Choosing songs for the EMA
It's taken a whole day to shortlist things we're going to sing at this year's EMA. You wouldn't believe the angst this causes. For the record, I'm driven by content (always first) musicality (singability), practicality (length). But it's still no easy task. So, the PT conference manager and I have been sitting around the piano in my office (I know, I know) trying out various things. We think we've just about nailed it. As it happens (and this wasn't deliberate) we've got something from 17th Century, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st. A few earlier things on the long list didn't make the final cut but will be stored up for another year.
As it happens, the book I highlighted yesterday has been very helpful. Let me expand a bit more on it. I found this particular section useful:
- worship has one object: the triune God himself
- worship has two contexts: worship scattered (what we do all the time) and worship gathered (what we do when we gather together)
- worship has three audiences: God, the church and the watching world
Mike Cosper proves all these robustly. Then he makes a very insightful observation – most worship trouble is caused by neglecting or confusing these categories. It works in lots of ways, but the answer each time is to regain a more balanced, biblical approach.
Reflecting on this book last night I wondered if it would not be too strong to say, here is a book every pastor and musician should read?
Oh, and no reveals yet. You'll have to come and sing with the 1,000 or so others….
EMA featured books #1
Over the next few weeks I want to do some mini reviews and highlight some of the featured books at this year's EMA. You can buy the book before the EMA of course, but if you're coming along, it's a good way of highlighting some titles to look out for. First up is Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper, a book about worship. It's rarely said, but here's a book about worship that I agree with! It's theologically robust and practically reliable. As someone who fulfills a dual role of pastor and church musician, I really found it beneficial. I think it will be good for church leaders and church musicians both. Here are some of my highlights:
- it includes a good biblical theology of worship in the broadest sense starting in the garden and drawing heavily on Greg Beale's temple imagery
- it draws a useful and robust distinction between scattered worship (all of life) and gathered worship (what we do when we come together). It neither denigrates nor elevates one above the other but maintains a healthy balance.
- it understands some of the turf wars in terms of confusion about what gathered worship is for and who its primary and secondary audiences are and, like others before, traces some of the current errors back to 19th Century revivalism where worship became a spectator sport rather than something that was intrinsically participative. This section on purposes of gathered worship is the strongest part of the book.
I think the author is a bit harsh on liturgical Anglicanism (seeing the imposition of the prayer book as having both positive and negative effects, but mostly negative: he sees the imposition of the prayer book as akin to modern video technology, robbing the local congregation of authentic worship). However, that criticism aside, this is a robust and helpful book. Mike Cosper, the author is from the Sojourn Music stable, but even if you don't share his musical tastes, you will find something useful here for local church life.
At present it's only available in the UK as an ebook, but it will be out and about in time for the EMA. See you there, book in hand.
One of the most exciting things about our new venue for the EMA is that we have more space for the EMA Bookstore; partnering this year with tenofthose.com. Previously we've been off site in a couple of different venues. Now we're on site and have an ideal venue for a bookstore. This year we've been very careful about book selection – there will be over 1,000 titles, each individually chosen and fulfilling one of three criteria:
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as followers of Christ themselves – books that will help you walk closely with our Lord
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as preachers of the word of God – books that will enable your ministry
- we're stocking books for pastor-teachers as leaders of congregations – books that will be good for your people
This focused and varied approach means that our EMA Bookstore will be more (though not less) than a pastor's paradise. It will stimulate you to think about books in your congregation and devotional life. We're delighted that publishers will be on hand to help with expertise. There will be an ebook station and, for the first time, a recommended commentary list of 200 titles (with each one in stock).
It's worth coming to the EMA for. Why not book now whilst you're thinking about it. But there will also be a public access point to the EMA Bookstore and if you have congregation members who live or work in London they would be very welcome on 24, 25 or 26 June from early till late. Send them in!
Engaging the written word of God
How wise is it to write a book review before you've finished the book? Not particularly. Especially when you know that you have at least one significant point of difference with the writer. But, never one to shirk a challenge, here I go anyway. The writer in question is Jim Packer (and the issue is Evangelicals and Catholics together, but one that I do not expect to occur in this particular volume). Paternoster have pulled together a collection of essays, articles and interviews with Packer which means this book (300+pp but retailing at an extraordinary £10.99) is a real value added treasure. The collection is divided up into three – articles etc on inerrancy, a second section on interpretation including a cogent and traditional case for women's ministry as being different from that of men, then a third section on preaching.
This is where, to be honest, I have spent most of my time, tying in, as it did, with some seminars I was running at New Word Alive. Packer is again orthodox on preaching, but it is an orthodoxy which has been somewhat lost and needs to be reclaimed. These contributions, therefore, were refreshing and timely.
"Preaching mediates not only God's authority, but also his presence and his power. Preaching effects an encounter not simply with the truth, but with God himself."
Well worth some of your English pounds or wait for the EMA for a very special price…
How things change
Been reading Paternoster's new collection of essays, articles and interviews by Jim Packer (more of this later in the week). But one very perceptive comment on the state of preaching and the church. Packer says that people used to say after preaching 'How did you get on?' meaning what did you learn, what did God teach you or reveal to you? Now, however, he argues, people are much more likely to say 'How did the preacher get on?' Do you see the subtle shift as people have begun to sit in judgement on the preaching rather than sit under its authority? As I said, a very perceptive comment which shows how much things have changed.
Take a break
We're taking an official break next week (1-5 April). Christopher and I are both speaking at New Word Alive, so you may get some live blogging, but there's nothing prepared! It's good to take a break from blogging (both writing and reading). Enjoy. We will too.
A theology of preaching (3)
So, what is preaching?
- Explaining the text
- Applying the Bible
- Proclaiming Christ
- Rebuking, correcting and encouraging?
- Logic on fire
All true and more besides. But none of them actually get to the root of what is going on when we preach.
"Communication from God is communion with God when met with a response of trust from us."
That's from Words of Life, written by our newest member of staff, Tim Ward. It's a truly excellent read and very strong on the theology of God's words and preaching. You could also check out Peter Adam's Speaking God's Words and Christopher Ash's The priority of preaching and Hearing the Spirit. I also found Carl Trueman's second talk on the Trinity and preaching at our Ministers Conference a few years back helpful (audio here, video here).
It's worth getting right, don't you think?
A theology of preaching (2)
Here are some statements.
The preaching of the word of God is the word of God
Heinrich Bullinger, that one. What we call the Second Helvetic Confession, but he called his Last Will and Testament. True story.
If preachers preach what is founded on the Scriptures, their word as far as it is agreeable to the mind of God, is to be considered as God's
Mr Simeon from Cambridge, no less. Or how about this:
Preaching is the most excellent part of the pastor's work.
That's Richard Baxter, that is, which considering how much time he spent door to door is a remarkable statement.
Are they right? If so, why? Many preachers feel that they are onto something, but couldn't prove it biblically, nor are they so comfortable, in this relativist age, with such bald statements.
The answer is wrapped up in how God makes himself known and how his actions and presence relate to his words. That is not just about a robust theology of the Bible, but a robust Christology (he is, after all, the Word of God) and a robust ecclesiology – three areas where we're often woefully weak.
Let's assume you believe that God's actions and his words are biblically tied together. Jot down, in just a few steps, how you get from there to a robust theology of preaching.
A theology of preaching
What's your theology of preaching? You're a preacher, right – so you must have a theology of preaching. Or else, why are you doing what you're doing?
I don't think this is such a bonkers question as it seems. Take the test:
- How confident about your theology of preaching would you say you are? Can you articulate your views biblically and succinctly?
- Do your church leaders share your theology of preaching? When did you last talk to them about it? What do they understand is going on when someone preaches?
- Does your church congregation share your theology of preaching? It's easy to find out. Listen in at the church prayer meeting.
Hmm. A slightly convicting list. For me, anyway. I've been thinking about this because I'm preparing a sermon for NWA on preaching. More on that tomorrow. For now, I reckon there's enough for you (and I) to be getting on with.
Mind the preaching gap
Here's my thesis – we (preachers) and our people probably have too low a view of preaching.
Here's George Eliot from her essay on evangelical preaching:
Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without the aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation in English society? Where is that Goshen of mediocrity in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity.
And here are Anthony Trollope's well worn verses from Barchester Towers or The Warden or one of that series (I forget which)…
There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips.
Both represent a pretty low view of preaching, I think you would agree. But what about you, Mr Preacher? I'm just preparing some seminars for New Word Alive, and my working thesis is 'faithful preaching is an encounter with the living God' or to put it more pithily into Swiss: "The preaching of the word of God is the word of God" (Heinrich Bullinger's Second Helvetic Confession).
Uncle Henry had it right. And that probably means our view of preaching is too low, or at least there is a gap between the reality and the truth. How's that great truth going to affect your preparation this week….?