Tim Challies has a great new post on how to be an effective listener to the Sermon that your pastor preaches each Sunday. Be sure to read it and apply the very appropriate advice!
I saw the new Disney movie, “A Christmas Carol,” last night starring the voice talents of Jim Carey, Gary Oldman, and others. I took my wife to see it as sort of a little date out and about on the town. My wife grew up with a great love for classical literature and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of her favourites. She has read it a number of times and is very picky about how movie adaptations reflect the original work of Dickens. I of course simply wanted to go because I like animated movies! Thankfully we were both happy with it since the language they used in the movie was almost exactly the language of Dickens from the novel. She had some quibbles about somethings that were left out but what was there she felt was faithful to the original.
That got me thinking after the movie about how we as Christians are to be faithful to the original. This phrase has a number of concepts that can be attached to them. For instance, two thoughts came to be about how we are to be faithful to the original in:
1) Following Jesus
1 John 2:4-6 reads, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” It is made quite clear here that one of the assurances we have that we are in the faith is that we walk as Jesus did. John is discussing walking in the truth which is more than just words but action. Jesus was truth not only in what he said but in how he lived. Not to embrace the social gospel or anything but the reality is, if we are Christians we are to be faithful to the original, that is Christ, by walking as he did. Our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our behaviour, our teaching should be just as Jesus’ was.
2) Teaching the Word
2 Timothy 3:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” One of the things that a teacher/preacher of the Word of God must be is faithful to the original. We are called to “rightly handle the word of truth.” We are to know the Word and proclaim the Word. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ our job is not to create our own message but to accurately proclaim His message. Every preacher and teacher of God’s Word must know it so as to proclaim it accurately being as careful as possible to be faithful to the original.
There are many other aspects of the Christian faith and ministry that force us to consider how faithful we are to the original. The reality is our lives and ministries are to be faithful to the God that has both created our lives and providentially put us into our ministries. Every thought we think, every action we perform, every word we utter, is to be in conformity to the image of Christ. An image is an exact representation of the original. The question becomes how faithful to the original are you? Are you an exact image or only a reasonable facsimile?
The new “A Christmas Carol” was pretty faithful to the original. I only hope and pray that my life and my ministry might be also said to be faithful to the original when it is seen by the world and the church.
“It really doesn’t matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them” (Stan Toler, “Leading from the Pulpit,” Preaching [Sept/Oct 2009], 17).
This past Sunday I was able to be with my flock again at Tunkhannock Baptist Church in Tunkhannock, PA. It is painful to “pop in” and “pop out” like this as we wait for my work visa so we can set roots down full-time and begin serving Christ’s flock that He has entrusted to us. But, I love to have the opportunity to begin to develop relationships with my sheep and to seek to feed them from the Word of God. One of the blessings I have is beginning to lead them in a study of What is a Healthy Church? in our Sunday PM series. This week we talked about Expository Preaching being a defining mark of a healthy church.
I tried to articulate that expository preaching (preaching that takes as its main point the main point of the Scripture that is being preached upon) is defended in the Bible itself, and tried to articulate both the benefits of it for the pastor and for the church. One of the things I noted was that a good thing sometimes takes a lot of effort. It is in expository preaching that we really flex our pastoral muscles.
Often it seems that many in our churches expect that we can feed them from the Word of God without actually preparing for it. This is both a crime for the preacher and for the congregation.
I have a friend, Heinz Dschankilic, who is a wonderful servant of Christ and Executive Director of Sola Scriptura Ministries International, who offers an excellent analogy about sermon preparation. He explains that there is quite the difference between a microwave dinner and Thanksgiving dinner. The microwave dinner is quick but rarely tasty and frankly, far from filling. Thanksgiving dinner though is delicious and highly filling, but it takes substantial time. For a shepherd to effectively feed his flock, he needs to take time to prepare the feast for the flock. Isn’t a feast better than a Hungryman TV dinner?
In the recent issue of Preaching magazine Stan Toler has an excellent article called “Leading from the Pulpit.” He offers the story of Pastor W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX and the importance of study in preparation of Sunday. He writes that Criswell,
… used to stay away from the “office” during the weekday morning hours. He was home in his study–pouring over the Scriptures, seeking the Spirit’s leadership in putting the menu together for a sheep-feeding the following Sunday. Criswell said in his autobiography, Standing on the Promises, “If you want to succeed in ministry… keep your heart fixed on Jesus and your mind centered on God’s Word.” His afternoons were given to the church business, but his mornings we devoted to Bible study.”
It is important as shepherds to feed our flocks. If we want our flocks to be healthy and to live according to the glory of God, we need to feed them what they need, a steady diet of the Word of God. And before we can feed them, we need to prepare the feast. This takes time and effort on behalf of the preacher, but the rewards for both the pastor and the flock are extraordinary.
So, for my flock at TBC, know that I want the best for you and I intend to prepare feasts for you each week from the Word of God. This means that it will take me time each week to prepare the meal for Sunday. It means I need dedicated time to study the Scriptures, to apply them to my own life, so I can proclaim them to you. But in the end, this dedicated time of study will pay off as you are able to experience a steady diet of the Word of God. I intend to feed you and feed you well. So, I must prepare the meal well!
Pastors, love your flock so much that you spend time deep in study in the Word of God to prepare the feast of the Word of God for them each Sunday. Flex those pastoral muscles! Remember, it really doesnt’ matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them. And I would add, feed them well.
My wife, Tracy Mickle, who is a keen observer of how we do ministry, offers her thoughts here on “Ministering to the So-Called ‘Generation Gap.’”
One of the significant challenges facing most churches is what many people are calling today “the generation-gap.” This generation-gap refers to those who are approximately between 20 and 35 years of age. Churches today find themselves concerned and perplexed as they seem to have a harder time drawing, connecting with, and maintaining this age group. Because I find myself within this age group, and have friends who are there too, I would like to comment on some of the methods churches have used to try to appeal to this group.
The usual wisdom of today in dealing with this enigmatic group has been to try to make church less formal, more approachable, and more relevant. In short, churches have tried to become friendlier and less austere. While some of this is probably appropriate and good, discussions I have had with many of my friends and acquaintances shows that this is not always the best way to reach out to these singles, students, and young professionals.
I have been very surprised to find that most people my age want the same things I want! They find church too informal with not enough hymn-singing; music that is too loud, and a real lack of reverence in many of our evangelical churches. Lest we think this is only coming from people who grew up in Christian homes and evangelical churches, I recently had a very interesting conversation with some friends who could be categorized as “seekers.” While they are attending a very contemporary church, they are disappointed in the overly relaxed atmosphere, informal dress of the congregation, and a general lack of awe and reverence they would expect to find in a church. After all, they believe church should look different then the everyday world in which we live. Among the population of “churched” young adults, one can find a similar sentiment. After a difficult church split at my home church in Pennsylvania, there are still young adults wandering around visiting churches and wishing they could find some place that “sings a few more hymns.”
What are we to make of all of this? After all, aren’t we giving people what they want when we try to “meet them where they are?” I am no church-planting or church-growth expert, but let me humbly suggest some points to ponder based on my own observations.
First, most people want to feel a sense of awe and reverence when they attend church. While we would all agree that everyday and every event in a Christian’s life is “sacred” (we must avoid at all costs the dichotomy of sacred verses secular in our lives), it is also appropriate to set aside the time that we meet with God’s people to worship corporately the living and all-powerful God of the universe as a special time. We want to approach and treat this time with the respect it deserves. Perhaps we all should consider entering the sanctuary with a more reverent attitude. Maybe we need to tone down our loud conversations and boisterous laughter and focus on preparing our hearts for worship. Fellowship and enjoying one another’s company is wonderful, but maybe some of the noisier parts of that should be left for after the service is over. Some formality in the structure of our services also gives people a sense of routine and tradition. It is a connection with the saints of the past as well as a foundation upon which to plant our feet for the future.
Second, in my experience it is not true that young adults only want to sing choruses. Most people I speak with would enjoy a blended service, but we typically find the blend to be rather out of balance. My experience with blended services is that there is usually a ratio of about 80-90% choruses and 10-20% hymns. While everyone agrees that there are some excellent choruses and modern worship music out there, we would like to see a more balanced approach with approximately equal time for both choruses and hymns. Expanding our hymn repertoire would also be wonderful. Our evangelical churches tend to love the gospel hymns of the late 1800s and early 1900s, but let’s not ignore some of the wonderful chorale hymns of the 1500s through the 1700s. Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “All Creatures of Our God and King” speak tremendous theology which is much needed in our day. The bulk of our hymnals contain gospel hymns, so we may have to go searching for some of these older hymns, but I think we will find the search well worth the effort.
Third, let’s consider turning down the volume on the drums and guitars. While additional instruments are wonderful and can add much to the service when done well, they often are so loud they drown out the singing. The truth of the matter is that the louder the music, the less people will be inclined to fully sing out because they can’t hear themselves singing! Too much noise in the service is a distraction.
Fourth, let’s consider resurrecting the “king of instruments”—the organ. While the organ is not necessarily appropriate for every song we sing in church, there is nothing like it for inspiring reverence, awe, and wonderful singing from a congregation—again, when it is played well. Surprisingly, there is a longing for this standard “church instrument” almost every time I discuss these issues with people.
Fifth, people my age are hungry for solid, though-provoking, challenging sermons. We don’t want to hear pat answers or short, simple sermons. We want to grow and be changed. We live in a complex world with many challenges and difficulties. Young adults are longing for solid answers from the Bible on how to live a consistent Christian life in today’s world. Anything less insults peoples’ intelligence and leaves us without hope that we can grow and change and “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12).
Doing church is quite a daunting task in today’s world and I hope I am sympathetic to the struggles. Everyone is concerned for the future of the church, and realistically it is the “generation-gap” of today that should be in training to take up the work of the church and be tomorrow’s leaders. It is important to reach out to this group of people and do what we can to bring them into our churches and hold them accountable to faithful attendance. For those who are in the household of faith, we need to realize that some tradition, reverence, and awe are good things and need to be resurrected in some of our churches. Even the “seekers” whom we are so desperate to reach innately realize that it is a serious matter to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb 10:31).
By God’s grace, I believe we can maintain the best of what has been good in the past while we expand and use the best of what is good today. Let’s make sure that in the attempt to update our services and keep them relevant and spontaneous, we don’t lose the tradition and solemnity that has always marked the church and set it apart from the world. If we can keep these two extremes in balance, we may find that the very group we want so urgently to reach will find what they are looking for in our church services.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about preaching.
With the hope of being in a full-time pastorate soon the thought had occurred to me, what should the content of a pastor’s preaching be during the first 6 months he is there? I mulled over this question for sometime. My thought was, you cannot possibly know exactly what a church will need to hear from the Word of God until you have spent some time with them.
In some ways, the first 6 months is like a honeymoon period. No pastor walking into a church should think they can change anything during the first 6 months. One must even be careful about considering changing anything after the first 6 months. We need to earn the church’s trust before we can consider changing everything they are doing. Granted, things may need to be changed to be more reflective of the Scriptural requirements for a local church, but we must be careful how that occurs.
But back to preaching.
What should a new pastor consider preaching at his new church? Too many pastors do not think this through. They just jump in preaching through Ephesians or something without taking some time to consider the needs of the congregation. Obviously no one can truly know their flock after only 6 months, but 6 months will give you a handle on some of the issues facing the church, certain needs that need to be addressed, so you can effectively come in and begin to teach through the whole counsel of God in a redemptive fashion. While all Scripture is profitable, not all Scripture is applicable at certain times in the life of the church. So, with these questions in mind, I sent an e-mail to those I knew in the ministry and asked their thoughts.
I got a few answers that I considered typical. Preach through Ephesians. Preach through 1 Corinthians. Another one I got was one I did not expect: Preach through a Gospel. This they argued would show that the emphasis on your ministry was Christ. Good thought. These were the typical kind of answers I received. Those who suggested preaching through a book did not seem to think one should preach a “topical” series at the beginning because expository preaching is the mandate of the pastor. Now, I agree that we should preach in an expository fashion, but to think we cannot preach expositionally through a topical series is misunderstanding the full nature of expository preaching.
Two kinds of answers though stuck out in my mind. One came from a wise pastor I know here in Ontario. He said, Pray! That seems so basic but often left out of the equation of what the content of a pastor’s preaching should be. Pray about what you should preach. The Lord will impress on your heart and mind a book or a topic that needs to be preached. God knows better than anyone what should be preached! This is an excellent foundation. While I think many expository preachers lack basic planning and thinking through why they preach what they preach, no matter what we choose or what we plan to preach on, the starting point should be seeking direction from the Lord in prayer.
The next answer I received from my own pastor and from my wife’s former pastor. They dovetailed nicely and I thought this was the ideal approach to take about what the initial content of preaching should be for the first 6 month tenure of a pastor. My pastor wrote me and said,
…don’t be reluctant to preach the Gospel often in the early months of your ministry in a new church. Faithful believers will rejoice in the Gospel being preached and those who are not saved need to hear it! Exalting Christ through the Gospel will establish the tone of your ministry from there forward.
These are wise words. My wife’s pastor wrote me and suggested the following:
Unless there is a specific need to address another topic or Biblical passage, I would strongly suggest a topical series (that may be handled expositionally) staking out Christian and church priorities. Highlight things like a high concept of God, the authority of Scripture, Christ-centered faith, our dependence upon grace for salvation and all things, the heavy Biblical concern for devotion and personal godliness (and what that looks like, etc), evangelism, what Biblical church and ministry look like – these kinds of things. Stake out the priorities, “this is what we are all about,” etc.
So, my suggestion is, during the first 6 months, the pastor approach the content of the Gospel as his message. This could be presented in a topical series about the foundation we have in the death and resurrection of Christ, biblical priorities, the nature of salvation the expectation of Church members, etc. The gospel should obviously saturate all our preaching, but during the first 6 months, as “Gospel” preachers, we should clearly make the Gospel the content of our preaching. As my wife’s former pastor said, “Stake out the priorities.” And as my pastor said, “Exalting Christ through the Gospel will establish the tone of your ministry from there forward.” These are both wise suggestions in my opinion.
So during the first 6 months, preach on the Gospel. That is really what the ministry is all about is it not? The Gospel of Jesus Christ? Then when you have had the opportunity to observe the congregation you can map out where you want to go from there in your preaching. That might mean going to the Gospel of Mark, the book of Ephesians, or the book of Genesis. It will depend on your congregation and the leading of the Spirit. But my call is to all you expositional preachers out there; do not pick your preaching randomly. Ask the following questions:
1) What are the needs of my congregation?
2) What is the Spirit communicating to me I should preach?
3) How will this book of the Bible fit in with the larger context of the progress of redemption?
4) How will this book of the Bible fit in with what I have previously preached and what I will preach after?
Unless you are John MacArthur and can preach through the entire New Testament in one church, you will need to think hard about what you will preach to your people. And please, pastors, stop neglecting the Old Testament! We do our people a disservice by neglecting 2/3 of our Bible! They need Leviticus just as much as they need Romans!
So, preach the Gospel, and think and pray carefully about the content of your preaching.
“We don’t need more Bible teaching. We’ve got so much Bible teaching that people cannot put it all into practice. We need help with application of that teaching.”
Have you ever heard this or a variant of this? I hear this kind of comment more and more in churches. And on the surface, it seems to make some sense. While some churches are down to one service on Sunday’s, many still have the typical big four: Sunday School, Sunday AM Service, Sunday PM Service, and Mid-week Prayer and Bible Study. Add to this a possible small group and you could have up to 4–5 teaching times from the Scriptures every week. This is a lot of Bible! Perhaps there is much to be said for those who claim that we have enough Bible teaching and what we need to do now is live it out.
I beg to differ.
Now, I am not a wise experienced church leader. I’m only 29. I have some theological education under my belt, I’ve preached and taught a lot, I read a lot, but I’m not in any way a mover and shaker in the Christian church today. But, I think I’ve been around long enough to notice a few things. Now I shouldn’t have to do this, but you all recognize I am not speaking to all people in every church but am broadly generalizing here.
1) People Know Nothing About the Bible
Now, this may sound harsh but if you have been in most churches or even on a number of Bible college campuses you would have to admit that many people can hardly articulate the basic fundamental core teachings of the Scripture let alone something more complex like issues of perseverance and falling away. People could not explain to you why they believe the Scriptures are without error, why Jesus had to die on the cross, how the Holy Spirit operates in the life of the believer, and any other thing you can think of.
This is sad! With all our Bible teaching we should be able to quickly name the major themes of every book of the Bible, trace the progress of redemption from Genesis to Revelation, and articulate the core teachings of our particular local church. Yet, for the most part, your average Christian could hardly do any of this. This failure to know anything about the Bible shows how people are blown away by every form of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and cannot discern truth from error as in The Shack phenomenon.
2) People Do Not Grasp the Connection between Knowledge and Obedience
Talk to most people in the pew and they will tell you that they need less head knowledge and a greater pursuit of God. At first, this seems to make sense and seems very spiritual. But at the base of it all, there is a failure to grasp a simple point: knowledge leads to obedience.
There is a process here. We know that the God of the universe revealed Him to us through the Scriptures. Apart from the Scriptures we have only a vague knowledge of God that is testified to us in nature. This is a non-saving knowledge, only a condemning knowledge. God gave us the Scriptures to teach us about Him and teach us about the way of life through Jesus Christ. Without knowledge of God we would have no love for God. Instead, our love for God grows in proportion to our knowledge of God. I remember my systematic theology professor in Seminary say, “you should love God more after a systematic theology exam than after you read some daily devotional ditty.” There is a lot of wisdom in this statement. As we know more of God, His character and his work, we grow in our love for Him. If we only knew God existed our love for Him would be rather blah. But when we know of the greatness and goodness of this God our love grows greater. As we learn and grow in our knowledge of Him, His word, and the Word, Jesus Christ, we grow in our love for Him. And out of love for God flows obedience to God. If we love God we will keep his commandments (1 John 5:3). Therefore, we need knowledge of God and His Word to move us to obedience.
3) People Focus on the Lowest Common Denominator
Most of us have met these people. They are “all about Jesus.” They reduce the complete teaching of the Scriptures down into some sort of quasi-evangelical spiritual belief that the only thing that is important is Jesus and that should unite us together. We can unite together in all denominations because we all believe in Jesus.
If you know anything of history this is the same argument used by theological liberalism. Theological liberals knew that any kind of systematic document like a confession or a doctrinal statement could be used to prevent them from having control in the churches (think the fundamentalist-modernist controversy). They knew that if they could throw off the shackles of a systematic belief in theology and the Word especially manifested in a doctrinal statement, they could participate with any evangelical. So the mantra of “no creed but the Bible” became key in many denominations who are now bombarded with theological liberalism. This mentality that it is all about Jesus is a misnomer. Even theological liberals believe that and they deny the core teachings of the Scriptures. While Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, there is more to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) than “just Jesus.”
So what do we do? Where is the culprit?
The culprit is in most preachers and teachers of God’s Word.
Wait a minute! They’re the ones who are actually trying to teach their people! Why is it their fault?
The haphazard way of teaching and preaching in most churches is to blame. The failure of pastors and teachers to teach through the whole counsel of God so people can get a grasp of both the big and little picture is lacking. There is no scope and sequence in how we do our teaching. We go from one message to the next without much thought. Even if we do preach expositionally though books of the Bible we fail to think about where we are going with it or where to go next. We preach our favourite book and go onto another favourite without thinking how they all go together in the larger redemption story. We fail to teach and preach on issues affecting our churches today. We are for the most part the problem. So what do we do?
We teach and preach with scope and sequence. I mean that there is a logical formula for teaching people the whole word of God and integrating it together as a whole. Do not get lost in details but make sure you focus on the forest as well, especially on the forest of the whole progress of redemption. Do not hesitate to teach through and talk about issues like the Trinity, penal substitutionary atonement, the sovereignty of God, and other issues. Deal with issues going on around us like abortion, same-sex marriage, the economy and such. The Scriptures all deal with these issues and more. Expositional teaching and preaching is the main foundation of fixing this lack of Biblical knowledge of the people in our pews but not without thought and consideration as to how it all fits together into the story of redemption. Make sure you not only look at details of the text but you bring it into that grand metanarrative of redemption. Sure, apply the text in your teaching and preaching. That’s a given. But what we don’t need is less teaching and more application. We need more and more thorough and thought-driven teaching and preaching so people have the wisdom and the discernment to learn how to apply the Scriptures themselves to their lives.
Where does the solution start? It starts with pastors and teachers faithfully teaching the whole counsel of God (both the OT and the NT), teaching through systematic theology (if it was important for you to learn to systematize the truth in seminary then it is important for your people to learn it too!), address issues of the day and show how the Scriptures apply to it, and pray for your people and yourself in the process.
We don’t need less Bible teaching. We need more of it in a better form. I’m going to start today with my own teaching and preaching and hope I will be a reverser of the lack of biblical knowledge not a contributor to it!
Everything Al Mohler writes you should read. Mohler is probably the clearest, most thoughtful, engaging voice in Evangelicalism today. A scholar who writes clearly and addresses issues affecting people in the pew, Mohler contributes to the discussion in any area in which he is writing. He is Not Silent is just the same. Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY has hit a home run in a modern call to expository preaching. In a day when preaching is failing on hard times, Mohler’s book is a necessary antidote! With the poor state of preaching in the evangelical world today and many readers saying, “another book on preaching?” one must look at the content of Mohler’s book in detail to show the contribution it makes to the issue of preaching today in a postmodern world.
The structure of Mohler’s book is helpful as it leads in a progressive and logical treatment of the issue of preaching. The preface of the book identifies the problems facing preaching today. Preaching is falling on hard times and Mohler identifies keep issues facing preaching and areas where preaching is suffering today. This sets the stage by identifying the need in churches and the rest of the book provides the cure: expository preaching. Mohler’s first chapter outlines preaching as the heart of worship. Mohler writes, “If we as pastors are truly serious about giving our people a true vision of God, showing them their own sinfulness, proclaiming to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and encouraging them to obedient service in response to that Gospel, they we will devote our lives to preaching the Word” (p. 38). All other issues aside, preaching is the hallmark and capstone of the evangelical worship service.
Mohler moves to address the ground of preaching next and rightly grounds preaching in the nature of the Triune God. God is a speaking God who has communicated to His people in propositional revelation. Preaching’s ground and power is from God’s revelation ultimately of His Son who through the cross saves men for God. The Holy Spirit finally is the one who is the internal minister of the Word of God who applies it to the hearers hearts. “The preacher is a commissioned agent whose task is to speak because God has spoken, because the preacher has been entrusted with the telling of the gospel of the Son who saves, and because God has promised the power of the Spirit as the seal and efficacy of the preacher’s calling” (p. 48).
In chapter 3 Mohler develops a theology of exposition. In this chapter he argues that the only form of authentic preaching is expository preaching. He looks at Deuteronomy 4 and the example of the preaching and hearing of the Word of God to effect change in the lives of people. God speaks, God’s people are those that hear God, and God’s people depend for their lives on hearing the Word. “We have the Bible, and if we truly believe that Bible to be the written Word of God-the perfect, divinely inspired revelation of God-then expositional preaching is the only option available to us” (pp. 63-64).
The next chapter deals with defining expository preaching and giving characteristics of it. He defines expository preaching as “that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible…. all other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text…. the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon…. the preacher must make clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God” (p. 66-67). This kind of preaching is characterized by authority, creates a sense of reverence among God’s people, and is at the center of Christian worship. “Worship is not something we do before we settle down for the Word of God; it is the act through which the people of God direct all their attentiveness to hearing the one true and living God speak to His people and receive their praises. God is most beautifully praised when His people hear His Word, love His Word, and obey His Word” (p. 75).
Chapter 5 delves into issues of the preacher’s authority and purpose. Mohler highlights the preachers authority as the Word of God and the preachers main responsibility. “The preacher’s authority lies not in profession, not in position, and not in personality. It lies in the Word of God alone” (p. 81). Colossians 1:28 reveals the preacher’s purpose in presenting every Christian mature in Christ. Thus, the preacher proclaims Christ, warns people, and teaches people, with the purpose of bringing them into maturity in Christ Jesus. “How are Christians going to grow? How are they going to be matured? How is the process of Holy Spirit-directed sanctification going to be seen in them? All by the preaching of the Word” (p. 86).
Chapter 6 deals most decisively with the issues facing postmodernism and that is “big story” preaching. Postmodernism rejects the idea of a “metanarrative” or a “big story.” Christianity, Mohler argues, is the big story that explains all other stories. “As Christians, we actually claim that we are possessed by the one story to which all other stories are accountable” (p. 92). Jesus’ explanation on the road to Emmaus to the two disciples about how all the Scriptures point to Christ is the foundation of our Christian metanarrative. Mohler argues that the beginning of the Christian metanarrative is creation, followed by fall, followed by redemption, and concluded with consummation. This is to be the content of our preaching. “Many of our people are dying of spiritual starvation because they do not know the Bible’s whole story, and thus do not find themselves in the story. True, they know many little stories. They have bag of facts. But a little bit of knowledge is not a big picture. As we preach, we need to bring every text into accountability with the big story of Scripture” (p. 102).
Chapter 7 is worth the price of the book. Every pastor is called to be a theologian. “In far too many cases, the pastor’s ministry has been evacuated of serious doctrinal content, and many pastors seem to have little connection to any sense of theological vocation” (p. 106). Mohler then goes on to highlight the theological nature of the pastor’s ministry and calling, and his concentration. Mohler discusses his “theological triage” in helping to identify what is the most important theologically over things that are of less importance. Preaching is theological in nature and therefore the pastor’s conviction needs to be theologically driven. “All Christian preaching is experiential preaching, set before the congregation by a man who is possessed by deep theological passion, specific theological conviction, and an eagerness to see these convictions shared by his congregation” (p. 113).
In chapter 8 Mohler returns specifically to the postmodern culture and addresses preaching to this culture. He discusses the deconstruction of truth, the death of the metanarrative, the demise of the text, the dominion of therapy, the decline of authority, and the displacement of morality. Looking at how Paul responded in Acts 17:16-34 to the minds of Athens, Mohler argues for an approach to dealing with our people today. This is an excellent section and must be read personally to see how it applies to today. “What is needed is a generation of bold and courageous preacher-apologists for the twenty-first century-men who will be witnesses to the whole world of the power of the gospel and who will proclaim the whole counsel of God” (p. 131).
Chapter 9 deals with the urgency of preaching. We must preach with urgency because sinners need to be saved, because the gospel saves, because people will not believe unless we preach. This thus makes for the preacher of the gospel to be one of great privilege. “This is not an option for us or for the church. It is our commission” (p. 144).
Chapter 10 is an encouragement for preachers. Preaching often seems ineffectual and it seems like the pastor’s task is in vain. But instead of giving up, we need to continue to pursue the preaching task as if dying men speaking to dying men. Using Ezekiel 37 and the dry bones, Mohler offers an encouragement in preaching. It is not the preacher who brings about change, but God who does. God calls Ezekiel to prophecy to the dead, and God uses the message of Ezekiel to bring new life. This is how it is encouraging to the preacher. God uses us to effect change. But it is God who brings change! “No doubt, the challenges are great, and the frustrations are sometimes even greater. But we do not preach because we thought it would be easy. We preach because our hearts are broken by the spiritual death and destruction all around us-and because we see the spark of hope in the question of our sovereign, life-giving God put to Ezekiel and now puts to us: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (p. 158).
Finally, Mohler uses the life of C. H. Spurgeon as an example of a passionate pastor-theologian boldly being used by God as an expositional preacher of the Scriptures. “In our era, distanced by more than a century from Charles Spurgeon, we would do well to remember this great man and the impact of his ministry. Beyond this, we should be reminded of the centrality of biblical confidence and theological conviction to the preaching task” (p. 169).
This book is not a “how-to” book for preaching or sermon construction. There are already a million of those out there. This book though serves as the biblical and theological foundation for preaching and should be the beginning of the study of preaching. Before we ever start diagramming a passage of Scripture or deriving a “big idea” for a sermon, we should seek to understand the biblical and theological foundation for expository preaching. This is what Mohler does for us so clearly and so ably. He studies the Scriptures and the culture around us and shows us that in this day we need more clear expository preaching of the Word of God, not less. We need men to know the Word and proclaim it and teach it faithfully. Mohler’s book will rekindle the fire in your heart as a preacher of the Word of God or may just motivate you to pick up that most noble calling and serve Christ as a preacher of the Word of God! Everyone, pastor and non-pastor alike, should read this book and be challenged and encouraged.
Part of my role here at Slavic Gospel Association is to help spread the exciting news of what God is doing in the Commonwealth of Independent States. On that note, I am available to speak at churches in Ontario to that end. I can come and speak in an adult Sunday School class, a morning or evening worship service, or even a mid-week prayer service. Different services will have a different focus, but every message I bring ties in the Word of God with what is happenning here at SGA.
On an adult Sunday School class I would do something like “How God Used the Communists.” Sunday morning worship would be a regular exposition of the Word of God with a focus on church planting, missions, or other such biblical concepts. Evening worship services would have a more “nuts and bolts” focus on SGA and what we do. Mid-week prayer services would be a combined time of focus around the Word and about SGA and its ministry.
I am booking currently for the fall. If you are interested in having me come to your church please contact me. I would love to come, minister the Word, and share the exciting message of God’s dealings with the Slavic people in the former Soviet Union. May all of our global perspectives be enlarged!
Preaching today is anemic at best and thoroughly unbiblical at worst! There is a solution! Learn from the past about what makes great preaching! Mariano Di Gangi has helped us by looking at the Puritans on preaching. Di Gangi, author of the new book Great Themes in Puritan Preaching from Joshua Press, is well known in Evangelicalism today having served in a number of well-known churches and taught in a number of schools. He received his M.Div. from Westminster and a D.D. from Gordon Conwell. He was written a previous book on the Puritans titled, A Golden Treasury or Puritan Devotion (P&R, 1999). With recommendations by Derek W. H. Thomas, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, and Joel R. Beeke and a forward by Michael A. G. Haykin, this book is surely to become a big hit! On a side note, Joshua Press will be distributing 6000 copies of this book to the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference attendees!
The table of contents reads as follows:
The infallible Word
No upstart sect
The Messiah revealed
Guilt and grace
The second birth
Justified and sanctified
Bread and wine
Renewal and reform
Most blessed assurance
Advent to judgment
Below is the introduction of the book reproduced in whole to whet your appetite and encourage you to go out and buy this book (reprinted by permission of Joshua Press)! It is available from Sola Scriptura Ministries International. It is available in paper back or hard cover. Check out the website for Joshua Press for their other titles.
Puritans have been caricatured by their critics as advocates of “the narrowest and most inquisitive clerical intoleranc, a gloomy Calvinism in doctrine, Sabbatarianism in practice, and a degrading mental slavery to the mere letter of the Bible.” “Where once one might be accustomed to see an altar, leading his thoughts straightway to Jesus and to ‘the Lamb in the midst of the elders as it had been slain,’ he sees a cushioned pulpit… The noble liturgies of the early church have given way to the extempore effusions of an individual. The place of worship seems to have become a preaching house… Catholicity appears to have yielded to a bald French Calvinism, capable of imagining nothing but a sermon.” The Puritans were suspected of having “one eager all-absorbing passion–to Calvinize the Church of England and assimilate its polity and ritual–in all respects–to those of Scotland and Geneva.”
Undoubtedly, there may have been Dissenters whose extremist excesses produced intolerance rather than renewal in the turbulent decades that followed the Reformation. The fact remains, however, that “Puritanism aimed at a radical purification and reconstruction of church and state on the sole basis of the Word of God, without regard to the traditions of men… Radical in its antagonism to the medieval church, it was a revolution and it ran into the excesses of a revolution.
The Puritans were people of austere morals, reformed in doctrine, and nonconformists in practice when confronted with the imposition of ceremonies and customs not commanded in the Scriptures. Puritan preachers did not major in minors. They would not trivialize the tremendous truths that had the power to change lives. Building on the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Christology of Chalcedon, they strongly opposed Pelagianism, Arminianism, and the Socinianism that eventually spawned Unitarianism. They also differed from the Antinomians who depreciated the authority o God’s moral law. Now would they compromise with the Semi-Pelagians who diluted the gospel of sovereign grace with doses of human merit.
Puritan theology expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-1648) and the Savoy Declaration (1658), was also in harmony with the Scot’s Confession (1563), the Belgic Confession (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) of the Reformation era. The Puritan movement was distinguished by a serious study of the Scriptures and the practical application of biblical doctrines. Accurate exegesis prepared the way for lively exposition and relevant conclusions. Puritan preachers “emphasized the importance of words in the text of Scripture… This wise and insightful use of words gave Puritan preaching an exactness and attractiveness that many other English pulpiteers lacked.”
The Puritans were noted not only for viewing the text in its context, and so avoiding a pretext, but also for comparing and contrasting biblical passages in such a way that Scripture was used to interpret Scripture. They knew how to distinguish between history and allegory and looked for Christ in texts that were typological. Above all, they believed that God’s eternal Word was timely and trustworthy. It spoke to the ethical, social, and doctrinal issues faced by God’s people in every generation. When the inspired Scripture is illumined by the Holy Spirit, it has an undoubted perspicuity.
It has been noted that “two emphases followed by the Puritans explain at least a part of their effectiveness… First, they educated the mind… They recognized that heat in the pulpit without light from the Scripture would not change people. Second, they appealed to an individuals relationship to God at each present moment. As they explained the Scriptures, they expected the Holy Spirit to honour their work by leading the hearers to judge themselves, and by producing response to the preaching.”
Puritanism developed as part of the Protestant Reformation in England. According to one writer, “Nonconformity was conceived during the days of King Edward, born in the reign of Queen Mary, nursed and weaned in the reign of Elizabeth, grew up a youth under King James, and shot up under Charles I to conquer the hierarchy–its adversary.”
Many of the Puritan pastors and leaders were prepared for the gospel ministry by their studies at Oxford or Cambridge. They preached the incarnate Word from the written Word with prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit and a clear sense of purpose: that God would be glorified as people repented and believed the gospel, and then obeyed Christ in the fellowship of his church and in their daily work in the world. In all this, they were continuing the ministry of the Reformers and the Lord’s apostles before them.
At that first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, when the Holy Spirit came with power upon those praying disciples, Peter did not dwell on his experience of glossolalia but proclaimed the Lord Jesus–his humiliation and his exaltation. Peter summoned people to repentance and offered them the forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ, as well as the gift of the Spirit. Paul was also devoted to preaching Christ, particularly Christ crucified, the Saviour who paid the penalty of our sins and opened the way for us to have peace with God.
Preaching is not universally held in high esteem these days. It is often depreciated, especially by those who lack the discipline and passion to do it well. A pastor’s day can be so involved in matters of secondary and even tertiary importance that the priority of preaching the Word is crowded out. Administration, visitation, counselling, and community relations have their place, but they should never rob the communication of the Word from its place of primacy. When this happens, the consequences may be catastrophic. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11, NIV).
Let all who are called to feed God’s flock renew their commitment to preach the Word in season and out of season, correcting, rebuking, and encouraging, with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:2).
The Puritans provide us with a model of faithful biblical preaching. There are those who compare the multiple headings and abounding subdivisions of a typical Puritan sermon to the bones Ezekiel beheld in the valley of his vision: they were many, all were dry, and definitely quite dead. Undoubtedly, some of their homilies would have benefited from sensitive editing. But such criticisms say more about the shortness of the average listener’s attention span today than they do about a Puritan pastor’s supposed prolixity.
True, they produced sermons replete with introductions, expositions, clarifications, objections, exhortations, dehortations, illustrations, applications, doctrines, duties, invitations, promises, warnings and consolations. Yet we can derive lasting benefit from focusing on the insights of these biblical preachers. In studying their sermons, writings, and lectures, we will be enriched as their homiletical heritage prompts us to persevere in the reading and teaching of the inspired Scriptures.