The importance of praying the psalms part 1
Starting today, we’ve a five post series on the importance of praying the psalms as Christian literature.
In May 1943, from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book.” I have been gripped for a few years now by the vision of getting the Psalms back into Christian use in evangelical circles. It seems to me that they will help us learn to pray; and they will reshape our disordered affections in God’s ways, avoiding both an arid intellectualism (when we are so frightened of charismatic error that we fight shy of the language of affections and emotions) and an uncontrolled emotionalism (in which emotions run riot in disordered subjectivism).
But, as we shall see, tomorrow, things are not quite that straightforward.
Puritan preaching: not the model?
I have just read Peter Adam's perceptive, scholarly, and pastorally sensitive Latimer Trust booklet "Gospel Trials in 1662: To Stay or To Go?". It is a really helpful piece of church history, looking at the Puritans who stayed and the Puritans who left the Church of England in the troubled years after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. It has evident relevance for those struggling with whether or not to remain in the Church of England or the Church of Scotland today.
But I was particularly interested in the section where Peter analyses some of the weaknesses within the Puritan movement (in the context of course of tremendous admiration for such very great men). In particular, he shows how their preaching developed some of the characteristics of Medieval Scholasticism, a detailed, highly intellectual, and overly "precise" analytical treatment of very short texts, in such a way that the Bible itself was swamped by the systematic doctrinal overlay and multiple applications. Peter comments that, "It was a pity that the Puritans largely adopted this style of preaching, because John Calvin had created a new style of expository preaching that was simpler, more accessible, less detailed, more straight-forward, easier to follow, and shorter!" (pp17,18). He notes that, "(t)he preaching that eventually shook the nation was that of the Evangelical Revival, which began in the 1730s. A good example of that style was George Whitefield, whose preaching was Biblical, passionate, direct, plain, easy to follow, and powerful" (pp19,20).
The preaching that we encourage at Proclamation Trust, and the preaching we train men for at PT Cornhill, is deliberately not "scholastic"; and yet there is sometimes a danger that we are too complicated, too intellectual, and too detailed. I found it a helpful caution.
Oh, and I loved Peter's comment about one Puritan, that while he was pastorally motivated in choosing to preach from the book of Job, "he was perhaps pastorally unwise to continue his series on the book of Job for 29 years." With dry understatement like that, I think Peter could be an honorary Englishman.
Revised EMA trailer
Is the Bible sufficient?
That's a rather pejorative question! Of course, we believe it is. But if the question is phrased slightly differently, we may find some diverging opinions. Is the Bible self-sufficient for its own understanding? In other words, do we need to go outside the Bible to understand the Bible correctly. We had an interesting time with John Dickson at one of our recent ministers conferences where we explored just this theme (the videos are shown below). More recently, it was the subject of a useful blog post from over the pond. I don't normally link to other posts, trying to avoid the constant merry-go-round where millions of bloggers all reference the same 10 blog posts. Nevertheless, this one from the Gospel Coalition is worth some time and thought. it specifically addresses whether outside information is needed in order to be able to understand the Bible correctly.
Connected to that is a second issue. Is the Bible sufficient for all of life? For what it's worth, the reason this second point is so controversial is, in part at least, due to a redefining of what we mean by sufficiency. We used to mean what the Westminster Shorter Catechism means: "The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man." In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient for a particular purpose. That has become, in certain circles, unhelpfully broadened so that Scripture becomes a straightjacket on matters of which it simply does not speak.
EMA 2014: important announcement
We have had to change next year's EMA dates from those previously advertised. It's been a bit of a saga, but essentially, the dates we were promised and agreed with the Barbican have been withdrawn. This year's move was such a success that we want to continue the momentum and so we've put back the EMA by two weeks for 2014 only. That means it will take place from Tuesday 8 to Thursday 10 July. The Summer wives conference will take place 23 June. Some of us are used to the EMA being in the last week in June. But then we were used to it being at St Helen's too and we coped with that. For some people, these dates will actually be better. It will certainly be easier for us to plan leaving us a short breather between the end of Cornhill term and the EMA. So put these new dates in your diary please, and let the evangelical world know…
Life on the edge and self-neglect
I've been reflecting recently how much of pastoral life is lived on the edge. There is the routine of ministry, especially for those of us who are preachers, the regular study, prayer and preparing of sermons for the church. There is a regularity about that which is relatively easy to plan for and anticipate. But preaching does not happen in a vacuum and much of what counts as pastoral work has very little that is regular. In fact, it can be made up of emergencies, counsel that takes longer than expected, funerals and other crises.
The preacher has to accommodate these whilst maintaining the regularity of ministry. I don't think that's easy. In fact, I know it's not. So, preachers need to be good self-adminstrators (or have a good administrator) on top of everything else.
This has come home to me this last week as I've tried to prepare sermons, do office work and deal with crises that necessarily arise. And in the midst of this the greatest danger is self-neglect. You may find it is different for you. But actually, when there is so much to fit into the day, spiritual (and physical and emotional) self-neglect is a serious business and a real risk for me. So, against all earthly wisdom, today I'm taking a day off and finding time to pray, study, read and see friends. I may have been guilty of some self-neglect, but I'm asking God to help me remedy that.
Your wife is beautiful
One of the 'commands' of Scripture is to find delight in the 'wife of your youth.' It's a strange phrase to unpack. But whatever else this means (how many wives have you?) at the very least it means that you, Mr Married Preacher, are to find your wife beautiful. You should delight in her. Even if time has ravaged you both. I think this is one of the most helpful things I ever learnt giving marriage prep. We need to discipline ourselves to find our wives beautiful, whatever the cultural pressures tell us.
Driscoll, in one of the helpful things he says (!) puts it like this – men, whatever your wife looks like, that is your standard of beauty. Small breasts? Then you like small breasts. Large? Then, that's your thing. Wide hips? Then you like them. Narrow. Ditto. Short? She's the girl for you. Tall? Likewise. And so on. This is advice we need to heed and teach to men in our congregations too.
I was thinking more about this today when I read this extremely positive article on the BBC website about a US photographer who has photographed women post childbirth. Jade Beall, for that is her name, wanted to show the beauty of the normality of the post-birth woman. She's right. Her photographs are, I think, quite stunning. Eve was given the grand title – Mother of all living – and motherhood is indeed gloriously beautiful. It deserves to be celebrated and should be part of our wives beauty, not something that destroys it.
Your wife is beautiful.
It hardly seems possible to pick up a newspaper or magazine at this time of year without being confronted with a list of essential summer reading. And if you can't beat them, why not join them? Our own holiday begins in a couple of weeks and I'm starting to load up the kindle (yes, I know, I prefer real books too – but I read fast and Mrs R won't allow me to take enough books away with me to fill the time).
And here's the curious thing. I find it very difficult to read Christian books and unwind. I know that should not be the case, but it is, and has been ever since I became a pastor. Perhaps it's indicative of the fact that I'm poor at self-discipline. Maybe. But what I know is that as soon as I start reading a Christian book I start applying it to my own heart and the hearts of those I minister to. I critique it as a possible bookstall volume. And so on.
So, I've developed a defence mechanism which is I don't read Christian books on holiday. I just don't. I read plenty of them at other times, but on holiday I stack the pack with some fiction and non fiction that has been waiting in line. I also take the opportunitie to read through again and again the next book I'm preaching on – not with a view to crafting sermons, but just getting to know the book.
So here, if you're interested, is the first part of my summer list. I don't really mind whether you like it or not, but I think there is great value in using downtime to relax and if reading helps you relax, then it is worth planning properly for:
- Ecclesiastes is our autumn preaching project at church. I aim to read through this a few times. 1 Samuel is my Cornhill teaching project next spring. Ditto.
- I'm very gripped by the look of The Great Tamasha by James Astill. This is a book about cricket in India, its success, corruption, influence. It looks very interesting and satisfies two of my great loves: cricket and, er, India.
- In the past I've enjoyed some of Zadie Smith and her new novel NW is, as expected, gritty and realistic. It's also about London so has been added to the pile.
- Terra by Mitch Benn just sounds silly. But it's good to have at least one silly book to laugh at (previously this space has been filled with books by Jasper Fforde)
- A commonplace killing is a crime story with a difference – the difference being the setting of immediate post war austerity – a time which intriques me very much.
- I've also got to finish off the Pulitzer winner Behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo, an addictive but grimy and depressing book about a Mumbai slum. I've also already finished one of my holiday books – Forgotten Land by Max Egremont – an extremely moving book with unexpected gospel.
And what have you planned…?
Seminar files from the EMA
The audio of seminars from the 2013 EMA is now available to download for free here. Please note that this does not include the marriage and ministry stream by Mrs R and I. Due to the nature of the seminar stream, it was not possible to record the sessions. I may, when I have some time, put some of the notes online.
Marriage, ministry and priorities
One quote from a (male) speaker at last week's wives' conference. "I have always believed and said publicly that – if it came to it – I would willingly give up my ministry for the sake of my marriage."
There is a sense in which marriage and ministry cannot be compared to set off one against the other. They are of a different order. But ultimately, this speaker was right.
If you are married and in ministry, could you honestly say this? If not, why not?