What the heck is Preaching, even?


peter-preaching-statueFor my preaching class, we’ve been trying to get at what this weird thing called “preaching” really is. It’s not a lecture, it’s a not a conversation, it’s not a debate. So what is it? Here are some of my random thinking on this. But I’d love to hear yours.

As much as I want something far more profound and original, I have not been able to find anything simpler and clearer than Alan of Lille‘s definition: “Preaching is an open and public instruction in faith and behavior, whose purpose is the forming of men [sic].”

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Random Thoughts on Preaching: The Trinity


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First: Our worship is a participation, mediated by the Spirit, in Christ’s Communion with the Father.

In this Trinitarian picture of worship, where does preaching fit in? Well, there is an eternal “conversation” happening among all the members of the Trinity. The divine words of Creation are presented as an “overflow” of this divine conversation. So to me, preaching is a Spirit-”infused” (and humanly articulated) mediation of the words between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Because the Spirit enables our union with Jesus, and because Jesus is joined to the Father, we find ourselves mystically and intimately in union with the whole Trinitarian God Himself. And so, preaching is–in a sense and at its best–an articulation and “listening in” on this eternal “trialogue” within the Godhead.

The world having been created through and for the Son means that the Father’s words to the Son are now his words to and for us. And this Word that is spoken to the Son by the Father is the Gospel. When it is offered to humans, this eternal, mysterious articulation of the Gospel in the Godhead is always mediated and contextualized in order to be received and perceived by the hearer. This is why the Bible is the way it is.
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When & How to Criticize Other People’s Pastors | 1 Corinthians 4.2-5

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Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
1 Corinthians 4.2-5

What does this mean? At least right now, my instinct is to take it like this: outside of clear sin issues, we should not divide and judge other Church leaders (nor effusively favor them). If you can’t find clear sin issues in their lives, churches, or teaching, then don’t demean their doctrine, style, gifting, or missional emphases. In the same way, though, even if there are no clear sin issues going on, don’t exalt them because of their doctrine, style, gifting, or Missional emphasis.

If a church doesn’t fit for you, fine. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. But don’t bad-mouth, criticize, gossip, complain, or be overly-sensitive and judgmental at them. To both conservatives and liberals, neither of us should criticize other members of the family, no matter how kooky they are–not even for what we feel is “bad” teaching. “Sinful” teaching, however is another issue. Clear historical heresy, teaching that abuses and harms the dignity of humanity, and things like prosperity preaching are examples of things that should be judged harshly and criticized.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

I’m terrified of becoming a Pastor


paul-art-wingThis seminary semester, I’m taking classes on both Preaching and the Emotional/Spiritual/Psychological Identity of Pastors. So yeah, get used to seeing more posts like this on the blog. This week, in my “Pastor class” we did readings and had a lecture on “vocational hazards” and discerning one’s “call” to ministry. We were asked about what challenges and encourages us most about this possibility of being “called” to serve the Church in pastoring. Here were my thoughts. 

The biggest fear going into this course–and reinforced in the lecture–is the whole question of whether it is my “False Self” that is called, rather than my True Self. I have spent much of my life following Spurgeon’s (I think) advice that if you feel called to ministry at all, try to do everything else in your life you possibly could do. If you still end up in ministry, then congratulations, you were called.

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“How to rail against sex stuff” by St. Paul | 1 Corinthians 5.9–13

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I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5.9–13

Oh what a loving and common sense principal for how to engage the sexual immorality of others. Paul sounds like such a liberal (or the Pope, haha) here when he says that it is not his place to judge or condemn those outside the church. He in essence says that they are acting exactly as they should act. There should be no shock, surprise, or offence at “the culture” acting like “the culture”. No railing against the immorality of society. Instead, work to foster purity among the people of God. We are to be more eager to spend time with the “immoral” outside the church then the immoral inside the church.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Luke on the New Perspective on Paul | Acts 15:1,8-11

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Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”…
Acts 28.23-31

This is a great summary of the argument for the New Perspective on Paul. The key is the line about Moses. It’s not about works righteousness, but ethnic identity.

And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Acts 15:8-11

Another quick NPP note. Notice here that Peter is not contrasting salvation by yoke versus salvation by grace, but that grace will also save them just as the Jews believed it saved them.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Justice, Self-Control, & Judgment| Acts 24.24-25

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Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”
Acts 24.24-25

These are very odd, very specific things. It’s funny that these things shook him so much to the core. I wonder what it was specifically that was enough for Luke to include this? Was the Justice Paul talked about more along the lines of the wrath of God, or more like equality in society and Social Justice (that would surely shake a wealthy local governor!). It was probably something like the fact that God would make all things right someday. Maybe the judgment piece made him scared? But either way, personally, I find it interesting that the one that scares me the most is the call to self control.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

We are descendants of the Covenant| Acts 3.24-26

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And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Acts 28.23-31

In this, we see that we, the New Covenant People of God, are still members of the covenant that’s been in effect the whole time: the Abrahamic Covenant. It is not done away with; only brought under a new administration: that of Christ.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Paul’s ministry thesis & maybe Theophilus’ identity? | Acts 28.23-31

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After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’

Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Acts 28.23-31

What a thesis statement for all of Paul’s ministry and the books of Luke: the hard-heartedness of the Jews and the inclusion of the Gentiles. Perhaps this was a main reason why Luke wrote both of these books to the mysterious Theophilus. Maybe he wrote these to offer assurance to this Gentile man (as evidenced by his Roman name) of his inclusion in the mission and salvation of God.

On a side note, it’s odd that this statement of the Gentile inclusion in the family of God (throughout Paul’s preaching) rests primarily on the a story of the preaching ministry of Paul. It’s well-known that Luke draws literary parallels between Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and Paul in Acts. But since this was being written to Theophilus, and these writings about Paul seem to rest on an implied authority and trust that it seems Theophilus would have had in Paul (if he said it, then it must be true), then could this be a hint that Theophilus met Paul at some point or even that Paul was the one that converted him?

Just a thought. A pure, conjectural thought.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Preaching the Gospel to Christians | Romans 1:14-16

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I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:14-16

Notice here that Paul wants to proclaim the gospel to those who are already believers! This Gospel is the whole of the Christian life, not simply our starting place. It not the ABC’s, after which we need theology, doctrine, good works, etc. It is the A-to-Z of the Christian life. When we think our churches, our preaching, and our lives essentially need something more than that, we begin to stray from the Gospel altogether.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Good News changes, the Good News gifts | Acts 20.32

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“And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.”
Acts 20.32

Nice. The message of grace itself is enough to sanctify and grow them. Just the message. Further, this message–again, the message itself–gives us the inheritance of the Holy.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

What is the Proclamation of the Word?


pulpit-church-hdr-bibleFor a class recently, I had to read a bunch of items on the part of a worship service in which the Bible is front and center. This “section” of the service is called “The Proclamation of the Word”, or more generally, the “sermon” or homily”. I ran across this great quote:

The very act of preaching, in fact, sets up questions and problems.  Most people no longer understand the difference between preaching and other types of public speaking…. Many people think of a sermon as an occasion for being entertained, instructed, or inspired in matters of religion — hence the customary comment at the church door, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Nowadays, it is only congregations who have been engaged in a new way of thinking for a long time who are going to sit expectantly waiting for the Word of God to be spoken — for preaching, properly understood, is the good news that God preaches through human beings.  Astonishingly enough, this is the method of communicating that God has chosen.  This is an offensive idea; there are a hundred complaints to be brought against it.  Most common is the objection, “How can anyone presume to speak the Word of God?”  Or to put it another way, “How can any human being be so arrogant as to think he is a mouthpiece of God?”  How indeed?  It is a very good question.  The validity or invalidity of preaching rests on such issues as these. (Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel)

I think Rutledge is right (and not just because she is an incredible preacher–all you complementarians could learn a thing or two from her!): people don’t seem to really see preaching as fundamentally different than any other lecture or other public speaking. Preaching is often (subtly and unspokenly) seen (or at least treated) as “mere” personal edification–similar to a book discussion or philosophical lecture or self-help conference.
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Ash Wednesday Egalitarianism, or “Why do female preachers suck?”


paul-schrott-ash-wednesday-bwYes, that’s me in that picture. I love that picture. It’s been used in a few posts since it was taken a couple of years ago. This isn’t (just) because of some weird sense of narcissism that loves to see my face on my blog posts. Rather, this picture is a very meaningful reminder of one of the most formative nights in my Christian life.

I said in the beginning of this series on Women in the Church that for most of my life, I had been one of the staunchest defenders of male-led church leadership. I knew all the arguments, I believed the caricatures of the other side, and importantly, I had experienced that women made terrible preachers of sermons.

Now remember: this was “pre-conversion” Paul that was thinking these things. But still, as I had visited friend’s churches, listened to audio, and seen female televangelists, it was hard not to notice that I had never heard a “good” sermon offered by a woman. It seemed clear to me, then, that this unique “anointing” and “gifting” to preach was reserved for men.

Don’t get me wrong. I had received incredible guidance, teaching, and wisdom from women. But these had been in the contexts of schools, lectures, books, blogs, campus ministers, podcasts, and the wider world–not church sermons.

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Proclaiming & Producing Beauty{11}


Sandorfi - KalfonariumThe next post after this will be the last in this series.  But today, we are finishing up the section on how we respond to Beauty.  As I stated earlier, there are two fundamental ways we respond to Beauty: we contemplate it, and we enjoy it.  But, within the enjoyment piece, I think there are four main ways to to that: we praise, participate in, proclaim, and produce Beauty.  Once more, our working definition is Beauty is the attribute of something that expresses complexity, simply.  It takes the loose strands in reality and weaves them together into a tapestry that out senses are able to perceive.

Now, let’s pick up right where we left off:

Proclaim

But the process is still not over. First we praise the thing as beautiful, then we participate in its beauty on its own terms. Thirdly, we proclaim it as beautiful. Proclamation is not the same as praise. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that something along the lines of this: joy in something is not complete until it is shared with someone else. Proclamation is the telling of the Beauty of this thing to someone else. It is sharing in this affection with someone else. Here we start seeing something about Beauty that will lead into our final response: Beauty longs to be known and spread – almost like a virus. It wants to inspire you to tell others about it, so that those people might participate in it as well. For creational Beauty this is done in many obvious ways like reviews and just telling someone else about it. For divine Beauty, this is typically referred to as preaching. Speaking of this God should be the natural response to someone who has praised and participated in the Beauty of God. It is out of the overflow of this in someone’s heart that they should speak. Not out of begrudging compulsion or sheer white-knuckled obedience. We tell others about the things we find most beautiful. Should this not also apply to the highest of all beautiful people – God?

Produce

This brings us to our last part in the process of responding to beauty. It’s very much tied to the previous one and has to do with Beauty replicating itself. God, in His love for us, calls us to respond to beauty not only by proclaiming beauty in word, but also producing beauty in deed. Produce is the last way we respond to Beauty. We are built in the Image of a God who doesn’t just desire, delight in, and display Beauty, but a God who also does Beauty. We, likewise, all have abilities to produce beauty. Not only that, our response to beauty is not complete until it has inspired us to likewise create beauty. Every musician in here knows what it’s like to be at a show or concert, seeing someone play the instrument that you play and suddenly having your mind swirling with musical ideas you want to try out when you get home. There’s an entire field of art history that tries and find the obscure pieces that inspired some of the greatest pieces of art we adore today. It works off the assumption that nothing that beautiful exists without inspiration before it. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that everyone has some creative ability in them. I don’t care how “uncreative” you think you are. You are built in the image of a Creator God! You have not only the ability, but I fully believe the responsibility as well to bring forth more beauty in this world and further participate in God’s “re-knitting” of the universe. Now this “creative” ability in all will look different in everyone, so don’t think you have to stick to conventional forms of “creativity”. Really, anything that makes beauty does this. It can be gardening, serving, counseling, or raising your kids, even. I would argue all those take a certain type of “artistic eye” to do them well. We all have it. Find it. Do it well. Do it often. And do it as a response to the Beauty that is around you in both God and Creation.

This also shows itself in the Christina life (and in our text) as holiness, or “doing good” as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it. Seeing the Beauty of God should inspire us to holy living and loving of others. Serving those around us in order to share with them and replicate the Beauty of God that we have seen.

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Tim Sinclair’s First Sermon Ever | (a too little, too late wedding gift)


One of my best friends, favorite guys, and men of God I respect the most, Tim Sinclair, preached his first sermon a few weeks back at Aletheia Church in Richmond.  He also just got married last Saturday.  I must admit that knowing Tim, I never saw him as a preacher or church planter.  I saw him as a great one-on-one ministry or small group kind of guy, but not necessarily as a preacher-behind-a-podium (or music stand) kind of guy.  Well, in short, this sermon blew me away.  I called him immediately after finishing the sermon to express my great joy in the gifting he had been hiding from us all along.  Really, it’s amazing.

So I encourage you all: download this sermon, listen to it, and leave a comment of encouragement for Tim, his budding ministry, and his budding marriage.

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Click for Audio: Tim Sinclair: Rest.mp3

Faithful Forgiveness.pdf

Click for Manuscript: Tim Sinclair: Rest.pdf