The Reformation and Preaching

I invited my good friend Dr Mike Reeves, president of Union School of Theology, to speak in the Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum back in May.  Here are some nuggets on preaching and the Reformation for us.

What did the Reformers believe about the power of preaching?

How did the Reformation change our view of the content of preaching?

What can we learn from the Reformers about the goal of preaching?

(The videos are courtesy of foclonline.org, Mike is President of Union School of Theology)

Not As Many Churches As There Are Churches

It’s a strange statement, but in most places there are not as many churches as there are churches.  I am not referring here to the many church buildings that have been emptied, sold and converted for use as Hindu temples, car repair shops, martial arts schools or apartments (come visit the UK if you don’t believe me!)  What I am referring to here is the number of churches where people will gather today, but come out none the wiser as far as the Bible, the gospel and God is concerned.  How many churches there are that preach the fluff of well-meaning platitudes, rather than the solid substance of biblical truth.

In the city of London there are apparently something like 4000 churches.  But how many will preach the gospel clearly and accurately today?  How many will speak from the Word of God in a manner that reflects its truth, accuracy, historicity and relevance?  How many genuinely believe in a God who is at work in the world today, even during the sermon segment of the service?  As Calvin wrote, “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and listened to . . . it is in now way to be doubted that a church of God exists.” Let us pray for the people sitting in a church building today, but unclear as to their spiritual state or God’s provision for them in Christ.  And let’s be sure that the church we preach in really is a church today!

Review: The Expository Genius of John Calvin, by Steven J. Lawson, 2007.

Steven Lawson is a pastor who works closely with John MacArthur at the Expositor’s Institute.  He was trained at Dallas and Reformed Theological Seminaries.  This book is the first in a series of Long Line of Godly Men Profiles published by Reformation Trust of Ligonier Ministries.

This is an attractively presented little hardback (133pp).  In it Lawson seeks to present the qualities and distinctives of John Calvin.  Not Calvin the theologian who wrote the famous Institutes, nor Calvin the commentator whose exegesis is still referenced by serious scholars, nor Calvin the statesman who served as a Reformation leader in Geneva with influence spreading much farther, nor Calvin the shaper of both church and western culture, but Calvin the pastor, Calvin the preacher.  For all his accomplishments, Calvin’s priority was his pulpit ministry to real ordinary needy folk in Geneva.

The first chapter of the book presents a brief summary of Calvin’s life and legacy.  In the subsequent seven chapters, Lawson deals with various aspects of the preaching of Calvin, delineating 32 distinctives recognizable in Calvin’s preaching ministry.  Throughout the book, Lawson’s observations are supported diligently by sermon sound-bites and quotations from other scholars like Alister McGrath, James M. Boice, T.H.L. Parker, etc.  Although the support material is sufficient, it is by no means overwhelming and it does not turn this engaging little book into a dry academic research tome.

Chapters two and three address Calvin’s attitude toward the pulpit and personal preparation.  It is no surprise to read of his diligent mind, devoted heart and relentless will, but challenging nonetheless.  Then Lawson considers how Calvin would launch a sermon, along with reference to delivery (no notes, I’m glad to report!)  The most substantial chapters deal with expounding the text and crafting delivery.  The last two chapters look at application of the truth and sermon conclusion.  A couple of brief appendices are given to support details in the book (sermon text verse divisions for several series and an outline from a sermon on Job 21).

I have studied church history, even the Reformation, but I am no church historian.  Does this book deserve great respect as an accurate and insightful piece of historical research?  I don’t know.  Perhaps Calvin scholars would disagree with details or emphases.  Perhaps they would applaud loudly.  Certainly Calvin the preacher and pastor is often lost in the focus on his Institutes (written as an introduction to his commentaries!), or in the controversies over his politics and leadership.  Calvin the preacher is worthy of our attention.  This little book is a quick read, but thought provoking in its clarity.  Thought provoking on a historical level, perhaps, but especially as we consider our own preaching ministry today.  I would not suggest we affirm every distinctive and emulate without thought for our own times and contexts, but I’m sure any preacher would find their own ministry poked and encouraged by this book.  I look forward to subsequent volumes in the series.