Build Confidence in the Word

John MacArthur writes about the clarity of the Bible in his chapter in Preach the Word.  Let me quote him here – not new information (I hope), but important information well worthy of our pondering:

The student of Scripture need not fear that its message is unknowable.  Rather, he can rejoice in knowing that God revealed himself and his plan of salvation in a way that men can understand.  Not only does the Scripture repeatedly claim that God revealed what is written within its pages (over 2,000 times in fact), it also describes itself as that which gives light (Ps. 119:105; 2Pet. 1:19a), is profitable (2Tim. 3:16-17), explains salvation (2Tim. 3:15b), addresses common people (cf. Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:37; Eph. 1:1; 1Cor. 1:2), can be understood by children (Deut. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:4; 2Tim. 3:14-15), and should be used to test the validity of religious ideas (Acts 17:11; cf. 2Cor. 10:5; 1Thess. 5:21-22). It is the truth (John 17:17) that sets men free (John 8:31-36).  Thus, to deny the clarity of Scripture is to call into question not only the Bible’s own self-claims, but also God’s ability to communicate clearly.

Let’s make sure these truths are fresh in our hearts.  It’s easy to begin with strong confidence in the Word, only for it to fade over time.  Is it time to refresh and renew our understanding of and commitment to the clarity and power of God’s Word?

Let’s also make sure we don’t undermine our listeners’ confidence in the Bible.  There are certainly parts that are harder to understand, the Bible itself acknowledges that (2Pet. 3:16).  But the main message of the Bible is clear for any who will read it . . . so let’s encourage them to do just that!

The Non-Academic Preacher Compliment

Last week I spoke to a friend who had asked to borrow my master’s thesis.  He was positive about it, but mentioned that he’d had to look up some terms I’d used.  He was a bit surprised since he doesn’t have that challenge when I preach.  That’s an encouraging compliment in my eyes!

Here’s a quick quote that is somewhat related in Phillip Jensen’s chapter, “Preaching the Word Today” in Preach the Word, the book of essays in honor of Kent Hughes:

With the discriminating eye of the cynic, the modern scholar can deconstruct the author’s writings so as to explain what he “really” meant.  Only the expert – never the ploughboy – can know what was meant.  The priesthood of all believers is no longer replaced by the sacerdotalism of the sacramentalists but by the arrogance of the academy.

We need to be so careful.  I think it is good to get the best academic training possible (a matter of good stewardship), but we need to be very careful not to develop the easily associated arrogance that comes with training, nor to carry that arrogance into the pulpit.  We serve the priesthood of all believers; we are not the priesthood for all other believers.

Let’s make sure we open up the Bible in peoples’ laps, rather than moving it further away from them.  Let’s make sure we communicate well, rather than impress with lofty language that the ploughboy doesn’t understand.  Let’s make sure we prepare for ministry and prepare for a message as fully as we are able, but not let that show in any way that will hinder our listeners.

Review: Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken & Todd Wilson

Subtitle: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (2007)

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Kent Hughes is a name I have been aware of for many years, but honestly I have never heard him preach or read any of his books.  Still, this book of essays written in his honor caught my attention.  Collections of essays in honor of individuals of spiritual stature range in quality from excellent to extremely ordinary.  Sometimes their quality of production falls far short of the person’s life and ministry they are intended to honor.  Not so in this case.  This book is a quality production from Crossway and a decent collection of essays from an impressive list of contributors.  This book is worthy of our attention.

Divided into four parts, the book contains sixteen essays, culminating in a gracious and encouraging biographical essay on the life and influence of Kent Hughes.  By the end of this book, you will have greater motivation to pursue the exposition of God’s Word, and a greater passion to expand that ministry by influencing the next generation.  Not a bad legacy to honor Kent Hughes’ ministry.

The first part is concerned with Interpretive Principles and Practices.  The book begins with a call to expository preaching from David Jackman.  John MacArthur offers a sound although very basic introduction to inductive Bible study.  Paul House considers the preaching of Old Testament narratives with a focus on three sermons from Acts.  Wayne Grudem offers a helpful chapter on rightly interpreting the Bible.  The only chapter to surpass Grudem’s contribution in this section is the excellent offering on “The Bible as Literaure and Expository Preaching” by co-editor, Leland Ryken.

The second part focuses on Biblical and Historical Paradigms.  Bruce Winter helpfully considers Paul’s approach to warfare in reference to the thought processes of his listeners – how to preach to minds not fully renewed.  Duane Litfin’s chapter on Paul’s kerygma foolishness in 1Cor.1-4 is superb.  In my notes I remarked the book was worth the price for this chapter alone.  Wallace Benn moves the book into church history with a straightforward summary of Richard Baxter’s classic, The Reformed Pastor. J.I.Packer then adds another heavyweight and inspiring article (in power, not in density), a delight of a chapter on Charles Simeon.

The third part concerns Contemporary Challenges and Aims.  Here you find Phillip Jensen and D.A.Carson’s more engaging lecture on contemporary challenges in ministry.  Philip Ryken then offers a very good call for expository preaching that is evangelistic, doctrinal and practical.

The fourth and final part focuses on Training and Example.  Peter Jensen considers the seminary setting, where he rightly wishes that expository preaching were the primary goal of the entire faculty.  Jon Dennis offers a detailed list of eight principles for multiplying ministers from 2Tim.2:2 and its surrounding context.  David Helm brings in British church history again, in an engaging article that looks for a generation of preachers to be trained.

This is a solid book, well worth buying and reading.  The essays are all decent and worthy of their place, although it must be recognized that the offerings of Leland Ryken, Duane Litfin and J.I Packer (perhaps with David Helm’s historically birthed effort attached to Packer’s consideration of Simeon) – these stand out as especially worthy of note and worth the price of the book!

Application is Not About Benefits

In the understanding of expository preaching espoused on this site, application is central.  Expository preaching must involve the explanation of the meaning of the biblical text while emphasizing the relevance of that text to the contemporary listener.  This is born out of an understanding that the Bible is highly relevant to us all.  However, there is a danger of misunderstanding this emphasis on relevance and application.

The danger is that people may take away the thought that we are advocating a strong view of the benefits associated with applying the Bible to our lives.  In reality, we are saying much more than that.  Paul House, in his article in Preach the Word, gives Christopher Wright credit for identifying the opposite reality.  We do not apply the Bible to our lives, but rather, “through the power of the Holy Spirit we must learn and help others to learn to ‘apply our lives to the Bible.’  God and his Word – not our lives and minds – comprise the horizon of reality and authority.  We are required to conform to the Scriptures; they are not required to conform to us.”  (Preach the Word, p25)

Only in this way do we protect listeners from getting the impression that they can pick and choose those parts of the Bible that appear most valuable.  As Tozer said, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian.”  So application is not primarily about the benefits for our lived reality.  Application is about conforming our lives to reality.

We Preach Literature

I’m enjoying Preach the Word and will add a full review in due course, but I’ll share some highlights along the way.  This is the book of essays intended to honor Kent Hughes of College Chapel in Wheaton.  This morning I enjoyed a chapter by one of the editors, Leland Ryken, on the Bible as literature.  He urges preachers to learn from the field of literary analysis and not presume theologians have all the answers when it comes to accurately understanding the Bible.  Early on he notes the need for preachers to add even a “modicum of self-conscious literary analysis to their methodology” to improve the incipient literary criticism that all have to participate in during preparation.

Then he notes a couple of features of what constitutes expository preaching, in his opinion.  I offer you these two features for your thoughts and response.  This is not an attempt at an exhaustive definition, but two features of expository preaching:

1. “Expository preaching keeps its focus on the announced text instead of escaping from it to other material” – I wholeheartedly agree.  I have written before on the limited legitimate reasons to go elsewhere in the Bible in a message.  I would offer these three as legitimate excursions, rather than unhelpful escapes.  First, when the idea of the passage seems unbiblical, it is good to show that the truth is consistent with teaching elsewhere (perhaps a brief, fast-paced tour of key texts).  Second, when the passage being considered leans heavily on another passage, such as an Old Testament quote later in the Old Testament or in the New Testament (perhaps a meaningful, but not excessive day-trip to the text in question).  Third, when it is considered helpful and appropriate to trace out the thought of the passage, or see the fulfillment of the passage, later in the Bible (not any and every excuse to “get to Jesus,” but a purposeful advance after fully dealing with the preaching text, perhaps to aid in application for the listener today).

Unhelpful escapes to other passages include running to more familiar territory.  Or jumping texts based on familiar language.  Or perhaps seeking to be exhaustive on a theme in the text, thereby exhausting listeners rather than seeking to plumb the depths of the preaching passage itself.  Or even twisting the meaning of the text in order to get to some sort of contemporary spiritualized application of the gospel. Then there is the issue of “illustrating” the preaching text by means of another text (that then needs to be explained, potentially overwhelms the preaching text and certainly doesn’t help to land the application in listeners’ contemporary experience.)

I’ll save the second feature for tomorrow, but let’s be sure to think carefully before losing focus on our announced text!

Pre-Review: Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson

Subtitle: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes

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This recent volume from Crossway just landed on my doorstep.  I have not read it, hence this is a “pre-review.”  However, since I’ve not added a review for a while, and since Christmas is fast approaching, I thought I’d highlight this book’s existence just in case you need an idea for a Christmas gift (for yourself, or another preacher!)

Kent Hughes recently retired after a quarter of a century as senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton.  He has preached, taught and written very significantly in the area of expository preaching over the years of his ministry.  This book is a collection of essays from an impressive list of friends and colleagues.  (The list of contributors includes Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, John Piper, Duane Litfin, JI Packer, David Jackman, Phillip Jensen and DA Carson.)

The book is divided into four sections.  The first addresses hermeneutics and exegesis under the title Interpretive Principles and Practices.  The second is entitled, Biblical and Historical Paradigms, providing frameworks and paradigms for the preacher’s ministry.  The third section on Contemporary Challenges and Aims engages with the particular difficulties facing the contemporary expositor.  Finally, the fourth section is entitled Training and Example, addressing the oft-neglected area of developing preachers.

The book has a timeless dignity about its appearance, and an apparent unity, even quality, in its content.  In due course I will complete this post with a true review, but right now it may be worth taking the plunge and buying a copy for Christmas – perhaps even a Christmas gift to yourself for your ministry?  Since this is a pre-review, all I can say here is that having looked at it, I am motivated to read it!