Friday, March 30, 2012

Comments on Preaching

I am using Chuck Colson's BreakPoint for morning devotions and studies now. He is quoting John Stott's Art of Preaching quite well and I often add my own thoughts to his and Stott's. This blog is a compilation of some of those thoughts. Hope you find this interesting. I would love any interaction you might have.

March 30, 2012

"Preachers must guard their time for study almost as zealously as they guard their times of devotion and prayer. How can we minister God’s Word to God’s people in this age in flight from God if we do not make the time, on a regular and disciplined basis, to have our own souls and lives formed accordingly? Set up a schedule for study – and for devotions and prayer – and then stay at it." and this note: "Good preachers are good learners, and not just of the Scriptures. They need to understand the times and the ways the times impact the people they are called to serve. Preachers who know their sheep well, as our Good Shepherd exemplified for us, will hear their concerns, understand their thoughts, discern their hopes and fears, and be able to preach in a way that speaks directly to their souls with transforming grace and power. Let us strive to be sons of Issachar when it comes to the ministry of God’s Word." So it is rigorous book study but also people study that is advocated here. Understanding the Word of God dovetails with understanding the times in which we live. Both exegesis of the Word of God and the culture are needed for relevant and penetrating sermons and messages. And this requires I would say CONSTANT study and observation and interaction--with God and with the world.

Some examples. When at a doctor's office or dentist, arrive early and spend some time flipping through the magazines on the waiting room table, or chatting with some of the other people there. Read--listen--learn and imbibe. Have a constant reading plan of three or four or five books that you are reading and taking notes on. What helps me is meeting with five or six other guys and reading different books with them. Writing down questions and answers on what is read. Discussing it in depth and analyzing and digesting it. This should be a constant practice and a habit of ministerial excellence.

Also, write articles, blogs, even work on a book or so. Not so much for others or publication (that is really easy today through Lulu and others), but for self-discipline and study. I believe it was Augustine who was ordered by God when seeing the Bible to "pick it up and read." He did so and changed much of Western thought through his writings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 7:40 AM 

"Instead, it is our responsibility to teach them with clarity and conviction the plain truths of Scripture, in order to help them develop a Christian mind, and to encourage them to think with it about the great problems of the day, and so to grow into maturity in Christ.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting Stott, Art of Preaching) Harry Blamires wrote on the necessity and importance of the Christian Mind a few years ago (2005 edition available from Again I must agree with Stott and Colson on this topic. The LEAST developed part of a Christian in this world is the MIND--the lack of a thoroughly biblical world-and-life viewpoint. George Barna noted the same thing in his analysis a few years ago. We have Christians who are "baby" Christians mentally speaking, or their thinking is like "mush" or just scattered all over the place. And a large part of the blame is due to shoddy preaching and teaching.

Much of preaching has addressed the emotions of people, seeking to woo them and convict them and move them emotionally to God. This is only part of the task of a faithful minister of the Gospel. We must focus on and address the mind. Why is this lack so prevalent? For several reasons I believe. First, some are just unschooled--a kind of anti-intellectualism claiming the Apostle Paul as their champion with his words from 1 Cor. The problem is that Paul was one of the most schooled men of his day and used very sophisticated argumentation in many of his messages (cf. Acts 17). This excuse is simply laziness and lack of due diligence in their study of the Word.

Second, some believe that preaching should only address the "heart"--that it should "touch" people in their relationship with God. This is partly emotionalism but also partly mysticism. It is the conviction that the things of God must be deeply felt and SENSED to be true preaching and teaching. The problem here is that only God the Spirit can really reach the "heart," and we are attempting to do what only God can do.

A third problem is from the vast majority of intellectually qualified preachers themselves. It is what I would call pseudo-intellectual preaching and teaching. Quoting a few Greek words or commentaries or philosophical insights is not what Stott is talking about. He is talking about preaching and teaching with CLARITY and CONVICTION. Preaching is not giving a history lesson or merely tantalizing the mind with obscure facts that mean little to the person in the pew. True thinking preaching is speaking with so much clarity and elegant simplicity that the text is profoundly opened to the people, forcing them to grapple with its implications and insights to their day to day lives and needs. This takes study, patience, more study and loads of prayer and full dependence on God the Holy Spirit. It is not false intellectualism.

A final problem is the attempt to be "relevant." Relevancy is much overrated, I believe. Whether it's post-modern or post-post-modern relevancy or whatever, what most people, including twenty-somethings want and need is a clear declaration and understanding of the Word of God. Yes, applied to them and their situations but not with all the "options" we THINK they should have-like a mystical reading of the text themselves so they can pick and choose what is "truth" to them. They need to hear God through His Word clearly and convictionally. We need not "dumb-down" the Bible to reach them. We need not adapt the Bible to them. We need to address their minds and hearts and emotions fully and authentically. That is what they want and need.

Monday, March 26, 2012 7:36 AM 

"How can we help church members to think Christianly about a particular topic of debate? It seems we have a fourfold duty. First, we must expound with courage, clarity and conviction the biblical principle or principles which are involved...Secondly, we should seek to summarize fairly the alternative applications which biblical Christians have made...Thirdly, we should feel free, if we judge it wise, to indicate which position we hold and why. And fourthly, we should leave the congregation free, after grasping the principles we have taught and weighing the issues we have sketched, to make up their own minds.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting John Stott, The Art of Preaching) I like Stott's outline of the "fourfold duty" of preaching. I especially resonate with his appeal not to simply excite the emotions of the hearers, which many preachers and teachers try to do. The issue is engaging the mind of the hearer, many of whom have the "mind of Christ," with Christ-centered facts and logic and data so they can make up their own minds and hearts about this or that. This is the role of preaching, especially expository preaching, but ALL preaching needs to do this.

Some would say that Stott deals only with mental and theological stimulation and that there are many learners who learn rather through experience, or visually, or emotionally or through their "hearts." Thus, the need for all forms of preaching. I must, however, agree with Stott and others that the mind is the gateway to the heart, the emotions, the will and the life of a person. The Proverbs remind us, "As a man thinks in his heart..." So thinking is at the center of a person's being and life.

The other need today especially is that the Christian mind needs training and development and meat, not just milk and pablum. Without such meat no long-term growth can and will result. People who stay mental babies all their lives are ill-equipped to face the trials and temptations and struggles and stands that a Christian must live through in this life. Churches cannot grow healthy without meaty Christians. Ministries cannot accomplish God's goals for them without meat. "Line upon line, precept upon precept" should be the rule of a preachers and teachers life.

Friday, March 23, 2012 7:23 AM 

"Doctrine without duty is sterile; faith without works is dead. But what are the ‘works’ which are the fruit of faith? It is here that disagreement begins. It may be helpful to consider the matter as a series of concentric circles, beginning with personal ethics, and then moving on through the churchly, the domestic and the social issues which have a political dimension.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting Stott, The Art of Preaching) Yes, sanctification is indeed the outcome of justification. And for the preacher/teacher that means covering the whole range of life and affairs--cultural, scientific, philosophical and socio-political. Not as a hobby-horse, as I have seen some do, however. And not as a main attraction either, as I believe Jim Dobson and others have done. Rather as ancillary to the Gospel message and presentation.

It is the Gospel alone that changes men and nations!! Social and political action, even right and proper action, cannot change the hearts of men. I know all about Wilberforce and his 25 year campaign to rid the British Empire from slavery. And that was laudable. BUT, and this is a big "but," he was NOT a preacher! His main task was that of a politician and as a Christian politician the ending of slavery was like the preacher centering in on the Gospel. It is only the transformation of the heart that can ever lead to a truly changed mind and actions. Yes, that heart needs instructed in God's ways, but it needs divine transformation to begin with. And that is what the Gospel does and promises as it is faithfully taught and declared.

Monday, March 19, 2012 7:26 AM 

"it is across this broad and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture (more still in the case of the Old Testament) that Christian communicators have to throw bridges. Our task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women of today.”What do we as preachers have in common with the Scriptures, the believers of two thousand years ago, the believers sitting in our pulpits, and the lost world and its culture? Many things, no doubt, but chief among them – the Holy Spirit. He gave the Scriptures" (Colson, Breakpoint, quoting John Stott, the Art of Preaching, Mar 19) The "glue" that holds all cultures together and enables us to speak God's Word in all seasons to all cultures is the Holy Spirit. It is, after all, His Word and His power that makes His Word applicable and powerful.

A couple of other reflections. First, we must "exegete" the culture(s) we speak to and interact with. This is sometimes hard work, but it is the necessary work for any missionary--and we are all missionaries. This requires adequate immersion and knowledge of the culture(s) and the ability to extract what is important enough to communicate well enough. Second, we must study and apply God's Word in its applicability to TODAY. Too many conservative preachers and teachers use applications and information of another day and another time. Like using Spurgeon's applications for the modern world. While some may say they "still apply," the fact is proper application of Scripture is an art, not a science, and we need to pay attention to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our world today. Third, in all of this we still need to stay true to the Word and not devalue or limit or change its essential message and import. Application is application, not exposition of a passage.

Lord, God, keep me true to Your Word and relevant to my culture today as I seek to teach, preach and share Your Word with others, especially those outside the faith.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 7:02 AM 

"Properly speaking, ‘exposition’ has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its lifestyle (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view.” (Stott, The Art of Preaching, quoted in Colson, BreakPoint). I agree. The point of preaching is to herald or declare the Word of God, not our ramblings or thoughts or insights. And, Stott is not talking about a "running verse-by-verse commentary" either.He is talking about elucidating the text of Scripture so that its true meaning and application come forth to the group of people whom God has given you to shepherd.

I am most disturbed in these days about internet-provided sermons and preaching "helps." Without the labor and prayer over a passage of Scripture, God has not spoken to you and to your people. It is one thing to borrow hints and reflections from others; it is quite another to discern through study and the voice of the Holy Spirit what this passage has to say to you and your situation. The former veers toward plagerism. Yes, oher's insights may help as the sermon is formed, but they must not become the meat and heart of it. Or, just say to the people this is so-and-so's sermon re-preached for today! I once did that with a Spurgeon message since I felt that it accurately reflected what my people needed at the time. But I've only done so once or twice my whole career.

Lord, continue to make me faithful to Your Word and what You want me to say to the people week by week! Give me strength and energy and insight to study, wrestle through and prayerfully listen to You as I prepare lessons and messages.

Monday, March 12, 2012 7:37 AM 

"We must always remember that the Word of God is just that – God’s own Word to all generations. In our preaching we must exalt Christ and expound His Word, guarding against the tendency to be merely subjective or sentimental, indulging ourselves or pandering to the felt needs of our hearers. The Word of God is wiser than we are." (Colson, BreakPoint, Mar 12) Taken from John Stott, this devotional focuses on proclaiming the unadulterated Word of God, not our own experiences with that Word. Stott and Colson maintain that our preaching and teaching have become too subjective, pandering to the interests and concerns of the audience rather than letting God's Word do what it has been designed to do--convict, teach, transform and challenge people's minds and hearts.

I agree. In all the talk about reaching a post-post-modern generation, whose rejection of absolute truth has made it difficult for declarative preaching and teaching, we need to re-affirm and in some cases resurrect direct, bold and forceful teaching of the Word of God. That is the only ordained source of power and life-change, not our illustrations and subjectivism. So the question is always--Am I being faithful to the Word of God and let God be God in the transformation of lives??

O Lord, make it so in my life and ministry!