Archive for February, 2006

Preaching in the postmodern age

David Wells is interviewed about his new book Above All Earthly Pow’rs. Concerning preaching in the postmodern age he states,

“The most important thing to know about preaching is that it arises legitimately only from God’s Word, which is the resource of Truth given to the Church. In the West, the Church is living in a postmodern context in which there is no Truth, only ‘truths;’ no moral norms, only preferences; no Virtues, only values which we then go on to treat in a value-free way. Preaching, therefore, is the principal way by which God secures our cognitive and behavioral distance from our fallen culture while securing our identity with his moral character and his redemptive purposes. This is something quite different from what we expect to hear today from the plexiglass stands that have taken the place of pulpits in so many evangelical churches.”

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Looking foreword

The week ahead looks to be rather busy and exciting for the contributors to Expository Thoughts. We will all be out in Los Angeles for various things. Some will be attending the Shepherd’s Conference while others (me) will be stuck in more business type meetings. This does not mean that the blog will be silent; to the contrary. . .

This week marks the anniversary of Martyn Lloyd-Jones death and Chris Pixley will be leading the charge on a series of articles that reflect on the Doctor as a preacher and his influence in the evangelical world. Following that, Jerry Wragg has penned a timely reminder from the life of Diotrephes.

I need your help. I am writing a piece on ML-J as a pastor and can’t find a particular quote that I was looking for. Somewhere in volume 2 of Iain Murray’s biography is a statement about ML-J’s shortsightedness with his deacons. I haven’t been able to mine-out the quote since it’s been about ten years since I last read the book. Any help would be appreciated. Blessings to all, especially in your study of God’s Word.

Interview with Richard Phillips

In a new interview Richard Phillips takes on “redemptive-historical” method of preaching. He states,

“I preach the text of the passage before me. The message of my sermon is determined by the message of the passage, and the points of my sermon are given to me by the text. If the passage offers promises, I offer promises. If it makes demands, I present the demands. If it rebukes sin, I rebuke sin. Properly speaking, “redemptive-historical” preaching means to understand every passage not only in its local context but also as it relates to Christ and his saving work. Just as it used to be said that “all roads lead to Rome,” I believe that all texts lead to Christ. But each text leads to Christ via its particular message, and I must not impose any one doctrinal perspective on every text. My main criticism of redemptive-historical preaching or “Christ-centered” preaching is that many take it to mean that every text teaches the doctrine of justification. Instead of preaching the text and connecting it organically to Christ’s saving work, too many preachers merely ignore the text and dole out the same presentation they always give. This impoverishes preaching and flattens out the rich, redemptive contours that the Bible actually contains. Another abuse of this approach is to select a pastoral issue or sin concern on which the sermon will focus in such a way as to ignore the context of the passage and the pastoral issue or sin concern on which the original author and the Holy Spirit are focused.”

You can read the full interview here.

Length of Tenure


(The following is not meant to be a detailed defense of the issue at hand but is offered as a push to more conversation in an area that has been largely neglected among pastors)

How long should a pastor stay at his ministry assignment? This is a question that I have spent a good amount of time thinking about. The reason is not that I’m considering a move (far from it) but that I am constantly asked by fellow pastors how long they should “hang-on” at their respective churches. Many brothers in ministry have cried on my shoulder because of weariness, burnout, and factional difficulties all of which have raised the potential for ending their tenures. I was reminded of this when I read the news report of a well-known pastor leaving his mega congregation for another very large congregation out of state. Throughout the press release this pastor never gave a concrete answer for this massive change. He talked about seeking signs from the Lord and the emotional turmoil that such a decision had caused him but he never once spoke of his decision making process in biblical or pastoral terms. So when should a pastor leave? Just how much abuse should a pastor “put-up” with before he decides to move? What if his congregation leaves him financially strung while another congregation offers a significant salary increase? What are congregational “deal-breakers” that make it impossible for his continuance? Are there legitimate reasons to leave one congregation for another when they are essentially equal in size, influence, and ministry opportunity? The questions abound and never cease multiplying.

First I should say that there is no cookie-cutter approach to answering these sorts of questions. I realize that there are significant challenges that many pastors face which makes objectivity in this area hard to discern. I do not portend to have all the answers to such specific questions. However, I want to put forward the general thesis that pastors who preach should aim for lengthy tenures in one local church. Many reasons could be offered from the pragmatic to the more doctrinal. However, I think that in order to be most effective, a preaching ministry will require elongated tenure so as to prove the nature of the call itself and to provide consistent ministry.

As to the nature of the call, there is an implicit demand on the time of the elder which necessitates a lengthy stay. I can’t help but see this in pastoral charges like those in 1 Peter 5 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2. The things that the pastor is called to be and do take time…lots of time! The common joke is that, “pastors work one hour a week.” While this is no doubt true for many hirelings throughout the land, not so with the man who has been called by God and gives himself to the ministry with complete integrity. The average tenure of a pastor in the US is three years. That’s despicable and horrific when we consider what it takes to effectively minister to God’s flock in the way that He has prescribed. I’m not suggesting that a pastor fill his schedule with programs from the denomination office or with the latest fad from the “experts”. To the contrary, I’m suggesting he immerse himself with the specifics that God has called him to in Scripture (e.g., study, preach/teach, counsel, lead/administrate, visit, pray, practice, etc.). It takes time to do these things and it takes even more time to do them with excellence. This means that every week will be full and when he enters his third year of ministry he’s not looking for an escape but he’s just getting started. We see leaders with this basic commitment as far back as Ezra who “set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). No doubt this was a great demand on Ezra’s time and it required sustained influence in and among Israel.

My thinking was challenged again on this issue from an unlikely source, the book of Hosea. In preparation for preaching through the book I was struck with the nature of Hosea’s call to ministry (Hos. 1:2) and how long it lasted (Hos.1:1). The best guesses tell us that Hosea’s ministry lasted around forty years. We could think of others like Jeremiah and Isaiah who also persevered through difficult ministries. I was struck by a comment on Hosea from the insightful pen of John Calvin. Here’s what he had to say on the length of Hosea’s ministry and it’s implications for pastoral practice:

“But when God employs our service for twenty or thirty years, we think it wearisome, especially when we have to contend with wicked men, and those who do not willingly undertake the yoke, but pertinaciously resist us; we then instantly desire to be set free, and wish to become like soldiers who have completed their time. When, therefore, we see that this Prophet persevered for so long a time, let him be to us an example of patience, so that we may not despond, though the Lord may not immediately free us from our burden” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 13, “Hosea” pg.38).

Calvin is essentially saying that when we enter our 20th or even 30th year we are just getting started!!! This is alarming when we consider again that the average stay is three years. Brothers, there is no “thou shall” or “shall not” when it comes to length of tenure in ministry. However, we are called to “take heed to the ministry” we have received so “that we may fulfill it” (cf. Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5) and to reciprocate that ministry to others called to the same task (2 Tim. 2:2). This will, in most cases, take a lot more than three years…it will take a lifetime. When we come to the end of our ministries, I pray we can join with the Apostle in like manner and say to our congregations, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:20, 24). The challenges are great but the Lord who called you is greater. The same Lord who called you to your ministry will strengthen you to weather the storms of that ministry. I close with a bit of wisdom from a seasoned pastor:

“Sometimes a pastor’s ministry to a particular church does come to an end and change is better for both, but the decision should be a joint one. The entire church leadership should be involved, and if that occurs, there should be no acrimony. It should be prayed over at length, explored in every detail, and handled in an open and aboveboard manner. Both parties should genuinely agree that this is the best plan for God’s Kingdom. When that is done, I believe we can expect God to bless those changes. But to continually hire and fire pastors, and for pastors to church-hop must be displeasing to the Lord and is very disruptive to the congregations” (Curtis Thomas, Practical Wisdom for Pastors, 144).

Preaching well known portions of Scripture

While preparing a sermon on Jude 5 i came across a great quote by Pastor Matthew Henry. This comment reflects Jude’s thought in a fresh way (Jude 1:5 “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe”).

Henry writes, “Preaching is not designed to teach us something new in every sermon, somewhat that we knew nothing of before; but to put us in remembrance, to call to mind things forgotten, to affect our passions, and engage and fix our resolutions, that our lives may be answerable to our faith. Though you know these things, yet you still need to know them better. There are many things which we have known which yet we have unhappily forgotten. Is it of no use or service to be put afresh in remembrance of them?”

Jude asks his audience to dig into their memory banks to recall some important lessons. Mature Christians do this very thing all the time. Most of the people at my current church have probably heard a sermon on just about every Scripture passage in the N.T. They know what I’m going to say before i say it.

May we remember this point and apply it to our ministries: Even mature Christians (yes pastors included) need to be reminded of the truths they know so well. Forgetfulness sometimes leads to non-application. All of us have memorized a passage in Holy Scripture only to find ourselves needing to re-memorize it a few years down the road (for some of us a few weeks down the road is more like it). It’s part of our human fallibility. In some ways it keeps us dependent on the Holy Spirit and on the Holy Bible…

Jude begs his readers to apply the truth they know so well. Their knowledge is fully adequate. Thus, remember and apply these things.
Those of you, who like me, have grown up in the Church need to take this point to heart. You know the Scripture inside and out, but are you faithfully living them out? Are you applying what you know so well?

It’s similar to the inspired words found in 2 Peter 1:12-14, Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in b)the truth which is present with you. And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.

Review: The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur

“Unleashing God’s truth, one verse at a time” has been the motto of John MacArthur’s fruitful and enduring ministry of preaching. Out of the overflow of his pulpit ministry have come many books that have shaped and transformed the way believers think about the church, the gospel, and Christ. A milestone of this ministry came in 1997 with the publishing of The MacArthur Study Bible (hereafter, MSB). The MacArthur Bible Commentary (hereafter, MBC) seeks to build upon the foundational work of the MSB and greatly expands its usefulness for hungry Bible students.

This one-volume commentary stands in a long line of many other similar resources that have proved useful to Christians over the centuries. Making use of current scholarship and other reference resources this volume brings together a weight of helpful material and biblical insight. The MBC doubles the roughly 350 charts and diagrams of the MSB to almost 700 total. In addition the commentary material has been significantly revised and corrected in numerous places. Certain new features that did not appear in the MSB like “word-studies” and “further study” sections are new to this work. I believe it is a significant improvement over the MSB, especially for those who may not prefer NKJV that accompanies the MSB (although it has been rumored that the MSB will soon be wed to translations other than the NKJV).

Overview and strengths: The overall structure of the MBC is user-friendly. The outline of each Bible book not only appears at the beginning of each book but is integrated throughout the text of the commentary. In addition to the many new charts, word-studies, and diagrams a section called “Further Study” appears at the end of each book of the Bible. The “further study” section is a brief list of helpful commentaries generally of a non-technical expositional flavor. The “Overview of Theology” that formerly appeared at the end of the MSB is moved to the front matter of the MBC and renamed “Key Teachings of the Bible.”

Probably the most significant addition is the many abbreviated articles that appear throughout the commentary. These articles should prove to be of great practical help to the student, counselor, parent, or pastor. One will find in these articles brief but insightful counsel from the Word of God on such things as giving (p.1640), the will of God (p. 1761), hope (pp. 1958, 1628), love (pp. 1961, 1598, 1829), suffering (p.1920), and Bible study (pp. xx-xxiv). Even for the eschatologically curious one will find a brief discussion of the meaning of “666” (p.2020).

Theological nuances are not left out of the MBC. The theological persuasion found in its pages is decidedly credobaptist (see note on Acts 2:38); pretribulational (p.2006); and premillennial (see note on Rev. 20:2). One will also find helpful notes on particular redemption (see note on 1 John 2:2); unconditional individual election (see note on Eph. 1:11), and the relationship between Israel and the Church within a New Covenant context (see notes on Jeremiah 31:31-34). There are many theological avenues to explore in this grand volume.

Weaknesses: It is a tribute to MacArthur, the many fine editors, assistants, and professors who have labored long hours to see that the finished product is relatively clear of typos and publishing mistakes. In a work of this magnitude one can reasonably understand certain items being overlooked. However, a few things might not go unnoticed. In regards to quality, some of the pictures were inferior (p.1776) and the gray-scale in others appeared blurred (p. 921). Some typos appear to be formatting issues (e.g., the misplaced hyphen in “Corinth-ians’,” p.1613) and other simple spelling mistakes (“Hord” instead of “Word,” see comment on Ps. 19:1-14, p. 609). However, such mistakes appear so infrequently that one should not be bothered by their inclusion. The many strengths of this commentary far outweigh any weaknesses (whether perceived or real).

The MacArthur Bible Commentary should find wide usage within the body of Christ. Pastors, counselors, parents, and students will all benefit by the years of wisdom and Biblical insight that have accumulated and found residence within this single volume. I recommend it to all without hesitation and in hopes that believers will be rekindled in their passion for the study of God and His Word.

Don’t abandon expository preaching: part 3

This is the final installment from D. A. Carson’s “6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching” from the Summer 1996 issue of Leadership Journal. Carson writes, “Other sermonic structures have their merits, but none offers our congregations more, week after week, than careful, faithful exposition of the Word of God.” Following are his final two points:

5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions.
6. It enables the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God.

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