This week I posted on the Cor Deo site with a post focused on the doctrine of sin, and how our view of sin is connected with the rest of our theology. Picking and choosing simply isn’t a coherent option. To go to the post, click here.
I am currently enjoying Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling. This is my book of the year, so far, and once I finish it I will be sure to review it on here. There is so much good stuff in this book, but just as a taster, here is a list of five “treasure shifts” that can occur in the heart of a pastor/preacher (this is straight quotation from Tripp):
1. IDENTITY: Moving from identity in Christ to identity in Ministry.
In pastoral ministry, it is very tempting to look hirzontally for what you have already been given in Christ. . . . Rather than the hope and courage that come from resting in my identity in Christ, my ministry becomes captured and shaped by the treasure of a series of temporary horizontal affirmations of my value and worth. This robs me of ministry boldness and makes me all too focused on how those in the circle of my ministry are responding to me.
2. MATURITY: Defining spiritual well-being not by the mirror of the Word, but by ministry.
Biblical literacy is not to be confused with Christian maturity. Homiletic accuracy is not the same as godliness. Theological dexterity is very different from practical holiness. Successful leadership is not the same as a heart for Christ. Growth in influence must not be confused with growth in grace. It is tempting to allow a shift to take place in the way that I evaluate my maturity as a pastor. Rather than living with a deep neediness for the continued operation of grace in my own heart, I begin, because of experience and success in ministry, to view myself as being more mature than I actually am. Because of these feelings of arrival, I don’t sit under my own preaching; I don’t preach out of a winsome, tender, and humble heart; and I don’t seek out the ministry of the body of Christ. This allows my preparation to be less devotional and my view of others to be more judgmental.
3. REPUTATION: Shifting from a ministry shaped by zeal for the reputation of Christ to a ministry shaped by hunger for the praise of people.
. . . My heart begins to be captured by the desire to be esteemed by others, the buzz of being needed, the allure of standing out in the crowd, the glory of being in charge, and the power of being right. This makes it hard to admit I am wrong, to submit to the counsel of others, to surrender control, to not have to win the day and prove I am right. It makes it hard to accept blame or to share credit, and it makes me less than excited about ministry as a body-of-Christ collaborative process.
I will finish the list tomorrow.
(NB. This list is found on pages 105-107)
As I am reading through the Bible I am currently in the Psalms – what a great book! Sadly, for some, Psalms seems to be preached only as filler material in the summer holidays. There is so much potential for preaching in the book of Psalms. Let me offer three possibilities opened up by preaching from this book:
1. You can introduce new treasure to people. People tend to be familiar with some Psalms. Probably 23. Perhaps 24, 1, 110, 121, 127, 51, 8, 73, 37, 27. But what about Psalm 36? Or 33? There is a whole host of Psalms that tend to get ignored in the annual audition for three filler sermons. And don’t just stick to the filler sermon approach. Why not preach Psalm 34 at the start of a series on 1Peter? It certainly was in the mind of the apostle as he wrote his epistle. Why not preach Psalm 118 in connection with Easter? It might add a new set of thoughts to the Easter considerations since Jesus would very likely have sung that with his disciples at the last supper.
2. You can connect with a different group of people. It may be a stereotype, but some have suggested that engineers enjoy epistles. They like the truth statements, logical flow, direct discourse. So if that is the case, who might appreciate the Psalms? Artists? Sure, and there are more of them than we tend to realise in every congregation. How about the suffering? Certainly. Psalms connects with different people at different times in the complexities of each personal biography.
3. You can offer a more vulnerable sermon. When David wrestles with spiritual realities, why not be more open that we do too? Personal sin struggles, doubting God’s goodness, tendency to trust in ourselves, feelings of extreme fatigue, etc. We don’t preach to preach ourselves, but we ourselves do preach. The Psalms opens up the possibility of greater vulnerability from the preacher, and hopefully stirs vulnerability in the congregation. The Psalm writers didn’t treat God as delicate or fragile, they blasted their prayers at Him. Perhaps we can stir greater prayer in churches that tend to pray religiously, and Psalms would be a worthwhile workshop for that kind of goal.
Mammoth? Maybe. Magisterial? Absolutely. Marsden’s 505 pages plus notes on the life of Edwards is an absolute joy to read. He neither falls into the culturally critical Edwards bashing of years gone by, nor into the presentations of Edwards as if he fit every theological mold of his tradition. He certainly avoids the bizarre agenda of separating Edwards’ genius from his vibrant faith.
The Edwards offered in Marsden’s work is the Edwards of history, a man profoundly gripped by the glory of the triune love of God, a man who remained resolute in his disciplined life of study and ministry, yet who progressively grasped the captivating wonder of God’s gracious intratrinitarian love and grew beyond a self-determined resolution approach to spirituality.
I won’t give Edwards biography here. However, for anyone who has only seen Edwards through the caricature of a single sermon title, Marsden is a must read. Bridging the historical worlds of puritanism and enlightenment, Edwards is a massive figure in theological, philosophical and modern church history. Marsden gets the Augustinian heritage of Edwards, shining light on the emphases sometimes perceived by some to be imbalanced, yet showing Edwards to be a brilliant mind coupled with, and guided by, a captured heart.
Since I suspect it is mostly preachers who visit this blog, let me suggest that we do well to spend time with the greats by means of good biography. Marsden has also written A Short Life of Edwards, which is not an abridgement of this work, but another biography cast in an entirely new way, as it were. I look forward to reading that now that my thoroughly marked up copy of A Life is no longer next to my reading chair.
Edwards is intriguing on many levels, and from many angles: Revival, Calvinism, Augustinian Trinitarianism, puritan theology, church polity, academic institutional history, philosophy, cross-cultural missions, religious affections, hermeneutics, and so on. Take the time to get to know Edwards with this biography and you will find your own life and ministry stirred in many ways, all beneficial.
Not wanting to give away the ending, let me share the final paragraph anyway:
How can the creator of such an unimaginably vast universe be in intimate communication with creatures so infinitely inferior to himself? . . . Edwards’ solution–a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes–can be breathtaking. God’s trinitarian essence is love. God’s purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil. They will not be able to view Christ’s love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from their preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations. They will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created.
(To buy Marsden’s work in the UK, click here.)