Archive for March, 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

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