Reading and Preaching

StudyI remember hearing about someone who made the mistake of writing down a book suggestion for someone he was discipling.  The book was ideally suited to the situation, but the author was just too different.  The man was chased out of his church.

What makes a Bible school “liberal?”  In one sense the term refers to wide and free reading across the spectrum.  Strangely, I hear that there are many of the more “liberal” schools that won’t include “conservative” books on their reading lists.  At the same time, many “conservative” schools will recommend and even require the reading of “liberal” scholars.  If this were all that a label referred to, then they would need to be reversed!

Seems like we should be reading widely (and I’m not really referring to facebook / blog surfing!)  At the same time, it may not be wise to advertise the breadth of your reading habits in some circles.

Good reading should not only reinforce your understanding by affirmation, but also by challenging what you believe.  And as maturity increases, so can the band-width of your reading spectrum.  It seems to be a very immature trait to dismiss books simply because they are not 100% on target.

Read widely, disclose wisely.

My Highlight Books of 2012

BookIt seems fashionable to offer a list of the best books of the year during these days.  I can only offer some of the highlights in terms of what I’ve read.  Consequently, not all these books were published in 2012, but they were read by me in 2012!  I won’t include any of the books I am currently reading, even though there are some real gems, with bookmarks in them, next to my reading chair.

To be effective preachers we need to be readers.  Readers for the sake of our preaching, our biblical studies, our theology, our cultural awareness, our personal spirituality and our growth in all aspects of ministry.  So here are some books I’d encourage you to get hold of if they weren’t in your stocking yesterday or on your shelf already:

Best Theological and Spiritually Stimulating Read of 2012: The Good God, by Michael Reeves.  This book is appearing on lists far more comprehensive and purposeful than mine.  Hopefully people will get the point – this delightful book is well worth reading! It is rich yet accessible, theological yet heart-stirring, historically alert yet relevant and enjoyable. (It was released in the UK in March 2012 by Paternoster, and in the US in the fall by IVP under the title, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian FaithClick here to buy the book in the UK.)

Other Theologically Stimulating Reads in 2012.  These are not new, but worth grabbing if you get the chance.  Holmes Rolston’s John Calvin Versus the Westminster Confession is very thought provoking.  Janice Knight’s insightful analysis of the Antinomian Controversy in New England in the 1630’s is a golden piece of work (at a golden price, it must be said).  The contrast between a God obsessed with His own power and a God who gives of Himself in love is as fresh a discussion as any from all those centuries ago.  Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism buy or borrow if you can.  (To buy in the UK, click here.)

Best Freely Accessible Historical Document of 2012: I have thoroughly enjoyed time with both Luther and Edwards this year.  Edwards is not always the most accessible, and Luther is not always the most consistent, but both are worth some reading time!  For starters, why not try The Freedom of a Christian, by Luther (aka Concerning Christian Liberty – easy to find online, but why not get The Three Treatises on your shelf – to buy in the UK, click here.)

Biblical Studies Book of 2012: Jesus on Trial: A Study in the Fourth Gospel, by A.E.Harvey.  This is an older book, published in the 70’s, but worth its weight in gold.  This book helps make sense of the continual legal tension between Jesus and his accusers.  I will long remember reading this by flashlight in the sleepless nights after our youngest was born – she was worth being awake for, but this book only made it even better!

Not Overtly Christian But Well Worth Reading Book:  C.S.Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism is a delightful read on literature and how it engages people.   Instead of evaluating readers by what they read, what if we evaluate literature on how it is read?   This is well worth pondering on a spiritual, as well as on a literary level.  (To buy the book in the UK, click here.)

Insight Into Human Psyche Book of the Year: A New Name, by Emma Scrivener. – This was published this year.  It will make a mark on you if you read it.  Autobiographical, profoundly vulnerable and deeply gospel-centred.  This journey through the agony of anorexia gives insight into a world many of us know practically nothing about (but many in our congregation do).  (To buy in the UK, click here.)

Reflections on Great Bible Teaching – Part 1

Last week I was at a conference, enjoying it both as a participant and as a presenter.  I was particularly struck by the main Bible teaching.  I have been pondering what made it so effective and will offer my reflections in three posts.  I know the speaker is not a limelight seeker, so I won’t name him, but I trust these reflections will be provocative for us.

Observation 1 – Masterful Handling of the Text

In four messages we were taken through the entire book of Daniel.  Not the easiest book to preach, nor the least controversial.  How was the text handled so effectively in the course of four one-hour presentations?

A. The speaker was sensitive to both the literary and historical context of the book.  He knew his Babylonian and subsequent world empire history and demonstrated a keen awareness of the various disciplines needed for pulling together the complexity of Daniel.

B. He was deeply aware of the literary structure of the book.  Layer upon layer of structure was masterfully woven together as the book was presented, leaving the listeners struck by the artistry of the writer.

C. He showed a remarkable ability to summarise the content of multiple chapters without losing the essence or the core intent of the passages.  The teaching had integrity, even when a chapter was surveyed only briefly.

D. The speaker was as bold as a lion, yet as winsome as a lamb.  In a mixed crowd of people from multiple denominations and disciplines, it would be tempting to try to please everyone with a sort of neutered presentation.  Not here.  There was a stunning level of courage in this presentation.  He knew that many would disagree on various levels, yet he was unashamed in his presentation of the book. I think this kind of courage required both a genuine winsomeness and an authoritative mastery of the book’s contents.

I was challenged by the obvious passion for the Word that showed in this series of talks.  But there was more to it than that, tomorrow I’ll look at the issue of targeted applications…