Category Archives: Christianity

Peter Sanlon – Augustine, Bible & Incarnation

SanlonPeter Sanlon is vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells, and author of Simply God: Recovering the Classical Trinity (IVP, 2014) and Augustine’s Theology of Preaching (Fortress, 2014).  I am currently enjoying Peter’s book on Augustine’s Theology of Preaching and am really thankful for the snapshot he offers in this post of the riches to be found in spending time with Augustine!

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The first ever book written on preaching, began with a chapter of doctrinal reflection — the topic of Christ’s incarnation loomed large. Augustine’s short book ‘On Christian Teaching’ was written with the awareness that people often found the Bible difficult to understand. Of course there were those who thought reading and understanding easy — but Augustine warned those who thought all they needed was their intelligence and the scripture, that they should be more humble and realistic about their spiritual abilities!

What role did Augustine think the incarnation played in preachers’ understanding of the Bible? Augustine wrote:

In what way did Christ come but this, ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us’? John 1:14. Just as when we speak, in order that what we have in our minds may enter through the ear into the mind of the hearer, the word which we have in our hearts becomes an outward sound and is called speech; and yet our thought does not lose itself in the sound, but remains complete in itself, and takes the form of speech without being modified in its own nature by the change: so the Divine Word, though suffering no change of nature, yet became flesh, that He might dwell among us. (1.13)

Augustine viewed the incarnation as God speaking to humanity in the most intimate, powerful manner possible. The inner heart and desires of God were revealed in the earthly life, teaching and death of Jesus. This incarnation was unique, mysterious and spectacular. The Word did not change, yet became flesh. Mystery indeed. The incarnation was a unique means of communication with sinful humanity — perfectly designed by God to overcome our inner blindness to his revelation:

Seeing, then, that man fell through pride, He restored him through humility. We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent: we are set free by the foolishness of God. Moreover, just as the former was called wisdom, but was in reality the folly of those who despised God, so the latter is called foolishness, but is true wisdom in those who overcome the devil. We used our immortality so badly as to incur the penalty of death: Christ used His mortality so well as to restore us to life. The disease was brought in through a woman’s corrupted soul: the remedy came through a woman’s virgin body. To the same class of opposite remedies it belongs, that our vices are cured by the example of His virtues. On the other hand, the following are, as it were, bandages made in the same shape as the limbs and wounds to which they are applied:  He was born of a woman to deliver us who fell through a woman: He came as a man to save us who are men, as a mortal to save us who are mortals, by death to save us who were dead. (1.14)

The Incarnation was beautifully orchestrated by God as the only means to deal with the inner problem of sin, which blinds us to anything God says to us. The relevance of all this to preaching, the ultimate topic of Augustine’s book? Only when the incarnate Christ has cleared away the sin that blinds us to God’s words, can we begin to profit from the tools of interpretation explained in subsequent chapters. To put all this in contemporary terminology — hermeneutics apart from the incarnation is the blind leading the blind. Only those who feel their need of the incarnate Christ are able to understand the Bible and preach it to others.

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Webinar on Poetic Literature

webinar_bannerThis Thursday I am leading a webinar on “An Introduction to Poetic Literature” at 18:00 GMT.  It is free and if you would like to join, you just need to register on this page.

The Union Podcast Interview continues today as I am asked “How is Christ becoming man vital for our salvation?”  (I believe there will be five episodes this week.  I won’t post every day, but will list the links after the series completes.)

 

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Ramesh Richard – Incarnation and Preaching

2012RRichardEnviroRamesh Richard serves as leader of Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health, as Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, and as General Convener of the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers, DV, June 2016, Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Richard’s Preparing Expository Sermons was named in the top 25 most influential preaching books of the last 25 years by Preaching magazine.  I am thankful to Ramesh for this thoughtful contribution to the Guest Series on the Incarnation – what is it that distinguishes the Christian preacher?

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How (and more importantly, why) is a Christian preacher different from preachers in non-Christian religions, especially those of other monotheistic faiths?

All preachers tend to moralism—the preaching of behavioral expectation—in sermon application. Christian preachers share this penchant with rabbis and imams. Without a grace-based foundation and environment to preaching, moralism turns into legalism, radicalism, and terrorism. Have divine demands already been met which can overflow into a grateful, responsive life-style or should divine pleasure be manipulated by human application of moralistic sermons?  What would move people from moralism to a grace-infused living?

Preachers also lean toward principilization—preaching around, above, under, even beyond a text that seems theologically distant or deemed culturally irrelevant. Indeed we are forced to principilize in some way, when a plain reading of the text calls for a response antithetical to contemporary ears (e.g., stoning homosexuals, or beheading infidels). So less orthodox rabbis and less conservative imams have to make their texts more suitable by preaching the principle of what the author is supposedly doing with his text. But then they severely compromise what the author is proposing in the text. Why would Christian preachers preserve the primacy of preaching the text itself, and only secondarily subsume its theological meaning as it forms and informs the central proposition of the text?

Finally, any faithful preacher wants to get across the message of their respective gods and books to their audiences. And yet their pontifications are as lofty like their heavenly gods. Their gods sit in their heavens and write prescriptions for the human race without having experienced the earthly, existential realities of their followers. How would Christian preachers mitigate and overcome this one-dimensional, theoretical stance of heaven toward earth?

May I suggest that the inclinations of moralistic, principilized, one-way behavioral expectations of God (and His preacher) are substantially eradicated by embracing the Incarnation model for hermeneutics and homiletics? The Lord Jesus Christ was full of grace and truth. The incarnation is not an abstract, theological idea, but is a uniquely, specifically, identifiable, in-flesh proposition; and further, the incarnate One built the bridge from God to humanity, between the extremes of the soteriological and communication-divides, as both faithful and relevant mediator.

All Christian preaching then should be spiritually speaking, grace-based; hermeneutically speaking, traceable to a historically unique text; and homiletically speaking, bi-dimensional and cross-cultural, all because of the incarnate One we proclaim.

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The First Ever Union Podcast

avatars-000108291425-dvkbgo-t500x500Today sees the release of the first ever Union Podcast and I am privileged to be the guest.  It is just five minutes long and I am answering the question – Why think about the Incarnation when it isn’t Christmas?  I will link to it when I am on it, but I’d recommend following the podcast as I am sure there will be plenty of great little podcasts in the months to come!  Click the picture to go to it.  This week I am in Portland, OR, so won’t be getting back into a regular routine of blogging about preaching until next week.

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Never Lose This!

never-lose-300x200Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love.  Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners!  Click here to go there.

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The Greatest Peril for Churches and Preachers

peril-300x300I just posted a blog over on Cor Deo that is getting some good feedback from folks.  I entitled it, “The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?” . . . it would all be equally true for preachers.  Click here to go over and take a look.

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Incarnation Series Review

I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series.  I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation.  In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation.  And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series.  Then . . .

HindleyJohn Hindley

Let the Wine Flow! (John 1-2)

 

darrell_bockDarrell Bock

Lessons about the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

 

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener

Incarnation, The True Turning Point

 

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220Bruce Fong

Incarnation and Expository Preaching

 

OrtlundDane Ortlund

Life As It Was Meant to Be

 

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz

The Incarnation in the Old Testament

 

comontPeter Comont

Jesus Wept

 

murray__005_400x400David Murray

Rehearsal for Calvary

 

Frost webRon Frost

A Stirring Love

 

Rick McKinley

Where’d Jesus Go?

 

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Podcast Interview

TEP-PodcastCover-233Glen Scrivener is a good friend of mine and the ministry I am involved in, Cor Deo.  Every year Glen joins us for a day during the full-time course and shares with the team about the Gospel and evangelism.  Back in 2012 he spoke at our Delighted by God conference in London.  Here is his latest episode of The Evangelists Podcast in which he interviews me about Cor Deo, about the book, Pleased to Dwell, and a little bit about Bible reading too.

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Rick McKinley – Where’d Jesus Go?

Rick McKinley is the Lead Pastor at Imago Dei Community, the church he planted in 2000, in Portland, OR.  He is also co-creator of the Advent Conspiracy.  Rick and I sat next to each other in our graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell some years ago and it was great to get to know him in the midst of all the waiting involved!  He authored The Answer to our Cry (UK Link), Kingdom Called Desire (UK link) and This Beautiful Mess (UK link).  I am very thankful to Rick for this guest post for the Incarnation Series, Rick points us to the significance of the ascension and how that ties the incarnation to us:

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When it comes to the doctrine of the incarnation I think most of us leave it in the past. The Son of God took on flesh, lived the perfect human life, died on the cross then rose from the dead, went to heaven, and sent us his Spirit.  The incarnation is in the past.

But the fact is the incarnation is happening now. I am not talking about the church being the body of Christ either, though I think that is a rich picture. What I am talking about is that Jesus is still the incarnate God-man living in a glorified body in Heaven as you read this line.

This is the doctrine of the ascension, which is perhaps the least talked about and under appreciated aspect of the incarnation, but without it the rest of the incarnation doesn’t mean too much to us today.

There are two powerful present day realities that are in play today because Jesus is the ascended Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father.

The first reality is that there is a man in heaven, right now, who has conquered the grave and is the first fruits of the resurrection. His resurrection and ascension seal the promise that he will resurrect us as well and bring us to the Father.

The second reality is that Jesus is ascended into heaven and at this moment is praying for you so that he can completely save you. That’s a hope that moves past my efforts, my prayers, my power and sets my confidence on Jesus. My confidence in Jesus is for sure in his finished work on the cross, but also his present work as my resurrected, glorified intercessor before the Father for the completion of my salvation.  

When life seems on the brink, or our kids go off the rails, or the power has just about leaked out of your faith, remember this! Jesus is risen and reigning in heaven and he is passionately praying to the Father on your behalf. The beauty of the incarnation continues.

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Ron Frost – A Stirring Love

Frost webRon Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo.  He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International.  I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.  Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too).  Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ.  So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:

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Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.

“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us.  And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation.  His rising is for our good.  He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]

Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church.  The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”

Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament.  The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.

“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too.  Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us.  If God loves us thus, what must we do?  Meditate upon his love.  Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it.  Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]

Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top.   But does he have a point?  Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation?  This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love.  In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.

With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation.  God sent the Son to stir our response.  And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.

Sibbes makes the point.  We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.

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