Friday, March 31, 2006

Is propositional truth now passé?

I overheard this excellent thought on the preaching of propositional truth from Richard Phillips (here).
“It strikes me that one reason for the attacks on the "propositional" nature of biblical revelation is that academia has subtly changed our attitudes about receiving it. The quote Derek provided assumes that those who emphasize propositional truth think of themselves as scientists who coldly sift through evidence. But, biblically, the prophetic and apostolic idea is that of court testimony. (The "shaliach" background for apostleship especially supports this.) God has given "expert" testimony, with unimpeachable qualifications to support what he says. Our role is not to "study" the evidence the way a scientist does, but to respond faithfully to what we have heard. When we realize that we, not the evidence, are the ones on trial, then we may rightly emphasize the propositional content of what God has revealed in His Word.”

Interview with Jerry Wragg: PART TWO

This is part two of a two part interview with "Expository Thoughts" contributor Jerry Wragg. Jerry is the pastor-teacher of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.

7. What dead preachers inspire you? Why?

Tough to be concise here…
Paul – For his tireless preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God. It’s hard to imagine a time in history needing greater discipline than our own era, but Paul’s ministry burden, though exponentially towering above my own, never overtook his singular focus of sacrificially giving all that was required. “Night and day with tears…”---Amazing!
John Chrysostom – For the serious attention he gave to preaching for life change. It has been said of him that “he taught…like a pastor of souls.” His systematic expositions, though profound, were marked by clarity and simplicity.
John Calvin – A name that has no doubt inspired every truly thinking preacher, but one that brings sobriety to my ministry. Though Calvin privately endured unspeakable infirmities, his productivity was nonetheless staggering. Yet, his own assessment of his work is best captured by a comment to his fellow elders, “I have had much infirmity that you have had to bear, and the sum total of all that I have done has been worth nothing.” Such humility without self-pity was the reason for his usefulness.
George Whitefield, William Grimshaw, John Berridge, Henry Venn, John Wesley, and a handful of others who literally “preached” England into a reformation! These men inspire because their preaching was so thoroughly driven by the highest exaltation of Christ and the abhorrence of man-centeredness. Such unwavering preaching turned an entire darkened nation and culture upside down.
C.H. Spurgeon – For the skill (among so many he possessed) of illustrating truth from life with piercing humor and clarity, while never turning the pulpit into vaudeville. His balance along almost every theological knife-edge betrays hours of tireless meditation upon scripture. What a model!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones – For the theological depth of both his preaching and his churchmanship. Here was a pastor whose personal devotion to Christ saturated his sermons. His teaching ministry was powerful because he first took heed to himself.

8. Do you have hope that a new generation of young preachers will pick up where the old guys have left off?

I truly believe that God has already been preparing and using a crop of young hearts that will stand with the greats of the past and boldly expound scripture, even to their own harm. Such men, however, must be willing to step out of the shadows and proclaim the truth against a ferocious liberalism that will not silence easily. Perhaps the true expositors of today (e.g. MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, are God’s catalysts for a strong movement of unshakeable preachers with passion, discernment, authority, and skill.

9. What are common mistakes you see young preachers making?

Regarding textual mistakes, young preachers tend to disseminate more exegetical data than are necessary for clarity. A good check and balance is to ask four simple questions:
1.) Will the passage be confusing without this particular feature?
2.) Is this information critical for settling a doctrinal matter and exposing clearly erroneous views?
3.) Is my grasp of the text thorough enough to manage and resolve further questions such information may trigger?
4.) Can I make a clear bridge between this information and the rhetorical function of the passage so that the hearers see its import?
Also, young preachers (me included, though some might dispute the “young” part) fall into a host of textual errors by letting their language skills atrophe. It helps to regularly read books on interpretation, identifying bad habits and areas of ignorance. A good book to start with is D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies.

Regarding tactical ministry mistakes, many young pastors believe they have the confidence of their flock after only a short while in the saddle. Consequently, they often attempt to change long-standing paradigms with a loaded sermon or two. It takes several years before the sheep begin to know and trust their shepherd’s voice. Young preachers, no matter how glib, must learn that it requires hundreds of expositions before a flock trusts the heart behind the message. The congregation needs time to observe how the pastor approaches each different scriptural genre, challenging doctrinal disputes, confusing ethical questions, personal struggles, ministry conflicts, and character weaknesses. Preaching effectively to a trusting flock takes several foundational years of humble service before heads will turn when you speak.

10. How much does the culture influence what you will say in a sermon?

It depends upon the angle of the question. My task is to expound the mind and heart of God in each passage, carefully explaining the author’s intent and implications for both the ancient culture and today’s Christian. The moral issues of contemporary culture should not have any bearing upon a proper transliteration and interpretation of a passage’s meaning. Having discovered the author’s normative meaning and principal implications for the ancient culture, I must work to understand how each propositional truth forms a bridge of implications for God’s people today. The timelessness of some truths is obvious while others make bridge-building more intricate and challenging. In this light, a pastor must have a wise grasp of contemporary culture from three vantage points:
1.) He must know God’s character and redemptive purposes for His people which serve as a timeless framework for understanding how man should relate to God in any culture.
2.) He should regularly review and humbly acknowledge the truth about man’s sinful nature so that cultural shifts, religious or pagan, do not lead to pragmatic, man-centered, or shallow moralizing. In other words, man’s heart is the same in every era, and preaching for surface change by focusing on the trendy cultural hot-buttons may temporarily “touch” the sheep, but their appetite for such superficial “relevance” will starve them to death!
3.) He should develop critical thinking skills for demonstrating exactly how the ancient text presents contemporary implications which must be applied to one’s heart and life. Such skill comes from the direct and habitual application of truth to unbiblical thinking, motivations, affections, passions, and convictions in one’s own life first.
Many of today’s books on preaching attempt to counter poorly organized, passionless, and disconnected sermons by strongly emphasizing the contemporary side of the homiletical bridge. I agree that a properly interpreted passage without an exhortation to change is not preaching. Unfortunately, however, pastors have taken these calls for balance to mean that authorial intent and biblical culture are not our first concern. Congregations have been all too willing to champion this push to “make sermons relevant”, leaving the pastor pinched between his training and the desire to “connect”. What is the solution? Remember that building the bridge in reverse (contemporary to ancient) places the authority with contemporary man rather than with God’s revelation. Surface problems and their solutions are superimposed upon biblical truth so that God’s mind is not understood, His power not experienced, and no actual bridge for life change established. The result is sheep who scarf up a steady diet of feel-good candy which offers no real nourishment, and a pastor who spends less time harkening unto God’s truth and more energy searching for “connecting points” with contemporary culture.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Interview with Jerry Wragg

This is part one of a two part interview with "Expository Thoughts" contributor Jerry Wragg. Jerry is the pastor-teacher of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.

1. Have you always been a preacher? What did you do before ministry?

After four years with the Air Force, I worked for a defense contractor as a counter-intelligence representative for secret military weapons programs.

2. What about preaching challenges you the most?

The time-pressures and leadership challenges of ministry make it very difficult to read and absorb all the relevant material on a given passage or topic so as to handle it thoroughly.

3. What books outside of Scripture have most shaped your understanding of preaching?

Toward An Exegetical Theology (Kaiser)
Preaching and Preachers (Lloyd-Jones)
The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Broadus)
The Preacher and Preaching (Logan [especially Boice’s chapter])
Lectures To My Students (Spurgeon)

4. What is the biggest obstacle for today’s pastor who wants to devote himself to expository preaching?

Utter confusion in the world of hermeneutics and exegesis! True that today’s pragmatic methodologies publish daily assaults on Bible exposition, but the real beast behind that false prophet is a wholesale war on objectivity and authority in hermeneutical studies. My advice: Read everything you can on today’s hermeneutical challenges, work hard on biblical languages, and build deep convictions about the essentials of the faith.

5. What role did/does formal education play in your growth as a preacher?

Though formal studies at an institution may not be possible for everyone, it should be the pursuit of every Bible expositor. For me, some course work could have been eliminated, but the disciplines needed for long hours of study were forged in the fires of school work and research. Furthermore, certain teachers marked my life as a pastor-preacher, shaping and molding my character around the qualities that build faithfulness, endurance, and integrity. Finally, it would be very difficult to gain the necessary Greek and Hebrew skills without the steady work and scrutiny of the classroom.

6. What sermon series are you doing right now?

I’m preaching through John’s gospel on Sunday mornings. I’ve just finished John 14: 1-6, and will look to vv 7ff in the weeks ahead. Having completed Philippians in the evenings, I am teaching a series called “Reflections on Redemption”, looking at each glorious facet of our salvation. Haven’t decided which book study to do next on Sunday night.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rhetorical Device in Expository Ministry: The Outline

Probably no device should be more obvious to your congregation than your outline. Our people may miss certain nuances of our argumentation, they may fail to grasp weightier theological insights but at the very least they should walk away with some sort of outline of the text just preached. The goal of which is to bring them back to the Scriptures where they can plainly see how the text unfolds, how your proposition was rooted in the text, and finally how it drives the hearer to worship the Triune God. Some preachers are content to use the same outline in preaching that they devised in their exegesis. This is unfortunate for many reasons, chief of which is it misses an opportunity to do more than merely communicate some facts about the Scripture. A good homiletical outline does more than show the people that you arranged the basic thrust of the pericope. Through the outline, the preacher has the opportunity to call the congregation to faithfulness, inspire them to action, issue the commands of the Lord or raise questions for further reflection (the options are of course not limited to these examples). One way to examine the nature of your outline is ask yourself, “what is this outline calling the people to do?” Is it asking a question, issuing a command, or merely restating a biblical truth? There’s nothing wrong with plainly stating biblical truth. In fact, that is one of the key objectives of the sermon. However, the outline should give the people thoughts, ideas, imperatives and questions on which to hang the meat of the text (I have found that imperatival statements and questions make for effective outlines but one should not limit himself so as to become predictable or even redundant).

For John Calvin, outlines in preaching were more implicit than explicit. They were more felt than seen. Part of the reason for this absence of clear “points” (in the modern usage of the idea) in Calvin’s preaching was his possible overcorrection from the earlier forms of scholastic preaching. Reading Calvin, it becomes clear that medieval theologians like Peter Lombard (c. 1100-1160) and the latter Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1347) had both positive and negative effects on his preaching style. Hughes Old notes that scholastic preaching with its emphasis on rigorous form would have been the preaching that Calvin heard while growing up in Paris. The scholastics forced the Scriptures into their preconceived categories of sententiae or summa which more often than not missed the point of the given text and obscured the message of the gospel. Seeing this, the preaching Reformers were the first to largely move away from the scholastic method and in turn embraced a method of expository preaching rooted in grammatical-historical exegesis. Hughes Old writes that, “Calvin was primarily an expository preacher. From the standpoint of homiletical genre, all his sermons are expository sermons” (The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church: Volume 4 The Age of the Reformation, 93). So Calvin moved sharply away from scholasticism and embraced a “freer” form of outlining the text. A survey of Calvin’s sermons from Galatians, for example, reveal no obvious outline (in the sense of 1, 2, 3, etc.). However, that is not to say that an outline is not present. Calvin relied more on verbal cues than numbered sequences (e.g., “first, then, and finally”). Old notes that this was because Calvin refused “to force a passage of Scripture into neat sermon outlines and yet seems to have a full command of the arts of language” (108). My conclusion is that Calvin had the clear structure of an outlined sermon but used rhetorical devices more effectively in other parts of his expository messages. However, as Calvin and many others have exemplified, an outlined sermon helps one see the interrelatedness of the Scripture and its demands upon the hearer. Effective expository preaching will make ample use of outlines which will guide the hearer into the ancient world of God’s Word so as to see its original meaning and its modern-day application.

Credibility in the Pulpit

While writing a current series of articles on some of the nuts and bolts of preaching I found this brief article from our friend Nathan Busenitz to be a useful balance. I would suggest that anyone who takes preaching seriously should contemplate Nathan's careful reminder before strapping on the particulars of sermon delivery. He writes:
“There is a danger in focusing too much on the external aspects of delivery—in thinking that preaching consists of a certain formula or assuming that it can be evaluated by the same criteria as secular oration. Biblical preaching is not merely a human endeavor. In fact, its true power is not found in the human source at all. Biblical preaching, then, operates on two levels—the human and the divine—while secular speechmaking operates on the human level only.”
See the full article here.

New preaching interview with David Robertson

When asked, "How does preaching Christ from all the Scriptures govern the shape of your sermons?" He responded:
"It certainly underwrites everything. Preaching is done as an act of worship and in the context of worship. Therefore it is done in the context of the one we worship. Therefore all preaching is or should be Christ centred/focused. This does not mean that we have to keep saying the name of Jesus or making forced interpretations. The Word is itself the Word of Christ."
See the whole interview here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Looking for sermons in all the wrong places

When does quoting someone in a sermon become theft? One pastor writing for Rick Warren's said,

"...stop all of this nonsense of spending 25 or 30 hours a week preparing to speak on the weekend. The guys I draw encouragement from – the best communicators in the United States – confess they spend a total of about 15 hours preparing for their message. As I have already said, they get 70 percent of their material from someone else. Remember, Solomon wrote that "there is nothing new under the sun ..." (you can read the full article here).
Here is a fair response to this article in what one pastor calls "Pastoral Plagiarism."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Rhetorical Device in Expository Ministry: A “how-to”

This is the second installment in a series on the expository ministry of John Calvin.

While no one today has ever heard John Calvin preach, we still have around 1,460 of his extant sermons to study with about another 1,000 manuscripts either missing or destroyed [according to John Leith, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Proclamation of the Word and Its Significance for Today in Light of Recent Research” in Review and Expositor, (1989), p.29]. Princeton scholar, Hughes Oliphant Old shares an appreciation for Calvin when he says, “few preachers have affected such a tremendous reform in the lives of their congregation as did the Reformer of Geneva.” So what was the chief piece of artillery at Calvin’s disposal and more specifically how did he wield it? Old answers that Calvin, “drew his hearers into the sacred text along with him.” To be sure, Calvin was not the only reformer to enjoy a robust expository preaching ministry. Old tells us that “Calvin had the same tools…which the older Reformers had; it was just that Calvin’s were a bit sharper.” The focus of this essay will examine how Calvin used his “sharper” tools and their benefit to preachers today?

Without going into much detail over definitions, let it be said that Calvin was an expositor homiletically and all his sermons reflected this commitment (see T. H. L. Parker’s, Calvin’s Preaching). He was committed to expository preaching because he believed that the text should be taken at face value and that grammatical-historical exegesis was the only corrective to the allegorical method so prevalent in some of his predecessors. Therefore the principles that one may draw from his example are only true to the source if repeated within a consistent expository ministry that is rooted in sound hermeneutical principles (which should be the subject of another essay all together).

Eye-witness accounts and sermons left behind help us to see that one of the reasons for Calvin’s effectiveness was his use of rhetorical device. Simply put, he was a master of the language and worked hard to make sure that his message was simple in its style yet profound in its content (One of the more lucid analyses of Calvin’s preaching that has contributed to my thinking on this subject is Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church: Volume 4 The Age of the Reformation, pp.90-134). Rhetorical device refers to the use of the word pictures, questions, metaphors, etc. to communicate the ancient truths of Scripture to a modern audience. To be effective in this is to clearly distill that message, communicate it through individual giftedness all without truncating the original intent of the author(s). Over the next few posts, I will explore each of the following rhetorical devices found in the preaching of Calvin and show how they are rooted in Biblical examples and useful for preaching today.

1. Outlines as device
2. Similes and synonyms
3. Paraphrases
4. The “Negative” or “Corrective”
5. Expansion
6. Contrast
7. Sarcasm/absurdity
8. Simplification
9. Symphonic preaching
10. vocabulary

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reading and Remembering Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Martyn Lloyd-Jones', "The Doctor" as he was known by his friends and congregation, ministry has been remembered recently due to the 25th anniversary of his death (March 1, 1981). His chief biographer, Iain Murray has penned two helpful articles in The Banner of Truth Magazine on "Dr Lloyd-Jones Twenty-Five Years On" and "Advice On Reading Dr Lloyd-Jones." Other notable resources may be found here and here.

S. Lewis Johnson resources

Many readers of these pages are familiar with the ministry of the late S. Lewis Johnson. He was one of the finest scholars of the 20th Century who also understood the importance of proclaiming the truth through effective exposition. A vast amount of his expositions and doctrinal studies are available on-line through Believer’s Chapel where he served for many years. See here.

What's that "expository" stuff all about?

For all the talk around here about "expository this" and "exposition that" it would be helpful to provide a working definition of what we're talking about. Today, Phil Ryken moves us in that direction with this offering from Reformation 21, see here. What do you think abou t this definition?

Trashy Novels

"Trashy Novel" is the only way I know how to describe anything from the pen of the former Bishop of Newark, NJ, John Shelby Spong. My first encounter was when my philosophy professor at university thought it would be a good idea for his budding students to read Rescuing the Bible from the Hands of Fundamentalism. Let's just say that experiment got real ugly real quick. Spong has continued to put out his brand of ideas over the last decade disclaiming any form of biblical orthodoxy on issues from the virgin birth to homosexuality. His latest work is called The Sins of Scripture where he continues his diatribe against Christianity from the “inside.” I thought about writing a review of it but I was pleased to see Dr. John Makujina had written a fine piece for CT. Spong should not be taken seriously for the merits of his writing because they have as much merit or scholarly insight as a harlequin romance novel. However, he should be taken seriously for the fact that many have been duped by his fanciful research and enormous popular appeal. His publisher, Harper of San Francisco, has made sure that the target audience of his writing is the people that we pastors are entrusted to shepherd and feed. See Makujina’s review here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Classic Craigen

For those of us who have sat under the teaching of Dr. Trevor Craigen of The Master's Seminary, we are familiar with his famous syllogisms of systematic theology. Here is one that I found that is specifically for the expositor of Scripture (HT: Apelles).

IF the Illumination of the Holy Spirit is not the giving of new revelation but the internal witness of the Spirit that produces a fullness of conviction about the certainty and the reliability of the Truth, the Word of God, in the mind and heart of the believer AND

IF the Bible itself (1) refers to a growth in knowledge about what it teaches and (2) argues for teaching of the doctrines of Scripture to the believer and (3) calls for the reader to be diligent in his study so that he might rightly divide the Word of Truth AND

IF the Bible reveals that Christ raises up those gifted in teaching and preaching to have oversight of the flock in which they are found AND

IF the doctrine of the ministry of the Spirit is not seen as divorced from the Word of God but as essentially linked to it, using it, and through it working in the lives of God’s own AND

IF the Bible itself places an emphasis on the mind of the believer calling for it to be renewed and strengthened and, in so doing, places before the believer an array of imperatives both negative and positive to which he is expected to respond as he grows in knowledge and application of the Word of God to his own life that he might be spiritually mature

THEN the ministry of preaching and teaching must be (1) linked continually to the Word of God, (2) the product of an earnest study of that Word, (3) the impartation of a body of doctrine as well as that Truth being brought to bear upon life, and (4) carried out with prayer and with an expressed desire for the lives and hearts of the hearers

FURTHER This means that preaching cannot be done without earnest preparation and without proper regard to the context, grammatical and historical, in which it was first given. It entails both an understanding of just what the Spirit caused to be said to those alive at the time of writing and giving AND then carefully determining just what it means for believers who come to its pages after that time

BUT Since preaching will demonstrate to its hearers how the text has been carefully and prayerfully handled as it is interpreted

THEN The one preaching must be very careful to teach by example what he himself desires to be, namely one who properly and rightly handles the Word on which he bases his teaching and exhortation

SO THAT The hearers and fellow-students are left with the distinct realization that no text can be just made to say whatever the speaker wants it to say regardless of its context, that is, the hearer receives constantly a lesson in good Bible study

Friday, March 17, 2006

Shepherd's Fellowship Blog

The Shepherd's Fellowship now has a blog which should be of interest to preachers. See it here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Calvin and his critics

Few names in Christian history have drawn the venomous rancor as that of John Calvin (1509-1564). One may disagree with his exegesis or despise his theology but one cannot easily dismiss Calvin as irrelevant. Sentiments like those of popular historian Will Durant are easy to come by. Durant said, “We shall always find it hard to love the man, John Calvin, who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense.” It appears that some respond to a caricature of the man rather than what is known of him through historical accounts and his vast body of work. How sad it is that so many truly despise John Calvin but have never read his works or studied his life.

One need not agree with all his conclusions to recognize his considerable influence on Christianity since the time of the Reformation. As for myself, I have come to different conclusions than Calvin in the areas of ecclesiology, sacraments, and eschatology just to name a few. At times I find some of his exegetical conclusions in his commentaries to be forced through the grid of his anti-Rome stance. However, his conclusions are all the more amazing when one considers how little he had to work with in the way of historical precedence. While he consulted the theologians of his day and appealed to the early Church Fathers, his primary focus was upon the text of Scripture. It was his exegesis of the text which bore the fruit of a faithful pulpit ministry. All pastors and theologians should drink deeply from this man’s work for they will taste not only a theologian but a father, a husband, a pastor, and friend who was firmly rooted in real life without the strangle-hold of the ivory-tower mindset. He was a man who was made of clay and yet was greatly used to shape Western Christianity in the post-Reformation world more than any other single individual. Everyone and every persuasion after him from John Owen to Jonathan Edwards, from Karl Barth to Louis Berkof have ridden the coat tails of this great saint. Even none other than his staunchest critic, Jacob Arminius, recognized Calvin’s formidable influence when he wrote:
“Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself (a Dutch divine, 1551–1608); for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the (Heidelberg) Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men.”
Today, while new forms of preaching are being explored, it is Calvin who exemplifies faithful Spirit-filled exposition. Likewise there are some who are shunning proposition-rich systematic theology. Yet it is Calvin who shows us that theology can be more than a set of discombobulated theological statements. I am still hopeful that far from vindicating a man like Calvin, many will rise to the occasion and vindicate the necessity of solid exposition married to the rich substance of systematic theology. This is precisely what Calvin gave his life to and the modern preacher should do no less.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Are you sinfully judgmental?

I recently picked up Dave Swavely’s new book titled, “Who are you to judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism.” I was interested in the subject for a variety of reasons so I thought it may be a good buy/read. Anyone who has been in ministry for anytime has probably been accused of being judgmental, unloving, and/or legalistic.
In my own life I know there are some occasions when this is indeed true. I try and justify my critical spirit claiming “I’m just being discerning.” Sometimes I fall short in this area and thus I see the need for repentance.
There are other times of course when I am misaccused of being unloving or judgmental when I am simply following the principles of 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Many people in the church today simply lack the will to discern (see Macarthur’s excellent book, “Reckless Faith”). These folks accuse anyone and everyone of everything when it comes to the arena of legalism/judging. All of us see the ramifications of this in the fulfillment of Ephesians 4:14, As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.
I decided to start by reading the appendixes of Swavely’s new book. I was intrigued by the title of one, “The Ultimate Human Judgment.” Swavely tries to answer the question, ‘So how can we judge whether someone is a Christian or not?’ Pastor Swavely makes a few good points saying we can never know for certain whether or not someone is genuinely saved. Ultimately only God knows the heart. If someone makes an orthodox profession (p. 185) then we should assume that person is speaking the truth. He writes, “So our relationship to other professing Christians as brothers and sisters is based on a presumption of faith. Or to put it another way, we call them believers, accept them as believers, and treat them as believers.”
I was ok with this appendix until I read the following sentence, “The biblical writers did not attempt to determine or distinguish true believers from false believers within the church. They accepted people’s profession of faith, as long as it was a credible or biblical profession…” Wait a minute! What about the book of 1 John and all the tests that are laid out for us. 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” What about the book of James?
On page 186 Swavely writes, “I would suggest that when someone has professed personal faith in Christ, been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and identified with the church, we are then under obligation from Scripture to make NO NEGATIVE JUDGMENTS about the validity of his faith” (emphasis mine). I understand where Pastor Dave is trying to go with this but in my mind I do not fully agree. He continues, “That obligation remains even when a professing believer seems to exhibit a lack of fruit, or even if he commits repeated heinous sin, because in those cases the other members of the body are called to encourage, admonish, and if necessary discipline him…”
The problem is most churches baptize anyone who makes a profession of faith and then they do not treat those people as N.T. Christians (through encouragement, admonishment, accountability, discipline, etc). I agree with the author that, “we must think twice before concluding that a fellow member of the body is not a true Christian.” Ultimately God is the one true Judge.
Do you think it is judgmental for churches to withhold baptism for those who profess Christ? My personal desire is NOT to limit baptism only for the spiritually mature or to the super saint. I believe baptism is for any person who professes saving faith in Jesus Christ. I do think it is important to test the profession of faith to determine if it is genuine saving faith as much as is humanly possible (again James and 1 John are so helpful here). I know non-Lordship brethren often accuse Reformed believers of super imposing spiritual conditions on the gospel message. As you know, many people simply do not understand the biblical components of saving “faith.” I concur with Dr. Stuart Scott’s biblical interpretation here.

“Understanding Saving Faith (“believing” - Jn.3:16; 1:12)
a. The Knowledge (content) of the Gospel Facts with Jesus as the object of faith = Noticia (Jn.17:3; Heb. 6:4; 10:26; Jas.2:19)
b. The Agreement (intellectual assent) with the Gospel Facts = Assensus (Mt.13:20; Jn.6:44,65; Acts 26; Heb. 6:4; Jas.2:19)
c. A personal transfer of trust and reliance from oneself to Jesus alone for your Justification = Fiducia.
This involves godly sorrow and repentance for all sin, an about face and an all-out pursuit to love, submit to, fully trust in and follow after the Lord Jesus Christ in obedience to His revealed will by the Spirit’s enablement (grace, Acts 11:18; 2 Ti.2:25). This saving faith will always result in good works (Eph.2:10; Jas.2:26).”

I'm just wondering how Swavely's appendix works itself out? Are these accurate quotes? Do they even matter? Should churches be less restrictive when it comes to membership or baptism? Any thoughts????

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Expository Preaching Resources

Wikipedia on expository preaching.

CT article "Farther In and Deeper Down"

Tom Pennington on "Making the connection"

Bryan Chapell on "The Truth about Expository Preaching"

Carey Hardy on "Turning Exegesis into Exposition"

Tom Ascol on "Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures"

Al Mohler vs. Bill Easum on Preaching

Al Mohler
on "Expository Preaching and the Recovery of Christian Worship"

R. L. Dabney on Expository Preaching

Rutherford House editorial on preaching

Augustine the expositor?

I have been reading Augustine lately. When I was in New Orleans last year (pre-Katrina), I found an old second-hand bookstore in the French Quarter that had a copy of Augustine’s work on the Trinity which also contained his sermons on 1 John. I was generally familiar with his more popular works but reading his sermons has deepened my understanding of Augustine’s expository ministry. Much like Calvin, it is tempting for us to think of Augustine as merely a stuffy theologian but both men were faithful pastors devoted to the exposition of Scripture. After reading his sermons, I found Hughes Oliphant Old’s understanding of Augustine to be spot on:

“In his homiletical work, Augustine gave first importance to expository preaching. This was quite consistent with the whole theological system. Augustine had a strong theology of grace, and a strong theology of grace leads to a strong emphasis on revelation. Sermon after sermon we find our preacher intent on nothing so much as explaining the Holy Scriptures, for there it was that God revealed himself” (from Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: Volume 2 The Patristic Age, 345-46).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Are preachers "prophets"?

Should preachers today be considered "prophets"? Dr. Bill Barrick of The Master's Seminary argues that "foretelling" and "forthtelling" is a popular yet misleading distinction. He writes:
"Lest the reader misunderstand, let me make something clear: I am not talking about the confusion of the charismatic preachers and theologians. No, I am talking about non-charismatic, evangelical preachers, teachers, and theologians who are either confused or are creating confusion."
See the full article here.

Diotrephes is Back: Part Three (final)

Love of Power

The lust for power in the ministry is equally destructive and always leads to isolation from those authorities to whom we are accountable. Diotrephes opposed John’s Apostolic leadership because he viewed others as obstacles to the furtherance of his own power and control. Verse 10 says he was “not satisfied with” mere slander, but also tried to hinder the outreach ministries of other churches. In his resentment he refused to serve a traveling band of missionaries (“…neither does he…receive the brethren” – v.10). Leaders who love control are always suspicious of others because they fear the loss of importance or status. Scripture teaches that we are never to shepherd “…as lording it over those allotted to [our] charge” (1 Peter 5:3). The sheep are a delegated responsibility from the Chief Shepherd to whom we shall give an account. When a leader does not tremble at the very thought of accountability to Christ he is left to his petty intimidations and oppressive tactics. Anyone who stood against Diotrephes became a target of his bitterness. He manipulated his own congregation, incited them to disfellowship with anyone who went against his orders. This is not leadership but personal domination! How can you know whether you have fallen into the power-hungry trap? Examine your life and look for the following evidences: Viewing others as a threat to your success; Unteachable when contradicted; Letting others be blamed for your failed decisions; Withholding important resources and information needed by others; Unwilling to delegate responsibility. These are the marks of self-centered and self-protective leadership. The body of Christ suffers greatly when shepherds are lured away by power and praise. We must work against such weaknesses by cultivating a Christ-focused heart and mind. Paul’s calling as an Apostle was not to be undermined, but he personally saw himself as a nobody (2 Corinthians 12:11). A tyrant in the ministry will foster a church full of abusers who fight each other for recognition. Loyalty to Christ is nurtured by leaders who love and promote Christ. Trust in God modeled by the leadership begets a growing faith in the hearts of the sheep. Where the elders are an example of humility, gentleness, and servanthood the flock of God flourishes in peace and safety. We must flee the seductive influence of power and praise by putting our hearts in check, forsaking any Diotrephes-like tendency, and returning once again to the servant-life. God’s people deserve the best of our stewardship.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Diotrephes is Back: Part Two

Love of Praise

Diotrephes was a church leader of some notable rank, probably a senior pastor by today’s standards. For all his achievements in ministry he is described in scripture as an egocentric personality who “[loved] to be first among them” (3 John 9). He had an insatiable desire for preeminence. His heart secretly delighted in the praises of others which fed his exalted view of his own abilities. When a leader satisfies himself with the cheers of men he lays the groundwork for a host of ministry-disrupting behavior. For example, Diotrephes’ love for preeminence led to an unsubmissive heart toward church authority (v.9b). Furthermore, he became deceitful, “unjustly accusing …with wicked words” (v.10). The egocentric leader is intolerant and hyper-critical of others. Positioning himself for maximum attention he will readily dispense with another’s ministry gifts, talents, and ideas. Like Diotrephes, he will not tolerate anyone encroaching upon his territory. Such an appetite for man’s applause is the result of ingratitude for one’s gifts, and desiring personal significance outside of God’s will. The scriptures warn against “[searching] out one’s own glory” (Proverbs 25:27; 28:6-7). We can avoid the lure of man’s praise by remembering that our significance is found in becoming useful to Christ. Moreover, we are told in 1 Peter 4:10 that we have “received” spiritual gifts from God and are merely “stewards of [his] manifold grace”. Apart from Him we can accomplish nothing!

Human praise always tests the character of a leader (Proverbs 27:21) because it brings true motives to the surface. All of us at one time or another have received a word of thanks for a job well done or praise for personal qualities and talents. In fact, according to Proverbs 12:8, it is natural for a man to be “…praised for his insight”. There is even a place for publicly praising a faithful servant, as Paul does when referring to Epaphroditis in Philippians 2:29-30, “Therefore…hold men like him in high regard because he came close to death for the work of Christ…”. In ministry, however, striking a balance between humbly receiving a genuine compliment and seeking only the glory of Christ can be challenging. How can you know whether you love the praises of men? A few simple questions may help: Do you withhold praise from others? Do you delight in getting attention? Are you uncomfortable in the presence of gifted peers? Would others describe you as self-promoting? If you struggle to rejoice in the usefulness of others you have laid the seed-bed for cultivating a love of praise.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Diotrephes is Back: Part One

Robert G. Lee was a shepherd whose ministry was marked by a love for his people and a determined defense for the word of God. It had been a simple but profound approach to his service in the church, and the result was a lifetime of usefulness and blessing. But how did such effectiveness come from such simplicity? The real secret lies in the lens through which Lee viewed his calling. Notice that his perspective was focused around two biblical commands which every church is called to obey. When a shepherd sees his labor as the highest act of submission to Christ he is most “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Unfortunately, such tireless dedication is becoming the exception rather than the rule as today’s generation of shepherds are easily seduced by the lure of public recognition, wealth, power, sensuality, and personal significance. The evangelical landscape has become a wasteland of shattered trust and scattered sheep, largely due to a crop of leaders who have traded their pastoral call for personal gain. The Apostle Peter exhorted the elders of the church to “…shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight…according to the will of God” (1 Peter 5:2). Peter reminds us of the profound mandate given to every overseer, a task that demands sacrifice and careful stewardship. The sheep are not the possession of their leaders but rather their immense privilege. The call to pastoral faithfulness is grounded in the purposes of God for His people, requiring a full-range care that befits His design. The trustworthy pastor, then, will serve God best by feeding the sheep with His food, reproving them with His word, tending them with His heart, and disciplining them with His grace. There is no place in the ministry for personal gain or selfish ambition. Nor should the work of the church be used to nurture one’s own desire for significance. The Holy Spirit calls and gifts a man beyond his human abilities, confirming that in the end all ministry effectiveness points to God’s significance. A.W. Tozer has pointedly remarked that
“A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation. Such were Moses and David and the Old Testament prophets. I think there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little heart for. I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader. The true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether as ready to follow as to lead, when the Spirit makes it clear that a wiser and more gifted man than himself has appeared."
While many leadership pitfalls line the road to a blessed ministry, there are two particularly dangerous weaknesses that can quickly ruin a leader and bring lasting heartache to any church. Sadly, both weaknesses are graphically portrayed in a man called Diotrephes, mentioned in Third John 9 and10. His ministry is the classic account of a leader for whom God’s people became a personal trophy. He had allowed his heart to drift into the treacherous waters of pride and conceit, seduced by the influence of personal power and human praise.