Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
A phenomena that hasn't yet made much inroad in the UK is that of using technology to 'broadcast' the sermon from a popular preacher into other congregations miles - many miles, maybe - away. One church in the US is apparently considering a 'satellite' congregation in, er, Scotland. I do hope they know about time differences.
The idea is a congregation meets together under its own 'service leader'. They have their own music, readings, notices etc - and then, at a predetermined time, the video screen goes on and they all listen to the sermon. Usually a well-known preacher is preaching it, at that moment, to 'his own' congregation. It's no different, a mega-church may argue, from what's been done for years, with folks in 'overflow rooms' watching the sermon on screen. It's just that now the 'overflow room' is further away!
Not everybody's happy: Dan Phillips for example asks
Monday, July 26, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Wounded in the house of my friends? #2
See yesterday’s blog for an introduction to this. Now, now – don’t be lazy. You only have to scroll down a little bit.
3. Sermon or lecture Once, argues Murray, ‘lecture’ in preaching circles meant what is now meant by expository preaching. Lloyd-Jones called his work on Romans ‘lectures’, but ‘conceived the contents of his Ephesians series as ‘sermons’ and anyone comparing… can quickly see the difference.’
Well, yes – OK. There are different types of sermons, different purposes in mind, differing congregations, even. Yet (as Murray readily acknowledges) Lloyd-Jones’ ‘Ephesians’ series proceeded consecutively through the whole book. Nothing is proved – or even indicated – by this point, I think.
4. What helps the hearer most is best ‘At the end of the day, the best preaching is that which helps the hearers most, and in that connection the track record of the consecutive ‘expository’ method is not impressive.’ The danger is, Murray says, that the preacher becomes only a commentator; and ‘a sermon needs a text as the basis for a memorable message,’ especially if the preacher is not to introduce a whole series of ideas into the sermon and lose clear, over-all lessons.
The weakness here though is that Murray is criticising badly-done expository preaching and using it as a reason to call the very form into question – except in the hands of a favoured very few. In simple logic, that isn’t adequate: the remedy for poor preaching of any type is to improve it.
And the passage reads as if there are no dangers associated with ‘the other’ type (or types). Of course, Murray knows that there are. For example – a text may become a pretext: it may be ‘expounded’ in such a way that has no reference to the context at all. Spurgeon himself was not immune from this danger! (Nor was Lloyd-Jones: his sermon on ‘Revival’ in the midst of his Ephesians series is inspiring, but not warranted by the context.)
Too many tyros have tried to preach verse-by-verse through major books of Scripture with near-disastrous results. It is arguable that this is one of the reasons why ‘reformed’ preaching has, in more than one place, been criticised as ‘heavy’ or plain ‘dull’.
Well, indeed; I remember suffering a series of verse-by-verse expositions of Jeremiah! But the preacher saw eventually that it wasn’t a good idea. It may be, however, that reformed preaching is criticised as ‘dull’ because too many reformed preachers are ‘dull’ – or, indeed, are not really preachers at all. Is there any evidence that they would be less dull if they abandoned the consecutive method?
5. The best ‘fit’ for evangelistic preaching ‘Evangelistic preaching does not best fit the ‘expository’ mode; in fact, where the ‘expository’ is exclusively used, true evangelistic preaching to heart and conscience commonly disappears.’
There’s some truth in the ‘fit’ argument – though I suspect that where evangelistic preaching has disappeared other factors weigh heavier. (‘But there’s never an unsaved person there’). In fact, many preachers haven’t a clue how to preach evangelistically. They’ve no idea what interests the unbeliever, or how to excite a proper interest in the unbeliever, or how to get hold of an unbeliever’s attention before the sermon ‘proper’ begins. (I remember overhearing a surgeon say to a patient, ‘You need an operation or you’ll die; but I can’t operate on you while you’re behaving in this way, otherwise you’ll die on the table and that will damage my reputation.’ Brutal – but the patient listened to every word that followed!)
However, there’s another side to the ‘fit’ argument. Some parts of the Bible are written with an evangelistic purpose. John’s gospel is the supreme example: ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,’ (20:31). Frankly, if a man is preaching from any part of John’s gospel and cannot see the evangelistic application, he either does not understand the passage or does not understand the gospel. Or take the Acts of the Apostles: Lloyd-Jones' last evangelistic series of the Westminster years was on that great book. He treated it very differently from 'Romans' or 'Ephesians' - but it was consecutive and expository, passionate and clear. Choose the passage/book right, and consecutive exposition is a superb way of preaching evangelistically.
So, is Iain Murray right to sound a caution? Yes, I think he is. We’re not to be slaves to method. We have to be prepared to find out what ‘works best’ for us – and best helps our hearers. We have to consider the possibility that we ourselves might be ‘dull’ and ‘heavy’. And certainly we have to make sure that every sermon we preach can stand alone: as Iain D Campbell says on the blog referenced yesterday, ‘At last, I know that I am committed to two things: to a stand-alone sermon, and to a Christ-exalting sermon. The first is necessary because it is just possible that someone may wander into church, not having heard the gospel before, and hearing it now for the first and last time. In that case, it will not do simply to refer to last week's sermon, or anticipate next week's. Each sermon must be a study in itself, a complete unit, which can be transported out of the church and into the life of the hearer.’
But I think Murray overstates it. The thing the church needs most is good expository preaching. It doesn’t have to take as long as Lloyd-Jones typically did – see here, for example, to discover how another preacher did it.
Above all, let us labour to be both accurate and passionate, whether we preach consecutively or not. Years ago I taught a preaching class and asked ‘Which is most important in a sermon – to be sound, or to be interesting?’ Everyone of them thought ‘sound’ was more important. I disagree – to be sound but boring borders on criminal. Both are equally important.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Wounded in the house of my friends?
- expository preaching under critical spotlights
Expository preaching has received some criticism recently from surprising places. First, Iain Murray published an article in the February (2010) issue of Banner of Truth, online here.
Then, Iain D Campbell wrote ‘Some thoughts on pulpit methodology’ on the Reformation 21 blog and finally Peter Masters at the Tabernacle Summer School lectured on the advantages and disadvantages of the method (see here and scroll down to July 10th).
Murray helpfully begins with a definition: ‘If this [expository preaching] means that the preacher’s one business is to confine himself to the text of Scripture, and to make the sense plain to others, there is nothing more to discuss… But ‘expository preaching’ has often come to mean something more. The phrase is popularly used to describe preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week.’’
Murray’s right so far. Properly, the phrase refers to preaching which takes a text of Scripture and opens up (exposes, hence expository) its meaning to the congregation, together with its application to their lives. But, yes, in the minds of many it means a long series on a relatively short passage.
Murray has five criticisms to make.
1. ‘Know your gifts’. ‘It assumes that all preachers are capable of making effective sermons along these lines… Spurgeon was not unfamiliar with ‘expository preaching’… and he decided it was not best suited to his gifts. There is reason to think that being an effective ‘expository’ preacher is not such a common gift as some seem to think.’
Indeed there is! In fact, there is good reason to think that preaching is not such a common gift as some seem to think (but that’s a subject for another blog). But to suggest (as Murray does – see the whole article) that too many try to follow Lloyd-Jones who don’t have his gift – while holding up Spurgeon as an alternative model – seems to miss one rather important point: we don’t have Spurgeon’s gift, either.
2. ‘What is preaching?’ Murray argues that expository preaching is seen as supreme because of the idea ‘that the foremost purpose of preaching is to convey as much as possible of the Bible. But that idea needs to be challenged…’
Here I beg to differ. I don’t think so. On the contrary, it needs to be re-affirmed. Yes, a sermon has to be more than a lecture – it has to have as its purpose to ‘strike, awaken, and arouse men and women so that they themselves become bright Christians’ but when Murray continues ‘and daily students of Scripture’ I have to disagree. I've got into bother for this before so let me say straight away: of course, it’s a good thing to be a daily student of Scripture. But you won’t find in the New Testament that idea at all – as Stuart Olyott pointed out (to my initial surprise and consternation) in the Banner of Truth Magazine some years ago. Actually, it is the preacher’s job to acquaint his congregation with the whole Bible – though not usually in one sermon. Many people - even today - are illiterate. It's a noble thing for the educated to search the Scriptures daily and check up on the preacher (Acts 17.11). But that's not the same as saying preaching is there to produce Bible readers.
3. Sermon or lecture? I’ll come back to this…
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God. Loving doing theology rather than loving God.
Sam Crabtree said to me once, "The danger of the contemporary worship awakening is that we love loving God more than we love God." That was very profound. And you might love thinking about God more than you love God. Or arguing for God more than you love God. Or defending God more than you love God. Or writing about God more than you love God. Or preaching more than you love God. Or evangelizing more than you love God.
(HT Adrian Warnock)*
Nothing else now until Friday. Bye!
* HT seems to mean 'I pinched this from him'
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
From the beginning of his ministry to the very end, Lloyd-Jones was an evangelist. His wife claimed that no-one understood him who did not realise that he was primarily an evangelist. It was his practice, every Sunday evening, to preach 'the gospel' - that is, to use his gifts to apply the passage he was dealing with to unconverted hearers.
His series on the Acts of the Apostles (begun 10th January 1965) was his last evangelistic series as pastor at Westminster Chapel, being brought to an end in 1968 (February 25th) by his illness and subsequent retirement, when he had reached Acts 8 and the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch.
In one of these last sermons, Iain Murray says ('The Fight of Faith' page 581), his main theme ‘was that Philip could speak with authority because Scripture is a revelation from God, containing good news from heaven.’ Murray then quotes Lloyd-Jones,
‘I have no other authority as I stand in this pulpit. The authority of the cults is the authority of experience… That is not the case here. This is exposition of the truth and we have no other authority. My dear friends, let me put it as plainly and as simply as this: standing in this pulpit tonight on the 28th of January 1968 I am doing nothing different from what Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.’
The three sermons following this, in February of that year, Lloyd-Jones preached from Isaiah 53, which Philip explained to the Ethiopian in Acts 8. This brought his evangelistic ministry at Westminster Chapel to a close.
Monday, July 12, 2010
SuggestionsIn seeking to put all this into practice, I have found the following suggestions to be helpful.
The first is to live by the motto, ‘Prayer first, study and activity second.’ My normal routine is to get up and have breakfast, engage in family and personal devotions, shave and shower, and then to give myself to a session of sustained prayer before doing anything else at all.
The second is to pray outside. This keeps me from giving in to the temptation to start other work before having a time of special communion with God. During thirty-five years of pastoral ministry in the inner city, this meant walking the streets and parks, and praying out loud – but not too loudly. At certain times a large umbrella and waterproof trousers proved useful!
The third is to have a prayer schedule. I have a small and robust notebook divided into five sections. In each section is a list of church members, regular attendees, family members, friends, ministers and missionaries, church activities and Christian ministries. I seek to pray through one section each day. So why are there only five sections? This is because I do not follow this system on Sundays, and also have a ‘free day’ to catch up on any day’s intercession that has been interrupted or hindered.
The fourth is to use aids which will stimulate prayer. Almost every day I recite a portion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and use it as a foundation for prayer. I also make frequent use of the writings of E.M. Bounds, especially his ‘Power through Prayer’, using each sentence as a ‘prompt’.
The fifth is to prepare sermons in this spirit of prayer. On my walks I often take a photocopy of the Scripture passage on which I will be preaching. I run it round in my head, talk to the Lord about it until the message is clear, and then make notes. Such prayerful interaction with the text adds a marvellous freshness to the exegetical and other preparatory work which will then follow in the study.
‘Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then, my dear brother; pray, pray, pray.’ (Edward Payson)
Saturday, July 10, 2010
How is it that the apostles were able to keep to their priorities and so many of us are not? It is not difficult to give an answer. We only have to think about what they had experienced in the previous three or four years. They had seen the Lord, spent time with him, listened to his teaching and witnessed his miracles. Some of them had been present at both his transfiguration on the mountain and his bloodied agony in the garden. But none of these things, nor the cross, the blood, the resurrection, the appearances or the ascension had made preachers out of them. For this they had to wait for the day of Pentecost. Every apostle knew that no-one could be a true preacher without being ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).
In recent days they had learned the lesson afresh. We do not read that any of them had prayed for Pentecost to be repeated. They knew well enough that this could not be. They had lived through a unique event. But they also knew that if they were left to themselves, they would be for ever powerless. It was essential that they should have the direct and immediate blessing of God. For this they could only pray, which is precisely what they did after it became clear that the Jewish authorities would not tolerate any further preaching: ‘And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).
Since then, the persecution had been stepped up. No wonder they kept prayer as their first priority! Mere words would not conquer their enemies and win the world. They needed a force by which they could declare God’s truth with ever-loving hearts, fiery tongues and superhuman authority. This power from the Holy Spirit was the one thing to be sought and secured. They could not work this up; but they could call it down, and this is what they set themselves to do A little prayer would not do. No average wave would ever sweep away the resistant Rock of Gibraltar, the unregenerate heart, even though it might throw up spangles of spray filled with rainbows. A resistless tsunami was required. God alone can do God’s work, and we must ask him to do it.
In seeking to put all this into practice, I have found the following suggestions to be helpful... (continued Monday)
Friday, July 09, 2010
The first preachers of the early church were the apostles and they had a problem: something that was good was threatening to displace what was best. This is recorded for us in Acts 6:1-7.
The Jerusalem church was growing at an extraordinary speed. Conversions were taking place every day, both among the local Jews as well as among the Greek-speaking Jews visiting the city from abroad. Many of the new believers were widows who had no means of material support, and their new brothers and sisters had taken on the responsibility of providing them with a daily meal. The problem was that many of them, especially among the Greek-speakers, were going hungry. The distribution system was not working. Genuinely needy people were suffering. There was growing discontent in the church, especially among the Greek-speakers. If it continued, the church would soon split.
Why was the system not working? It was because of the apostles. There are only so many hours in a day and they were perfectly clear about how to us them to the best advantage. They had drawn up a list of priorities from which they were not going to budge, even if this meant that increasing numbers of widows went hungry. There were three items on their list, which went like this:
2. Ministry of the Word
3. Everything else
There had never been so many believers as there were now. How they needed praying for! How they needed feeding from God’s word! In the apostles’ judgement, spiritual nourishment was infinitely more important than physical nourishment. Nonetheless, it was not right that widows should do hungry, just as it was not right that preachers should get distracted from their first and second priorities. But how, how, was it going to be possible to have both satisfied widows and praying preachers?
“The twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” (Acts 6:2-4, ESV)
The preachers kept their priorities, the widows got their meals, new men became actively engaged in vital ministry, church peace was restored, the Word of God spread wonderfully and the flood of conversions continued to astonish the watching world!
The apostles were as dependent upon prayer as any other preachers. They understood that it is better to default on every other responsibility than it is to neglect prayer. It even takes precedence over the ministry of the Word. Compared with prayer, preaching is only an ‘and’. It must never take first place. Prayer recognises God as God, and depends on him to do what he would not do without prayer. Prayer, and prayer alone, is the way by which the Lord’s armies call him onto the field.
True prayer stirs itself up to lay hold on God (Isaiah 64:7). This takes time, energy, faith and perseverance. It is easy to allow other things to slip in and get in the way. It is not only sinful or questionable things that provide such hindrances, but also things that are right and necessary which have been given a wrong priority. The servant of God gets sidetracked. The door to the secret place is not shut (Matt 6:6). The preacher gets caught up in his exegesis and preparation, his administration, his commitments, the needs around him, or in the actual act of preaching. He no longer knows what it is to wrestle with God and to prevail (Gen 32:28).
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Today I’ve got to do my Income Tax. I’m not sure why – it’s been explained to me, but I didn’t understand. It’s something to do with a deadline for benefits in kind.
Now, I don’t mind income tax; Dad always used to say he wished he had to pay millions. Tax is not a good thing, but it pays for good things. So I don’t mind. Much.
I just hate submitting the claim. I have an accountant friend who fills in the form for me, but he needs loads of information before he can do that. 'How much did you get here? How much did you pay there?' Well… I don’t know. I kept records, somewhere.
Literally, I shake with fear when Income Tax Day comes around. I try to give thanks that I have income to pay tax on. I try to remind myself that this, too, is one of the ‘all things’ that work together for the good of those that love Christ. But I still tremble.
And keep putting it off. An extra long quiet-time today. Done – OK, now what? I know, I really ought to post a blog entry…