Archive for July, 2011

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)

“Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” ~ Stott

John Stott passed earlier today. He will be remembered as a towering figure, not only in Anglicanism but in the broader evangelical movement. Some will fondly remember his astute clarity that he brought to the subject of the cross and the atonement. Others will surely lament (celebrate?) his agnosticism toward eternal punishment. Of interest to readers of this blog is his clear stance on the need for biblical expository preaching.

When Stott wrote Between Two Worlds in 1982, very few could be held up as champions of biblical preaching. To be sure, almost no one was writing about it. But 1982 was not an awakening for Stott, he had always believed this about preaching. In 1961 he penned The Preacher’s Portrait which would set the discussion of preaching today in its NT context. He said, “We need, I believe, to gain in the Church today a clearer view of God’s revealed ideal for the preacher, what he is and how he is to do his work.” To that, we can only say that the need is still great. The abiding legacy of Stott to we preachers, I believe, is the need for clarity in preaching.

“It requires much study, as we shall see later, not only of God’s Word but of man’s nature and of the world in which he lives. The expository preacher is a bridge builder, seeking to span the gulf between the Word of God and the mind of man. He must do his utmost to interpret the Scripture so accurately and plainly, and to apply it so forcefully, that the truth crosses the bridge” (The Preacher’s Portrait, 28).

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Pastors reading theological journals

Darryl Dash has a good essay arguing that pastors should read theological journals. See the full essay here. In my sermon study, I tend to find that journal articles consistently offer more depth and insight than most commentaries. A few years ago I was able to buy a few shelves of journals from a retired pastor. These have been invaluable for researching writing projects and sermons. Another blessing has been my alma mater sending all graduates a lifetime subscription to our journal.

However, I believe the single best resource for journals is the Theological Journal Software produced by Galaxie Software (runs in Logos, Accordance, and Wordsearch platforms). This is an amazing resource that would be impossible to amass in hard copy form and its value is only bolstered by amazing search capabilities. You can search thousands of articles in a matter of seconds and the more refined the search the better the results.

Most of my research is usually on a specific text that I’m preaching so this is how I employ the journals in text specific study. In Logos, I create a collection to which I add my favorite journals (or you can add all journals). Then when I create a passage guide, my results will also reveal all the relevant journal articles related to my passage search. I know there are similar features in Accordance as well. I also use the search engine to research specific phrases or words in the original languages. So a search on μονογενής in my favorite journals yielded 23 articles appearing in 21 different resources. It found all of these in 0.72 seconds!!! The view panel offers a brief synopsis of each article from the results so I can quickly scan them to determine their relevancy to my study.

So I think Mr. Dash is spot on. Pastors should read theological journals. Everyone will have their favorites. My search almost always includes something from BSac, GTJ, Trinity, and JETS. There have also been some helpful surprises for the pastor involved in exegesis. To mention a couple, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal and the Tyndale Bulletin have proved to be enormously useful in my study. So what are your favorites? Also, do you have tech tips that have been helpful to your study (specifically with journals)?

10 Books Every Preacher Should Read in 2011

There’s no explanation or comment but Al Mohler offers what he thinks every preacher should read in 2011. See his list here. Is there anything you would add to this list (published this year)?

Pastoral questions about the Mahaney situation

As this blog begins to grow a few gray hairs I have tried to guide the ship away from internet icebergs. When it comes to church controversies being played out on the internet, I believe the majority of the issues come down to matters of the local church. The best advice I can give a younger pastor is to stay away from controversies that are not impacting your particular church. Keep your head down, preach the Word, love the people, stay out of politics. Generally speaking, this should serve you well.The opposite of this is currently being played out on the internet and in the circles of the restless-reformed crowd. Here are a few questions that come to mind:

Where are the Elders?

When the news first broke that C. J. Mahaney was taking a leave of absence, one of my church members read his letter and asked me, “where are his church’s elders in all of this?” I read the letter too and noticed that Mahaney made numerous references to ministry boards (Sovereign Grace), outside counselors (Sande, Powlison), and pastors of other churches (Dever) but not a single word about his church membership and requisite accountability to his local church’s leadership. The biblical model for church governance is local church elders. Not a CEO, not a board of trustees, not a hierarchical system, not a senior pastor and his staff, not a Seminary president, and certainly not a deacon-run church. There are two offices and they are elders and deacons. All elders are to be spiritually qualified (1 Tim 3; Titus 1) and the main focus of their ministry is the Word and shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5). Their authority is limited to their own congregations, which is to act as the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). My understanding is that no one gets an exemption from the biblical model (Heb 13:17).

Why is it public?

I believe the public way both the accusers and the accused are handling this is unbiblical. It is a sad tale that even the unbelieving world has picked-up on and are now finding yet another reason to mock the foolishness of Christians. This situation is not wholly unlike the issue of lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6. “Is there not one wise man among you who can decide between his brothers, but brother goes against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Any pimple-faced kid with a keyboard can launch an assault from his parent’s basement but this doesn’t mean that every accusation must be answered in kind. Even when the accuser is a former pastor who should know better, it is not necessary to take a response public. This is almost never helpful and I’m trying to think of a single example where this has worked out well for anyone.

How is their theology serving them?

All this brings me to a key conclusion about this ordeal. The issue is not one of methodology but theology. It is always theology that informs methodology, whether good or bad. This situation reveals a subjective theology built on feelings, impressions, and some sort of weird contortion of the apostolic office. Jesse Johnson has written an insightful essay on these issues (see here). The letters and their responses reveal a paltry understanding of the doctrine of the Church, Spiritual Gifts, Sanctification, Forgiveness, and the basics of letter writing (that last one is a preference).

Some of the documents that have been “leaked” to the internet make Julian Assange look like a novice. The details are carefully dated and footnoted as if to say, “See we have footnotes, this makes it official!” I keep waiting any day now for an internet bombshell to detail the results of Mahaney’s latest physical exam. I guess we’ll have to wait for that one. However, what I have read has left me asking, “Really, is this it?” Is this worthy of the name of Christ? Is this what being “coalitioned” and “together” for the Gospel looks like? After decades of ministry, is this finishing well? I believe this can be turned around but it would take a reformation of ministry, theology, and practice of monumental proportions. One hopes that cooler and more biblicaly minded heads will prevail but as for now, it’s difficult to see if that will happen.

As a pastor this highlights for me, in a real way, the importance of training effective leaders, teaching biblical theology, and putting it all to practice amidst the flock. There is no need for me or anyone to aim more arrows at the situation, it’s already a mess without more sinners getting in the way. What we can do is pray, learn, and redouble our efforts in the places where the Lord of the Church has allotted us ministry.

Are You a Dispensationalist?

Here is my attempt to answer this question in an article posted at Christianity.com. I wrote this about eight years ago—so it’s not as nuanced as something I might write today (i.e., I’m so much smarter now, blah blah blah)—but it’s a good representation of where I’m at on the question. In addition, here is a response to my article by non-dispensationalist Nathan Pitchford. The editor of Christianity.com invited me to write a rejoinder to Pitchford’s response, but my schedule would not allow. If you’re looking for the best available explanation of the core elements of dispensationalism, see Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Dr. Michael J. Vlach (Theological Studies Press, 2008), which I reviewed here. It will help you answer the question of whether you yourself are a dispensationalist.

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