Thursday, April 27, 2006

Benjamin Keach on Preaching

Here is another quote sent to me from my brother, Scott. This comes from Tom Nettles’ book The Baptists. Keach (1640-1704) was a leading Baptist pastor even suffering fines and imprisonment for his beliefs. Nettles is commenting on what Keach said and would say today concerning preaching. The quote begins with Nettles words and then moves to a quote from Keach himself.

"He would likely comment on our preaching. As he did in his own day, he would criticize much as unworthy of the majesty of its purpose. 'There is too little of it,' he might say, 'because you seem to have no confidence in its glory.... I am sure the devil has no greater delight than to know that preachers consort with his purpose of elevating the world above the Word. As long as anything appears more agreeable and palatable than the feast of grace set forth in Scripture, you forfeit the ordained means of grace and threaten to fill the church with mere professors and not true Christians.'" (189)
This is relevant to the previous post. That kind of advertising is not usually linked with this sort of preaching. If we present the Bible simply as a self help manual we have missed it. Does the Bible speak to the issue of our families? Certainly! But not simply in dosing out some tips on living. The Bible speaks to families in an inherently theological, Christological way and we mishandle the Bible if we fail to connect with this theological basis- and the Bible's directives on family and life in general will not make sense without the overall theological framework.

Bad Advertising

Yesterday afternoon I received in the mail this glossy card from a local church advertising their upcoming services. It was professionally done and very slick- but very sad.

The picture above shows the front cover of the card with its obvious allusion to the “Desperate Housewives” show. The reverse side advertised the church’s upcoming sermon series entitled “Desperate Households,” which will run the next four weeks. The first sermon is titled, “Wife Swap”! Of course the sermon will not encourage the practice of wife-swapping. The point is to use this language for its shock value. The sermon on Mothers’ Day is entitled, “Desperate Housewives”!

This is really sad. I can see an unbelieving detractor of the church saying, “What a pitiful lot Christians are since their message is so weak that they must pimp and prostitute it so in order to gain a hearing.”

The draw for the church is not slick advertising and shameless accommodation to culture, but the power of the preached word and the credibility of the lives of her members.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Brothers We Are Not Professionals

In my Pastoral Ministry class we just discussed John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry . This is a very useful book, and I recommend it highly. I previously wrote a brief review for The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology which can be viewed here. In this post though, I want to point out specifically the essay, “Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker.” By special permission of the publisher, you can find this essay in its entirety on the website of Union University’s Ryan Center for Biblical Studies. Here is the link to the essay.

This is one of the best statements I have read on the value of biblical languages for the pastorate. In more recent years we have relegated the biblical languages to something useful only for professors. Such was not always the opinion. Note these quotes from the essay, often Piper quoting great leaders of the past.

“Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?” (85)

“And why do seminaries not offer incentives and degrees to help pastors maintain the most important pastoral skill – exegesis of the original meaning of Scripture?” (85)

“I know studies much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew . . . [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees. . . . I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary.” (86 – quoting George Mueller)

“Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements and prayer over my Greek Testament, and Bishop Hall’s most excellent Contemplations, every hour that my health would permit.” (86 – quoting George Whitfield)

“Luther said, ‘If the languages had not made me positive as to the true meaning of the word, I might have still remained a chained monk, engaged in quietly preaching Romish errors in the obscurity of a cloister; the pope, the sophists, and their anti-Christian empire would have remained unshaken.” (86)

“The original Scriptures well deserve your pains, and will richly repay them.” (87 – quoting John Newton)

“You must not think that I have attained, or ever aimed at, a critical skill in any of these: . . . In the Hebrew, I can read the Historical Books and Psalms with tolerable ease; but, in the Prophetical and difficult parts, I am frequently obliged to have recourse to lexicons, etc. However, I know so much as to be able, with such helps as are at hand, to judge for myself the meaning of any passage I have occasion to consult.” (88 – quoting John Newton)
Read, be challenged, and labor to be found faithful.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Review of Feed My Sheep

Since I am still not in full mode, I thought I’d link to a review I wrote a year ago of Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching , edited by Don Kistler. I found this to be a helpful, challenging, encouraging and convicting book.

The essays in the book are as follows:

Albert Mohler, “The Primacy of Preaching”
James Boice, “The Foolishness of Preaching”
Derek Thomas, “Expository Preaching”
Joel Beeke, “Experiential Preaching”
R. C. Sproul, “The Teaching Preacher”
John Armstrong, “Preaching to the Mind”
Sinclair Ferguson, “Preaching to the Heart”
Don Kistler, “Preaching with Authority”
Eric Alexander, “Evangelistic Preaching”
John Piper, “Preaching to Suffering People”
John MacArthur, “A Reminder to Shepherds”
The review primarily provides exemplary quotes from key themes addressed in the essays.

Friday, April 21, 2006

McCheyne on Sermon Preparation

As we prepare for Sunday, here are a few more quotes on the subject of preparing well for preaching. These come from The Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne, by Andrew Bonar.

‘anxious to give them on the Sabbath what had cost him somewhat, he never, without an urgent reason, went before them without much previous meditation and

‘in truth, he never preached without careful attention bestowed on his subject . . . He spoke from the pulpit as one earnestly occupied with the souls before him. He made them feel sympathy with what he spoke, for his own eye and heart were on them’.

‘And in the same spirit he carefully avoided the too common mode of accomodating texts,- fastening a doctrine on the words, not drawing it from the obvious connection of the passage. He endeavoured at all times to preach the mind of the Spirit in a passage; for he feared that to do otherwise would be to grieve the Spirit who had written it. Interpretation was thus a solemn matter to him’

‘His manner was first to ascertain the primary sense and application, and so proceed to handle it for present use’.

‘His exhortations flowed from his doctrine, and thus had both variety and power. He was systematic in this; for he observed: “Appeals to the careless, etc., come with
power on the back of some massy truth’ (He suggests this was Paul’s method as
well citing Acts 13:40 and Heb 2:1).

May his tribe increase!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Packer on the Necessity of Christian Fellowship

Here is a good quote from J. I. Packer on the absolute necessity of real fellowship among believers. This is supposed to be central to the church- not something we have to go find apart from our local church.
“We should not . . . think of fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an option addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment.”
-J.I. Packer, God’s Words: Studies of Key Bible Themes (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 193. Cited in Ryken, Philip Graham, The Communion of Saints (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 124.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Francis Wayland on Sermon Preparation

Here is a quote from a key Baptist preacher form the past, Francis Wayland. It speaks directly to the previous discussions on doing your own work in sermon preparation. Thanks to my brother, Scott, for passing on the quote.
"A strong temptation frequently assails a man, when preparing a sermon, to look around for helps. He can easily find a book of skeletons made to his hand, and it seems to him very convenient to make use of it. Let me urge every brother, as
he values his self-respect, his honesty, his ministerial usefulness, as he values his own soul and the souls of others, to resist this temptation at the outset. If he have any of these crutches, let him commit them at once to the flames, or he will never learn to walk. The habit is absolutely fatal."
Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, as cited in Bush and Nettles, Baptists and the Bible.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Baby Before Blogging :)

Blogging will be suspended a few days due to the arrival of our fifth child- but first girl!- this morning at 8:54. Abigail Calene was 8 pounds 11 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. Mom and baby are doing well, and big brothers are very proud. Coming as she did on Easter Sunday – as mom had long predicted- she is our little reminder of new life.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

John Angell James on a Learned Ministry

Here is one more post from James’ An Earnest Ministry. One other strength of the book is his treatment of the place of learning in the pastorate. After reading just a few pages one can tell that James himself was a learned man, just with the words he uses and the way he uses them. It is not uppity but powerful.

James has no place for anti-intellectualism. He repeatedly holds up the value of learning.

“God forbid we should ever be afflicted by so great an evil as an unlearned one[ministry]” (27).

“All other things being equal, he is likely to be the most useful preacher, who is the most learned one.” (50)

“A minister . . . can never have too much knowledge.” (50)
Then, one of my favorite quotes is one that James borrows from a Dr. Wiseman:
If God hath no need of our learning, he can have still less of your ignorance.” (51)

Well put! However, if James has no place for anti-intellectualism, neither does he have any place for mere intellectualism- the idea that learning is an end in itself.

“Learning as an ultimate object and for its own sake, is infinitely below the ambition of a holy and devoted servant of Christ; but learning employed to invigorate the intellect, to enrich the imagination, to cultivate the taste, to give power to thought, and variety to illustration; to add to the skill and energy with which we wield the weapons of our warfare, is in some cases indispensable, and in all invaluable.” (55)

Learning is a tool which we should make use of as much as possible in order to be all the more useful in the proclamation of the gospel. Next, I give here a long quote, knowing that many will not choose to read it. However, I include it because it states so well the danger of the errors on both side (anti-intellectualism & mere intellectualism) and calls for the right path.

“We trust that among the rising ministry no one will allow himself to be tempted to the task for the mere reputation of learning. The real value of learning, in the estimate of a faithful servant of Christ, lies solely in the use that can be made of it. He who employs time and toil in rendering himself a learned man, which employed otherwise, would more effectually render him a useful man, is unfaithful to his Master. There are few things more important than the right appreciation of learning. There are some who spend their whole lives in acquiring it, in amassing hoard upon hoard; as it were the object of life to try how much may be got in a given time; not how much good may be done with it, or to what uses it may be turned as it is acquired. It is get, get, get; all getting and no giving. This is of a piece with the mania by which some are possessed in the mercantile world, the mania of money-making: with whom life’s problem is, how they may die rich, how much they can be worth in the world, before the moment comes when they must leave it. There is one material difference between the two cases; and, strange to say it is in favour of the rich rather than of the learned man. The rich man leaves his amassed treasures behind him; so that, although to himself they have been of little use while he lived, and now are of none, thy are not lost; others may use them, and use them well. But he, who has been acquiring learning all his days without expending it in its appropriate uses, leaves nothing behind him. He carries all with him. There is no bank for deposits of learning, as there is for lodging silver and gold. So far as his fellow-men are concerned, therefore, the money-hoarding miser does most good. And should it be thought an advantage on the side of the miser in learning, that he carries his mental stores away with him, as being treasures that belong to the immortal mind, there are two serious deductions to be made from this advantage: the first that the large proportion of what he had acquired, is of a nature to be of little use to him, in all likelihood, in the world to which he is going; and the second, that in common with the man of wealth, he carries with him to that world, the guild, (unthought of by him here, it may be, but noted in his account with his Divine Master,) of not having laid out his acquisitions for the good he might have accomplished by them, where and when alone they could be available. Let it not be forgotten that mere learning is not wisdom; that wisdom is learning or knowledge in union with the disposition and ability to make a right use of it. Neither let it be forgotten that there is an opposite extreme to that which has just been described. If there are some who are ever getting and never giving, there are some too who would fain be ever giving while they are never getting. They are fond of preaching, but not of reading and study. Such young ministers may be well-meaning; but they are under the influence of a miserable mistake. Itinerants they may be, and useful ones: but efficient pastors they can never be. They may preach the simple elements of the gospel, from place to place; but for the constant regular instruction of the same flock they are utterly unfit. He must be an extraordinary man who has resources in himself for such a work, that render him independent of reading and study. Barrenness, tameness, sameness, triteness, irksome and unprofitable repetition, must be the almost invariable result of such presumption. There are some too, who, by way of honouring the Bible, make it their rule to study nothing else, not even such human helps as may fit them for understanding and illustrating its contents. This also, though a better extreme than his, who neglecting the Bible itself, studies only human opinions about it, yet is still an extreme, and an extreme which, while it professes to put honour upon the Bible, indicates no small measure of self-sufficiency. We put most honour upon the Bible, when we manifest our impression of the value of a full and clear comprehension of its contents, in the diligent application of all accessible means for the attainment of it.” (52-54 – quoting Hagenbach)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

John Angell James, Passion for Souls

Yesterday I mentioned John Angell James book, An Earnest Ministry. One of the striking and beneficial things about the book is the deep, compelling passion for the salvation of souls. Here are some quotes to that end.

Here the author begins referring to himself in third person:
"And now that his shadow lengthens on the plain, and his eye is fixed on the declining sun, he feels, in the review of life, that the thought of having done any thing to save souls from death gives him far more delight than he could have derived from having made the largest acquirements in learning and science, or from having gained a reputation for genius and taste. There is a time coming to every man when the knowledge of having been the instrument of plucking a single brand from the eternal burning, will yield him more real satisfaction than the certainty of having accomplished the loftiest objects of literary ambition.” (xvii)
On the importance of making clear the human condition in sin:
“We have, as our first business, to fasten a charge of guilt upon men naturally disposed to think well of themselves: to produce a sense of utter worthlessness and depravity in those who . . . admit only some few imperfections and infirmities . . . and to substitute for a general and unhumbled dependence upon Divine mercy, such a conviction of exposure to the curse of God’s violated law, as makes it difficult for the trembling penitent to see how his pardon can be harmonised with the claims of justice” (188-189)
Then he is so good on how we present the claims of the gospel. We could do well to ponder this quote at length.
“It is as if he had said, ‘wherever we go, we find men in unprovoked hostility, inveterate enmity, and mad rebellion, against God’s holy nature, law, and government: we carry with us, as his ambassadors, the proclamation of mercy through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ: we tell them that we are appointed by God whom they have offended, and who could overwhelm them with the terrors of his justice, to call upon them to lay down their arms and accept the offer of eternal pardon and peace: but we find them every where so bent upon their sins, and the enjoyment of their worldly occupations and possessions, that we are compelled to use the language of the most vehement entreaty, and to beseech and implore them in God’s name, and in Christ’s stead, to come into a state of reconciliation.
“This is the most wonderful scene that the universe will ever witness; a beseeching God, an imploring Saviour, standing at the door of the sinner’s heart with eternal salvation in his hand …. The insulted Omnipotent Creator of the universe, beseeching a worm, whom an exercise of his will could sink in a moment to perdition, and his justice be glorified in the act, to accept his pardoning mercy, and waiting year after year, in all long-suffering, for the sinner’s reconsideration of his obstinate refusals.” (23)
Wow! He captures well the reality that God is under no compulsion to save anyone (He could condemn all and his justice be glorified), and yet this God due only to His own sovereign mercy and grace holds out salvation to all who will repent and believe. This is cause for wonder, awe, worship celebration and procalamtion.

Living Exegetically

My students in NT Survey turned in responses today from listening to my sermon on Romans 3. This typically turns up some good discussion, but one student statement I thought was particularly worth citing here. The student was responding to my statement that you should not be surprised to find your thinking to be in error if you do not intentionally seek to shape your thinking by Scripture. He then wrote:
“Sometimes my life is like a sermon that takes a verse and runs with it- may my life be lived more exegetically”
I don’t know if the phrase ‘living exegetically’ is original with him or borrowed, but I thought it was well put. May we provide models for living for our people by preaching exegetically that they might live exegetically. May our preaching and our living rightly represent the truth of God’s word (1 Tim 4:16).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times

Today in my pastoral ministry class we discussed An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times, by John Angell James. This book, originally written in 1847, is a real gem. I have 16 pages (single-spaced) of quotes drawn from the book! James gives a clarion call for a return to earnest, i.e. passionate, devoted, ministry. He says the way this is to be accomplished is for pastors to return to the basic purpose of their calling- the salvation of souls. As such this is a very passionate book on evangelism from an heir of the Puritans. Some are confused, however, when he also says in the book that the purpose of pastoral ministry is the oversight of souls (Heb 13:17). In the way we typically use the words these would seem contradictory- one is evangelism, the other is caring for those already converted. However, for James (and indeed the Bible) these are not contradictory but synonymous. He pauses at one point to clarify exactly what he means by ‘salvation of souls.’ He writes:
‘The salvation of souls’ as the great object of the ministerial office, is a generic phrase, including as its species, the awakening of the unconcerned; the guidance of the inquiring; the instruction of the uninformed; and the sanctification, comfort, and progress of those who through grace have believed; in short the whole work of grace in the soul.” (36)
Thus, James has a biblical view of salvation which involves not only conversion but also sanctification. So the compelling goal of pastoral ministry according to James is the overall work of laboring to see people come to faith in Christ and then to see them persevere in that faith. Truly, this is the biblical witness and we do need an increase in earnestness to this end.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ephesians 4 and Church Health

I have been thinking a bit lately about the fourth chapter of Ephesians and what it tells us about church health- stimulated significantly by conversation with my fellow pastor, Lee Tankersley (oh, the joy of not being isolated in ministry!). There is much here so I may devote a few posts to various aspects. Here I want to take up particularly the language of verse 16 and its emphasis on each member. Having described God’s gifts to the church, the saints working in ministry and the pursuit of maturity, Paul concludes this section (4:1-16) by describing the body functioning properly. In this setting he refers to the body being “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Of course taking the body metaphor strictly, not each member is a “joint.” But I think here the point is that the church coheres through the work of each member. This is supported by the immediately following words, “when each part is working properly.” This results in the body growing. There is a strong emphasis here on the necessity of the help of each member if the church is to be healthy. If any member of your local church is disconnected, failing to invest in the others and not receiving from others, your church cannot be healthy as it should- no matter what you do with marketing and programs. How seriously do we take this truth?

Writing in 1864, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, George Bethune spoke to this issue. He wrote:
“It is the order of grace that Christians are instrumentally dependent upon each other; as we grow they grow; and as they grow we grow. Whatever we do for their benefit is for our own; whatever they do for our benefit is for their own. Thus it is not only our duty, but our best interest, to impart freely of all God’s gifts to us for the benefit of our fellow Christians. There must be a communion [sharing] of prayers and acts and gifts, as there is a communion of grace. If we refuse this closeness of union to our fellow-Christians, we shall suffer doubly; for the Holy Spirit will not use us as the channels of his grace to them, nor can the effectual working through them reach us. Nothing but weakness and death can result from such selfish isolation.” (quoted in The Communion of Saints, 98).

How healthy are our churches then? How should this shape our pastoral priorities? Doesn’t this challenge much of the typical practice we see around us? It certainly would require us to work hard at building a real community in the church and teaching that each member is vital to the church. We can’t afford to just write people off saying (as I have heard leaders say) it would be easier to let them go than pursue them. Can we achieve this in a setting where people do not know each other? This will require the intentional investing in each others lives. Perhaps if we scale back the programming people would be able to do more of this.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Pastoral Heart of Robert Murray McCheyne

While studying in Scotland, I was privileged to find a free copy of Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne, by A. A. Bonar, a hard bound copy from 1891! I had heard much about this as a spiritual classic and finally I read it. It was a deep blessing to me and I heartily commend it to you.

Here is a quote from the closing of a sermon he preached to his people in Dundee. The heart for his people is clear and exemplary.

“Dearly beloved and longed for, I now begin another year of my ministry among you: and I am resolved, if God give me health and strength, that I will not let a man, woman, or child among you alone, until you have at least heard the testimony of God concerning his Son, either to your condemnation or salvation. And I will pray, as I have done before, that if the Lord will indeed give us a great outpouring of his Spirit, He will do it in such a way that it will be evident to the weakest child among you that, it is the Lord’s work, and not man’s. I think I may say to you, as Rutherford said to his people, ‘Your heaven would be two heavens to me.’ And if the Lord be pleased to give me a crown from among you, I do here promise in his sight, that I will cast it at his feet, saying, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain! Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever’” (123).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spurgeon on Weekly Communion

I am currently writing an article in which, among other things I am arguing for the weekly celebration of communion. In the process I was pointed to this quote from Spurgeon. I like it especially because it expresses so well what I have experienced at our church where we do have communion weekly. The biblical arguments are readily available and the benefits can be enumerated at length. More on those later. But here is Spurgeon's quote:

“So with the Lord's Supper. My witness is, and I think I speak the mind of many of God's people now present, that coming as some of us do, weekly, to the Lord's table, we do not find the breaking of bread to have lost its significance—it is always fresh to us. I have often remarked on Lord's-day evening, whatever the subject may have been, whether Sinai has thundered over our heads, or the plaintive notes of Calvary have pierced our hearts, it always seems equally appropriate to come to the breaking of bread. Shame on the Christian church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth of the death of Christ till he come. They who once know the sweetness of each Lord's-day celebrating his Supper, will not be content, I am sure, to put it off to less frequent seasons. Beloved, when the Holy Ghost is with us, ordinances are wells to the Christian, wells of rich comfort and of near communion.”
“Songs of Deliverance,” Sermon no. 763, July 28, 1867, preaching from Judges 5:11.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Dever on pragmatism and numbers orientation

You have probably already seen this elsewhere, but Mark Dever’s “The Apparent Piety of Numerical Goals” is an important piece well worth reading. I am convinced that pragmatism is one of the greatest threats to our evangelical churches in the West. Dever argues this well pointing to the problems of our number oriented goal setting. This points to some of the significant mindset shifting that we need in our churches and amongst pastors.