Tag Archives: preaching

Jonathan Edwards: The Infinite Highness and Condescension of Christ

One of three favorite sermons of Jonathan Edwards is “The Excellency of Christ.”  If you have not read the sermon, print it out and read it over the course of two weeks in your devotional time or your lunch hour.  You won’t be the same afterwards.  Jonathan Edwards was brilliant, but he was primarily a preacher, and an exquisite one at that.

Here’s a snatch to consider.  This is preaching at its best–soaring, richly biblical, bringing you face to face with the Son of God.

1. There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension. Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him, all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him, and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Proverbs 30:4, “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, can’t reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8, “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator, and great possessor of heaven and earth: he is sovereign lord of all: he rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him: his knowledge is without bound: his wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent: his power is infinite, and none can resist him: his riches are immense and inexhaustible: his majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low, or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world” (James 2:5). Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ don’t despise. 1 Corinthians 1:28, “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars (Luke 16:22) and of servants, and people of the most despised nations: in Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free” (Colossians 3:11). He that is thus high, condescends to take a gracious notice of little children. Matthew 19:14, “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is much more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.

–Yale Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 19, 565-66

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How Do I Know if I Should Be a Preacher?

Good word from Proclamation Trust, a great UK ministry promoting excellent preaching, on determining your preaching call:

There is little in scripture explicitly about the feelings or desires of the people set apart for word ministry. When Paul speaks of those who aspire to the pastoral office (1 Timothy 3:1) he does not make it clear whether the candidates coming forward in Ephesus were to be encouraged or discouraged in their desire. On the one hand, some desire to enter this ministry, and ought not to. They may for example have a wrong understanding of scripture (eg 1 Timothy 1:7), a love of power (1 Peter 5:3) or prominence (3 John 9), a love of money (1 Timothy 6:5), or a desire to exploit vulnerable people by making them dependent upon them (2 Timothy 3:6f). On the other hand, some want to avoid this ministry who ought to be in it. For pastoral ministry has its peculiar pressures. And so a love for the world (2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17) or a desire to avoid suffering (2 Timothy 1:6-12; cf. 1 Timothy 4:14) will make us avoid this work, even when we are called to it. So we must be deeply sceptical of our feelings and desires. For it is possible to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).  So, rather than rely on our feelings, we do well to focus on the principles of stewardship. If Christ has given us ‘word’ gifts, then we must use them, whether or not we want to.

Christopher Ash, How Do I Know if Preaching Is for Me? (Proclamation Trust)

It’s no bad thing to go to seminary to learn more Bible and theology.  But if you want to be a preacher, and you want to go to seminary to be a well-rounded one, consider the above essay.  Merely enjoying preaching is not necessarily a sign of a call.  If you want to serve the church, and are willing to give up comfort and wealth to do so, and have preaching gifts that the church has affirmed, those are signs that may well beckon you to undertake the long, difficult, and valuable work of seminary training.

“If Christ has given us ‘word’ gifts, then we must use them…”

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Preaching: Conversational Stand-up or Serious Gospel Exposition?

A typically provocative word from Carl Trueman on the legacy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the “Doctor” (HT: JT):

We have leaders with a lot of swagger and `street cred’; Lloyd-Jones had gravitas and did not care to be cool.  Lloyd-Jones may have been less than clear on what he wanted in 1966, but he always had complete clarity about the gospel and little time for trendy diversions.  We have leaders whose politeness too often creates an atmosphere of ambiguity and uncertainty; Lloyd-Jones spoke on doctrinal issues with unerring clarity.   He was obviously a serious man of conviction with a seriously convicting message.  And, for the record, I would take five minutes of his serious gospel exposition over an hour of the conversational stand-up of today’s cutting-edge preachers any day.

Read the whole piece.  I, for one, am with Trueman; though I appreciate some humor and personality in the pulpit, I prefer “serious gospel exposition” to a running comedic monologue loosely based on a passage.  I think we could stand to have more of the former and a bit less of the latter.  Young preachers–emulate figures like Lloyd-Jones.  Decades later, we’re still engaging his sermons and profiting hugely from them; the fluffy stuff will blow away like chaff.

Preaching to my mind doesn’t mean the snuffing out of personality.  But it does mean that the text has center stage, and not the wit/charm/candor of the preacher.  I’m thankful for the example of a figure like MLJ, who spoke with great power yet made clear that the sermon was an exposition of the sacred text.

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Elegant Reflections on an Elegant Ministry: John Stott, 1921-2011

Several members of the BibleMesh project have posted meaningful reflections on the life and career of Anglican expositor John Stott, who just went home to glory.  I commend them all to you.  Below are two that speak to a personal connection with the man, who influenced generations of Christians.

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One of Dr. Stott’s many initiatives was to establish the London Lectures focusing on Christian engagement with the  wider world. I delivered the London Lectures in 2003, on the topic “Can Christianity and Islam co-exist in the 21st century?” Dr Stott attended the series and was inspirational by his presence, by his insightful questions and comments, and by his words of encouragement. I was humbled by his presence and felt that I should have been sitting at his feet, rather than him sitting in the front row of my lectures. The series was held at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which serves as an enduring legacy of Dr Stott’s energy and vision.

Peter Riddell
Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths
Melbourne School of Theology, Australia
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I can still feel the silence in St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, when John Stott neared the end of his exposition of Philippians 2:5-11. With his characteristic clarity he impressed upon our hearts that every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus: every Christian knee, every Muslim knee, every Hindu knee—every knee will bow before him. I remember buying two of his commentaries for the first time—Ephesians and 2 Timothy—and buying The Cross of Christ at the Oxford Christian Union. I’ve read all his works more than once—some many times—and been inspired by the story of life. The risen Lord Jesus gave us John R.W. Stott as a gracious gift and to God be the Glory!

Michael McClenahan
Irish Presbyterian minister
 
Read several more reflections on the life and ministry of John Stott at the BibleMesh blog.

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Mike Wittmer Tackles Rob Bell, Gospel-Centered Death, Thorn on Self-Preaching

Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has recently released Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins (Edenridge, 2011, lively foreword by Michael Horton).  I commend it to you.  This is the only book-length treatment of Bell’s Love Wins, a book that stirs up so much trouble it needs a book-length refutation.  Written by one of our best and most engaging systematic theologians, Christ Alone is worth reading on its own terms apart from its thorough scriptural and theological counter to Bell’s arguments and sloppy exegesis.

Here’s a snatch:

[T]he adjectival form of aion is the way the Greeks expressed our concept of “forever.”  Jesus said that those who believe in him with have zoen ainion–a life that never ends (John 3:16).  Jesus is not telling us that we will transcend time or be taken up into some higher, supernatural realm, for as bodily creatures we will always live within the boundaries of space and time.  We will never step outside of time into God’s realm, but we will live forever in our redeemed creation.  Scripture describes this as everlasting life, a life that begins in this age (aion) and continues through every age to come.  Thus, the biblical writers do understand “forever” as “a uniform measurement of time, like days and years, marching endlessly into the future,” and they describe this passing of time with the adjectival form of the term aion.  (37-38)

This kind of clear, compelling, richly informed answer is littered throughout Christ AloneBuy the book, and buy one for a confused friend.  And hope that in the future, Wittmer picks back up with his practice of titling his books according to eighties pop songs, which is one of the strongest commendations of his work I can think of (great blog, too).

Next up, with Phil Newton, Brian Croft has published Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death (DayOne, 2011).  This is another practical text written by Croft that handles a needful matter of ministry: funerals.  Think about it.  Pastors will do many over the course of a career.  But what resources cover how to do them from a Christocentric perspective?  This is a needed and rich book.

Consider this excellent section on logistics of the service:

Depending on the situation, arrive at the location of the funeral service fifteen to thirty minutes before the funeral starts.  This allows you time to greet the family, check in with the funeral director, and ensure that plans haven’t changed since the director last talked with you (because they often do change).  This will also prevent what would be one of the most embarrassing moments of your ministry–being late to conduct a funeral (trust me–I know).  Inform the funeral director at this time whether you will ride with him to the gravesite or drive on your own in the procession.  Make sure that all those involved in the service are accounted for and have prepared what you have asked of them.  It is ideal to gather together others involved in the service a few minutes before starting in order to talk through the service, praying for the Lord to awaken souls to the gospel and comfort his hurting people.  (71)

As you can see, this is terrific counsel from a wise, godly undershepherd.  Pick up this little book and others like it (here and here).  You’ll thank Brian later.  Check out his helpful blog, too.

Do you preach to yourself?  You should.  Joe Thorn wants to help you do just that.  His Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Crossway/RE:LIT, 2011, foreword by Sam Storms) will guide you in this discipline that the Puritans championed.  The short, easy-to-read book packs a powerful punch in its 48 short chapters, each of which tackles a certain sin or struggle that requires self-exhortation to defeat.  Joe is a faithful pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois; his gifts show through in this book.

A snippet:

Dear Self,

You should be sowing more grace.  You should be more generous with your time, money, and gifts.  The people around you, especially those who are unfriendly or even cross, need grace.  Consider how you often give what you think is justice–that is, what you think people deserve.  You tip less for bad service, ignore people who have snubbed you, or sigh and roll your eyes at the person taking up too much space at the coffeehouse.  You may not be doing evil, but you are not doing good. (75)

You see how helpful this book is (as is Joe’s blog).  It avoids the mistake of thinking that because we prize the gospel, we don’t need direct, specific engagement with sin.  We desperately do.  In general, the perspective of the book challenges us to take dominion of our sins, not to wallow in them.  Everywhere we have a weakness, that is where God desires to work.  All the things that Satan intends to discourage us by, God intends to encourage us as through the power of his Spirit he kills our sin.

If you’re lazy, if you’re lustful, if you’re angry, if you’re gluttonous, if you’re a liar, if you’re critical, if you find it easy to hate and grow jealous, if you are passive, if you don’t read the Bible or pray, if you don’t serve the church–in these and 100,000 other areas, God desires to perform surgery.  Everywhere there is sin, there is an opportunity for Christocentric dominion over that sin.  Joe helps us to see this truth, and that in itself is more than enough to commend the book.

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New England Pastors: Duncan and Anyabwile in May 2011

Great news for New England–just got this from Dave Ricard of the New England Center for Expository Preaching:

“I was informed tonight that Ligon Duncan has agreed to join Thabiti Anyabwile at Island Pond Baptist Church for NECEP 2011 Pastors’ Conference on May 2-3, 2011.

Pastors will be given first priority for seating since this time is designed specifically for them.

Pastors can pre-register here.  Note:  This does not reserve seats.  It simply gives those who pre-register first notice when registration begins. (There are already 40+ people pre-registered for next year.)”

I’m glad to hear this from Dave.  If you’re in New England, make sure to sign up and mark this on your calendar.  It would be worth driving a good while–whether on I-95 or far from it–for the excellent teaching and fellowship (and the chance to meet Dave Ricard).

Also, if you are interested in an internship in this region, look here and think seriously about the NECEP, which is accredited by numerous seminaries.

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Josh Moody of College Church on 2 Timothy: Toward a Gospel Ministry Foundation and Vision

This from the Henry Center blog.  We recently hosted College Church in Wheaton (IL) pastor Josh Moody, and I was deeply affected by his sermons and also his discussion with the students.  He is a strong, penetrating expositor whose style reminded me of one Lloyd-Jones.  Check out the content below to do yourself the favor of benefiting from his preaching of God’s Word.

The following is what we blurbed on the site.

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The Henry Center is pleased to announce that Dr. Josh Moody’s recent Timothy Series lectures and Q&A sessions are now posted free of charge for the viewing of the general public.

October 20 & 22, 2009 | Dr. Josh Moody, College Church, Wheaton, IL

Dr. Moody was born in Surrey, England and holds undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Cambridge University. He currently serves as Senior Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois and served previously as Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in New Haven, Connecticut beginning in 1999. He has authored three books to date: The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today; Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Knowing the Presence of God; and Authentic Spirituality.

“The Necessary Foundation for Biblical Ministry”: 2 Timothy 3:10-17 | Audio
“The Necessary Vision for Biblical Ministry” 2 Timothy 4:1-8 | Audio
Interview Pt. 1 | Audio Video
Interview Pt. 2 | Audio Video

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Ministry Is About Faithfulness, Not Numbers: Gospel Growth 2009

But don’t take my word for it–let the Gospel Growth=People Growth conference to be held October 14-16, 2009 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) convince you.  I highly recommend that you go if you’re in the area–you’ll benefit from talks by Don Carson, Mark Dever, Philip Jensen, and more.  It’s kind of a mini-Gospel Coalition.

It’s very cheap–$59 for students, $99 for pastors and others.  It’s sponsored by a number of organizations, including the Henry Center and The Gospel Coalition.

Here’s the event blurb from the website:

At Matthias Media’s 2007 Conference, several hundred pastors, church workers and other ministry-minded Christians gathered at Washington’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church to think about ‘Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth’. We explored what the Bible says about gospel growth, and how it basically proceeds through three foundational Ps: Proclamation, Prayer and People.

At our 2009 conference, we’re going to zero in on the third and often neglected ‘P’: people. Because gospel growth happens in people and through people.

It happens in people. You can have growth in numbers, in budgets, in programs, in activities, in staff, in baptisms, in buildings, in reputation, and even growth in the quality of preaching, but unless individual people are growing in knowledge, in faith, in godliness, and in love as disciples of Christ, it’s all a noisy clanging gong. Are your people really growing? How would you know whether they are or not? Who is discipling each person in your congregation?

Ministry really is all about the three p’s: prayer, proclamation, and people:

Gospel growth also happens through people. Jesus commissioned every disciple for disciple-making, and a pastor-teacher’s job is not only to Proclaim and to Pray but also also to equip, train and mobilize People for the task. Gospel growth multiplies as Christians get involved in the three P’s: in prayerfully speaking God’s word to other people, in whatever way they can, large or small, at home or at work, in small groups or one-to-one. Is this happening where you are? Or is the ministry basically done by the staff? How many people in your congregation, for example, would be willing and able to do the foundational personal discipling work of following up a new believer and establishing them in the basics of the faith?

Here’s the schedule (all at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School):

WEDNESDAY (OCTOBER 14)
10am Registration Open
11am D.A. Carson Introduction, On Biblical Exposition
12:30pm    Lunch Break
2pm Jensen and Helm Preaching Workshop: Principles of Biblical Exposition
3pm Jensen, Dever and Helm Q&A
3:30pm Break
4pm Mark Dever The Four Ps of Evangelical Ministry
5pm Dinner Break (Registration Open at 6pm)
7:15pm Phillip Jensen Biblical Theology of Ministry 1: The Aim and Method of Ministry in People
8:45pm Phillip Jensen Q&A
THURSDAY (OCTOBER 15)
9am Phillip Jensen Biblical Theology of Ministry 2: All God’s People as Prophets and Disciple-Makers
10:30am Break
11am David Helm Training Initiatives
12:30pm Lunch Break
2pm Jensen and Payne Training Session
4pm Dinner Break
6:30pm Phillip Jensen What is Training? People not Programs.
7:30pm Break
7:45pm Marty Sweeney Obstacles to Training
8:15pm Marty Sweeney Q&A
FRIDAY (OCTOBER 16)
9am Tony Payne Training Practices
10:15am Break
10:45am Phillip Jensen How a Training Mentality Leads to Gospel Workers
11:45am Phillip Jensen Q&A
12:30pm Closing

Hope to see you there.

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Phil Ryken on the Pastor-Theologian

CS009556Phil Ryken just published a piece from Ligonier’s Tabletalk at Ref21 that covers how John Calvin was a pastor-scholar.  It’s a solid article worth reading.

Ryken distills Calvin’s goal in preaching:

“Calvin’s goal in all his preaching and writing was to teach the Word of God faithfully so that the Holy Spirit could use his words to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to help them grow in godliness. He knew that only God could do the real work of the ministry. Preaching accomplishes nothing, he said, “unless the Spirit of God does inwardly touch the hearts of men.” Yet Calvin also believed that the Spirit’s work included his own best efforts to teach the Bible: “Through [the Spirit's] inward operation [preaching] produces the most powerful effects.”

He details Calvin’s preaching method:

“Although Calvin usually preached for more than an hour, he spoke extemporaneously, without text or notes. He was not speaking “off the cuff,” however, because whatever he said was the product of his own careful, first-hand exegesis and wide reading in the early church fathers and other Bible commentators. As Calvin once remarked to his congregation: “If I should enter a pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and frivolously imagine to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’ — and come here without troubling to read, or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people — then I should be an arrogant upstart.”

He concludes with this insightful word:

“Calvin’s example as a pastor-scholar is instructive today. For pastors, his life serves as a call to work hard in ministry, giving our best efforts to understanding the Scriptures. For parishioners, Calvin’s ministry can help us understand the God-given calling of our pastors. In devoting their time to prepare for preaching, they are not serving themselves but Christ and His church.”

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Excellent analysis.  Readers of this humble little blog know that I love this model of the pastorate.  Awareness of it is clearly spreading and catching on among the younger generation.  I’m excited to see what the future holds on this point.  I think we’ll see a generation of pastor-theologians rise up to lead the church once more.

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Robert Schuller’s Son: “Nobody Listens to Preaching”

From an interview done with Christianity Today:

“I’ll probably have 5- to 10-minute messages throughout the program, but it won’t be sitting down with three points and a poem. Chris Wyatt resigned a month before I left the Cathedral because his investors told him they wanted to take God out of GodTube. Chris discovered through GodTube that nobody listened to preaching. People are interested in other ways to communicate the message, such as interviews as opposed to a talking head.”

Schuller was kicked off his father’s television program The Hour of Power because he preaches too much Bible, reportedly.  This has led him to the conclusion that people don’t listen to preaching.  Praise God, this is not true.  People will listen to preaching.  But it needs to be stout, true, and passionate.  It is not strong biblical preaching that fails to draw attention, most often–it is weak, piddly, watered-down preaching.

Biblical preaching is alive and well.  So is its object, Jesus Christ.

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