Category Archives: Preaching

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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Christocentric, Christiconic, …?

img_privilege_3d_02Abraham Kuruvilla’s book, Privilege the Text, offers a theological hermeneutic for preaching.  I have surveyed the book here and offered some review here.  Today I would like to nudge our thinking in respect to AK’s suggestion that we replace a Christocentric approach with a Christiconic approach.  That is, rather than trying to see Christ in every text of Scripture, we should see a facet of Christ’s perfect morality in every text, and as we present that theologically derived “divine demand,” the hope is that our listeners will be moved to align themselves with it and thus become progressively sanctified into the image of Christ (hence, “christ-iconic”).

What I took too many words to state last time is that I find this goal entirely too restricted.  The goal of preaching is not my individual, nor even our corporate, conformity to a perfect Christlike morality.  I believe Christian preaching should be looking for a greater transformation than I believe will result from the “Christiconic” model.  Let me suggest some five alternative models, with a few comments.  Please note that the morality desired in the “Christiconic” model is surpassed, rather than dismissed, in these suggestions:

1. Christotelic (Seeing Christ as the goal of Scripture) – Perhaps we should be aiming to preach individual texts in such a way that the goal of all Scripture (Christ) is not superimposed on and forced into a text, but is honoured as the goal of the whole?  I know that this can fall foul of some warnings included in Kuruvilla’s book relating to Christocentric models that don’t privilege and honour the preaching text.  I agree that there is a risk of the specifics in a pericope being “swallowed up in the capacious canvas of [Redemptive-Historical] interpretation.” (p240)  Fair point, but again, John 5 should sound sufficient warning at the danger of interpreting a text with a goal of self-improvement, while missing the person of Christ.  Let me push on to more explicit labels for our ponderings.

2. Christodoxological (Preaching that aims at the worship of Christ) – Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  Let’s preach Bible texts in such a way that rather than pointing to ourselves and emphasizing our need to apply them, we are pointing to a Christ so captivating and wonderful that he is worshipped.  And what about if it is not obvious how to preach Christ in the text at hand?  Feel free to preach Theodoxologically, showing how the text reveals God.  (And if you make sure you are preaching the “person” rather than just truthful assertions, then in many ways you are “preaching Christ” even while avoiding forcing the text into a mold it did not sign up to be in.)

Tomorrow I’ll offer three more suggestions for our thoughts.

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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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Review: Privilege the Text by Abraham Kuruvilla – Part 1

img_privilege_3d_02Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching by Abraham Kuruvilla

This book was Preaching Magazine’s Book of the Year for 2013 and has some significant endorsers.  Its four chapters span 336 pages, with essentially one (maybe two) “worked example” of Kuruvilla’s proposed approach to handling Old Testament narrative.  Let me begin with an overview of the chapters today, before highlighting some strengths and weaknesses tomorrow.

Chapter 1 introduces the field of hermeneutics.  Abraham Kuruvilla (herein AK) points the reader beyond simply pursuing the meaning of a text, to recognizing that with a “classic” text, there will be a timeless quality wherein the author “does” something with the text.  Specifically, and this will always be true of the Bible, the author is projecting a “world before the text” – a moral ideal that people in vastly different cultures and epochs can still access as the text is preached effectively, leading to life transformation.  AK finishes the chapter with six rules of reading, the last of which is the rule of centrality, which focuses interpretation of texts on the person of Christ.

Chapter 2 focuses on what AK labels “pericopal theology” – that is, pursuing the theology of each pericope, or preaching unit of text.  AK suggests that most contemporary expository preaching actually neglects the preaching text in favour of offering a broad systematic or biblical theological presentation of truth.  (He is clear that both systematic and biblical theologies are important as guardrails for interpretation.)  Instead, he is advocating that we Privilege the Text by pursuing the “pericopal theology” of each text, applying that to listeners so that they can align their lives with the “precepts, priorities, and practices of God’s ideal world,” what AK refers to as the “divine demand” present in every pericope.

Chapter 3 pursues the issue of “divine demand” and the place of obedience.  AK begins by showing that Dispensational, Reformed, Lutheran and New Perspective on Paul theologians all restrict the applicability of Old Testament Law today, but he is advocating that all law is applicable always – by means of the theological sense of each text.  AK states that OT Laws “are not criteria for salvation, but are guidelines for sanctification.” (P153)  God’s gracious provision through the Son and enabling operation of the Spirit mean that this is not merit-seeking legalism, but rather the “obedience of faith” that is the Christian responsibility in our pursuit of being holy like God.  Relationship precedes, but does not preclude, responsibility.

Chapter 4 picks up the question that becomes obvious by the end of chapter 3 –With repeated emphasis on the believer’s filial responsibility to obey (divine demand), how can the “rule of centrality” be brought to bear – i.e. how do we preach Christ?  AK begins with an extended exegesis of Genesis 22.  His intent is to show that the Bible as a whole projects “an image of Christ, with each pericope portraying a facet of this image: what it means to be Christlike.” (p212)  Abraham’s faithful obedience augmented God’s previous promise and became incorporated into it. For AK, this exegesis demonstrates that Christ does not need to be superimposed onto the text based on later revelation, but instead a facet of Christ’s character is seen in the text.  AK looks at the Redemptive-Historical or Christocentric approach to preaching, evaluating and critiquing the arguments put forward, as well as surveying the biblical passages used to support the approach (bizarrely, he does not survey John 5 here).  The alternative?  Christiconic Preaching.  This is where facets of the image of Christ are presented through the theological sense of any pericope, thereby giving listeners the opportunity to align themselves with God’s divine demand that we be holy as He is holy, that is, that we be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.

Tomorrow I will offer a review by way of some reflections on this book.

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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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Review – Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vols 1&2

KeenerActsCraig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary is a vast and incomplete piece of scholarship.  It is vast because in print form it is over 2100 pages.  It is incomplete because these two volumes only cover up to Acts 14:28.  For the purpose of this review, I am looking at the digital version on my Logos software.  I have not read every page, of course, so this is not a full scholarly review.

Keener is meticulous.  Anyone who has used his previous commentaries on Matthew, John and Revelation will know that.  This can be highly beneficial, or at times, frustrating.  Almost two-thirds of the complete first volume is introductory material covering such issues as genre (zeroing in on Acts as a work of ancient historiography), historical interpretation of Acts, Acts and Paul, the speeches, the author, audience, Luke’s perspective on women and gender, etc.

Once you get into the commentary proper, you start to see the fruit of his socio-historical approach.  The format and layout is relatively straightforward (i.e. no complicated internal structures that require skipping around to find what you need, but at the same time not much in the way of helpful textual layouts as some of the more modern commentaries are offering – such as Schnabel’s on Acts, for instance).  As well as relatively straightforward, it is also long.  Keener appears to have a meticulous tendency that leads to a massive project like this one.  Every detail is engaged and discussed.  Other scholarship is engaged and discussed.  At times it feels like everything is engaged and discussed.

This is where my having the works on Logos makes a difference to me.  Rather than flipping page after page and scanning tons of text, I can find what I want to access very quickly on Logos.  For instance, I can right click on the commentary and then select “search this resource.”  Then I can search in just this commentary with something as simple as “Stephen’s speech” and immediately have access to the 71 occasions Keener refers specifically to Stephen’s speech.

Equally, with a work of this magnitude, I find it helpful to have the table of contents showing on the screen.  Thus I can expand and contract sections to locate the specific section I want to see.  I can also get a sense of how long the section is before I just start reading (very useful in such a long piece of work).

I suggest that if you are preaching through a Bible book, then you should have access to a couple of the better commentaries on that book.  With Acts, I am putting Keener’s work into my top two or three resources to check (alongside Bock and Bruce, which are excellent and shorter!)

If you want to find out more, click here to go to the Logos page for this resource.

(Full disclosure: I am grateful to Logos Bible Software for providing the resource for this review.)

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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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