Archive for January, 2010

Consumerism in the Church

In C.S. Lewis’ 1942 classic The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape advises his young disciple Wormwood on how to promote consumerism in the church:

If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil (pp. 72-73).

By the looks of things, I’d say it’s working.

Preaching NT Narrative (we’re just getting started)

When you preach from the Gospels or Acts, you begin with textual material that is engaging by nature. As preachers, we pray that we don’t get in the way by making powerful, interesting stories anemic and boring (Carter, Duvall, Hayes, Preaching God’s Word, 188).

Preaching NT narrative has received short shrift amongst those who write and talk about preaching. Look up at your bookshelf right now and try to find a volume that is completely devoted to preaching OT narrative. I see a few and some are very good. Now look up again and try to find a single volume dedicated to preaching NT narrative. It’s not there. Did someone take it and not bring it back? No, it has never been written. Trust me, I’ve looked like you wouldn’t believe. Some volumes look like they may fit the bill with titles that include phrases like “narrative preaching” but that’s another beast entirely. Some may have some self-published volume from the 1970’s but I haven’t seen that either. In the end, no one can readily think of a single book dedicated to preaching NT narrative that has been in print since most of us have been alive.

I’m not a pollster but I suspect that many fresh out of seminary types immediately begin their preaching ministry with a series in one of the epistles (I did). They then preach a series about the church and then return to preach another epistle. Call it a hunch but I suspect it’s close to the truth. Then there is another side of this thought where many seasoned neo-puritans spend long hours preaching narrative portions of Scripture because they are all about “finding something redemptive in the story.”  However, after listening to many of these so-called redemptive-historical sermons I can report from the front lines that they make Harry Houdini look like a toddler. Some preachers can magically make Jesus appear in the slightest mention of wood, water, or blood in the text. I don’t care how much one preaches about “social justice” or uses the word “gospel” as an adjective, the preacher does not have the right to make a narrative say whatever the home office in New York has dictated.

The positive side to all this is that I know many expositors who are seeking to faithfully preach NT narrative every week. I have been preaching Matthew for the last five years and know many men who have recently been in all the Gospels and Acts. I have no idea how long we will do this but I want to do whatever I can to aid expositors in understanding and proclaiming NT narrative more effectively. Today we begin a series that has been in the making for some time, “Preaching NT Narrative” (over time you will be able to find the series under the new category “preaching NT narrative”). Come back and enjoy the ride.

Maxwell’s Silver Sermon

Charlie looked at the bewildered victims of the crash on the beach and spoke for all when he said, “Guys, where are we?”

If you want to know how we got here (telegraph–television–blogs–Facebook–Twitter) I would highly recommend Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The fact that a majority of blog readers will know the setting, time of day, and characters of the theatrical reference in the opening quote of this post tells us that Postman was on to something. The average consumer receives philosophical, theological, and cultural challenges through entertainment not through sustained conversation, study, or thinking. In fact what is usually passed off as “conversation” in today’s culture, and more to the point–today’s church,  is anything but. If nothing else, read Postman’s eighth chapter “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem” which surveys the televangelist scene of 1985. The players have changed but the issues are all still there. Here are a few choice quotes:

  • “The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment.”
  • “If the delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the same. And if the context in which the message is experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that its social and psychological meaning is different, as well.”
  • “Though their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings, or rather, because their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.”
  • “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
  • “I think it both and fair and obvious to say that on television, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though His name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the clear message that it is he, not He, who must be worshipped.”

Haiti: An on-the-ground assessment

The following is from Ron Pierre, board President for Baptist Haiti Mission:

So many of you are inquiring regarding the situation in Haiti and particularly at the mission. I’ve just now been able to make telephone contact with one of our missionaries, Chris Lieb at Baptist Haiti Mission. Thankfully, the connection was clear and intact long enough for me to inquire as to the current situation. I honestly do not know where to start, the conditions in Haiti are desperate and deteriorating by the moment in spite of all that we hear relative to the aid that is “pouring in” from the US and other countries. I am simply going to list some of the things he was able to relate to me without regard to sequence. Those of you who have been there and/or are familiar with the compound in Fermathe will better understand the conditions, however, all of you will gain a sense of the severity of what our people face.

* Our hospital is filled with people 250-300 people lying in the halls, many, many with serious injuries that need immediate attention, more people outside and surrounding areas with a constant flow coming in.

* Our doctors are exhausted, most all of our staff are assigned to the hospital.

* Thousands of people sleeping in the park just below in Petion-Ville, afraid to return to their homes.

* At least 10 to 15 thousand people are sleeping in the park near the airport with roving gangs of hoodlums attempting to steal whatever “aid” arrives before it gets to the helpless people.

* People all along the roads with serious injuries, multiple fractures and puncture wounds; bleeding and unattended.

* Chris passed women grasping their dying children in their arms, after a while it becomes overwhelming because there is not a thing that you can do about it..

* Countless small children wandering about without any parents or adult oversight.

* The initial stunned calm that was over the population is rapidly turning to despair and in many cases anger. There is a real danger of things turning very ugly, potentially for those who are beginning to arrive to help.

* For most of the “search and rescue” people that have arrived or will arrive, it will be far, far too late to save lives. The stench of death everywhere and is overwhelming. Many places have seen no help whatsoever.

* There are piles of bodies in many roads and some have become “roadblocks” in and of themselves. [Haiti]

* Many people are simply in shock, most have lost at least one or more family members.

* Vehicles are abandon, roads are blocked or down to one tight lane as large chucks of the mountain have fallen.

* Chris gave out about 100 very large heavy duty tarps today to be used as temporary shelters and it got very ugly as the last ones were dispersed. The actual process of giving out aid is going to be quite dangerous the longer it takes to reach the people.

* There appears to be no oversight of the “teams” arriving. They are equipped but do not know where to go or how to get there. It may improve but it is going to continue to be a big problem.

* Medical supplies are running low at our hospital; I asked for a list of the supplies that they need we can be a bit more specific in our requests when aid does arrive.

* We have a need for anesthesiologists and orthopedic surgeons. Any medical personnel would be a blessing.

* Chris commented that he has seen things over the past several days that he hoped he would never see and would chose never to see again.

* Many people are simply walking around in what is really clinical shock.

* Everything is closed down; no stores, no markets, water is in tight supply and is running out fast.

* People walk up and down the mountain just looking for their families; there is no transportation.

* The Samaritans Purse people were supposed to arrive today with Greta Van Susteren of The plane circled for about an hour but could not land. They returned to Miami.

* The same was true for several other planes caring supplies and aid for the mission. We desperately need a pump and water filters that are coming in.

* All in all, there are no words to describe what is taking place, the TV news gives inadequate for those of you who know Haiti, the conditions, the culture, the people.

* Two of our churches in PAP have been completely destroyed, we do not have reports on the many churches in outlying rural areas yet.

* Most every school in PAP is destroyed, personnel killed. It will be a long, long time before there will be any schools in PAP.

* Our chaplains have been ministering to every single person who comes to the hospital; scripture is read and they pray with each and every one. We do have some very dedicated people.

* Our mission families are all accounted for and remain uninjured; we need to uphold them in prayer during these times. God certainly gives the strength and grace when needed. They recognize that the tasks before them are humanly impossible; They also recognize that prayer is the greatest asset they have in this trial.

* We are trying to keep the website current with pictures, video, and various other feeds . . . . go to It may be a bit slow due to traffic but it does function. [Haiti] Our thanks to all of you who have inquired, emailed, called, and written and otherwise displayed your love and concern, this has been equally overwhelming! It is now almost 2:00 am Friday morning EST and time ready ourselves for a new day. Again, I close with Psalm 20, verses 1 and 2: “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!” –R.A.Pierre

[HT: Phil Johnson]

Discipleship Lab (the never ending version)

Part of our constant grooming as pastors is to develop the gene of the “generalist.” Reading and observing widely is a skill set we all need to hone. The Discipleship Lab series will be devoted to the crumbs that fell to the floor while scouring essays, resources, lectures, and conversations. Enjoy!

Dispensational Straw Man #137

I’ve come across countless misrepresentations of dispensationalism through the years, but here’s one I’ve never heard before. According to a recent comment over at the Riddleblog: “The dispensationalists teach that God actually had seven plans of redemption, because He had failed in the previous six!” I suppose if I were given a choice between Covenant Theology and a god who’s batting 1 for 7 when it comes to formulating a plan of redemption, I just might opt for Covenant Theology as well.

If you want to understand what dispensationalism actually teaches, I would recommend Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Michael Vlach. See here for an overview of Vlach’s book.

Sermon Illustrations and the Gospel of John

Nearly three years ago, I began preaching through the Gospel of John. Along the way, something interesting happened—I found myself using far less sermon illustrations than I had in the past when preaching other genres of Scripture. It wasn’t by design—at least not as part of a purposeful plan that I had going into John—it just sort of happened. More often than not, I simply found myself preaching passages in John which just didn’t seem to “need” an illustration.

In retrospect, I realize there is probably an underlying reason for this. If one of the purposes of sermon illustrations is to turn that which is abstract into something concrete—to turn your listeners’ ears into eyes and help them see what you’re saying—it simply makes sense that illustrations would be needed less frequently when preaching narrative material. After all, most passages in the Gospels and other narrative books are already concrete, and the best way to help your listeners see what you’re saying is to simply preach what is there.

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