Archive for April, 2006

Interview with Bryan Chapell

Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Seminary, delivers some practical wisdom for expositors in this interview entitled “The Truth About Expository Preaching.”

If your spouse or roommate were to roll you out of bed at 3 A.M. and ask, “What is the sermon about this Sunday morning?” if you cannot answer in one crisp sentence, the sermon’s not ready to preach. You need an idea people can grasp. If the sermon’s idea is, “In the Babylonian incarceration of God’s people, they suffered for seventy years to determine what God’s plan was and never could determine it…” and you keep talking, that idea is not going to pass the 3 A.M. test. We need something like “God remains faithful to faithless people,” something that’s crisp.

See the complete interview here.

Preaching OT Narrative

A young seminary student I know (younger than me anyway) recently finished his M.Div course work from the seminary he was attending and lamented the fact that he was graduating with plenty of helpful information and valuable experience but a few areas were never sufficiently covered in class lectures. The most glaring example he said, was instruction on how to preach from the narrative portions of Scripture and primarily those from the OT. Since I didn’t attend the same seminary as this fellow I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his complaint. Nevertheless, as I reflect on my own experience in seminary and that of fellow ministers with whom I have discussed this issue, there is a general consensus that preaching OT narrative is a weak point among expositors today. Another side to this dilemma is that many who do preach narrative resort to allegorizing and “character studies” rather than getting at the original meaning and then its implications for the modern hearer. Also, much of the OT narrative preaching that I have heard has lacked a God-centered focus. Now all of this is simply one person’s observation but I suspect that it might be a larger problem beyond my own perception.

One of the ways I have tried to overcome my own weaknesses in this area is to simply jump off the cliff of fear and just do it. So currently, I have put a much longer series of the Gospel of Matthew on hold and I’m preaching through the book of Ruth. At the same time I have tried to read anything and everything on the subject of narrative preaching. I came across the following simple but helpful reminder from Daniel Block in his commentary on Judges-Ruth”. Block says we have to ask

“the right questions of the text: (1) What does this account tell us about God? (2) What does it tell us about the human condition? (3) What does it tell us about the world? (4) What does it tell us about the people of God—their collective relationship with Him? (5) What does it tell us of the individual believer’s life of faith?” (604).

For a more detailed treatment of preaching narrative I would recommend “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives” by Steven D. Mathewson as a starting point. There is still much work that needs to be done in this area in the way of helpful materials and resources. If you know of any please let us know by way of comment.

How to make a man of God

Thanks to Sean at tohu va bohu for reminding us of this classic statement from MacArthur.

“How to Make a Man of God”

Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God. Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God.
Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence.
Bend his knees in the lonesome valley. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God.

Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!
Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-”Sir, we would see Jesus.”

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can. Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word. And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

Rhetorical Device in Expository Ministry: similes and paraphrases


This is an ongoing series on the use of rhetorical device in preaching with a side focus on the preaching of Calvin. These are simply informal observations and various stray thoughts that I have brought together on this broad subject. Comments and ideas are welcome.

2. Similes and synonyms

John Stott has written, “Preaching is an activity of bridge-building between the revealed Word and the contemporary world.” This bridge is made with words that are preached. Those words will either be like a bridge that has been left in disrepair or one that is well-built with clear markings. Synonyms and similes are rhetorical devices that will help the expositor build the bridge more effectively. To use a synonym in preaching is to use a different word to provide more “color” and “flesh” to the point being made. A simile will accomplish the same thing yet with a larger comparative phrase.

Hughes Old tells us that Calvin used “a generous supply of synonyms to convey the fullness” of his teaching. Old assures us that to read Calvin in “sixteenth-century French is a pure delight for a lexicographer.” Nevertheless, and I’m sure Old would agree, the power of preaching does not rest in the choice of words and phrases. To be sure, preaching is more than this in every way but it is not less than this. Therefore, preachers should weigh their words carefully and make full use of the range of their vocabulary to communicate the message of the Word of God. Avoid vagaries and words that lack concrete clarity. Work hard at precision and explanation while avoiding needless redundancies. Examples of similes can be found all over Scripture: “don’t be tossed like the waves of the sea” and “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

3. Paraphrases

In one sense the whole sermon is a paraphrase of the text we are preaching. If it’s not then we might be missing the point of the text completely. By definition, an exposition is an expansion and retelling of a text. We are not inventing new material but we are explaining and applying material that has already been delivered. Our job is to unpack the words, grammar, meaning, and context while repackaging them all in a clear and natural style that exalts the Word through the sermon. To paraphrase means quit literally to rephrase a particular statement in different words and phrases. This can be an effective means of communication and chances are you already do this in your sermon but recognizing where you use it and how to refine it will make your usages all the more clear.

A paraphrased statement in a sermon might begin with, “It’s as if Jesus is saying…” or “Moses is essentially telling the people that…” We may paraphrase a particular statement or even an event. The latter is when we describe the situation in “brighter color” with the help of background material and knowledge we gained in the introductory phase of our study. Certainly, the larger context plays a role here as well. Take for example the shortest verse in the NT which says, “Jesus wept.” A basic paraphrase would simply say something like this:

“Here is Jesus standing outside the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, weeping.”

This paraphrase conveys a little more emotion and color than the original verse but not much. However, if we said:

“Here is the transcendent God of the universe, the one who will be exalted above all things, who will sit at the right hand of the Father, being fully God yet showing the humility of being fully man. The one we see here outside of this tomb is not strong in the eyes of the world but like Isaiah said ‘he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ This is the one who is weeping for His dear friend and this is the one who sympathizes with our weaknesses. YET it is this weeping man that will also call his friend from that very tomb. He will command a rotting corpse to get up and make its way out for all to see when He shouts the command, ‘LAZURUS, COME FORTH!’ Here inside of these two words, “Jesus wept” we see a humble man moved by the death of a friend. Yet the text also shows a man who is fully God, who is sovereign Lord, creator and sustainer of all life. We must see Him in all His fullness here. He is not a dispassionate or reclusive god or even a mere man who is a slave to his emotions. Here we have the God-Man. Sad yet sovereign, moved yet the Mover, and compassionate yet infinitely powerful.”

On a practical level, I try not to go overboard editing my manuscript notes. However, I do check them for redundancies which can often be cured with a synonym or a clearer phrase. Make time to give a final edit to your notes, even if it’s a once over just before you preach. Go back to your most recent sermon and notice where these rhetorical devices would have proved more effective. You might take note of patterns or stylistic problems that can translate into hindrances for those who are there to hear your message. However, guard your editing practices from hyper self-criticism. Biblical sermons are not works of art without stylistic problems or imperfections. I have seen some preachers go overboard in editing and get caught up in the “romance” of crafting a sermon. T. H. L. Parker is wise to comment about the expositor that “a proper humility before God and modesty concerning himself and his capabilities are not to hinder the preacher from the bold assertion of the authority of the message he has to deliver. Indeed, it is a dereliction of his duty if he does not claim that authority” (Calvin’s Preaching, 44).

“a feeling of desperation”

“…all genuine preacing is rooted in a feeling of desperation. The preacher wakes up on the Lord’s Day morning and he can smell the smoke of hell on one side and feel the crisp breezes of heaven on the other. he then looks down at his pitiful notes and he says to himself, ‘Who do I think I am kidding? Is this all there is? Though oftentimes a source of great anxiety, this is the proper conclusion for the preacher of the cross. He is ever mindful of his inadequacies in relationship to the immensity of the task at hand” (Atruro Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching, p. 92).

HT: Allen

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