“Be Well Instructed in Theology”—a Timely Word from Spurgeon

“Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it.  Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make.  It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders.  Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass.  Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvelous knowledge.

“Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures.  I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up the church so well, as the expository.  To renounce altogether the hortatory [giving exhortation] discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.  For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word.  Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever others works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles.  ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly.’”

— Charles H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (c. 1870s)

The Threat of the Gospel Going Into Eclipse

“It is easy for a preacher to be bold when he is in his own pulpit, among friends.  But when there are manifestly hostile people breathing out fire, as Stephen was soon to find out, a bold preacher takes great risk.  That is why Martin Luther said that in every generation there will be the threat of the gospel going into eclipse.  Every time the gospel is proclaimed, clearly and boldly, opposition arises and conflict comes.  A minister has never mounted a pulpit anywhere in the world who has not been absolutely aware of how dangerous it is to be bold.  So when preachers are fearful, they have to come back to this text and look at the way the Apostles, without respect for their lives or their worldly goods, would say like Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” and then preach with boldness” (R.C. Sproul, Acts, St. Andrews Commentary—in commenting on Acts 2:14-41). 

Caricatures of True Preaching

Alistair Begg in his small book Preaching for God’s Glory outlines a number of caricatures of true preaching.  He begins this section:

If churches or their pastors begin to think of the place from which messages are delivered to the congregation as a stage, it is inevitable that caricatures of the preacher will emerge to take the true preacher’s place.  Sadly, this is precisely what has happened.  In our day the expositor of Scripture has been eclipsed by a variety of sad substitutions.

Here they are, complete with paraphrases of what these entail:

  1. The cheerleader.  The preacher’s task is to “pump them up.”  He has a need to be liked or accepted, and aims to be positively inspirational.  “A good Sunday for him is one where his people laugh a lot, are affirmed and affirming, and go away more self-assured than when they arrived. . . .  A quest for wholeness has replaces a concern for holiness.”
  2. The conjurer.  Where the preacher does not want to do the hard work of studying, but rather conjures up his own meaning to the text and fails to discover and look to what the biblical author/Holy Spirit intended by the text. 
  3. The storyteller.  Everyone loves a good story more than exposition of the Bible.  Thus, they find themselves working on telling a good story rather than working on understanding the Word of God better.  While Jesus did use stories (parables), Begg notes that this “does not grant the contemporary preacher the license to tell stories devoid of heavenly meaning that are of no earthly use!”
  4. The entertainer.  This is where the special preacher is not a worshiper with the throng, but is in the green room backstage ready to come on when it’s time.  While this is not entirely bad or sinful, this format risks a disconnect between the worshipers seeking to be entertained and the speaker wishing to entertain.  Both are worshiping and both have a job to do. 
  5. The systematizer.  This is the preacher who “views the text of Scripture as merely the backdrop for a doctrinal lecture. . .  The systematizer’s theological framework is so pronounced that it predominates the exposition.”  The risk is a lack of passion.  Scripture rules the framework, not vice versa.
  6. The psychologist:  Preachers preach on tips on how to raise your children, dealing with impatience, or purchasing flowers for your wife.  All of this can be done (and sadly is done) without reference to Scripture, causing listeners to be malnourished.  Why?  They need a banquet of the Word of God!
  7. The naked preacher:  In an effort to be authentic, the preacher shares all of his faults and foibles, warts and wrinkles to the congregation.  The risk is that it becomes an exercise in the pastor being “real” or “relevant”—and ultimately about the one preaching rather than about the One on whom we should be preaching—Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.

Begg goes on to say that there are those who are the “politician,” “end-times guru” or “hobby horse rider.”  We have a job to do and an announcement to convey—the Good News of God’s work through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.  Let’s be careful not to get off track. 

Any other caricatures you can think of?

The Razor’s Edge Balance of a Pastor, Part I

Summary: Have the emergent church folks got it right in saying that pastors shouldn’t not exert any type of ecclesiastical authority in the church, or have the more formal churches got it right when they try to separate themselves from their flock? This is the razor’s edge balance that pastors must find.

—————-

First of all, let me say how glad I am to be back. Cindy and I went to Florida to celebrate our 10th anniversary. My sister let us use one of her timeshares at the Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort in Port Canaveral. Then we went to St. Augustine about two hours north, then we went south to see some old friends in Clewiston. I had the privilege and the honor of preaching at the First Baptist Church of Clewiston where I served as Minister of Music and Youth from 1998-2001.

While down there, I really had an opportunity to revisit the place where God called me into the preaching ministry. I obtained my B.S. in Church Music from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 1994, then went to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain my Master of Church Music, which I received in 1997. I went to FBC-Clewiston right after in March of 1998. I planned on having a long and wonderful ministry among those wonderful people.

God had other plans. A call to preach. Back to seminary. Serving in small churches. Children on the way. Times of joy and times of strain. While in Clewiston, we were financially set and were saving money like crazy. Since, with children and school, finances have been ultra-tight. Yet, being in God’s will has been a tremendous blessing and joy.

As I was pondering this, along with a sermon series I’ll be doing on Church Membership, along with my DMin project which seeks to make the case for the local church to take up the mantle of training preachers, I came across again for the first time (you know what I mean, right?) 1 Peter 5:1-4:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (ESV).

I asked the flock at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church here in Lexington, KY, to read this passage and craft it into a prayer for me that I would be able to navigate the razor’s edge of pastoring and preaching.

Pray That I Would Shepherd Diligently

Churches and the people of God are often referred to in the Word of God as a flock of sheep. Wiersbe helped me realize that sheep are clean and tend to flock together (a good thing) but have a tendency to stray, desiring to go their own way. Sheep are defenseless and in need of protection.

As so Jesus as our Great Shepherd has placed undershepherds to serve in shepherding the flock of God.Jesus, as he is in heaven working among the churches (Revelation 1:9-20), initiated his church in such a way that he places pastors (undershepherds) to oversee the people of God. Paul tells young Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:1-2

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.

I would read over this passage and think, “God, no way! Keep me as a music and youth minister, but do not call me as a fellow sinner — and a young fellow sinner at that — to oversee a people.” So for 18 months I wrestled. Yet the Hound of Heaven would not leave me alone! Finally, he brought me to a point where I finally submitted and left Clewiston to return to seminary training and a new area of minister.

Shepherds are not always called on to maintain the peace — sometimes that rod of staff is not just for comfort but for correction! Shepherds of God have a tough balance — pastors are among the sheep as the people of God, but also “over” the flock.

Yet, some pastors swing one way or the other. Some reject having authority, as the emergent church folks tend to do, and say, “It’s not about us having authority, but merely facilitating.” Yet, we are overseers. Hebrews 13:17 addresses this:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As you can see, it takes prayerful study of God’s Word and a high degree of character to find the God-ordained balance he seeks.

(Tomorrow: Part II — Pray That I Would Shepherd Willingly)

How Preaching the Hard Texts Can Endear You To Your People

Whereas conventional wisdom in most evangelical circles dictates that pastors would do well to avoid the hard texts, my contention is that pastors should never shy away from this.  While the Joel Osteens and the Robert Schullers of the world will shy away from such dealings , I believe that many in our pews are just wanting a pastor who will deal directly with what the Bible says and address the issue at hand.

A case in point: the past two Sundays, I have preached on two rather “hard texts”: one dealing with the role of women in the church, the other on the necessity of giving.  After each of those sermons, one of my deacons came out and said, “Man, I thought you’d be black and blue right now — you really laid it out there.”  But the reaction couldn’t have been different.  By the grace and glory of God, I received thank you’s for being willing to tackle such issues and helping to make things clear.

Why should we preach the hard texts as well as the other types to our people?

  1. Those texts are in the Scriptures! Obvious, yes.  But I have had well-meaning ministers tell me that just because it is in the Bible does not necessarily mean it will be appropriate to preach on.  This is why I make the case for expositional preaching: if forces you to deal with a text that your flesh may tempt you to avoid.
  2. For all the talk about our people despising authority, I believe they are looking for solid ground on which to stand.  We all are.  All this noise about postmodernism winning the day is far too premature.  It may be prevalent, but it hasn’t won anything.  If anything, our culture feels more in the dark than ever because many people’s spiritual journey is leading them down some deadends.  Preachers must never forget the supernatural transformational power of the Scriptures that are breathed out by the Spirit of God himself!   Never give up preaching!  The world may deem it folly, but to those who are being saved it  is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  3. People, especially Christians, long to be dealt with honestly. Many in my generation are becoming angry at the church for their failure to teach them the things of the faith.  They praise God for churches sharing the gospel with them and showing them Jesus, but afterwards they become afraid of being too doctrinal (read: divisive) and therefore they do not “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
  4. People feel patronized when pastors fail to deal with a text or issue.  When pastors avoid these texts, they are in so many words telling their people, “You really can’t handle this right now.”  Yet, pastors who stay with their churches and invest their time in their people can take them along slowly and help them step-by-step.  Young pastors especially need to remember that you don’t need to tell them everything you know (or think you know) in one sermon.  Pour yourself out into your people and teach them with patience (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

What do you think?

Personal Convictions of Expository Preaching

After ten years in music ministry, God redirected my ministry calling from music ministry to the pastorate. I quickly became convinced of expositional preaching through the preaching ministry of John MacArthur. I appreciated his passion for the text of Scripture and his desire to remain firmly grounded in the text because it carried the authority of God himself. Since those early days of ministry, I find myself continually influenced by God-exalting, Bible-based preachers whom God has used to shape and mold my preaching model and method.

Over the past year, God has brought a number of preaching books to my attention that will continue to shape my thinking for years to come. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell and Spirit-Empowered Preaching by Arturo G. Azurdia, III, helped shape my understanding of the historical-redemptive nature of the Scriptures. One of the most liberating lessons I continue to learn is how Christ is central in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul, who had only the Scriptures of the Old Testament, noted that he would preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 when Jesus told them:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27, ESV).

Jesus tells these two disciples that even from the Old Testament he could demonstrate the gospel. Chapell shows contemporary expositors how this Christocentric understanding of the Scriptures works:

Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ. … The goal of the preacher is not to find novel ways of identifying Christ in every text (or naming Jesus in every sermon) but to show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ. [1]

Azurdia instills this mindset further when he declares, “It must be recognized with equal verve … that every other portion of sacred scripture reinforces this redemptive superstructure. The Bible is a record of the redemption of the people of God by His Son, Jesus Christ.”[2]

First, preaching is the highest calling any human could receive from God. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1919-1981) in his book Preaching and Preachers:

The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church; it is obviously the great need of the world also. [3]

After looking over the different models embraced by higher academia and by the liberal churches, they consider preaching as outdated and outmoded. Those who hold to this mindset prefer communicators rather than preachers. Yet, God does not call communicators, he calls Spirit-filled preachers committed to the Spirit-inspired Word to do the Spirit-ordained work of illuminating fallen hearts to salvation and sanctification. Preaching is proclamation — proclamation of an offensive, scandalous, and gracious Gospel. First Corinthians 1:18-21 says:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:18-21, ESV).

This passage runs counter to the philosophy of the New Homiletic because we see no desire for Paul to tailor the message for the culture primarily. When the first appeal of the New Homiletic is to that of the listener rather than to the fidelity of the Gospel as found in Scripture that was inspired by the Spirit, this is not being faithful to the intentions of our Savior.

Secondly, expository preaching is preferred and mandated because its sermons are crafted around the theme of the text of Scripture. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, notes:

Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct marks or characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people. [4]

Those three words of authority, reverence, and centrality run counter to not only our culture but moreover to our churches who insist on mirroring the culture in order to maintain relevance. David Allen rightly observes, “the Enlightenment modernity distrusted authority. Radical postmodernity dismantles authority.”[5] I appreciate Mohler’s observations concerning expository preaching. Why would those submerged in a culture who reject authority and, as a result, are filled with uncertainty be willing to join a body of believers who share that same uncertainty. By preaching uncompromisingly from the Word of God, seekers find propositional, deductive anchors to help them stay the course in that sea of uncertainty that is our culture.

Third, expository preaching must take a central role not only in the corporate worship of Jesus Christ but also in the entire life and ministry of the churches. A God-centered, Christ-exalting, text-based direction in the pulpit will translate into a direction that bleeds into every area of the church. The New Homileticians may believe in theory this understanding; however, their practice is quite different. Lowry in his usual candor believes that deductive preachers have their method backwards:

Although texts on systematic theology generally deal with doctrines of God and Christ first, and then move on to the question of the human condition, sin, etc., it is my experience that in the practice of ministry, and particularly in our preaching role, the process is reversed. [6]

This quote from Lowry shows the base from where he constructs his method: his “experience … in practice of ministry.” Lowry, along with many others who share his philosophy of ministry, is a gifted storyteller. In 1990, Lowry preached a compelling and gripping sermon on Mark 5:1-20, leading the listener on a journey in which he felt a part of the narrative. Yet, our biblical theology drives our life and ministry. God writes the Scriptures: they begin with God, show we are created by God, and may only find redemption and forgiveness through God. By reversing the process, as Lowry contends, the preacher elevates man to the primary focus of life and ministry by virtue of the direction he sets in the pulpit.[7]

Along with this third understanding, a fourth naturally follows: an expository preacher must not only love the Scriptures but also love the sheep whom he shepherds. This balance keeps the expository preachers from the slippery slope of scholarly lectures by helping them remain on the solid footing of pastoral ministry. When the Apostle Paul bode farewell to the elders of the Ephesian church, he gives the rationale for his expositional preaching ministry among them:

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18-21, 26-27, ESV).

Paul lived among them, served them humbly, endured trials with them, and preached the Word to them both in corporate worship and in their homes.

===

[1] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Books, 2005), 279.

[2] Arturo G. Azurdia, III, Spirit-Empowered Preaching (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), 52.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 9.

[4] R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Expository Preaching and the Recovery of Christian Worship. Downloaded 20 November 2007. Accessed at http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-08-09 : Internet.

[5] Allen, David L. A Tale of Two Roads: Homiletic and Biblical Authority. Preaching 18, no. 2 (2002): 27

[6] Lowry. 39.

[7] Ibid. 39.

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To Whom Do We Look First When Preparing Our Sermons? (Part I)

Of the writing (and reading) of (preaching) books, there is no end. And in my time at seminary, both in MDiv and DMin work, I have read my share of books on the art and science of homiletics. The track one takes most certainly depends on the social and theological backgrounds from which one comes.

In this particular upcoming seminar, we have been introduced to a philosophy of preaching called “The New Homiletic.” This philosophy moves away from deductive, propositional preaching which seeks to outline truths and themes from the passage and present them in a structured way. Instead, a more fluid, inductive way of preaching emerges which takes the listener on a crafted story filled with plot, tension, ambiguity, and finally a Gospel resolution. The emphasis is more on the listener’s involvement and the flow of the sermon. Given the resistance of our postmodern culture to anything authoritative, establishing a good rapport with the listener is seen as crucial to effective communication.

Having wrestled with this mindset, looking at the pros and cons, I’ve come to the conclusion that this “New Homiletic” philosophy, while well-intended, has a number of holes in it.

How is “The New Homiletic” Well-Intended But Misguided?

For one, the preacher keeps the listener in full view. This is helpful to a point. Donald Hamilton notes, “Preaching is irrelevant if there is no audience. The most carefully prepared and articulately delivered sermon is pointless if no one hears.” A pastor who loves His people cannot help but have his people in mind when he preaches. He loves them, lives among them, ministers in the midst of their culture. No one ministers in a vacuum and no one truly pastors and preaches in a vacuum.

Yet, he must be careful, because the listener is someone you can see and one from whom you may received immediate feedback. Thus, the temptation would be to go for the current reaction through the use of imaginative stories, illustrations, humor, etc., and be misled into the preacher thinking he is connecting. In truth, the preacher is connecting — but risking doing so with his own personality rather than with the Spirit-inspired Word of God.

Secondly, the preacher must aim to keep the listener’s attention. All communicators understand that in order for them to communicate something they need someone to whom they may communicate their message — but also be able to hold their attention. The question is, how? By what means does the preacher hold their attention?

Many options are available. Some work to be uber-relevant, overtly edgy, and work as a communicator to connect the people with himself. Joel Osteen works to connect with people — and does so to the tune of over 30,000 people who attend on Sunday morning. He connects — but he connects in a way that depletes the teeth of the Gospel by his refusal to preach on sin which makes us need a Savior. See this interview with 60 Minutes here:

Sadly, many others either follow in his footsteps or at least have the same type of understanding of what preaching is about.

Preaching is proclamation — proclamation of an offensive, scandalous, and gracious Gospel. 1 Cor. 1:18-21 says

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

When Paul describes the Gospel as foolishness, this seems so counter to the New Homiletic that words fail to describe it. When the first appeal of the New Homiletic is to that of the listener rather than to the fidelity of the Gospel as found in Scripture which was inspired by the Spirit, this is not being faithful to the intentions of our Savior.

I shall write more on this at a later date. What think ye?

Bryan Chapell on Bible Translations

Often preachers can discern the nuances in the original text by comparing how the experts have variously translated the text. One old saying goes, “The King James Version is translated in the language of Pilgrim time, the New International Version is translated in the language of our times, and the New American Standard Bible is translated in the language of no time” — a line that is unfair because it fails to recognize the strengths of each version.

People love the King James Version (KJV)for the beauty of its language. That language now sounds archaic to most ears, but the translators were biblically sound and aided our understanding greatly by translating passages that echo one another theologically or terminologically in such a way that the reverberations remain clear in both Testaments. The New International Version (NIV) which now sells more than any other, is the most accurate translation that strives for easy reading by translating original phrases into their “dynamic equivalent” in our idiom. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) sacrifices readability for a more strictly equivalent translation, which continues to make it satisfying to many serious Bible students. The new English Standard Version (ESV) maintains much of the majesty of style of the older Revised Standard Version (RSV) but was edited by Bible-believing scholars who made the ESV translation ove of the most insightful and dependable currently available.

The Living Bible and other paraphrases can help preachers scan a large body of material in order to pick up its gist; the Amplified Bible and J.B. Phillip’s translation concentrate more on communicating the nuances behind specific statements. Most of the popular translations that are committed to the authority of Scripture have strengths and can be employed once you discern the purpose of a particular translation.

(Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell, BakerAcademic Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005. p. 73)