If only we could rid our preaching of these habits - spot on Michael.
Archive for the 'Preaching' Category
You can now get hold of two lectures that Tim Keller gave recently at Oak Hill on the subject of ‘Preaching to the Heart’. (HT – Reformissionary)
When Josh Harris posted Tim Keller’s preaching notes a few days ago he also included an introduction to Keller’s preaching by Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. I thought these two paragraphs were especially insightful:
“To be a great preacher, one needs to be tri-perspectival in their exegesis. That is, they need to be committed to the exegesis of the Bible, the exegesis of our culture, and the exegesis of the human heart. Some preachers claim that if you exegete the Bible properly, you don’t need to bother yourself with the exegesis of our culture or the human heart. The problem with this view, however, is that the Bible itself exhorts us to apply Biblical norms to both our lives and to our world.
As a preacher myself, I benefit greatly from listening to a wide variety of preachers. In some cases I learn what to do, and in other cases I learn what not to do. But in every case, I learn something. Some preachers teach me how to be a better exegete of the Bible. Others teach me how to be a better exegete of our culture. And still others teach me how to be a better exegete of the human heart. But no preacher has consistently taught me how to do all three in the context of every sermon more so than Tim Keller. His balanced attention to all three forms of exegesis makes him very unique, in my opinion.”
Read the rest here.
Tim Keller must have been Jason Bourne in a previous life or something because his preaching notes read like an encoded top secret message. Take a look at them for yourself. With a manuscript like that its no wonder that there’s no one who preaches quite like he does. Keller’s teaching and thinking has influenced me a stack load in recent years – but by the looks of this the one place he won’t be influencing me is on how to write out my sermon notes.
(HT – JT)
Michael Jensen has an interesting question about the use of the terms ‘Bible teaching’ and ‘preaching’ and whether or not we might have done the body a disservice by making them synonymous.
Tim Chester has begun posting a dialogue that he has had with an enquirer regarding the role of the sermon in church life. Its something I need to think more about from a theological point of view. In some ways its a bit scary to think about just in case I discover that it puts me out of a job!
“The biggest mistake that churches make is we think that sermons will produce spiritual maturity. If people don’t take notes, they forget 95% of what they hear within 72 hours. That is not going to produce spiritual maturity.” – Rick Warren
I think this statement is both helpful and unhelpful. It stresses the need for bible learning beyond the pulpit but it also neglects the power of the Holy Spirit to use the pulpit, as he has done through history, to bring about transformation.
Everyone is enjoying the end of their summer holidays before returning to work, but me. I’m sitting indoors writing a sermon for tomorrow night…aaaarrrgggghhhh! Here’s a little poem that keeps me going:
The sun is shining the weather is great
Lord help me concentrate
Here’s a question for all the preachers out there (and anyone who cares to respond). On Sunday I’m preaching at my friend’s church. Its a church that I attend when I’m in Durban on break and its the church that I’ll most likely be working with at the beginning of 2009. But at the moment its not my home church. I don’t move and live amongst the members of the congregation. Although there are similarities between this church and my current home church in Cape Town there are also big differences.
So here’s the question: How do you prepare your application for a congregation you know little about? How does it differ from when you’re preaching to your regular congregation? Or does your preparation differ at all? For the last three years the vast majority of my preaching has been as a guest – in fact in the last five years (as long as I’ve been preaching to adult congregations) the majority of my preaching has been as a visiting preacher – so I have some of my own thinking on the subject but I’d love to hear from those of you who have a more permanent pulpit than I do at present.
I’ve had a very relaxing weekend, Arsenal won and Man Utd lost so all is good in the world of football (and that’s not that weird sport that you Americans play where the ball barely ever touches your foot). Amongst the lazy happenings of this weekend there were a few links that caught my eye:
John Piper responds to what I thought were some silly comments by Ben Witherington.
Tim Chester is telling stories for a non-book culture.
Spirituality is being discussed at Emergent Africa. The definitions of spirituality being tossed around seem somewhat undefined to me, don’t you think?
Perspective from a different angle: An atheist shares about how his atheism has given him new found respect for nature. I found this fascinating yet I was also deeply saddened by it as I thought about the numerous Psalms penned about the glory of God revealed in nature.
Here’s Simon Manchester’s final error – ‘Teaching beats learning’:
A final danger I would mention is the teaching-beats-learning syndrome. This is the style – often picked up by the pew more than the pulpit – that the message has had no effect on the communicator. When the word of God is passed from an unaffected preacher to some unaffected listeners, the result is unworthy of God and discouraging to people. We must cry to God to search us because if the word of God that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16) does none of these things, who has the problem? There is an arrogance in some preaching that imagines that the preacher is ‘up there’ with the word of God, not ‘down there’ with the humble listener. To preach cold food every week (and not warm transforming food) is proof that something is wrong. May God help us.
I suppose this is the whole thing of preaching FOR change. It means hardcore personal wrestling with the text. In an allegorical sense, it means wrestling with the text until God blesses you through it (ala Jacob) and moves your heart by it so that others might be moved to change when you open it to them. I must admit that I have failed many times to wrestle sufficiently.
Manchester closes this section with the following words:
I write as someone on the road to a faithful sermon. I see some dangers and I see some answers. I have no lofty position on this, just a desire to escape from preaching errors and troubles, for the sake of changed lives and God’s honour.
Simon Manchester’s third error – ‘System beats Text’:
Even more common than this manner-over-matter preaching is the system-beats-text preaching. This is the widespread danger of dragging every text through the grid of one doctrine that ignores the point of the original passage. For example, one overseas preacher seems to put every passage through the ‘justification by faith’ grid. He is clever and insightful and searching – you’re on the psychiatrist’s couch in no time! – but there is this sa/bad taste left in your mouth that the biblical book was in the service of an idea. ‘Bible-combing’ preaching also has its systematic strengths but often seems to neglect each biblical writer’s specific point in favour of the biblical overview. For example, if Jesus is teaching on people in prison (Matt 25:31-46), it is dangerous to start collecting ‘prison’ references and miss the point in the passage that Jesus will one day announce those who took his ‘brothers’ seriously. Much better to stay with the text in hand until the main point is clear.
My own view, for its worth, is that this is the single biggest problem in preaching in our ‘Reformed’ camp. I’ve often heard of it referred to as ‘the dreaded sack of knowledge’. The need to systematize everything just hinders us from seeing the point of each individual text. If God wanted us to have a systematics text book he would have given us one – but he didn’t, he gave us a story. We might find that certain doctrines would be better nuanced if we tried to avoid this trap even when we’re doing systematic theology. We need to preach the text, not our systems.
Simon Manchester’s second error – ‘Craft beats meaning’:
Another (similar) idea around today is that craft beats meaning. No-one would put it this foolishly, but there is more attention paid (in this error) to the presentation than to the meaning. What is the long-term benefit of a passage used devotionally (without proper biblical theology) if its packaging is better than its truth? What is the point of abusing a text to sell a clever idea? Some sermons are so formulaic in their presentation, only a discerning person realizes that its all ‘form over facts’ – and that’s the sad problem! Sermon craft is a great servant in preaching; it helps the communicator and the listeners. But its a bad master when it pretends that there is an only way to do things (clever story to begin, three points and a bombshell to finish). The Bible is bigger than our craftiness.
I think its often easier to follow a set form in preaching than to let the rich diversity of the text inform how you craft different sermon forms. But we’re lazy – well I’m lazy – and so often the ‘clever story, three points and a bombshell to finish’ just gets perpetuated because of that. One of the things I’ve done to try and combat this in my own preaching is to listen to a lot of preaching from a lot of different preachers and then have a sort of eclectic approach to form that doesn’t stifle the text but rather, as Manchester says, is a servant to the text. So I regularly try to listen to Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Don Carson, Phillip Jensen, John Woodhouse, John Chapman, Simon Manchester, Dick Lucas, Vaughan Roberts, Richard Coekin, Justin Mote, John Stott, plus some of our own preachers here in South Africa. Its one way to avoid getting stuck in formulaic preaching that stifles the text.
First off – this has nothing to do with the errors of a certain football team of which I refuse to speak of on this blog!
Simon Manchester of St Thomas church in North Sydney writes the Pastor’s Brief in the November issue of the Briefing. His article is entitled, ‘Preaching with Biblical Confidence‘ and in it, amongst other things, he lists four common errors in modern preaching which I thought would be good to reflect on and make some comments. Error #1 – ‘Clever beats substance’:
There is a strange idea around at the moment that clever beats substance. Put more crudely, this view seems to think that the Bible is pretty dull and hard to sell, but with some marketing, we can sneak it past people’s guard. This loss of proper confidence in the Bible confuses the power of the clever gimmick with the substance of the powerful Word. But once a preacher has grasped the way God works (by his word) and the impact of his message (in the Word), it lights up everything he says, and people learn quickly who to trust. 20 minutes of straw followed by five minutes of wheat at the end is a strange way to feed your listeners. Somewhere the preacher has to think (and say), “Here is the book that will explain your life and the God behind everything. Now listen!” It’s embarrassing to treat Scripture as weak or dull.
I’ve listened to a few MP3 talks by Simon Manchester and he is very far from dull and boring – he packages the central thought of the text really well and so I’m pretty sure he’s not going against packaging your sermons well and being ‘clever’ in that way. I think he’s more concerned about packaging the text out of a sermon.
I was wondering how I might be guilty of this in my own preaching and I thought about the way that I like to discuss epistemology in my preaching. For me epistemology is one of the key issues evangelical Christians face today and so invariably I’ll have something to say about it in one of my sermons. The danger is that I often feel that if I don’t make a convincing enough argument about Christian epistemology then the sermon will lose its power. This article reminded me that the power is not in how well I craft my epistemological arguments (as important as they are) but rather in the text and the faithful presentation thereof.
My eye just caught this peculiar little statistic while I was glancing at the October edition of Christianity Today earlier today: Apparently 12% of people questioned in America admitted to checking their emails on their mobiles during church services.
In our rural churches here in South Africa people go to sleep when the sermon is boring – in the States they check their emails.
(Following on from my last church planting post – this a list of reasons as to why I’m absolutely terrified about getting into church planting…)
I’m terrified that my work ethic is pathetic and that church planting requires people who work to the max.
I’m terrified that my life will on be on display to an entire body of Christians – I don’t want to let them down.
I’m terrified of the responsibility of having to teach the Bible with the deepest integrity every single week.
I’m terrified of displaying authentic orthopraxy.
I’m terrified of loving people, especially those who tick me off.
I’m terrified of all the massive social concerns our country faces.
I’m terrified of working with other Christians who don’t agree with me.
I’m terrified of trying to balance out a humble orthodoxy.
I’m terrified of the possible limits to which my body, mind and emotions will be stretched.
I’m terrified of building my own empire.
Steve McCoy has a great little outline of how he goes about studying the bible and preparing it into a sermon each week – he has some great advice.
If only all pastors put this sort of effort into their preaching.
He looks at verse 24 within the context of vs 24-29 which is really helpful and clear. It is worth a listen.
Thanks for the reference Thad.
This a constant refrain that comes out of my hermeneutics lecturer’s mouth. In hermeneutics class when asked a question and you’re unsure of the answer then simply answer with the word, ‘context’ and there’s a fairly good chance you’ll get it right. In terms of determining the meaning of a text context is king and without it you can pretty much make the Bible say what you want. Now this should be quite straight forward – nothing new. What I was thinking of the other day is how many different types of contexts you have to take into account to derive meaning and then make that meaning understandable. As I see it you have the following contexts to deal with:
Redemptive Historical Context: The Bible is a story of God’s work in the world, it is a story of progressive revelation and therefore it means that texts at certain points of the story, if not connected to the broader story, will become nothing more than proof-texts. My short experience in evangelicalism tells me that this is the most neglected context. We have to locate our texts in the bible storyline before drawing conclusions.
Historical Context: Our text has to be located within the history in which it is set. The Bible is a book written by people living in particular historical settings and we have to take that into account and not assume that the people we’re reading about all had Ipods, Macs and watched ‘Prison Break’ every night on television. This context is a bit tricky in that our knowledge of this context is based on disciplines that fluctuate. I experienced this at university in the Classical Civilizations department where there is a large amount of varying opinion as to exactly what historical conditions were like in certain eras – and opinions constantly change as new findings come to the fore. So whilst this context is helpful and necessary, it needs to be treated with humility and I would be wary of the person who puts too much stock into the historical context in order to derive meaning.
Literary Context: The Bible is literature, we have poetry, history, parable, discourse, apocalyptic etc. etc. We need to be genre sensitive and then we need to learn the rules of those various genres and be able to work with them to derive meaning. The Bible is not a systematics textbook where the meaning is just set down for you in neatly packaged propositional statements.
Those three are the standard contexts that you’ll learn about in a hermeneutics class. There are two others that I want to add:
Historical Theological Context: Texts have a history of interpretation, to ignore that history and the gifted people that God has given to the church through the ages is foolishness. We don’t do hermeneutics as islands, isolated from the rest of the church and so this context needs to be recognized.
Personal Context: I didn’t know what else to call this, but we all come to the text with our own baggage and so a helpful question to ask is, ‘why am I reading the text in this way – what from my own context causes me to see the text in this way’. This is a difficult process as you wade through your socialization, enculturation and present context to try and achieve an as objective as possible reading of the text.
From here you would start to talk about conveying the meaning to specific contexts – but that’s a whole new blog post.
On Thursday last week we we’re given the opportunity at college to sit and listen to two lectures by Bishop Frank Retief who is the current presiding bishop of my denomination, the Church of England in South Africa (CESA). Bishop Frank took the two periods to simply encourage us to do evangelism. It was great to sit and listen at the feet of the man who was once called ‘The Billy Graham of South Africa’ in a newspaper article. It reminded me about the absolute importance and centrality of active Gospel proclamation.
In conversations about missional church and the emerging church it has become apparent to me that often Gospel proclamation is given a rather low position in the general day to day activities of this new kind of Christian. Its often unfairly caricatured as simply providing fire insurance against a wrath-filled God or the advertising of an escape ticket (admit one person). This is a worrying trend. If certain voices in the EC are going to adopt this line they may be in danger of losing the central thrust of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can love and bless our communities until we’re blue in the face but we would have done those same communities a HUGE disservice if we haven’t told them that God is a holy God who judges sin, and that only in Christ can they be forgiven of their sin and shielded from the wrath of God so they might have relationship with him.
My prayer is that Gospel proclamation will never become a lost art amongst those who choose to align themselves with Jesus Christ.