I'm pretty sure that reading a Christian newspaper is high up the priority list for Christians. For sure, in the world, newspaper readership is down, but I think that's a shame. In the secular world there are lots of alternatives to print – online news from the BBC, 24 hour news channels and so on. But there is just no equivalent at the moment in the Christian world where you'll get an evangelical look at what is going on. That's why I'm very happy to be associated with one newspaper in particular (Evangelicals Now) and we get other newspapers in the office too. However, if our people are going to grasp any vision for keeping abreast of what is happening around the world, then we – as gatekeepers – need to be better champions of such periodicals. So, I guess I'm making a case not just for pastors to read a Christian newspaper, but for pastors to encourage churches to do so too. £12 is not a lot for an annual subscription, given what you get.
Here, very helpfully I think, are EN editor John Benton's five reasons to read a Christian newspaper. You may like to copy and paste these and use them with your congregation:
- INSIGHT: We need to read a Christian newspaper because the secular media rarely report on the great strides the gospel is making worldwide, or if they do they usually manage to misreport what is going on.
- UNITY: God’s word tells us that all true Christians are one in Christ Jesus. By reading news of other believers nationally and globally we give concrete expression to that oneness.
- BALANCE: As we find out about Christians and churches at home and abroad and their successes for the gospel or the challenges they face, we are put in touch with an up to date and overall picture of what God himself is doing in our day. This makes us more balanced as Christians.
- SOLIDARITY: As we read news of other brothers and sisters we have the opportunity to stand with them in prayer and so become co-workers with God in this generation.
- DISCIPLESHIP: As we take interest by reading about other Christians we are delivered from parochialism, self-centredness and party spirit and show God that we really do care about his kingdom and not just our little bit of it. This is a mark of a true disciple.
Accommodation at the EMA
We want to make the EMA as accessible as possible and perhaps you're thinking that you might come but have no one to stop with in London and find that paid accommodation options are just too prohibitive? If so, we've got some good news for you. We've arranged with a number of church families in London to host delegates for free during the EMA. This is a great opportunity to attend the EMA and spend some time in a Christian home, hosted by kind London families who want to serve those in ministry. There are obviously only a limited number of places and we'd love to use them for those who would otherwise be unable to afford to come. Do contact the office if you're interested. Also, if you're a London delegate and you have some spare room, get in touch and we'll gladly add you to the accommodation list.
May no new thing arise
I love reading – and not just Christian books, but newspapers, novels (old and new), biographies, history books. I'm a bit of a bookworm. However, I must confess, that one series of books I read time and time again are Patick O'Brians series of 21 naval novels set in the early 19th Century. They are boys-own stuff; lots of swashbuckling but with interesting character development and botany! O'Brian knows his stuff – both naval, botanic (I think!) and Catalan – for one of his heroes is a Catalan independentist. He has this character regularly speak a Catalan proverb: May no new thing arise. We rather like that here in the office as a tag for ministry. It's not that we don't want new things in terms of new birth and new levels of sanctification of course; by no means! Nor do we reject application and delivery that is relevant to a 21st Century audience.
However, we do recognise that much of ministry is same old, same old. This is necessarily so because people don't change and, thankfully, God and his word do not change. Therefore, novelty as a ministry objective is very, very dangerous. This is a sweeping statement – I recognise that. And it is true, we have to be looking at the ways we do things constantly to evaluate ourselves against Scripture. But fundamentally there is nothing new that a preacher has to do. And God help the preacher who makes it his objective to find something new to say.
Tidball (in Preacher keep yourself from idols) is very helpful on this.
The teachers of the early church never moved beyond the original apostolic gospel, even though they constantly engaged in making fresh applications of it. Time and time again, they drew people to the original apostolic gospel and encouraged them to remain loyal to it, while always seeking to make it relevant to the new challenges believers were facing.
May no new thing arise.
International at EMA
We've two exciting announcements regarding the EMA.
- First up, this year we're supporting an international project. With help from some of our book publishing friends, we're going to provide books and resources for Johannesburg Bible College, including an ESV study Bible for £5. We hope that those who come to the EMA might partner with us in this new initiative which is a recognition that we're blessed with many abundant resources here in the UK and we long to be outward looking and help others.
- We also want to recognise that many people come to the EMA from overseas. Indeed, many of our regulars tell us what a lifeline it is for them as they labour for Christ in sometimes hard places. We want to acknowledge the efforts many make to come to the EMA. If you're an overseas visitor, you're very welcome to come to our International reception over lunch on Tuesday 24 June. We do need to know who is coming though, so if you're an international visitor and you have booked for the EMA but you haven't yet been sent an invite, please do email the office and let us know.
In 2012 we had a few overseas workers who were brought back by their churches to spend time with their church families, report back and be refreshed. Several made the EMA part of that spiritual refreshment. Why not think about this for your overseas workers? We'd love to see them.
Preaching and hyperbole
Preaching is oratorical. Whilst we might be wary of being overly styled in our delivery, there's no doubt that most of us probably preach differently from how we speak. Not least this is because preaching is more like a monologue than most conversation which is a dialogue. And that means that all of us, to some extent or another, probably make some use of rhetorical skills. Take hyperbole. Even the master preacher, Jesus himself, uses such a device (e.g. Matt 5.29 or Matt 6.6 in a literal rendering). But it's a dangerous device if used unwisely.
We've been chuckling about this in the office because our very own Christopher is a guest blogger over at The Gospel Coalition and has written a very thoughtful and, I thought, gracious blog about presonal presence and preaching. You can read it here. We've not been chuckling at the post itself which we all think has something to say. Rather, we like one of the many comments posted as a result:
"dumbest thing I have ever read put out by The Gospel Coalition"
Now that is quite an opener! We've doctored it a bit and decided we're quite proud to be home to the dumbest blogger (which is, I admit, not quite what it says). But it did get me thinking about hyperbole:
- at best, it can make a very strong case for something – in the case of the sermon on the mount for taking a very serious attitude to sin
- at worst, it can simply be offensive and add nothing – I think this comment veers towards that overstatement.
Woah – that's quite a range! Anything from powerfully hitting the target to being unnecessarily offensive. And everywhere in between. Moreover, in multi-cultural situations, hyperbole can very often not work. People from other cultures where spoken language is more straightforward simply don't get it. What does that mean for preachers?
It must surely mean:
- we need to take care with preparing words. One of my favourite preachers (I won't tell you who) preachers without notes, but he is not unprepared. He has prepared what he is going to say beforehand and remembers it. That means he can take care with how words are presented. The preacher who has not done this stage but just preaches from a short set of bullets is much more likely to get this wrong. Now, I don't think we should be prescriptive about how we prepare and what notes we use – but I do think preachers need to take care over words.
- we need to take care, in particular, with hyperbole. I think it can be a useful tool but – as with many rhetorical devices, use with care.
The Philip Project
I spent a very happy Saturday last week teaching on the Philip Project, a ministry of Friends International. It's a one Saturday a month course designed specifically for International students, teaching basic bible handling skills with the prayer that they will take these skills back to their home countries on their return. We always have a stimulating time. The Philip Project used to be for African students, but it has now widened to take in all internationals. And there are also courses run in Cambridge and Nottingham, with the possibility of new courses opening up. There's always space for more to join. Do you have international students in your church who would benefit from this kind of input? If so, why not think about encouraging them along for a taster day. The co-ordinator, Geoff Low, would be very happy to hear from you and he can be contacted via the website.
Your own funeral preaching
Listening to the Bishop of London preaching at Margaret Thatcher's funeral. Readings before from Eph 6 and John 14. But the sermon? It's an exposition of Margaret and her words – very, very little on the Bible passage: in fact, more on TS Eliot than the Bible. What is going on? Preach the text, brother! I mention this not to diss the Bish, but as a challenge to our own funeral preaching – often hard pressed for time, maybe with little or no knowledge of the one who has died. But any preacher could do much worse than following this simple preacher's mantra – "preach the text."
Chewing the cud
As you may have seen from last week's blog posts, I was very moved by Bruce Ware's sessions at New Word Alive on the humanity of Christ. They got me thinking things over in terms of my own understanding, response and also, of course, how and what I preach. But what really has helped has been the coffee machine chats with colleagues here in the office and with friends at church.
I should point out at this stage that the office has a very smart coffee machine. This is nothing to do with the fact that we are all coffee snobs and like good Americanos. By no means! It has everything to do with the fact that it takes a long time to make a coffee with our machine and therefore you are thrown into unavoidable conversations with colleagues. These are the moments (as the beans are grinding and you are setting up the next espresso shot) that you can chew the cud over things you've been challenged by. In the last few weeks in the office I've had good conversations about the humanity of Christ, his impeccability and also the nature of indwelling sin (specifically my own) and how we fight it.
Preachers need this kind of sharpening, as iron sharpens iron. Ideally you want to get it in church where the primary purposes of God are worked out and where a preachers primary friendships should surely lie. But that won't work for everyone and it may well be that you need to be deliberate about setting up places which serve the same purpose as our coffee room here. But the point is this: you do need such places. It's a strong New Testament theme that we need each other to keep going. It's a means of grace.
It's why our ministers conferences allow time for sitting around and drinking coffee. It's why ministers 'fraternals' (great concept, often poorly executed) are so valuable. It's why time in the weekly diary spent with others (and not just pastoral basket cases) is so critical.
Who are you chewing the cud with? How often? How deeply? How honestly?
And to make it really worthwhile, just add (decent) coffee.
EMA featured books #2
Crossway have just published Bruce Ware's new book on the humanity of Christ, titled "The Man Christ Jesus: Theological reflections on the humanity of Christ." This is not a long book (140pp) but I can't recommend it highly enough. It's simply super. What is more it is accessible for the thinking church member – it's not just written at a level which only those with theological education could access (Donald MacLeod's The person of Christ must surely lead the way in this field). Bruce has eight very good and thorough chapters, some of which drill down into quite specific issues – like, for example, what did it mean that Jesus "grew in wisdom" and another on what it meant for Jesus to "grow in faith". All of these are brought home in useful and heart warming applications. As John Benton said in his review, "The book will make you think deeply, but most of all it will enable the reader to see Christ not as a distant Saviour but as our brother. It brings us closer to Jesus. We are thus led to greater appreciation, love and worship for the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is not going too far to say that Bruce Ware has produced a modern classic of evangelical literature here."
The book will be at the EMA together with 999 other titles…. Book now.
The humanity of Christ and sloppy teaching
New Word Alive felt a bit like a working holiday, but it was stirring nonetheless and one of the highlights for me was Bruce Ware on the humanity of Christ. He was largely going through material from his book (here) also explained in his recent EN interview here. There were several things that stirred me about it, not least that something like 500 people sat through four 75 minute sessions – going at a fairly rapid pace – on something that was both deep, stretching and mind blowing. It's not the sort of thing you could easily do in a church because of the variety of different levels, but it works well at something like NWA.
However, it was really the content that stirred me most. Evangelicals have so long been defending the deity of Christ that they have neglected the humanity he shares. This is crucial for understanding the temptations of Jesus (and how he helps us resist), the doctrine of the atonement and the command to follow in his footsteps.
And most of us don't get it right, I would venture. How many Sunday School lessons have looked at Jesus' miracles, for example, and said "Only God can do that!"? But what if, as Bruce asserted, Jesus does these miracles as the Messiah in the power of the Spirit (see Acts 10.38)? This is more than a simple nicety. It is critical that Jesus lived a fully human life for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us from our own human sin.
My only question is that I'm not sure Ware goes far enough. I say this cautiously. But he asserts that "most" things Jesus did were done in his humanity. "So although Jesus was fully God and fully man, it is remarkable and, for many, even startling to realise that he lived his life, for the most part, as a man in the power of the Spirit." (my italics). He uses the example of some miracles as being those Jesus did in his deity.
Hmm. Not sure. If Jesus could voluntarily switch between his deity and humanity (to use simple language – I realise that this is theologically imprecise), then it still raises problems about his full human life being counted to me. Moreover, what is going on at the Transfiguration, if not that one glimpse into his deity – not seen elsewhere in his life.
A minor quibble though. It did get me thinking, I wonder if we're actually teaching truth, especially to our youngsters. It's not that we're deliberately teaching falsehood, but I wonder if, on the humanity of Christ, we're just a bit sloppy.
And thank you NWA for stretching us.