Archive for January, 2006

“plain style” preaching is like asthma

The worst critic of my preaching is me. I know I share this with many of my fellow expositors. How many times have we walked away from the pulpit thinking there were a thousand better ways to communicate what was just said. However someone may retort, “Yes Paul, but the Spirit will use your words no matter how mangled they flow.” I would be the first to admit this is true but it does not alleviate our responsibility to communicate clearly and plainly. I suspect one source of this problem is the tendency to play the scholar in the pulpit (some show it outside the pulpit as well not the least of which is in the blog world). The problem appears that some have confused what it means to be a preaching scholar. The late James Boice writing in the chapter “The Preacher and Scholarship” in The Preacher and Preaching (ed. Samuel T. Logan, 1986) notes,

“Still, it is not the scholarship we are preaching. Still less must we preach ourselves, as if the scholarly element in sermons could be used to gain prestige for the preacher. We are to preach the Word of God, knowing that only the Word contains within it the power necessary to break sin’s shackles and turn a rebellious child of Adam back from the life of sin to the Savior. The minister, even in being quite technical, should never forget that his end is not chiefly to inform in such areas, but to comfort his listeners with the need to hear and obey the Word of God. . . .if it [scholarship] takes the place of God’s Word, it is worse than useless” (p.104).

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson has also issued a reminder that the “plain style” of preaching is what expositors should aim for. He writes,”There are many ways this principle applies. Do not make eloquence the thing for which you are best known as a preacher; make sure you get the point of the passage you are preaching, and that you make it clear and express its power. True evangelical eloquence will take care of itself. ” Ferguson also notes that Anglican J. C. Ryle spoke often of this great need, “Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.”

You can see Dr. Ferguson’s full article here.

Kaiser at pastor forum on the OT

If you’re in the Jacksonville, FL area you may be interested in this pastor’s forum on the “Christian and the ‘Old’ Testament” to be delivered by Walter Kaiser.

How to measure a “pericope”

In the latest edition of Reformation 21, Dr. Derek Thomas has provided a careful answer to the question of “how much?” when deciding what to preach. I think one will find his advice both practical and lucid. He writes,

“My question here focuses on one aspect of exegetical preaching: preaching from lengthy books of the Old Testament. In this case, short texts would imply series of considerable length—too long for the patience of most congregations not to mention the skill of most preachers. What I offer are a series of observations based on a combination of principles I hold dear, practices I have observed, and failures I have most certainly made.”

You can see the full article here.

The Devoted Life: A Review

Review: The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics
InterVarsity Press (2004)

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” The editors (Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason) of The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics have put together a masterful introduction to some of the most important literature ever penned in the English language…all of it very old! It is not so much an introduction to the lives of the Puritans as it is an introduction to some of their key writings. However, readers will be delighted to know that the first chapter goes a long way to answer the question: “Who were the Puritans?” (pp.15-37) and the last chapter on “Puritan and Spiritual Renewal” (pp.298-309) is worth the price of the book. The Puritans were chiefly responsible for shaping social and religious thought in the post-Reformation era. They are greatly misunderstood and often falsely caricatured. This introduction will be a great encouragement to the believer who wants to go beyond the typical fluff of modern writing and dig in to Christian literature that lives and breathes. The editors will take the reader on a grand tour of Western Canon heavy-weights like Pilgrim’s Progress and Paradise Lost, setting them in both their proper literary and theological contexts. Of special interest to ministers will be the chapters on The Arte of Prophesying (William Perkins), The Reformed Pastor (Richard Baxter), and A Method of Prayer (Matthew Henry) among others. Biblical counselors will glean insight as well as appreciate the chapter on Richard Sibbes’ excellent treatise The Bruised Reed. In addition to the aforementioned chapters on Bunyan and Milton, students of English literature will profit from Mark Noll’s examination of “The Poetry of Anne Bradstreet (1612-1272) and Edward Taylor (1642-1729)”. The Devoted Life deserves a prominent place in the growing literature on Puritan lives and writings. The editors have furthered the discussion of Puritan writings in this readable and engaging edition. One hopes that it will encourage a first-hand reading of the Puritans and renew a present-day application of their humble theology. As an aside, if one is looking for an accessible introduction to the lives of the Puritans, this reviewer would recommend, Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Zondervan, 1986). Though Ryken’s work is deemed less “scholarly” by some it is still a fair and accessible introduction to the puritans.

Minor “Prophets” or “Prophet” Part One

I recently began a series in our evening services in that often forgotten part of our Bibles known as תרי עשר, “The Book of the Twelve” or more popularly the “Minor Prophets” (“minor” because of their size not importance). Many in my congregation are at the beginning of their “through the Bible in a year plans.” Some of them tell me that the reading wheels start to slow down around Leviticus, then begin to fall off by Chronicles and finally grind to a halt if they ever make it to the “Prophets.” So chiefly for that reason and a few others, I decided to preach a series that would introduce the Minor Prophets to the average person who has little understanding of their meaning or biblical importance. I purposed to do this with one introductory message and then one message on each of “The Twelve”, paying attention to broader themes, purposes, application, and their redemptive place in the larger canon of Scripture. It’s a variation on this last purpose that I want to propose here: Should the Twelve Minor Prophets be viewed as twelve separate books with little overlap or should a more organic relationship be seen in which they stand or fall together as a unified whole? More importantly, does it matter? I will argue for the unified approach and that it does matter.

In part two I will seek to provide a few reasons as to why I think “The Twelve” should be seen as a unified core with an unfolding redemptive purpose. Beginning with Hosea and ending with Malachi, “The Twelve” tell a thematic story that was crucial for their day as well as for ours. This story unfolded for almost four hundred years through the writings of the twelve prophets. It is believed that the unified approach was recognized in Jewish tradition by at least 190 B.C where the prophets were referenced together in Jewish writings as “The Twelve Prophets” (cf. Ecclesiasticus 49:10). However, my main concern is with the text itself so there are two lines of evidence that will be discussed: 1) textual and 2) literary-thematic. I’m not really concerned with those who offer radical views on “The Twelve” as being fragmented and disjointed writings for such persons rarely deal with the text to begin with and are generally unconcerned with unified themes. My concern is that the people of God understand all of Scripture especially those hard to reach areas like the Prophets. I would love to hear your perspective if you have any thoughts on this or have pursued it before me.

Together for the Gospel Blog

The “Together for the Gospel Conference” now has a blog. You can see more information about the conference here.

I’m looking forward to the format and line-up. Also let me be the first to say that I will be “live blogging” the conference. Is anyone else going?

Exegesis Lost

One of the great benefits of the blog world is the limitless exchange of ideas and perspectives. You only have to spend an hour or so reading two or three thoughtful blogs to get a snapshot of what’s on people’s minds and in their theological craws.

While the interaction can be profitable, too often many of the ensuing “e-debates” are simply histrionics and opinionizing rather than lucid, sound biblical argumentation. Participants seem quick to throw the term “exegesis” around but often respond with little of it. Part of the problem seems to be a failure to understand what exegesis is. Reading around the blogosphere one gets the impression that “doing exegesis” simply means citing a passage or verse that on the surface seems logically to prove one’s point. To complicate matters further, when a view is challenged, a vacuous rebuttal is offered void of any grammatical, contextual, or literary data. Often presented are circular and apriori arguments, dealing more with deductive conclusions than exegetical reasoning. Unfortunately, this is neither good exegesis nor sound proof of anything.

Perhaps a review of the tenets of sound exegesis is in order. Exegesis, by definition, is the special application of the principles governing linguistics and meaning. The discipline of hermeneutics consists of the particular rules for interpreting scripture, and exegesis is the process of applying those rules. As D.A. Carson has aptly noted in his work entitled Exegetical Fallacies, “Exegesis concludes by saying, ‘This passage means such and such’; hermeneutics ends by saying, ‘This interpretive process is constituted by the following techniques and preunderstandings.’” Drawing sound exegetical conclusions is no easy task involving many building blocks from which meaning is derived. The following is a brief annotated outline of applied hermeneutics in the exegetical process:

(1) Identify the literary genre.
The exegete must first understand what type of biblical literature is being studied. From the Old Testament to the New, biblical authors penned the revelation in differing prose. The Bible student must consider how meaning is conveyed differently through history, narrative, prophecy, poetry, epistolary, wisdom, etc. Many interpretive errors today stem from a general failure to grasp the particular kind of material under study.
(2) Identify the pericope.
After a thorough working knowledge of the flow of a passage from one context to the next, the exegete must clearly mark the smallest pericope with which to work. Without this step one runs the risk of missing pivotal transitions of thought intended by the author.
(3) Isolate lexical and syntactical hinges, synthesize, and principlize.
At this point several key disciplines must be carefully implemented: (a) Form a block diagram to distinguish main and subordinate clauses; (b) Isolate and study all parts of speech to determine the precise contextual nuance of words and phrases; (c) Solve text-critical problems with comparative grammatical and contextual evidence; (d) Formulate an exegetical outline of the main propositional principles given by the author, and their implications for the original audience; (e) Weigh conclusions against other thorough exegetical scholarship for fine tuning; (f) Synthesize the work into brief paragraphs, explaining the proposition and rhetorical function (how the proposition is developed) of the author’s arguments; (g) From the implications intended for the original audience, formulate general theological principles from which timeless implications may be drawn. Admittedly, this final step is more than challenging. It requires the exegete to determine if a principle given for an ancient audience has contemporary implications. The diligent student must take care to begin with larger, overarching principles and work toward potentially specific parallels. The literary genre and historical context are great safeguards against extrapolating a contemporary mandate where it was never intended.
(4) Study and clearly establish the theological implications of the text.
Once the text’s meaning and implications has been determined, the exegete must be able to clearly articulate how the passage contributes to a biblical-theological framework. The theological implications of the passage should be cogent and consistent with the whole of scripture.
(5) Develop a clear outline of principles for teaching and preaching.
The exegetical process is now complete and ready for the
application of homiletics.

While there is much more that could be said under each step above, these basic parameters provide the serious Bible student with the tools needed to rightly divide God’s word. My hope is that those around the blogosphere who desire to convince others about the Bible’s meaning will do some exegesis on their methodology and bring to the table more than just opinions. The Word of God deserves our very best efforts.

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