is not just "explaining the Bible" (though I'd want to say it's not less than that).
Two thirds of the way through Carl quotes from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Question 155: How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
Answer: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
The Reformers understood that preaching was the principal means by which God makes himself savingly present in the church.
The mp3 is worth the time. Carl is speaking at our Autumn Minister's Conference (7-10 November 2011) for which booking opens in July.
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Why Tim Chester wrote You can change
If you've been following these blogs you'll know that we had Tim Chester at last week's younger ministers conference. We've not yet posted the video and audio, they're worth waiting for – especially two cracking sermons, one from Tim and one from William Taylor (our other main speaker). In the meantime, in order to whet your appetite, here's Tim telling us why he wrote You can change. Both You can change and Captured by a better vision (essentially You can change applied to pornography) are excellent pastoral and personal books. And, as you will see from the short 40 second clip, it's all about Tim….. Do make use of these excellent resources.
Rich beyond measure
The folk up at High Church Hilton (Aberdeen) have written a book which they have used evangelistically and which I've enjoyed reading over the weekend. Entitled Rich: The reality of encountering Jesus it's a short (120pp) introduction to the message of Luke's gospel. I really enjoyed it. It's accessible, well-written (no surprise with David Gibson's hand upon it – BTW he also wrote one of the most insightful papers I have read about how evangelicalism can get lost). It's a book for those who are seriously thinking about Christianity but I found it warmed my heart with the gospel all over again. As with any evangelistic book, I urge you to read it first. Don't just buy such books willy-nilly and give them out. Know what they say! Point people towards particularly helpful chapters for them: "here's a book you might like to look at, but if you only read one chapter, read chapter 3…." is a great way to give away a book. It shows you've read it and you think it is good for the person you're giving it to.
High Church (which is an historic name rather than a comment about their services….) have also produced a course to go with the book which they've used in their parish. I sometimes feel a bit coursed out. The granddaddy of them all is Christianity Explored, of course. It's just been relaunched and I look forward to seeing the finished article. But I'm increasingly convinced that what we probably need is a variety of different ways to engage people with the gospel – some simpler, some more involved; some longer, some shorter and so on. I'm sure the guys at High Church Hilton would be happy to hear from you if, having read the book, you would like to explore that a little more.
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How do we pastor one another?
Taken from Tim Chester's second session at last week's Younger Ministers Conference. How do we pastor one another:
- We pastor one another every day. This is certainly the biblical pattern and the way that Jesus conducts much of his ministry. This is why dishwashers (says Tim, not Adrian!!) are evil because they rob us of pastoral moments. They obviously don't have much washing up in Tim's house, because we can put the dishwasher on and still have washing up (and therefore pastoral moments). Sorry, off the point there. Make the most of everyday moments for teaching, encouraging and comforting one another.
- We pastor one another in community. The God given context for pastoral care is the church community – not the therapists session or even the pastor's study. Change is a community project. Hebrews 3.12-13.
- We pastor one another over a lifetime. Change takes a lifetime and so pastoral care takes a lifetime soon. Even if we can bring some understanding to a situation, changing hearts is a sometimes slow process. If we don't realise this we will soon become frustrated in pastoral ministry.
- We pastor one another with grace. Which means we cannot pastor one another if we are not pastoring ourselves – see Matthew 7.3-5. We need to pastor one another out of a strong sense of grace both to the one we are speaking to and to ourselves. Self righteous pastors are bad pastors. They can leave others crushed.
- We pastor one another with the good news. We don't say "you should not…". Instead we say, "you need not, because God is….."
Really helpful stuff. We'll have the video and audio up soon.
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Preacher, walk closely with Christ!
I taught two seminars last week on the importance of maintaining a close communion with our living God through his Son and in the power of his Spirit. It was based on a rather enigmatic sentence in 1 Timothy:
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this [literally, them, not sure why ESV has singularised this word] for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
So, two seminars on personal devotions or (and I hate the term) quiet times. For if a pastor is not cultivating a close walk with Christ with prayer and study of the word, then how on earth can he save himself and his hearers.
We honestly identified all the problems we have with maintaining close walk – laziness, distractions, blandness, boredom, small children, computers, tiredness, busyness – it was a useful exercise to be honest about the dry seasons we find ourselves in.
Ultimately of course there is only one answer to this. Our only hope is for a deep hunger and thirst for righteousness, which means a deep hunger and thirst for Christ and a desire to be close to him and, as the hymn says, lost in wonder, love and praise. If you don't have it, you need to (a) know that you need it and (b) cry out to God for it. No other solution.
But grace comes in ordinary things too. Just as the porn addict needs a filter on his computer as he prays for a changed heart, so a preacher can do some practical things as he cries out to God for a deep hunger and thirst. Here are 10 things that work for me. Perhaps there is some godly wisdom there?
- Read the Bible for your own soul first. Even it eats into prep time don't think that studying to preach is enough to feed your own soul.
- Read and pray with a pen in your hand – both to capture thoughts and jot down distractions to be dealt with later. I write myself a prayer every day based on what I have read.
- Use Bible helps judiciously. You're a pastor for goodness sake – don't get caught into the "I can only read the Bible with a commentary" trap
- Nothing beats an early morning. I learnt this reading chapter 20 of Book 3 of the Institutes which is some of the warmest stuff I have ever read on prayer. Google it.
- Pray for your people deliberately and by name. Better to pray for one or two well than 5 in a bland way. Don't focus on felt needs, pray in what you are reading for your people. Pray that what you are learning they will learn and tell them about it next time you see them.
- Tear up your prayer diary every few months. I find routine is a life-killer, so I have to tear up my routine and refresh it regularly.
- Singing to yourself is not a sign of madness. I sit in the morning with an open hymn book and take one a day (which, by the way, opens my eyes to some beautiful and lovely words from the past)
- Develop prayer as an attitude not a diary slot. We all know it. Practice it. A few minutes here and there. A cry when you reach a really knotty part of Scripture you're struggling to prepare.
- Don't be afraid to use helps in dry times. I find Valley of Vision a real help when I struggle to pray (I use the leather version, not much more, nicely laid out and it doens't fall apart with use)
- Cry out with honesty for your lack of thirst. Admit your sin. Repent of it. Use the psalms to align yourself with Christ once again.
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