Category Archives: Preacher’s Personal Life

Christocentric, Christiconic, … part 2

img_privilege_3d_02Yesterday I started a list of five alternative labels to ponder for the preacher.  Rather than the Christiconic model espoused in Abraham Kuruvilla’s, Privilege the Text, why not consider these labels for the goal of our preaching?  Are we representing individual facets of Christlike morality in each pericope that we preach, or is something greater going on?  Yesterday we thought about Christotelic and Christodoxological preaching.  Here are three more labels, this time ones I have never heard used elsewhere (you will understand why!)

3. Christopisteuic (Preaching that aims for faith in Christ) – Faith is the gaze of our heart and soul on the provision of God in Christ.  So let’s preach each passage in such a way that the text is honoured, but the listener is not pointed to themselves, their effort, their application, their duty.  Instead point them to Christ that they might believe in Him.  It is a life captivated by Christ that will manifest a self-giving and therefore genuinely Christlike morality that may shock onlookers.  (People are used to seeing self-focused morality that is profoundly unattractive.)

4. Christ0-agapic (even Christofileic) (Aiming for the love of Christ, or brotherly love of Christ) – I am getting closer to the title I really like.  The greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbour.  If anyone does not love Christ, he is accursed (1Cor.16:22).  Let’s make the love of Christ our saviour, our friend, our groom, our brother . . . let’s make that our goal.

5. Trinitari-koinonic  – I think this is my favourite label describing the goal of preaching.  Fellowship with the Trinity.  What an honour!  So as we preach the revelation of God’s heart in the Scriptures, let’s be sure to recognize how each text is revealing God, pointing to his values, recognizing his provision in both Christ and the Spirit, and delighting in his goal to bring us into the embrace of the Godhead by union with the Son through the Spirit.  It is in union with Christ that we discover true life change, because it is only in union with Christ that we can know life itself.  By our union with Christ we can share in the fellowship of the Trinity and thus see radical life transformation.  Anything less, and looking anywhere else, will always disappoint.

Any other suggestions welcome.  Preaching Christ in His Word is such a privilege, and Kuruvilla is right that we have to think carefully how we do that.

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Review: Privilege the Text by Abraham Kuruvilla – Part 2

img_privilege_3d_02Yesterday I introduced and overviewed Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching by Abraham Kuruvilla (herein: AK).   Let me offer two quotes to give a sense of the book:

“Application involves discovering the world projected in front of the text and aligning oneself to that world.  Such an alignment restores the relationship between God and his community.  A pericope, by way of its theology, thus contributes to the corporate mission of covenant renewal.  I submit that what God would have is that his people be captivated by the world projected in front of the text, and that they seek to be its inhabitants, aligning themselves to its precepts, priorities, and practices.  This is God’s gracious divine demand.” (p117)

and

“This is the crux of christiconic interpretation: in that he perfectly fulfilled divine demand, every pericope of Scripture implicitly portrays a facet of the image of Christ, the perfect Man.” (p262)

Strengths

AK’s book is clearly written.  While it is far more likely to appeal as a textbook than as an accessible read for the pastor in his study, it is not difficult to dip into the book and get AK’s point.  He also clearly has a longing for preaching to lead to transformed lives, as well as a passion for an increase in morality – all to be commended.

I think his critique of the weaknesses of Christocentric preaching is well worth reading, and concur wholeheartedly that we should think carefully how we handle individual pericopae in order to honour the inspired texts and pursue what the authors were actually doing with the texts they wrote.  While I might not phrase it this way, I do see the richness of individual texts sometimes getting “swallowed up in the capacious canvas of Redemptive-Historical interpretation.” (p240)

AK’s exegesis of Genesis 22 gives a level of engagement with the text that is fascinating to trace through.  It is a shame there were not more worked examples like this one (although the book would end up being prohibitively long).

Weaknesses

There are real strengths here, but I have to highlight some  concerns with the theological assumptions evident in the book.

View of GodThe persistent recurrence of “divine demand” language presented a God who seems pre-eminently concerned with conformity to behavioural standards.  It was not just AK’s choice of label, but the tone and content throughout that reinforced a very limited view of God.  God is presented as a Father, but with the emphasis on our “filial duty of obedience.”  Twice AK stated that his view of preaching is Trinitarian (pp 267, 273), but after studying the book I remain unconvinced that the richness of intra-trinitarian relationality substantively marks this work.

View of Man (our nature, spiritual problem and solution) - At one point, AK states, “Philo was on the right track: ‘The proper end’ of man’s existence is ‘conformation to the likeness of God.’” (p261)  Philo is known for offering a blend of Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy.  Similarly, AK offers a blend of decent exegesis with an unquestioned commitment to a Stoic understanding of humanity.  The approach to a so-called “divine demand” in the text supposes an autonomous self-moved moral impulse in humanity.  Even accepting that the book is focused on believers who are “aided” and “empowered” by the Holy Spirit, the onus of their responsibility rests wholly on their own willingness to self-align to God’s preferred future.  If AK’s vision of preaching were fulfilled, my feeling would be that believers would still be essentially distant from God – aligned to his demands, acting like Him, and living spirit-empowered moral lives, but what about union with Christ, what about being “in Christ,” what about the triune intimacy offered in the Gospel?

For instance, AK submits that “what God would have is that his people be captivated by the world projected in front of the text, and that they seek to be its inhabitants, aligning themselves to its precepts, priorities, and practices.” 

I would submit that “what God would have is that his people be captivated by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart, whose love is poured out into our hearts by the Spirit, so that we are progressively transformed from the inside-out by God’s great New Covenant solution to our fallen sinful state – this sin being manifested not only in sinful behaviour, but also in autonomous obedience and religiosity.  God’s goal is not simply to be served by a holy people, but to be in union with His people who are transformed into the true holiness that is the context of His own fellowship within the Trinity.”

Purpose of Old Testament - On page 253, AK quotes and then responds to Dennis Johnson’s assertion that, “the purpose of Old Testament historical narrative is not to teach moral lessons, but to trace the work of God, the Savior of his people, whose redeeming presence among them reaches its climactic expression in Christ’s incarnation.”  

AK’s response is as follows: “If the purpose of the OT is only informational and historical, “to trace the work of God,” is there nothing in it that tells us what God wants of us, how God would have us live, what it means to be Christlike in specific facets of life.”

I feel it is slightly harsh to reduce Johnson’s position to being “only informational and historical” and therefore without any element of moral instruction.  I want to suggest that Bible texts are not merely informational and historical, nor are they primarily moral instruction, rather they are revelatory: divine revelation.  The texts of the Bible reveal God to us, and in that revelation we discover the fullness of life (including, throughout, revelation of God’s values that shape our values and transform our lives into conformity with His holiness).  However, we lose the heart of Christianity when holiness, loosed from a rich and delightful intra-trinitarian fellowship, becomes the primary emphasis.  There are plenty of religions offering demanding gods and moral obligations.  Only Christianity has a profoundly relational holiness defined by the delightful perfection of divine fellowship.

A Strange OmissionI am perplexed at AK’s omission of John 5 in his evaluation of key Christocentric preaching  texts – was Jesus not critiquing the seminarians of his day who looked for instruction, but missed the person being revealed?  That seems like a passage that needs to be engaged in this discussion at some point.

ConclusionI can commend aspects of AK’s book, but the foundational theological assumptions raise many concerns.  I find the implicit portrayal of God  to be very restricted.  I find the presentation of how humans function to be absolutely committed to an “autonomous self-willed” anthropology that resonates with Aristotelian and Stoic commitments, but seems to lack awareness of the full impact of Genesis 3.

Sometimes it is hard to read a book and evaluate the underlying theological assumptions of the author.  Sometimes it is easy to get drawn into the world as defined by the author and therefore find yourself going along with every proposal.  In this case the theological assumptions were clear, and it was at this foundational level that I found myself struggling with the sometimes very helpful content.

Who is God and what is He like?  What is man and what does it mean to be made in God’s image?  What is sin and the extent of the sin problem?  And what is grace, the solution to the sin problem?  These foundational questions should always be stirring us as we engage a book.

Next time I post, I want to offer some alternatives to a Christiconic approach to preaching.

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Post-Preaching Stress Disorder

Depressed2Now and then you might preach a sermon and finish on a personal emotional high that lasts for days.  Typically you won’t.  William Willimon wrote that,  “On any Sunday you can give it your all and still know that the Word deserves more.” Typically you may find yourself feeling vulnerable, weak, drained, self-critical and/or regretful.  Post-preaching stress disorder: known by most preachers, not understood by most others.

People in your congregation probably don’t understand PPSD.  They are quite happy to chat with you after you have preached.  They might want to talk about other things (that can be tough – it feels like they ignored you completely).  They might want to talk about your message (that can be tough – you may feel too vulnerable at this stage).  They might want to discuss some detail in your message (that can be tough – your purpose and big idea related to major life change, but their discussion might revolve around some incidental element, or even be a misunderstanding of what you said).

It is not the fault of people in your congregation.  After all, there are probably many jobs and tasks that have emotional fall-out that you do not grasp.  Starting an education program in this area might just seem a little self-serving and self-promotional (look what I go through every week!).  So what to do?  Here are a few quick suggestions for those who struggle with PPSD:

1. Create a small team who do understand.  Your spouse would be a wise place to start.  After all, church requires up to an hour of complex interactions.  Then you go home.  It may not subside for another 36 hours!  Also, bring it into the conversation with your preaching team.  This could be other people who preach, or people who help discuss, plan, pray or feedback on the preaching ministry in the church.  None of us should try to do a preaching ministry alone . . . you need a team and they need to understand PPSD.

2. Let PPSD push you up against God in post-preaching conversation.  The danger is that we go it alone and end up crashing in some way.  Some will struggle with discouragement or depression.  Some will struggle with self-absorption and time-wasting.  Some will struggle with temptation and specific sins.  Some will struggle with a combination of these and more.  Some will struggle sometimes.  Some will struggle every time.  We are not designed to go it alone!  Let the PPSD push you up against God so that you take time to prayerfully reflect after preaching.  Maybe a Sunday afternoon walk.  Maybe a Monday morning prayer and reflection time.  You cannot leave God out until Tuesday and then start the process again.

3. Make notes during PPSD and review later.  It is not the time for massive ministry decisions, or self-critique, etc.  Know that your thinking is cloudy at this point, so make some notes and then look at them later in the week.  Learn, but keep it in context.  Ideally talk it through with others who will be honest with you.  It may be that your perspective is all skewed.  Or it may be bang on.  Either way, you will learn more in the context of a team.

 

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Multiply Ministry Beyond the Pulpit 3

Multiply2Yesterday I began a list of ministry that compliments the platform given us as preachers.  The first five stood out to me as I observed a Christian leader at close quarters and was impressed by the impact he had when not preaching.  We thought last time about intercessory prayer, deliberate networking and being a funding conduit.  Here are two more from my list of observations of one leader (then I may add some more nudges):

4. Generous Distributor – Books, CDs, DVDs, etc.  Sometimes a targeted gift can make a massive impact.  I can think of four or five life changing books that every Christian should read.  I can think of more that not-yet-Christians could benefit from.  Here’s the challenging question . . . why don’t I have a stock of these books to give away to contacts?

5. Multiplicational Mentor – Get someone close and pour into them.  It could be knowledge and training, but it could also be networking and ministry exposure.  If, by God’s grace, you are living a life of ministry impact, it will only multiply by letting others get close.  If you aren’t, why are you preaching?

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6. Ministry Champion – If there is a ministry you believe in, champion it.  It doesn’t take much to offer genuine support and encouragement to the ministry of another.  Endorse, pray, champion, network, encourage, text, fund.  What ministry beyond your own church do you cheer for?

7. Community Involvement – If your church is part of a community, it makes sense to have some involvement in that community.  Being on the board of a local school, or having some sort of presence with the local council, or . . . find a creative opportunity in your locale.  This is not just about evangelistic influence, although it should never be less than that.

8. Book Reviewer – If you read books, which sadly seems to be optional these days, why not write reviews so that others can benefit?  Put them online, in a journal, on amazon, etc.

There must be so much more, please share any ideas and let’s see what can be multiplied.

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Multiply Ministry Beyond the Pulpit 2

Multiply2Some years ago I had the privilege of living next door to a well known Christian leader and communicator.  Watching him close up made clear to me how he had had such a significant impact on the world.  It was not just his preaching (although he did lots of that).  There were five noticeable areas of complementary ministry that are open to all of us.  If only more of us would invest our energies in these five areas, it is hard to imagine what could be achieved:

1. Intercessory Prayer – I would hope we all pray for those we minister to, but what about others who God brings across our paths?  We could quickly compile a large connection collection – people we can bring to God in prayer on a regular basis.  My friend is highly purposeful in this ministry . . . photos on the phone for when he loses a signal on the train (allowing him to pray for people), photo albums, lists.  How can the impact of this loving ministry be measured?

2. Deliberate Networking – You may have the same reaction to “professional networkers” that I do, but “humble Kingdom building networkers” . . . that is altogether different.  Person X has a passion for a certain area of ministry.  Person Y might be the ideal resource person or connection for person X.  If you know both, shouldn’t you be introducing them?  Like the ingredients of fireworks, sometimes it is about bring certain folks together for explosive impact.  I suspect a lot of us preachers have largely untapped networks.  Maybe we are not imagining the possibilities?  Maybe we want everything to revolve around us?  Maybe the greatest ministry impact you will have this year will come from introducing X to Y, or Saul to the believers . . .

3. Funding Conduit – We easily get caught up in the financial needs of our own family and our own church.  But there is so much that could happen if funds were released.  What if we all wanted to be used in this area?  Choose to live on so much, and be diligent in recycling everything else.  Hard to imagine how much could be moved on with this approach!

Two more to finish my list next time.  Maybe you have more ideas to add . . .

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Multiply Ministry Beyond the Pulpit

Multiply2I was just pondering the extensive opportunities for ministry beyond the pulpit.  This may not seem relevant to a preaching blog, but I think it is.  As a preacher, you have many opportunities to serve God and others beyond the ministry that you give in preaching.  Let’s chase some ideas together and maybe one or two will spark something for you.

First, what about ministry directly linked to your preaching:

1. Written - The days of simply transcribing and publishing sermons are probably long gone for most, and yet there could be some scope for producing written materials that flow out of our preaching ministry.  Getting published is not the easiest challenge, but perhaps there is a venue for carefully written synopses.  (And I would imagine that if you have a good editing PA you might be able to churn out as many books as your favourite preacher/writer . . . but you need to think about what your theological message is.)

2. Online – Full sermon manuscripts will get very little traffic, since sermons are not written to be read.  Perhaps blog length summaries could serve a purpose?  Perhaps tweet length big ideas would be of benefit to others?

3. Recorded – It is easier than ever to record, lightly edit and upload your messages to the internet.  Don’t do it just because you can, but if there are people that want to hear them, why not let the same sermon do its work again?

4. Taught – Why not gather one or two interested parties to talk through your message and make it into a training exercise?  Could be potential preachers.  Could be people learning to handle the Bible for themselves?  In fact, get some feedback and you will benefit too.

5. Further Preached – Sometimes we leave a set of exegetical notes too soon.  Maybe a further sermon building on the message and developing the application, or maybe a discussion, a Q&A, or a small group Bible study?  There are no medals to be won for multiplying work unnecessarily.  If you put hours into a message, it may well have further work to do before you lay it to rest.

Next time, I want to ponder five ministry multiplication options that complement a preaching ministry . . .

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Book Notice for Twitter-ers

There will be more information coming soon, but I want to announce that my first book, Pleased To Dwell, is scheduled for release in the next few months.  It is an engaging introduction to the biblical teaching on the Incarnation.  For those of you on Twitter, be sure to follow @PleasedToDwell for tweeted snippets!

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The Missing Dimension – Part 2

hermeneutics2Yesterday we looked at John 5.  What a chapter.  Jesus was accused of encouraging Sabbath breaking.  He turned that charge into one of apparent blasphemy, then proceeded to defend himself against the accusation.  For ten verses he laid out truths about life-giving and judgment in respect to his relationship with his Father.  Then from verses 30-47 the defendant turned prosecutor as he went after his accusers with a sequence of witnesses that not only defended his position, but highlighted the culpability of his accusers.  It is wonderful legal drama.

At the climactic moment in that sequence, Jesus poked his accusers in the chest in respect to their handling of the Bible.  They searched for top tips in order to receive glory for each other, but they were blind to the revelation of God through his Son in the Old Testament.  They cared for horizontal glory rather than vertical glory.

This raises an issue we should ponder.  When we study a Bible passage, not least when we are preparing to preach.  We need to be alert to a couple of realities:

1. Look for God’s self-revelation, not just for life advice (or even for a sermon).  Wonderfully, our God wants to be known much more than we naturally want to know him.  And we need to recognize that our natural tendency will always be to not see him, but to default back to seeing the Bible content as material for our sake.  Some naturally default to intellectual curiosity, others to intellectual skepticism, others to life coaching tips, etc.  Whatever the default nuance may be, the default orientation will be toward self rather than toward God.  Only as he stirs our hearts and gives us a taste for knowing him will we discover the delight of pursuing the God who first pursued us.

2. As you look at Jesus, he looks at you.  Jesus does not remain simply the object of our curiosity.  As we study him, he turns that around to study us.  As we accuse him, we find ourselves convicted.  As we probe his character, we find our own character probed.  The shift from defendant to accused found in John 5 is a shift we experience all the time if our eyes are him.  This turns Bible study into a glorious conversation, if we are willing to engage in such.

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The Missing Dimension in Biblical Interpretation

hermeneutics2Interpreting a biblical passage is a critical element of the preacher’s task.  Principles of hermeneutics should be readily accessible to the good preacher, second nature really.

Numerous hermeneutics textbooks list the principles – awareness of literary form and the influence of genre; concern for the grammatical choices made the author in his efforts to be understood; the significance of authorial intent; knowledge of the relevant historical background factors influencing the meaning of the text – such as geography, religio-politics, culture, etc.; deep sensitivity to the written context, both immediate and within the flow of the book as a whole; recognition that scripture does not contradict scripture, but does interpret scripture, yet the importance of remaining focused on the particular text, and so on.

But there is one key dimension that tends to be overlooked in hermeneutics texts and yet should be front and centre in our concern as preachers.  Perhaps we should call it the moral blindness principle, or the interpreter’s heart principle.

Jesus put his finger on the issue in John 5.  As he spoke to the trained religious elite of his day, he turned defense into attack.  He had been accused of breaking the Sabbath, to which he made sure they accused him of something more substantial (see v18).  Then he laid out some key truths in respect to the Father and Son, around issues of life-giving and judgment (see vv19-29).

From verse 30 he started pointing directly at his accusers and speaking in the first and second person.  He called his witness in support of his claim, (acknowledging John the Baptist in passing), who was first and foremost his own Father.  Yes, there were the works he did, but the focus is really his Father.  But then he made it very personal.  He told the Jewish leadership that they had never seen him, didn’t know him and didn’t have his word in them.  That is strange, these were the Bible quoting leadership fraternity of Jerusalem.  How could they be accused of not having the Bible down?

Jesus threw a hermeneutical failure at them.  They were certainly diligent, searching the Scriptures for top life tips, but they missed the person revealed there.  How?  Because they did not have the love of God in them.  How could that be?  Because of a mutually exclusive issue that might be one of the greatest dangers we face as preachers . . .

They were concerned about the horizontal reality of what people thought of them, which meant they were not concerned about the vertical reality of what God thought.  They loved getting glory from each other, rather than the glory that comes from God.

That is moral blindness.  That is the principle of the interpreter’s heart.  If my heart is concerned about what people think of me, I may well be blind to the truth of the text I claim to understand and then proclaim to others.  If you preach, ponder this principle prayerfully – it is one we cannot afford to miss.

 

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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