Archive for October, 2006

Preaching today and the parable of the rice cakes

What’s wrong with preaching today?

He answered them in a parable, “Preaching today is like the pastor who thought rice cakes were the bomb. Pastor Christian Lite had loved eating rice cakes for as long as he could remember. In fact he believed they might be the most versatile food ever created. While they can certainly be bland he thought of them as the one of the most user-friendly forms of food providing a number of purposes. For those on diets who preferred lighter fare he knew of a special way to dress them up with peanut butter and a few sprinkles of raisins so that no one would feel guilty. He learned that method at a conference for purposeful raisin cake decorating (which he thought would apply to rice cakes as well). For those who liked their rice cakes sweet he knew how to pour on the chocolate and finish it off with a dusting of powdered sugar and his guests loved him for it.

The possibilities were endless and the response from the masses was encouraging. Pastor Lite soon realized that rice cakes could be concocted in such a way that almost anyone would be happy with the final product and everyone would go away thinking they were satisfied. It took him almost no time to prepare the rice cakes and folks were lined-up out the door waiting to get a taste. He even dreamed of expanding his rice cake ideas in mass marketing and writing a bestseller on the secrets of rice cake making. However a few in the crowd started to get restless with rice cakes because Pastor Lite had not thought of serving their favorite flavor (besides they knew that the Worldly Rice Cake Café could prepare them better). A few more folks left when they realized that beneath all the chocolate and sugar…it was just a rice cake. So a few of them went down the street because they heard Flames Montgomery Joyce opened-up his grill every Sunday and prepared the juiciest steaks. Most assuredly I tell you, the few went away full.”

New interview with Stott on preaching

Christianity Today has released an interview with John Stott. Our readers might be interested in what he had to say about preaching (by the way, every preacher should read Stott’s classic Between Two Worlds which begins with the wonderful line, “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity,” pg.15).

Do you want to talk about preaching?
I never tire of doing that. I’m an impenitent believer in the importance of preaching. Of course, that’s biblical preaching.

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times in many places. What do you say to a pastor who is desperately trying to hold his congregation’s attention and really doesn’t have the confidence that enables one to just preach from a biblical text?
It’s the same issue across the globe. Churches live, grow, and flourish by the Word of God. And they languish and even perish without it.

So the Langham Partnership International (see “Legacy of a Global Leader,”) has three basic convictions. Conviction one is that God wants his church to grow. One of the verses that expresses this best is Colossians 1:28-29, in which Paul says we proclaim Christ, warning everybody and teaching everybody in all wisdom, in order that we may present everybody mature in Christ. There’s a plain call to maturity, to grow up out of babyhood.

Second, they grow by the Word of God. I suppose you could concede that there are other ways by which the church grows, but if you take the New Testament as a whole, it’s the Word of God that matures the people of God.

Which brings me to the third conviction, that the Word of God comes to the people of God mainly, though not exclusively, through preaching. I often envisage on a Sunday morning the amazing spectacle of the people of God converging on their places of worship all over the world. They’re going to medieval cathedrals, to house churches, to the open air. They know that in the course of the worship service there will be a sermon, and it should be a biblical sermon, so that through the Word of God they may grow.

When I enter the pulpit with the Bible in my hands and in my heart, my blood begins to flow and my eyes to sparkle for the sheer glory of having God’s Word to expound. We need to emphasize the glory, the privilege, of sharing God’s truth with people.

Our preaching heritage

Robert Culver reminds us in his Systematic Theology (pg. 967) of the need to carry on what he calls “urgent preaching.”

Among the features of the public services of worship in the ekklesia the sermon, therefore, is of great importance. During the dark ages of the Western churches of Europe parish priests were so prevailingly ignorant of the Scriptures that the memorized liturgy of the Mass was about all they could produce. The evangelical Reformation restored the Bible to the people and put it again at the center of worship by way of public reading and urgent preaching by a competent preacher.

The Holy Trinity

As many of our readers know, this week Grace Bible Church of Brandon, FL (Chris Pixley’s church) is hosting the 2nd Annual Brandon Biblical Theology Conference. The conference is focusing on the doctrine of the Trinity. The weekend got off to a wonderful start yesterday, as people from all over the state of Florida, surrounding states, and as far away as Southern California convened to consider togetether the profound and mysterious truth regarding the Triunity of God. Three sessions were held yesterday.

The first, addressed by Chris Pixley, spoke to the necessity of holding a conference on the Trinity, given the theologically anemic state of evangelical Christianity today. Special focus was given to the practicality of this great doctrine. (Incidentally, Scripture always pictures all doctrine as inherently practical.)

Phil Johnson, (Executive Director of Grace to You), followed the first session with a brilliant exposition of Psalm 2, which he styled a Trinitarian hymn. The psalm, Phil asserted, contains four voices speaking: that of (1) the world, (2) the Father, (3) the Son, and (4) the Holy Spirit. Those four voices represent, respectively, (1) defiance, (2) derision, (3) devotion, and (4) decision. Together, these four voices draw attention to the three distinct Persons of the Godhead as they work harmoniously in history to bring glory to the one, true and living God. This message is a must have (more information to come on how to obtain the audio).

The evening was capped by a brilliant defense of biblical creationism by Dr. Robert Reymond (Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary). As Dr. Reymond noted, the folly of scientific naturalism (Darwinian evolution) is put clearly on display when laid against the biblical teaching concerning the creative work of the Triune God. Masterfully, Dr. Reymond reminded us that Christians have no need to be on the defense regarding their beliefs about creation as, “This is [our] Father’s world!” Rather, it is those who oppose the biblical record who have need of demonstrating conclusive proof as to their anti-biblical theories.

Please continue to pray for this conference as today the speakers will address the doctrine of the Trinity as it relates to salvation, sanctification, and glorification. Those at the conference will also be treated to a Q & A with Dr. Reymond and Phil Johnson. I’ll try post an update of the day as time permits.

Expository Thoughts joins Blogdigger

Milton Stanley of Transforming Sermons Blog has created a new site that will be a one stop shop for preaching blogs including Expository Thoughts. Stanley writes,

I’ve just put together a new Blogdigger preaching blogs aggregator. It’s a handy way of accessing blog posts on the topic of preaching the gospel. Each day Blogdigger creates a group page in which the latest posts from each member blog are linked. Right now the members are Expository Thoughts, Soul Preaching, Theocentric Preaching, and Transforming Sermons.

The group is open to all blogs with a strong emphasis on preaching. If your blog is one of them, you’re welcome to be a part of the group. If you would like to add your blog, or know of another blog that ought to be in the preaching group, please let me know. You can leave a comment on this post or e-mail me at the address in my Blogger profile.

Preaching the OT Law: PART TWO

My goal with this brief series is to hopefully fill a small part of the massive void that exists in one particular area of preaching (the OT law). I admit that much of what I’ve read in this area has been frustratingly shallow or excruciatingly academic. The former often dives into a tail-spin of silly typology and the latter is often guilty of dismantling the message of a passage so that no message remains. I have one simple conviction that forbids me from going in either of these directions: God wants us to preach all of His Word faithfully. Each word in this conviction statement is loaded and not all who read this will agree with me but I want to break it down. It means that our message has divine origin (“God wants”) and that the message is preached through human vessels (“…us to preach…”) and we are to preach the whole thing and not just the parts we like (“…all of His Word…”) and we are to take a high view of Scripture so that we will not manipulate the message or meaning but deliver it to a people who need to hear from the Lord (“…faithfully.”).

As I have said before, this is not the final word on this matter but hopefully will offer a practical look at a common problem (and by “problem” I do not mean with the text but with preaching). Much of what I say here might bore the academic or be seen as confining to those who think spiritualizing the whole OT is okay. However my focus is on those who preach and teach the Bible in the context of the local church (whether paid or not).

As a follow-up to our last post on preaching the OT Law Greg asked, “how would you teach the passage on a garment woven of two types of cloth?” [i.e., Lev. 19:19]. This is the million dollar question to ask because this was one of the passing examples I used to introduce the topic. I would enjoy hearing how some of you would answer this question but to start off I will offer a few thoughts.

First, I would never preach Leviticus 19:19 on its own. That is, I would never preach it as a stand alone verse divorced from its context. I love Spurgeon more than anyone and he was a magnificent preacher but he was also susceptible to take a verse and run with it beyond the borders of what God intended. Now Spurgeon never preached on this verse but he did preach a number of times from Leviticus. For example his sermon from Lev. 11:2-3 starts out well and he makes some fine comments that accurately reflect the meaning of the passage but he quickly moves to application which is strongly spiritualized and not clearly tied to the meaning of the text. He is a notable example and modern examples could certainly be multiplied. My point is that Lev. 19:19 can only be understood in the context of the entire chapter itself so any attempt to preach it without making such a connection will fail.

Secondly, we must realize that the specific laws mentioned in this chapter are what some would call “time-bound and not directly applicable to believers in the church today” (Rooker, 264). The specific law mentioned in 19:19 was given to distinguish Israel as the Lord’s covenant people in a land of foreigners. However the focus of the chapter was not on the particular laws but what those particulars pointed to. The point of the passage was the holiness of God’s people which was ultimately to be a reflection of the Lord’s holiness (19:2). Therefore everyone who is holy in Israel will flesh this out by “loving your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). New Covenant believers are not under these specific laws but James notes that we are still under the same stipulations of holiness and love since we are under the “royal law” (Jam. 2:8) or the “law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25; 2:12). Therefore in the progress of revelation some of the particulars fade off the scene (i.e., mixed garments) but the point of the passage is still the same message for today’s people. In fact a careful study of how Leviticus 19 is used in the NT would help our people to see that God’s desire for our holiness and love remains one of the consistent themes of Scripture (some references and allusions might be Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jam. 2:1,8-9; 4:11; 5:4, 9, 12).

Therefore the connection between Israel’s neighborhood and my neighborhood today is that we serve the same Lord who desires us to be holy and live our lives in a way that manifest love for those around us. It was impossible for Israel to do this without knowing the Lord and as New Covenant believers this stipulation is impossible without knowing Christ who “came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).

I hope this is a small step in the right direction, I’m sure I’ll hear it if it’s not. Blessings to all.

Preaching the OT Law

One of the so-called problems that arise from preaching the Old Testament is the place of the Law in the context of new covenant realities [for example, how do we preach passages that forbid the wearing of clothing woven from two kinds of material (Lev. 19:19) or the eating of pork (Deut. 14:8)]? On the surface of it one might say that was then and it’s not for today however the issues are more complicated than many of the trite answers that have been proffered. My goal here is not to settle the question once and for all but to help each other think through this weighty issue in a more balanced and faithful way. As always, your comments and thoughts are always welcome

A number of solutions have been suggested and many of them seem to do violence to the text whether it is through strained allegory and typology or by essentially ignoring entire sections of Scripture all together. Among the historically Reformed the problem has been answered by narrowly defining the law as the Ten Commandments. This is readily seen in documents like The Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 19). However it is an overstatement to conclude that the Law is only contained in the Decalogue. Jesus Himself identifies the Law with the entire work of Moses in the Pentateuch (Luke 24:44; cf. Acts 28:23).

Another solution which is a further development of the Westminster Confession and prevalent in both Reformed and Dispensational communities is to view the Law as a tripartite division of moral, ceremonial and civil. While such categories may be helpful to express various elements contained in the Law, such a view does not result from a faithful reading of either testament. In the OT the law is a unit which stands together as the Lord’s complete testimony of covenant faithfulness to His chosen people. In the NT James is likely referring to the whole law when he writes that with one single offense a person is guilty of all (panton in James 2:10; cf. Gal. 5:3). Additionally, with maybe one exception, it might be pointed out that the NT always uses the word “law” in the singular pointing back to a unified whole. However, it’s doubtful that theologians and preachers will ever agree on these matters as long as they hold to the prevalent attitude that exalts theological systems over sound exegesis of a given passage.

So where does this leave the preacher with his Bible open to Leviticus? First, I would agree with Carter, Duvall, and Hayes who write concerning the popular tripartite view of the Law, “We discourage you from using this approach for several reasons. These categories (civil, ceremonial, moral) are arbitrary and are not indicated at all in the Scriptures. It is often difficult to classify a passage cleanly into one of these categories. All of the legal material—even the so called “civil” or “ceremonial” texts—has “moral” connotations. We are hesitant to use the open-ended and hard-to-define categories of “civil” and “ceremonial” as a criterion to dismiss large portions of the law” (Preaching God’s Word, 238).

Moving forward we then can admit that there is a certain level of discontinuity between the testaments whereby things either come to an end or are further developed (cf. Mt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 1:2; 8:13, etc.). Even while certain elements in the one law of God may have reached their climax in Christ and in some sense the new covenant believer is no longer under this law, the Apostle Paul can still claim that this law has abiding value in that “All Scripture is…profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore Carter, et al can further write, “Be careful that you do not proclaim a works-oriented theology. Instead, preach the timeless and applicable theological principles that undergirded the original law. In addition, bring the principles through the teachings of the New Testament and proclaim these truths in the context of new covenant realities for today’s believers (i.e., the “law of Christ”)” [245]. The writer’s emphasis here is both careful and helpful in that it avoids the fallacy of “reading backwards” into the OT and it preserves the authorial intent of a given passage even in the progress of revelation calling us to read “through” (i.e. forward).

Shaped What Evangelicals?

By now you have probably heard that Christianity Today has published yet another list of books that they want you to think are important. They are calling it “The top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals”. To be sure there are some milestone type works on the list that aren’t necessarily my favorites but have definitely provided “shape” to the evangelical world. There are notable classics like Packer’s Knowing God which was the first book I ever read which contained anything of eternal substance. There are also notable absences like Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness which is one of the best introductions to the doctrine of progressive sanctification. However any subjective list of this sort will always come up short.

What is beyond reason though is their naming Rosaland Rinker’s book Prayer:Conversing with God as the number 1 book of shaping influence since WW II. I’m no expert but I’ve never even heard of this book and I know of not a single person that would say this is the number 1 book that has shaped their life. This again shows that the substantive Christianity Today of the Carl Henry years has become an irrelevant catalogue of ideas that few if any are getting. Every now and then they get it right with a thoughtful article here and there but as they say even a broken clock is right twice a day. What would be the number 1 on your list?

Slow Goings, Women Preachers, and Bob Newhart

Things are slow around the blog shop here. We preachers get busy from time to time even though we work a mere “one hour a week.” There’s plenty to read around the blogosphere but let us know what you’re preaching this week or if you’re reading anything interesting. I’ll go first: my church history series for SS will be on the French Revolution, my sermon is from Matthew 7:7-12, and our men have just begun a study of the book Christian Living Beyond Belief. Your turn.

Attention lady preachers!  What’s up girls? It seems some of them liked our post from way back on “length of tenure in pastoral ministry”. However their comments reveal that we are a little narrow-minded due to our female exclusion. That whole “husband of one wife” thing just keeps getting in the way. Seriously though sisters, we believe women have a rich heritage and role to fulfill in Christ’s church but taking the text of Scripture at face value we have to conclude that leadership of the pastoral office is for men only. The only way around the text is to explain it away and God has not given us such freedom to change what He has said even if that means political incorrectness or cultural backwardness on our part.

In other news Bob Newhart is now teaching pastoral counseling. Enjoy your weekend and preach the Word. . . men!

The Big Picture Story Bible

Since reviewing The Big Picture Story Bible for kids almost a year ago, I still think it is one of the best for the young set. I was reminded of this again this morning while reading Justin Taylor and Zach Nielsen’s endorsements of the same. If you have young ones in the home or a youth pastor that needs to brush up on his Bible this is a great place to start.

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