Archive for April, 2011

My Future Book on the Resurrection

I would like to write a book one day on how Jesus’ resurrection impacts everything.  The Puritan giant John Owen wrote a masterpiece many years ago titled,  The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  My future book is going to be named, The Death of Death in the Resurrection of Christ (note 1 Corinthians 15 especially verses 20-28).   Too many Christians only hear sermons on the first 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 to the exclusion of the other 47.  My book will examine the entire chapter.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26.  20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

Yes Minister!

One of my congregants once pondered after attending a conference, “I wonder if these folks run to the front of their churches every Sunday to get a seat the way they do here.” Is there a “rock star” culture amongst evangelicals, especially evident in its conference machinations? My reasoning is that if we’re even entertaining the question then the answer is probably “yes.” I believe this is all Carl Trueman, professor and dean at Westminster, is attempting to say.

I have seen the VIP seating, the special dinners, and the perks for speakers reach gross proportions. I have watched “great expositors” who can’t carry a conversation with an average Joe be heralded for their communication abilities. Yes, Trueman overstates a few points but this easily excusable once one discovers that he’s British (this is where you usually find the obligatory “just kidding” remark). The question remains as to whether we are stuck with the status quo or will this celebrity culture ever be seen for what it is. For your reading pleasure, Phil Gons does a nice job of rounding up the relevant posts on the subject.

“Jesus lost control of bodily functions” and other unhelpful statements

I recently listened to a preacher make an impassioned exhortation to his congregation saying nothing out of the ordinary. However, in his passion, he said something about Jesus’ death on the cross that stirred things in my mind and not in ways that are helpful. In the midst of it all he said that “Jesus lost control of His bodily functions while on the cross.” Let’s think about this for just a moment.

Why would a preacher state such a thing? The most probable answer is to underscore the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross and His complete loss of dignity. To be sure, everything about the cross was filthy, repulsive, and gross. Another reason might be to correct the sanitized version which is often depicted in works of art and film (however more recent films tend to accentuate the gore). Truth is always stranger than fiction and in this case a whole lot uglier. A third possible reason is to simply be shocking as if nailing a body to wood is not shocking on its own merits.

Whatever the reasons there is something troubling about these sort of statements when interjected into a sermon. They have no support in Scripture! Could this have happened? Well, sure, a lot could have happened but the Spirit of God decided that it was not necessary to know such details. Furthermore, such details add nothing to the meaning of the text nor do they clarify any background information to the scene. How we think about such things says a lot about our hermeneutic and whether we believe the meaning of the text is rooted in authorial intent or in our cleverness. Does stating that Jesus lost control of His bodily functions make Him appear more human? His cross more shocking? His death more real? If not, then how is this helpful?

The significance of Bell on Time Magazine

I have a free subscription to Time Magazine (thanks to unused air miles, bargain?). Mine usually comes on Saturday, so as of today I have not seen the new cover for myself. As you have probably heard, Rob Bell’s vision or lack there of, of eternal punishment is all the rage and it is the feature for this week’s Time. In my current edition of Wall Street (yes, also free) it tells me that Mr. Bell’s book is # 3 in non-fiction, the irony of the “non-fiction” label is not lost on me either. That does not mean that it is #3 in all the books on the subject but it is #3 in all books! That is what folks in the publishing world might call a “good day.” No actually, they are probably foaming at the mouth to sign Bell, if they haven’t already, to his next work of non-fiction.

When I watch phenomenons like this I immediately begin to think of the angles that no one is talking about, not even when the great minds get together. Being imbedded into the current culture does not always afford us the opportunity to see the big picture. So here is something to ponder when, say, fifty years from now folks look back at this week’s cover of Time.  In 1959, Paul Tillich made the cover of Time and some in evangelicalism blew a gasket. Then again in 1962, Karl Barth made the cover and some began to sell their livestock and move to the mountains. So, yes, Rob Bell’s teaching is damaging and it is error of the first order. However, in the big scheme of things, and I do mean big, it is nothing more than a pimple on history’s tan line. Is there any church, worthy of the NT designation of “church” that is growing and flourishing today because of Barth or Tillich? Are either of these heavy weights a threat to the Lord’s work in the world through His church? So what is the significance of Rob Bell today? If you live in the moment then there is probably nothing bigger, save who gets voted off Dancing with the Stars. However long-term, I don’t see anyone caring fifty years from now, just ask Mr. Tillich.

Are you a balanced preacher?

If you truly are a bible expositor the answer is “yes”.  I love how P.T. O’ Brien describes the relationship of God’s love and God’s wrath. 

The wrath of God is not to be set in sharp contrast with the love and mercy of God. It is so often asserted that if God is truly love he cannot be angry. But wrath and love are not mutually exclusive. In the NT as well as in the Old, in Jesus as in the prophets and apostles the proclamation of God’s mercy is accompanied by the preaching of his wrath. A holy God does not stand idly by when men act unrighteously, transgress the law, show disdain to him as their creator or spurn his love and mercy. He acts in a righteous manner punishing sin in the present and especially on the final day. Yet God also acquits the guilty, and only the person who understands something of the greatness of his wrath will be mastered by the greatness of his mercy. The converse also is true: only he who has experienced the greatness of God’s mercy can understand something of how great that wrath must be (Stählin, TDNT 5, 425).[1]

[1] O’Brien, P. T. (2002). Vol. 44: Word Biblical Commentary : Colossians-Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary (185). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Did you ever hear the one about . . . .

The idea that the high priest would tie a rope around his ankle before entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur so that his body could be pulled out if he went down while performing his duties? (It’s a myth).

What about the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) being a perpetually burning trash dump? (It’s a myth too).

Someone asked David McCullough about his perspective on writing history. He said, “ . . . there’s no need ever to trick things up, to sugar this or that, or use dramatic devices to make it interesting. You just try as best you can to make it as interesting as it actually was.”[1] In a sense, this is the role of good expository homiletics. The task of the preacher is to get out of the way and let the people hear God speaking in the narrative. Having done all the necessary spadework, “This message should be clear and easy to follow, while remaining faithful to the biblical author’s progression of ideas.”[2]

[1] Diane Osen, ed., The Book that Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 106-07. I am indebted to Matthew Waymeyer for calling my attention to this particular quote (personal communication, Oct 18, 2009).

[2] Donald R. Sunukjian, “Sticking to the Plot: The Developmental Flow of the Big Idea Sermon,” in The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting to People, eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 111.

%d bloggers like this: