Why bother with expository preaching?
Lennox in The Times
Today's Times carries a long interview with John Lennox. Worth a look if you can get beyond the paywall, or you may have do the old fashioned thing and buy a print copy. I can only (for copyright reasons) cut and paste an excerpt.
Stephen Hawking is wrong to assert that God did not create the Universe, says Christianity’s new poster boy John Lennox
In September, when The Times made international headlines with the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had concluded that God had not, after all, created the Universe, it should have been a blow to John Lennox. The 67-year-old Oxford University maths professor has in the past few years emerged as academia’s lead champion of Christianity against the post-9/11 “New Atheists”. He has three times debated their leader, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, two years ago at the university’s natural history museum in what some hailed as a rerun of the great 1860s evolution debate between Darwin’s supporter Thomas Huxley and God’s Samuel Wilberforce.
But now the war was being fought on a new front — physics — by a scientist whom Lennox had admired since their student days at Cambridge.
Yet Lennox says that it wasn’t a blow. “No, not in the slightest. It was fascinating. I thought, ‘What new arguments does he have?’”
This, one might say, is the Oxford mind at work. For others, however, the shock was real enough. A “simple believer in the Christian faith” e-mailed Lennox to say that he had driven into a petrol station and seen the headlines. “He said it hit him viscerally. It knocked him for six.” Perhaps it was for him, then, that Lennox has now written in retaliation God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway?, a short book that he will give us a sneak preview of on Monday with a lecture at the University of Dundee.
We meet at Green Templeton College, Oxford, for which, among his other jobs, Lennox is pastoral adviser. The first thing to say about him is that he is extraordinarily nice. He is plump and beaming and untidy, a father of three and grandfather of four. There is huge warmth in his Northern Irish accent, as well as what appears to be a genuine interest in others. The second thing is that he extremely clever. As a young father teaching at Cardiff University he subsidised his salary by translating Russian, a language that he taught himself as he went along. He also speaks French, German and some Spanish. Maths, on which he has published 70 peer-reviewed articles, he regards as just “another language”.
He has just returned from a lecturing tour in America. Maths or God, I ask over lunch in the college.
“God,” he says although anyone who has struggled with his bookGod’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? will know that a knowledge of advanced maths might prove very useful when discussing God with him were he mean enough to shift the debate to the origins, divine or otherwise, of amino acids.
What’s wrong with preaching?
Just over eight years ago, one of our former directors, Willie Philip (now minister at St George's Tron) wrote a little booklet Concerning Preaching. In it, he suggested that a useful Satanic attack might get us to focus too much on preaching, or at least too much on the wrong aspects of preaching. I've just re-read it this morning and it is still a particularly relevant assessment. You can download it for free here, but in summary, Willie suggests that there are three subtle (or not so subtle?) shifts in focus in the world of evangelical preaching:
- A shift from content to form where we have become so obsessed with how we preach that we have forgotten that what we preach matters
- A shift from the vertical to the horizontal in terms of what is happening when we open up the Scriptures – "we forget the presence of the living God himself"
- A shift from the corporate to the individual
More like this:
IX Marks Book Reviews
The November/December IX Marks eJournal has some thorough book reviews on the theme of the mission of the church, including those of:
- Generous Justice by Tim Keller
- The Mission of God's People
- The Mission of God, both by Chris Wright
- Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen (this one looks particularly good, but is not out in the UK until January)
- Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms also by David VanDrunen
- The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash (a good review from Alistair Begg)
Makes interesting reading, even if you don't agree with all the conclusions. Worth a look.
Bringing the Psalms back into use
I’m just finishing a teaching series on the Psalms at Cornhill and have been very struck by how God has given us the Psalms to teach us how to pray and to praise him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little booklet “Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible” makes the point that we need Jesus to teach us how to pray (Lord teach us to pray) and that one of the main ways in which Jesus teaches us to pray is through the Psalms which are supremely his own prayers.
But the Psalms have fallen into disuse in many of our churches, so that we neither know them nor learn how to pray them. It was very encouraging to hear from Greg Strain (Spicer Street Chapel, St Alban’s) that for the past 150 Sundays they have focused on one Psalm each week in their Sunday morning meetings. They say a few words of introduction about the Psalm, and then the leader reads the Psalm, after which they all sing a paraphrase of the Psalm (often from the Praise! hymn book). After that the Psalm is used as the basis for the main corporate prayer. After 150 weeks, Greg tells me that they’re about to go back and start again at Psalm 1 and that this time they will all read the Psalm together aloud. Greg has told the congregation that they’re going to keep going through the Psalms until they’ve memorised them! Greg comments to me that they have found this very very helpful and that the Psalms “are teaching us to pray”. And also that “(corporate) praying is shaped by Scripture every week and yet is different every week”.
Why Vaughan comes to conferences
Here Vaughan explains why he comes to PT conferences and books early! Our next ministers conference is in May for younger ministers (3-6 May) with Tim Chester and William Taylor and then the senior ministers conference (16-19 May) with great OT scholar Iain Duguid and Hugh Palmer. Listen to Vaughan's advice and book now! Please note that the younger ministers conference is almost fully booked.
Ministry and Marriage (1)
Here we are at the ministers conference and we have had two very good, thorough and challenging sessions on ministry and marriage with John and Ann Benton. For starters here are ten questions for men to ask themselves how difficult they are. Score 0 if you never do this; 1 if you rarely do it; 2 if you sometimes or often do it and 3 if you always do it.
- Assume that at the drop of a hat, she is willing to accommodate anybody or do anything
- Accept an away preaching engagement on her birthday or your anniversary
- Opt out of family life except at mealtimes
- Omit to communicate stuff from leaders' meetings which affects her
- Use what time you have off for personal pursuits
- Make jokes or tell stories at your wife's expense in a sermon
- Use headship as an excuse for selfishness
- Say yes to any request even if it overrides family plans
- Expect and use sex for your own consolation only
- Ignore or belittle her behind-the-scenes work
Be honest! Under 10, well done. Over 20, you are in trouble.
Jackman: On preaching long passages in Isaiah
David Jackman: don't just preach long passages to get through a long book. You will tend to be reductionist and preach framework. Pause on a verse or two. Mine the riches. Secure it in its setting, of course. But don't lose the detail.
Notes from start of David Jackman's third session:
There was a time when eschatology was thought of as the last chapter of a systematic theology and the home territory of a few crankies. One of the good results of the bible overviews we have is that eschatology is the DNA of the Bible. But what do our congregations have in mind when we speak to them of heaven? What, in other words, does heaven look like? Living for heaven is very difficult to do when we don't know what we mean by it.
We need to understand the future well if we are to know how to live in the waiting time. Isaiah 60-62 is very concerned with this issue. Isaiah 60-62 is the central section of this last chunk of Isaiah (56-66). [BTW, David says Isaiah 60-62 would make a great little preaching series on living now in the light of what is to come – much needed material.]
In chapter 60 there is a new beginning starting (and ending) with the motif of light (Isaiah 60.1, 20, 21). This is a poem of 10 stanzas which revolves around verse 12. Those who refuse to be part of the new kingdom will be utterly laid waste.
In chapter 61 a new speaker is introduced whose task is to proclaim good news and vengeance. Then verse 5-9 are about the city of God and the speaker who began chapter 61 speaks again from 61.10-62.7.
Chapter 62 then ends with a glorious ending.
This suggests that the unit is in five sections:
- picture of new Zion (60)
- The conqueror (61.1-4)
- Zion again ((61.5-6)
- The conqueror again (61.10-62.7)
- Zion (62.8-12)
Now we're getting into the detail. We'll post the audio and video soon; all good stuff!
Isaiah (2): preaching chiasms
David is just explaining, in response to a question, that understanding some of the chiasms (a particular structure of Hebrew literature) is about preaching preparation, not preaching! Use the chiasm to find what God is saying and understand the passage. "It is a great tool for finding the big idea and keeping it central." It is not a great tool for preaching! By and large our congregations don't think that way, so don't preach that way!