I've finally finished reading Michael Wood's excellent "The story of England" – the story of the country told through the story of one village, Kibworth (very near to Market Harborough from where I'm writing this). Having re-read the chapters on the Lollards and the Reformation, I was struck once again by the link the author makes between these two events: his premise is essentially this: the strong Wycliffe heritage of the village made the Reformation changes readily welcomed. When you think that almost 150 years separated the two that's a remarkable claim. The seed sown produced a latter harvest generations on. I find that remarkably encouraging.
Who knows, under the supreme sovereignty of God, what effect your preaching may have – not just in this generation but, in God's mercy and unseen, for generations to come. So, be encouraged Mr Preacher. You may be blessed with fruit now. But even if you are not, who knows what effect your faithful hard work will have in generations to come. Keep going. Stay faithful and prayerful and believe with all your heart that God's word will not return empty.
Reflections from the EMA Bookstore
This week we are beginning our review of the EMA Bookstore with tenofthose.com. These are all anecdotal observations; nevertheless, there is some truth here that is worth reflecting on:
- 2012/13 was a good year for books with some really strong, helpful, gap-filling titles published. It's exciting to see UK publishers at the forefront of this work. It seems publishers are, on the whole, becoming smarter about their new titles. That's great news, because there is enough crud around already. We recommended some of these titles, but the truth is there were a dozen more we could have commended. I will try to blog about some of these over the summer.
- There is a discerning hunger for good books. Preachers do not, on the whole, come to the EMA (or any other conference) for the BookStore. Nevertheless, many have commented to us on the importance of a well-stocked, carefully-chosen group of titles. We were slightly unsure how space might work; in the event we brought 1,000 titles, but could have extended this (and we will in 2014) by another 25%.
- Preachers are beginning to think more broadly than books they might read themselves. They are thinking about evangelistic books, books that congregation members could read and so on. We've tried to foster that at the EMA and we're really glad to see it beginning to take hold as a culture.
- There are still significant gaps in the book market, despite the large number of books available in the UK. There are still precious few books for teenagers, for example. And there are few books dealing with the issues raised by age and dementia. One or two are appearing, but nothing compared with books on, say, youth work and marriage (please, no more books on marriage!)
- Preachers have become light readers. Some of our weightier volumes, chosen very carefully, sold very few copies. That may be a price issue, but casual conversations with preachers reveal that we are, on the whole, becoming lighter readers. Those heavier volumes require greater time and intellectual investment, but preachers, we need to be stretched!
Preachers, don’t forget to pastor your wives
Mrs R and I are away at the Summer Wives Conference – almost 100 of us, Anglican and Free Church. Great weather. Good food. Superb accommodation. A good teaching programme, I hope, but also a chance to stop, take stock, rest and recuperate from the busyness of the pastoral home. I say this every year, but it comes to me every year afresh – it's quite possible, Mr Preacher, that the pastor's wife is the least churched person in your congregation. Some of the wives here have spent the last YEAR in the creche. Others find it almost impossible to listen to their husbands ministry without doing so as a friendly critic. Others are so overwhelmed with juggling children, hospitality and church responsibilities that they find it very difficult to take anything in.
Some of these are unavoidable tensions, but they can be mitigated, if only preachers would not neglect the pastoral care of their wives. Mr Preacher, what about your wonderful helper whom God has given you. Are you pastoring her as well as the rest of the congregation?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This EMA past we tried something new. We wanted to acknowledge before God the great generosity he has shown us and the rich seam of resources he has provided for us. So, as you may know, we had an overseas missions project. We invited delegates to buy a book for us to send to the Johannesburg Bible College whom we were delighted to support. We were not quite sure how this was going to go. But we were praying it would go well because our own generosity is, of course, a measure of our appreciation of the generosity that God himself has shown us in Christ.
So, we delighted to announce that we're sending almost 350 print resources and 100 DVD resources to South Africa. These will be a real help to those who simply don't have access to the resources we enjoy here. Thanks to our friends at Crossway, our package will include 100 ESV study Bibles. There will be lots of PT books and other resources too. Our friends at tenofthose.com have graciously paid to post the books off. And our good friend and EMA delegate David has chipped in with some other resources.
Who knows, in God's economy, the usefulness of these resources.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
On harmonization. Or not.
Lots of people have tried to write harmonies of the gospels (all the gospels in one account) with varying degrees of success. Not least Calvin. They can be useful, for example, when trying to piece together the final hours of Christ and, even, answer accusations of inconsistency. But they are plagued with difficulty, not least because the gospels are not linear biographies of the life of Jesus.
However, they are also deadly for preachers. Let me explain. I've heard lots of sermons (LOTS!) which go something like this: "Now, even though it's not here in [Mark's] account, [Luke] throws in some extra details which are worth considering." (Substitute any gospel name). At the risk of sounding like the Preaching Taliban, I want to say NO! The gospels are Spirit inspired Scripture and if you are going elsewhere to add in some detail to the account you're preaching, I would suggest you've rather missed the point. Of course, there are credations of this. Bringing in some colour from a parallel account is not so grievous a sin! But when another gospel account is needed in order to interpret another, then I think you're saying something about Scripture which I don't think you believe, and you will be in great danger of missing the point of why the account was written in the first place.
Harmonization is interesting. But surelly not in preaching?
Same sex attraction: further resources for pastors part 2
…and following on from yesterday's post, here is a very helpful interview with Rosaria Butterfield. It's particularly useful for pastors wanting to think through how their church can be welcoming to people from the gay and lesbian community, and do evangelism to them. It's also really encouraging on the power and sufficiency of God's word.
Same sex attraction: further resources for pastors
Our afternoon seminar option on same sex attraction was carefully planned and very well received. We'll have the audio up soon. Meanwhile here is some follow up material from Ed :
Want a good short introduction to the whole issue?
Then hot off the press there is Sam Allberry’s excellent Is God Anti-Gay? from the Good Book Company.
Want to understand what it feels like to be a Christian man who experiences same-sex attraction?
Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality beautifully and honestly provides one man’s account. I have yet to find another book that so effectively and encouragingly encapsulates the experience of same-sex attraction.
Want to understand what if feels like to be a Christian woman who experiences same-sex-attraction?
Alex Tylee’s Walking with Gay Friends: A journey of informed compassion shares her story and provides much practical help for those seeking to encourage people like her.
Want to thoroughly investigate the Bible passages?
The place to go is Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. It will cost you but it will be worth it for its exhaustive coverage of the relevant passages.
Want some input from a heavyweight Christian ethicist?
Richard Hay’s The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. I can’t recommend the chapter on homosexuality more highly.
Want something to help a teenager begin to think through these issues?
Scott Petty’s Sex (in the Good Company’s Little black Books series) would be the first place to go.
Want to think about the whole issue of sexual identity from a refreshing perspective?
Then Jenell Williams Paris’ The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are will not fail to get you thinking in really helpful ways.
Want to clarify your church/ organisation’s position on the whole issue of homosexuality?
The Evangelical Alliance have given you a head start in their Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality (Edited by Andrew Goddard and Don Horrocks).
Want to begin to get your head around the secular Gay community and where they’re coming from?
Andrew Sullivan’s Love Undetectable: reflections on friendship, sex and survival will help you feel the power of their thinking and feelings.
It’s the big idea, stupid
Back from the busyness of the EMA to real work – sermon preparation. This Sunday I'm preaching on Romans 11 (gulp!). I've been wrestling with it for a few weeks, not wanting to come to it for the first time this Monday morning before it is due. There's obviously lots going on in Romans 11 and, here's the thing, there are loads of places where I could easily be distracted. What is more, I can't possibly dot every i and cross every t. We've preached through Romans before, so this time around, we're going at a fairly robust pace to see some of the big things Paul is teaching.
So, how do I take a dense, argued (often controversial) passage like Romans 11 and make it into a Christian sermon? Well, part of the answer is, at least, that I do what we tell our students. You sit down and look at the passage and work out what it is really about. What's the big idea? What's the theme? Far from being a narrow minded intellectual exercise, this is a liberating part of my preparation. For if I can work out what the passage is about as originally written, I'm well on my way to preaching it faithfully.
It's fascinating. Many experienced preachers ditch this stage because they feel it's for students and beginners. I think that sometimes shows in rambling, confused sermons. But twice in Romans I've found it an invaluable discipline. Once, when I preached Romans 7 and now in Romans 11. Paul's big point is, of course, that God has not rejected his people (Rom 11.1) and keeping that in mind keeps the sermon on track.
Horrah for the big idea.
Charlie Fadipe on this year’s EMA
Charlie is an FIEC pastor in Wiltshire. This is an encouraging report
Philip Jensen at EMA 86
Still buzzing from last week's great EMA. I've been going over my notes from Vaughan's expositions of 1 Peter. Apart from the fact that I drew parallels between Vaughan's management style and that of Mohammad al Fayed (positively, it must be said), there are a few things worth linking. We'll have the audio and video up soon, but in the meantime:
- here is the combined audio from 1986. We'll strip out Jensen's talks soon, but for the moment it's a large file with all the audio of which Jensen's three talks are a significant part. The comibined file will also give you Dick and Packer. Good stuff from the early days!
- Vaughan referred to a paper by John Frame called Machen's warrior children. And here it is.
- Our own Teaching 1 Peter volume by Angus MacLeay is very useful for preachers and teachers
- Vaughan also referenced Karen Jobes 1 Peter commentary as being the best technical commentary he had used.
Update – Jensen's talks now available separately here.