Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards by John Carrick

The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards by John Carrick,
Banner of Truth Trust, 2008, 465pp,
In recent years there has been a revival of interest in Jonathan Edwards, the New England preacher-theologian. For many a long year his great treatises lay neglected. The Age of the Enlightenment had little time for a hell-fire preacher who taught that mankind is enslaved to sin. But the evils of the 20th century made people think again. Perhaps Edwards has something important to say to the modern condition? Academics like Perry Miller saw Edwards as an intellectual giant and gave fresh attention to his more philosophical writings. The advent of so-called neo-orthodox theology, associated with Karl Barth also helped to create a climate that was more sympathetic to Edwards' God-centered concerns. In the wake of Word War I, Barth became disillusioned with the easy optimism of Liberal theology. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, he exposed the terrible power of sin and and demanded that we let God be God. But perhaps it was the resurgence of the Reformed faith in the 20th century, associated with the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that has helped to stimulate greatest interest in Jonathan Edwards. Lloyd-Jones was a great champion of Edwards’ theology and recommended his writings to all who would listen. More recently, John Piper has attempted to popularise the preacher-theologian's 'God entranced vision of all things.' All these factors have led to an increasing recognition of the value of the theology of the Jonathan Edwards. But relatively little work has been done on the preaching of the New England divine. This is a great pity because Edwards saw himself first and foremost as a preacher of God's Word. John Carrick has helped to rectify that lacuna with this in-depth study of Jonathan Edwards’ preaching.
Carrick focuses first and foremost on the content of Edwards’ sermons. He was a God-centred preacher, who proclaimed the glory of God in mercy and judgement. There was a winsome Christ-centeredness to his ministry, as he preached Jesus Christ in all his wonderful meekness and majesty. Edwards was no hyper-Calvinist. He believed strongly in the sovereignty of God and he also offered Christ freely to all men. He strongly urged his hearers to seek salvation in Christ. Both here and throughout the book, Carrick quotes satisfying chunks from Edwards' sermons to illustrate his point.
Edwards was an applicatory preacher. He always sought to apply the exposition and doctrine of his text to his hearers. He urged them to examine themselves in the light of Scripture and to follow biblical examples of good Christian conduct. The samples of Edwards' preaching given in the text show how the preacher ministered the Word with searching power. I often found myself challenged, convicted and encouraged as Edwards, though dead continues to speak through his sermons.
The New England preacher rejected the highly polished sermonic style that was becoming fashionable in his day. He adopted a studied plainness in the pulpit. But that does not mean that he neglected to develop a gripping and compelling way of preaching. Carrick analyses the major elements of Edwards’ homiletical arsenal. His sermons had arresting introductions and powerful conclusions. He used vivid illustrations and telling imagery. He would repeat for the sake of emphasis and eloquently exclaim on the glories of the gospel or the wickedness of sin.
It is sometimes thought that Jonathan Edwards was a manuscript preacher, who read his sermons in full. But Carrick challenges this, drawing attention to new research on the preacher’s sermons. Edwards’ notes contain headings and prompts as well as blocks of fully written out text, suggesting that he extemporised at some points in his preaching. The editor of the Yale editior of Edwards' sermons suggests that his tendency to employ a more extemporary method of speaking was due to his increasing disillusionment with the church at Northampton. He just couldn't be bothered to write full sermon manuscripts any longer. But as Carrick shows, this is not borne out by the facts. The preacher's move towards extemporary preaching was a sign of development and maturation, not deterioration.

Jonathan Edwards was, of course mightily used of God in the Great Awakening. He knew very well that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers preaching and makes it effective. Carrick devotes a helpful chapter to the Spirit of God in preaching. He concludes with some wise and cautionary words on how contemporary preachers may best follow Edwards’ example. The preacher would spend thirteen house a day in the study. While his people were welcome to visit him at home, he tended to neglect pastoral visitation. This had the effect of distancing Edwards from his congregation. His perceived remoteness did him no good when he faced difficulties with the church he pastored in Northampton. Although the church had experienced two seasons of revival under his ministry, he was ultimately dismissed my the majority of his people. It is undoubtedly a good thing for Pastors to study theology, but not to the extent that we fail to visit our people in their own homes.
Carrick draws on the life and times of Jonathan Edwards to set his preaching in its historical context. He pays special attention to some of the preacher's most famous sermons such as "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" and his series on 1 Corinthians 13, "Charity and its fruits". He gives us examples of Edwards' early sermons preached in New York, messages delivered in the Great Awakening at Northampton, and his preaching during the Stockbridge years. The author is evidently on familiar terms with the Edwards' published sermons and interacts well with the secondary literature. As Carrick rightly says, the New England preacher-theologian was a "supernova", whose preaching still has the power to enlighten and bless 250 years after his death. I warmly recommend this excellent study to all who have an interest in preaching the Word of God.
An edited version of this review will appear in a forthcoming edition of Protestant Truth Magazine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord, Series 4 "Box Set"

On Monday I posted the last interview in Blogging in the name of the Lord: Series 4. I hope readers have enjoyed eavesdropping on these conversations about theology and ministry with a variety of Christian bloggers. Here is a nice "commemorative box set" containing all the interviews in date order. A new series of Blogging in the name of the Lord will hopefully make an appearance early in 2009.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Stephen Dancer

This is the last in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello Stephen Dancer and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
SD: Hi Guy. Thanks for asking me to take part. I'm 45, husband to Susan for 21 years, and father of a 15-year-old daughter. I have been a minister of the gospel for 18 months. Before that, I have been a nuclear physicist at Glasgow Uni, a design engineer in an aerospace company, and a dossing student studying theology.

GD: Your blog is called "Doggie's Breakfast" er... why?
SD: Nothing mysterious. I started the blog while I was a student. At the time I was not sure what it was going to consist of - a mixture of personal news, theological reflection, reviews, other bits and pieces. In other words, a dogs breakfast of a blog! Apart from some fairly pretentious greek-sounding names, that was the best I could come up with.

GD: Maybe you sould have stuck with a pretentious greek-sounding blog like, "Kreas-Aptos". It's not too late to change. Now, what do you most enjoy and what do you find most frustrating about blogging?
SD: I enjoy the interaction and fact that people are interested in some of the same things I am. In the early days when I was studying theology as a distance learner, no one around me was thinking about thing things I was thinking about. To write about them and have others comment was a great blessing. One of the frustrations is that now I am in full-time ministry I don't get the time I would like. Another is that I am more inhibited about writing now than I once was. I have to think more carefully about what I write in case it has effects I did not intend.

GD: Yes, throwaway remarks on the blog can lead to some tricky pastoral visits. What does your family think about your blogging habit?
SD: I think they think it is a bit eccentric! My wife reads it now and again.

GD: Do church members read your blog? Reactions?
SD: Interesting question. I don't really know. Our congregation is small (it's a church plant getting started) and not many are internet savvy, even the younger ones. Only occasionally do I get a comment from them about it. Probably just as well.

GD: Which theology/ministry blogs do you find most profitable?
SD: The ones that I get most help from are Building Old School Churches, Church Matters, Exiled Preacher, Helm's Deep, Against Heresies, More Than Words, Reformation21, The Ugley Vicar, Thomas Goodwin, Tim Chester, TheResurgence, Etranger and The Blue Fish. But actually, I read a wide variety of other blogs. That means there are many things I disagree with. However, there is often much that I can learn from in areas not covered by conservative ministry blogs.

GD: Tell us how you became aware of a call to pastoral ministry.
SD: It all happened rather gently. In 1989 my wife and I moved from Glasgow to Derby for my work. I was moving from academia it the engineering industry. Being a bit naive we joined our local United Reformed Church. "Hey, it's Reformed", I thought! I soon discovered it wasn't, but we stuck with it because there were a good number of evangelicals in the congregation. Over time I had the opportunity to preach occasionally. Partly this was out of necessity since preachers seemed hard to come by. However, I found that people in the church began asking me if I had considered entering the ministry. I took the suggestion seriously enough to consider taking a URC lay-preacher training course. I did not get very far with it because I was beginning to have serious doubts about the URC.
In 1997, after 8 years of trying, we finally left the URC over doctrinal issues to attend Woodlands Evangelical Church in Derby. This was like coming into the light! The elders there were very gracious and allowed me to explore whether or not I had a gift for preaching by giving me an opportunity every couple of months. Again some people began to ask whether I had considered full time ministry and if not then perhaps I should.
A couple of things began to happen. Firstly, in coming to Woodlands I began to explore Reformed theology more intensely. In a sense this was a return to my roots in Glasgow. "Just what exactly was I being taught at the Tron in Glasgow?" Woodlands itself would not place itself in that camp completely, but the biblical teaching was the catalyst. This study stimulated an increasing desire to preach the doctrines I was rediscovering. Secondly, I began to think through with Susan what full time ministry might mean for us. We are both naturally cautious people, so this took some time.
Finally, in 2000 I got in contact with the EPCEW since I had come to evangelical presbyterian convictions. In 2001 I finally started theological study at WEST by distance learning. During that time, I had a very useful two years working with Gareth Crossley church-planting in Derbyshire which helped confirm the sense of call.

GD: Who has had the biggest influence on your theological development?
SD: You might expect this from a presbyterian, but John Calvin and John Murray!

GD: What did you find most helpful about your theological studies at WEST?

SD: Probably two things. Firstly, learning the biblical languages had instilled in me a greater love for the Scriptures. It is not so much that one sees a different picture with them. It is just that one sees in higher definition. I love that. Secondly, WEST helped me grow in confidence in the Word such that one need not be afraid of authors who seem to be influential yet wrong. The training at WEST has helped me to discern and evaluate much better than I ever could without it, even if I were a good reader. I meet plenty of people who read plenty but who collect ideas like magpies, yet are unable to make real sense of what they are reading.

GD: Who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?
SD: There are some things that are "better felt than telt" (to use a Scottish saying). So I have probably learned the most from observing the example of Eric Alexander when at St. George's-Tron, Glasgow. The clarity of his thought and the power and passion of his delivery remain with me. Many lives were changed as a result.
GD: Has being in full time ministry been anything like you expected?
SD: No it's different. I sort of expected when I started in this route that I would end up in a settled pastoral situation. As it turned out, I came to the conviction while training that the church needed to be planting churches, not just doing evangelism. So it was, in a sense, easy for me to join with EPCEW church-panting strategy. However, I did not expect that I would constantly feel out of my depth. Nor did I expect that I would constantly be tempted to worry about whether I am doing the right things day by day. However, I see these as training in dependency from the Lord.

GD: Yes, feeling out of your depth is something of an occupational hazard for pastors. But it keeps us hanging onto the Lord for dear life. Now, your blog features a rather long list of books you have read during 2008. Many pastors I know seem to make little time for reading. Why do you think that it is important for Ministers to keep on studying works of theology?
SD: I struggle with reading. I always have done. My reading rate is 20-30 pages an hour. And that's better than it was! It is easy for me to put off reading some 17th century writer (I am reading Herman Witsius at the moment) because of long sentences, or wierd vocabulary. But it is worth it. I need to feed my soul by having the conversations in my mind with old, dead guys, and young live ones. And there is a ministry benefit - I remember Stuart Olyott saying once (to paraphrase), "If you want your preaching to be interesting, read!" I think what he was getting at was that the preacher's reading benefits his congregation too.

GD: With your scientific background in mind, how would you describe the relationship between science and theology?
SD: I find a couple of scriptures helpful here. Genesis 1:1 gives us the marvellous presupposition we need to have - God exists. Then Psalm 19 marvelously explains how God reveals himself, first in Creation (vv.1-6) then in his Word (vv7-14). Of course, the former is limited. Creation only declares the presence of God. The Word declares who he is and how he can be known. Scientific knowledge fits into the former category of revelation. With the presupposition of Gen 1:1 science is discovering God's handiwork and how he sustains the universe (Heb 1:3).
Of course, the problem comes when many scientists ditch the presupposition of God. My experience is that such scientists don't realise that they accidentally adopt other presuppositions in the scientific process. Thereby, they unwittingly adopt a faith position, which they abhor, and often they smuggle in other presuppositions to make sense of the life they actually live. This can make for a fraught relationship between public science and public theology.

GD: A good presuppositionalist answer there! Right, if time travel were possible, which figure in post-biblical church history would you like to meet and what would you say to them?
SD: I would like to meet John Calvin and ask, "What was the truth about your part in the Servetus affair?

GD: I wonder what he'd say. Who is your favourite fiction writer?
SD: I don't know that I really have an out and out favourite, as I don't read much fiction. One write I have enjoyed is Ian Rankin

GD: Which contemporary theologian would you like to see writing a full length systematic theology, and why?
SD: I guess I have always wondered if Richard Gaffin should do so. I have enjoyed his lectures, articles and books since he combines exegetical rigour with profound insight. His thinking on union with Christ has certainly changed me.
GD: A full-on systematics by Gaffin would be a mouth-watering prospect. If anyone reading this has any infuence with RG, then tell him to do it! I hesitate to ask you this, what with you being a Led Zeppelin loving Presbyterian Mosher, but care to name your top three tunes or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?
SD: I have tried to like classical, and I have tried to like Christian, but to little avail. The only thing I like along that line is congregational singing.
So, from a Mosher's perspective here are three (that's hard - only three? [You're fortunate I gave you three, so don't push it - GD]):
Rock'n'Roll (Led Zeppelin)
Where the Streets Have No Name (U2)
Bling (The Killers)
But then, it may change next week...
GD: That wasn't too bad - for a Mosher. Great U2 tune in there. Now, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
SD: I read Robert Letham's "The Holy Trinity" slightly over a year ago. Does that still count? [Oh alright then, becasue I liked it too, see review]. We need to recover the habit of wrestling with who God is and what he is like. This book helps.
If you want one strictly within the last 12 months, I re-read William Guthrie's "The Christian's Great Interest". Heart warming and helpful in knowing what saving faith is. Everyone should read this.
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Reformed Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
SD: I can only see what is around me and would not claim to know the general state of RE. But I see fear, not necessarily amongst ministers, but amongst elders and members. Many churches are small and struggling, have worries about resourcing the ministry, and are inward looking. This is often contrary to the articulated position. This is a pastoral problem. I believe that as ministers we need to be leading our people to the great truths of the Bible, seeking to persuade them that it is reasonable to believe what it teaches. But also, as pastors, we need to be aware of how the word we are preaching is being believed by our people. That's a constant challenge - to minister to the heart.

GD: It certainly is. Thanks Stephen, for dropping in for this little chat. Every blessing with your ministry!
That was the final interview of Blogging in the name of the Lord: Series 4. I hope to host another set of conversations with Christian bloggers sometime in the New Year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Mark Jones

This is the sixth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

Mark Jones

GD: Hello Mark Jones, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

MJ: Thanks, Guy, for the chance to share something with your readers. I am 28 years old; I am married (five years to Barbara) and have two children (Katie [3] and Joshua [1]). Currently I am finishing up my PhD thesis on Thomas Goodwin’s Christology at Leiden University (hope to be done by May 09) and I also Pastor a PCA church in Vancouver, Canada. Other than that, I’m a huge Liverpool F.C fan!
GD: Your surname implies a Welsh origin. Are you a member of the great Welsh diaspora?
MJ: Unfortunately, I am not. My father was adopted, so the name is by adoption; I think I’m part Irish, but I try to keep that hidden, if possible ;)
GD: Ah well. Your can trust me with your Irish secret, I'm a Pastor. Your blog is called "Thomas Goodwin". What made you start blogging?
MJ: Crawford Gribben suggested to me that I start a blog devoted to Goodwin during the course of my PhD studies; he’s responsible, then.
GD: So he's to blame. What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?
MJ: I’m not really an expert on blogs, but as far as I can tell there are basically two sorts: ones that share news and others which try to say something meaningful. On the whole, the “news sharers” are where I frequent most often, just to stay up-to-date on the latest news; the blogs, like my own, that try to say something meaningful (i.e. original thought) are made up of more bad than good, in my opinion. I think the weaknesses of blogs have been well-documented; all I will say, however, is that they can be an incredible waste of time for both the blogger and reader; I would hate to cause someone else to sin!
GD: Maybe we should call this to a halt right now. But then again, which blogs have you found most helpful?
MJ: I don’t really have any favourites; I do, however, enjoy reading anything Carl Trueman (see his Blogging in the name of the Lord interview here) writes at Reformation 21; he’s by far the most interesting of that gang!
GD: Why are you so drawn to the Puritan Thomas Goodwin?
MJ: Because he’s not John Owen! Actually, to be honest, it was Crawford’s fault; I was supposed to do my PhD under him at Manchester (until he decided to move to Trinity College) and he suggested Goodwin; I went for it and I haven’t regretted the decision at all. Goodwin hasn’t received the attention that Owen has in last ten years; I think in many ways Goodwin was Owen’s superior, not just in age!
GD: Goodwin was famously one of the five Indy "dissenting brethren" at the Westminster Assembly. Have his Independent views on Church government made you re-evaluate your Presbyterianism?
MJ: Actually, I’ve never been the most convinced Presbyterian; Presbyterians make Acts 15 say a lot more than it does – I hope no one from my Presbytery reads this – and then there are different types of Presbyterianism. I’m quite comfortable with the “Congregationalism” of the 17th Century, which is quite close to modern-day Presbyterianism. Modern-day “Congregationalism”, however, is not what I think Goodwin or Owen envisaged.
GD: Interesting answer. I tend to be olde Indy as in John Ownen's The True Nature of a Gospel Church - Works Volume 16) rather than new Congie. Right, what is Thomas Goodwin's distinctive contribution to Christology?
MJ: Hmmm ... you can read my book when it comes out next year in September! It would be hard to identify a “distinctive” contribution in Goodwin; I would say his understanding of the glory of Christ in both his divine and human natures, especially in light of Christ’s heavenly reward, is something that Goodwin devotes a lot of attention to in a way that brings out the richness of his Christology.
GD: Do you agree with Goodwin's exegesis of Ephesians 1:13 - that the sealing of the Spirit is a post-conversion experience of assurance?
MJ: No. I think Goodwin misinterpreted Eph. 1:13; part of the problem is the KJV translation; part of the problem was Sibbes influence; and part of the problem was Goodwin’s own conversion experience, I think.
GD: Do you accept Goodwin's view that the witness of the Spirit is the highest form of assurance, over and above faith in the promises and the evidence of grace in the heart (see here)?
MJ: Well, this is a complex issue in Goodwin; I commend to everyone Michael Horton’s study on Goodwin’s doctrine of assurance. Goodwin wrote: “I have come to this pass now that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much in habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all”. The subjective element of assurance had overshadowed the objective aspect in Goodwin’s day. I think he’s trying to bring a corrective here; but, I don’t think he succeeds because even the witness of the Spirit can be subjective. There’s lots to say on this issue, but I think Calvin basically got it right and Goodwin didn’t!
GD: I think it’s the other way round, but there we are. How would you advise a believer struggling with assurance of salvation?
MJ: As a Pastor, I know that every case must be judged on its own merits. That said, I think that the Scriptures are clear that the subjective and objective aspects of assurance are helpful. I think the Psalms need to be read and re-read; it’s amazing how often the Psalms will speak to our spiritual state in a way that no other portion of Scripture does. Plus, singing the Psalms leaves a Christian with little doubt which side he/she is on! Prayer, too, is immensely helpful in terms of assurance. But, Goodwin is right; Christ is worth all; and so I would say the objective work of Christ must be uppermost in one’s heart and mind.
GD: What do contemporary Evangelicals have to learn from the Puritans regarding the danger of identifying a political party or cause with the kingdom of God?
MJ: I think we need to be careful with our eschatology; the Puritans, Goodwin especially, had horrible eschatology. Goodwin thought he was living on the verge of eschatological glory (1650-1700s); he thus interpreted a lot of the political events in light of the book of Revelation. A lot of the madness among certain evangelicals today is basically a re-run of the seventeenth century, most of them just don’t know it! In light of history, we need to be very cautious with our ideas of how politics relate to the kingdom of God.
GD: Wise words. Now, if time travel were possible, which figure in post-biblical church history would you like to meet (apart from Goodwin!), and what would you say to him?
MJ: Wow, what a question. I think I’d like to meet George Whitefield and ask him to preach! He must be one of the greatest preachers who has ever lived.
GD: No arguments there. The great Puritan preachers like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen were pastor-theologians. Today, the Reformed churches are blessed with theologians and pastors, but there seem to be few pastor-theologians. What can be done to rectify this?
MJ: Owen and Goodwin were operating with incredible “hard drives”. I really don’t like the present understanding that the scholars in the Seminaries are the experts! Seminary profs are like warm-up drivers; Pastors are the ones who do the formula one racing; the best theologians in the church, historically, have been Pastors. The problem is that for Pastors it is so incredibly hard to keep up-to-date with all the relevant scholarship. I don’t know how some of these Pastors write so many books AND care for their flock. Of course, if one is simply a “Teaching Pastor” (though, I don’t understand how anyone can really preach effectively to their congregation if they don’t know them) then it may be possible to be a Pastor-Theologian. So, I guess my answer is that maybe we should get rid of Seminaries ... but that’s perhaps too bold an idea!
GD: Maybe. Now, you recently advised your readers, "Master at least one systematician; but if you decide to take my advice, I would say that Bavinck's your man!" Why is Bavinck the best for systematic theology?
MJ: I think Bavinck combines systematics with historical theology better than anyone. He’s not always exegetically rigorous, but he gives you a good sweep of the history of doctrine. I like being able to read ST and HT in one go! Saves me time.
GD: There is no doubt lots of time to be saved reading by Bavinck’s four volume dogmatics. Who is your favourite contemporary Reformed theologian?
MJ: I think Richard Gaffin is probably the best Reformed theologian we have right now; he’s influenced me a lot; the Reformed world is lacking high calibre systematicians; where are the Warfield’s or the Hodge’s? I really enjoy Carl Trueman’s work, too. But he’s a historian, not really a theologian.
GD: I’ve a lot of respect for Gaffin’s rich exegetical approach to theology. With him you don’t just get a dollop of doctrine followed by a string of proof texts. Trueman is a very stimulating and provocative church historian. What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
MJ: I’ll go for two: Goodwin’s “The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth” is one of the very best books I’ve ever read; it really is a “must-read”, and I don’t say that lightly. What amazing Christology; and Goodwin combines rich theology with pastoral care for his readers. I also think that Willem van Asselt’s book on Cocceius is probably the best book I’ve ever read in the field of Historical Theology. His book has an uncanny ability to humble anyone in the field of HT. It was worth the $200 I paid!
GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?
MJ: I like African music (Johnny Clegg and Savuka) because of my African roots (I was born in South Africa). Other than that, I really like listening to my congregation sing, especially when they sing Acapella; there’s nothing better than hearing human voices praise God.
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Reformed Evangelicalism at this time and how should we respond?
MJ: Our preaching is boring; I’m a huge fan of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his view of preaching; we’ve become too academic and so many Reformed “sermons” are lectures. We are also very bad at application; many of our preachers couldn’t convict a fly. We need to pray that God will raise up great preachers, not young Reformed guys who know their so-called “five-points”.
GD: Amen to that, brother! And thanks, Mark for dropping by for this enjoyable conversation.
Only one more Blogging in the name of the Lord interview to go in this set. Who will grace the hot seat for the series grand finale? You'll have to wait and see....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thomas Goodwin's perspective on assurance of salvation

Thomas Goodwin's teaching on assurance of salvation might be helpfully to analysed using John Frame's tri-perspectival approach to theology. For Goodwin, there are three aspects to assurance of salvation: 1) Faith in the promise of the gospel. 2) The testimony of grace- transformed life. 3) The direct witness of the Spirit.
The first point corresponds to John Frame's normative perspective. Saving faith places its trust in the authoritative promise of God found in Scripture, the 'norming norm'. The second point is in the realm of the situational perspective. With grace in his heart, the believer seeks to practice the gospel in every given situation. The third point brings in the existential perspective. It is about the believer's experience of the direct and personal witness of the Spirit, assuring him that he is a child of God.
Now, as Frame insists, while his three perspectives may be distinguished, they should not be divided. So with assurance, a profession of faith alone, apart from a changed life is no basis for assurance. Faith without works is dead. On the other hand, to focus on searching for grace in the heart, while loosing sight of the objective promise of salvation in Christ, is introspective and dangerous. We must also say that the Spirit will not give experiential assurance to those without genuine faith that works by love. All three perspectives must therefore be brought into play when seeking assurance of salvation, the normative - faith in Christ. The situational - the evidence of new life. And the existential - the witness of the Spirit. Yet, as assurance is about Christian experience, the most vital aspect is the direct witness of the Spirit, Romans 8:15-16.
Westminster Confession of Faith XVIII:II
"This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope;but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption."
For more on Goodwin and assurance see my Thomas Goodwin: His Life, Times, and Quest for Assurance, under Articles About Goodwin, here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: John Hendryx

This is the fifth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello John Hendryx, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
JH: I am honored to be invited to be interviewed on your blog, Guy. Thank you for having me and for your commitment to edifying the saints. A native of Los Angeles, I am 42 years old, married and currently live in Portland, Oregon. After spending 10 years living in China as a student and in the Internet industry, I am now the executive director of CPR Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit organization which oversees the production, maintenance and development of Monergism.com and its subsidiaries. The purpose of CPRF is to magnify the grace of God in Jesus Christ by equipping Christians in the truth by making available the finest classic articles and resources of historical orthodoxy. As you may know, I began the Monergism project as a hobby in 2001 and while doing seminary at the same time. After the enormous increase in online traffic we opened an online bookstore. By the grace of God, it is a full time gig now, and as more people partner financially with us through CPRF we hope to make the resources at Monergism.com more accessible and usable to visitors worldwide as we develop new content and streamline the design and backend of the website.
GD: What is the "Monergism" website all about?

JH: Monergism.com is about the person and work of Jesus Christ. We believe that all reality, both seen and unseen exists for Him; for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. More specifically, we seek to bring Christ glory by proclaiming to all creation that all spiritual blessings find their source in Him, and nowhere else. Our purpose in proclaiming the gospel is to Cut off the Sinner from All Hope in Himself pointing to Christ as our only hope since Christ does for us what we could not do for ourselves. That we have no power to do anything God requires of us apart from Christ and His cross, and that includes believing the gospel. As J.I. Packer once said, “Sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart." He is emphasizing the fact that our heart must be renewed prior to believing the gospel. In other words, the purpose of Monergism.com is to recover the fullness of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. So our hope is that Monergism.com serves as a place in the wilderness which is an oasis for weary saints in the worldwide Christian community – to point them back to the gospel of Jesus Christ as their only means of life and spiritual nourishment. As you may have noticed, we like to emphasize the doctrine of (monergistic) regeneration because it is where the rubber meets the road. When understood rightly, it exalts the grace of God in Christ ALONE and opens up the meaning of the whole counsel of Scripture like never before. It reveals whether one believes that salvation is by Jesus Christ alone or Jesus plus something else. This is vital because the Gospel is primarily about what Jesus does for us, not what we do for Him.

GD: What made you think about setting up "Monergism"?
JH: When my wife and I were discussing the lack any vertical portals for Christ-honoring material on the Internet, she encouraged me to begin filling the gap by developing a site where I spend just a couple hours each day mining the Internet for sound content on every subject and making it available with a usable interface. Over time, by God’s grace, it ended up being a clearing house for sound theology and biblical exegesis. To our surprise, it has now even become, by order of magnitude, the largest website of its kind on the world.
GD: Were you converted in a church that taught the doctrines of grace? If not how did you become aware of Reformed theology?

JH: I was not the least bit familiar with Jesus Christ growing up so I was not converted in a church. My conversion took place when I was away at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where I had first become strongly influenced by Eastern religion and new age occultism. Having become convinced of the reality of God I diligently studied Hinduism and Buddhism as well as the Bible. A class on Philosophy and Religion by a Christian professor actually led me to read the Bagavhad Gita and the Upanishads, both Hindu writings. Spending two hours every morning in meditation and reading many books on the occult, I embraced pantheism, the belief that everything is god, including self. All religions, I believed, pointed to God and were simply puzzle pieces which made up a larger reality. I thought they all saw the truth from their own vantage points. At the time, though, I rejected all claims that to the exclusivity of Jesus as Savior. Rather, I saw Jesus’ divinity as something we could all attain to; that he was just like us but that he had reached the highest level of enlightenment (a bodhisattva) and had done this through many incarnations and so ascended to heaven … something we could all attain to eventually through meditation and vigorous efforts at doing good. An old friend of mine who had since become a Christian in another state became concerned about me and began earnestly praying for me. God heard his prayers because the more I read of the Bible, the more I was confronted with its exclusive claims and the inconsistencies of the new age movement. This manifested itself most plainly one day in my off campus attic room I was reading through the following passage from Deuteronomy 18:
"When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.” (Deut 18:9-14)
Since I was engaged in a number of these practices and saw that God clearly found these to be detestable abominations, it struck great fear in my heart, such that the Lord drove me to my knees and placed in me a desire for understanding. I cried to God, “Lord, if everything I believe is wrong, please show me. Truth is more important.” The Lord soon answered the prayer He stirred me to utter. Within a week I was reading through the Epistle to the Romans and as I when I reached Romans 9 I read the following words:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (Rom 9:14-18)
As soon as I read it the Lord removed the scales from my eyes and I understood that He is God and I am not. And the work that Jesus had done for us that I had read about in the rest of the Bible now made sense and so he converted me right then and there. And although I had never read about Luther or Calvin, I was born into the kingdom understanding the sovereignty of God in Scripture as an Augustinian would. I understood that salvation was all of Christ and none of me as He stripped me of all hope in myself. The Bible was clearly communicating to me that, from the beginning of time, the greatest errors sprung from the idolatrous idea that man could be as God … and that all subsequent error in and out of the church is simply different levels of this same error, from outright heresy to simple inconsistencies within Christianity. For example, if the new age error was the most extreme form of solipsism, then the next rung up the ladder next might be secularism (the exaltation of man like when building the Tower of Babel), then Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Classic Arminianism and so forth. All of these have decreasing levels of this same error. Only Calvinism appeared to take the full leap in believing that Christ and Christ alone is the source and cause of salvation. That the Lord is in heaven and He does as He pleases. So although I was soteriologically reformed at the time of my conversion, it was several years before I actually read anything by the Reformers.
GD: That's a great testimony to God's life-transforming grace. What is it that so captivates you about the Reformed faith?
JH: That it so emphasizes Jesus Christ and what He has done to accomplish our redemption. Thoroughly Christ-centered and consistent with the Scripture, Reformed Theology, I believe, is at pains to derive its theology from biblical exegesis rather than unaided logic or philosophical speculation. Not what our hands have done … Christ’s works, not ours is what gives us our standing before God. As Augustus Toplady once wrote:
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
To be Reformed, then, is to be Christ-centered. All errors and inconsistencies in the church arise, I believe, when our interpretations fail to be Christ-centered. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46). Some of the errors that arise from not being Christ-centered are the emerging church, synergism, Catholicism, that one can lose salvation, four-point Calvinism, and some forms of dispensationalism (which are Israelocentric rather than Christocentric). To learn more of what I mean by this please read my essay called Five Errors that Arise from Christ-Replacements. When God begins to open our understanding to a sense of God's distinguishing mercy to us the reality that we are debtors, great debtors to the sovereign grace of God, will greatly humble us because we know that it is this which alone makes us to differ from the perishing world! It is grace itself that gives us the will, the faith and the desire to obey.
Secondly, and related to this is the Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God over good, evil and everything. That there is nothing outside His immediate control and He works all things for His own good purposes. There is no greater pillow to rest my head upon.
Thirdly, I love the historical roots and heritage that Reformed churches maintain in corporate worship. I love the corporate worship, the corporate confession of sin, the liturgy, the preaching of the word, and especially the sacraments. I had previously never imagined I would like liturgical worship but I have found now that it is not something I can do without.
GD: There has been resurgence of the Reformed Christianity in the USA. What factors under God have led to this?
JH: Some book publishers like Banner of Truth certainly helped lay the early foundation by re-publishing so many great Reformed and puritan works. But it also appears that God has used the Internet in some amazing ways. This is my theory so take it with a grain of salt, but prior to the Internet many Christians lived in relatively isolated denominational cloisters and had limited engagement with the ideas and exegesis of other Christian traditions. The Internet allows all ideas to be put on the table and when people take the time to read about Reformed Theology, I believe many see it as being the most faithful to Scripture. This is why so many Christians have been persuaded when weighing it against the ideas of their own denomination or tradition. So in theory, the role that the Internet has played has been to place ideas side by side and let the readers determine which ideas best fit the Biblical data. The Holy Spirit has used this medium mightily in this difficult time to be alive. Ultimately it is God who opens people’s eyes and understanding, but the means of grace is more widely available with the advent of the Internet.
GD: It is evidently a good thing that sites like "Monergism" have made Reformed theological resources readily available on the internet. We should use modern means of communication just like the Reformers utilised the printing press. But do you think that there is a danger that "Googling" can sometimes replace proper thought, reflection and research? What can be done to avoid producing "instant experts" who have read something on the net and then think they know it all?
JH: Phil Johnson once said: “My advice to young Calvinists is to learn your theology from the historic mainstream Calvinist authors, not from blogs and discussion forums on the Internet. Some of the forums may be helpful in pointing you to more important resources.” I have to agree with Phil here. Understanding the Scripture takes a great deal of reflection and prayer. It is true that many of us are quick to claim expertise but I believe when something novel appears we need to take the time to weigh it carefully with the Christians who have gone before us. After having debated with non-Calvinists for many years now I have some advice for those who wish to persuade others of the same: patience, patience, patience. You would think that proving beyond a doubt that something is scriptural would be enough to persuade someone but this is not usually the case. Like a farmer we must seed the garden and let God do the rest. Many of us are often too eager to bring others on board. It is not necessary. Just stick with the text of Scripture, reason with them, but be humble and patient for the outcome. I have witnessed some of the most unlikely folks come to embrace the fullness of God’s grace in Christ this way.

GD: You also contribute to a blog, "Reformation Theology". What made you get involved in blogging?

JH: The blog has given me the opportunity to express publicly the overflow of the ministry at Monergism.com. Many persons write me emails with questions; others want to debate. The emails with the best questions or those who oppose us theologically have actually provided me with the best material and given the opportunity to lay out their inconsistencies alongside the authority of God’s word. It is my belief that the degree to which we think wrong thoughts about God is the degree to which we commit idolatry. Obviously, none of us perfectly thinks our thoughts after God but I believe God would have us, by His grace, live our lives and think as consistently as possible with His word. So I believe in the importance of sound doctrine and the need to communicate it here so that more and more people would have God-glorifying thoughts.

GD: What is your take on the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

JH: Overall I am truly not so sure the benefits outweigh the negatives. There is an overwhelming amount of garbage out there, even on Christian blogs. It’s like white noise and the amount of data is so overwhelming that, to some degree, spirituality seems to be lost somewhere in the midst of it. Too much news, politics, gossip and poor etiquette on Christian blogs makes for chaos. For the discerning there is indeed good material out there for sure, but we should make an effort to be disciplined in our consumption. My advice is to spend more time in prayer and reading time-tested or trusted authors. Too much time reading the latest newsworthy item on every blog seems a bit counter-productive. Advancing the kingdom requires humility and a great trust in the Lord.

GD: Which blogs do you found helpful?
JH: On the homepage of Monergism.com I posted a list of some of the blogs I frequent. I now mostly scan blogs to mine for great gems, that is, scholarly or pastoral essays and MP3s to add to our database which we update daily. I also like to read from articles and blogs that I disagree with as I find the inconsistencies found therein to be some of the best material for stirring my imagination to write.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet?
JH: John Owen, a theologian after my own heart.

GD: Good choice. Now, "Monergism" is also an online bookstore. What is the best theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
JH: The book I turn back to time and again is The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall. This is one of the greatest classics of Christian literature, a book that every Christian should read. Every time I hand the book to a friend they return to me with raving reviews that it has changed their life. It is an exposition of Ephesians 6 on the Christians’ armour, but it is both devotional and theological in nature, saturated with grace. While is it only commenting on a few verses of Scripture, the hardcover is 600 pages in length. Talk about being exhaustive, the Puritans really knew how to milk a passage for all it's worth. If you really want to bless someone, give this to someone as a gift.
GD: Apparently, you are a convinced amillennialist. It seems to me that premilleniallism is gaining ground in the Reformed camp on both sides of the Atlantic. What factors are leading to that and should we be concerned?
JH: Interesting, this has not been my experience. I personally know of no amillennialists who have become premillennial, but many premillennialists who have become amillennialists. There are so few amillennialists to begin with that I do not know premillennialism could gain ground. In fact, in the USA I never met an amillennialist until a few years ago – it has always been a small minority. Now there seems to be a growing interest in it. If what you say is true I would be surprised but not that concerned.

GD: Maybe things aren't as bad as this gloomy Welshman thought. Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?

JH: I find myself consistently listening to Johan Sebastian Bach, & Hymns by Augustus Toplady, Horatius Bonar.
For not necessarily Christian music I like:
Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix, just about anything by The Cure, "Emmenence Front" by The Who.

GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelical Reformed Christianity at this time and how should we respond?
JH: I believe one of the biggest problems facing Evangelicals is the false teaching that Christianity is primarily about what we do for Jesus, not about what He has done for us. This has profoundly negative implications for everything else we exegete in the Bible. Ethics, in this case, has trumped salvation. This error really strikes at the heart of the gospel and there is no doubt the problem has reached crisis levels in our local churches. In the 1980s, some in the church had issue with receiving Christ as Lord, but today the difficulty seems to be with receiving Christ as Savior. It is pretty horrifying. Jesus and Paul seemed to have no difficulty confronting heresy but oddly the spirit of the age drives many Christians to have an aversion to it. Yes, we must respond to the crisis with humility, that is, with personal and corporate repentance and prayer before we boldly confront the heresy.
Also, together with J.I. Packer I also believe that pastors and teachers must become much more familiar with the doctrine of regeneration. A wrong understanding of this doctrine spreads like leaven through all of our other preaching and doctrines. Get this doctrine right and our other doctrines tend to fall into line according to scripture.
Thank you again for your questions Guy. May the Lord richly bless your online ministry.

GD: And thank you very much John for dropping by for this conversation. May the Lord continue to bless your work at Monergism.

Monday, October 20, 2008

PTS @ Penknap Lecture: 'Jonathan Edwards & Revival'

Local readers may be interested to know of this forthcoming event, held under the aspices of the Protestant Truth Society:
''
Jonathan Edwards & Revival’
...
Monday 27th October 7.30pm
@
Penknap Providence Church,
Tower Hill, Dilton March,
Westbury, Wiltshire, BA13 3SP.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was mightily used of God in the Great Awakening. With his firsthand experience, sound grasp of biblical teaching and penetrating discernment, he is commonly recognised as the great theologian of revival. His concern for an outpouring of the Spirit of God led to an international “concert of prayer” for revival.

Speaker: Dr. Robert Oliver,
(Bradford on Avon & London Theological Seminary)
l
All welcome!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Foundations Spring 2008

Foundations: a journal of evangelical theology, 59, Spring 2008, Published by Affinity

Yes, I know that it's not exactly spring time, so it's a little late to be highlighting the most recent edition on Foundations. But my excuse is that the journal wasn't published until July, and what with holidays n'all, I've only just finished reading it. The reason for delay in publication is that a new editor has yet to be appointed to replace Ken Brownell. Jonathan Stephen, head honcho at Affinity therefore acted as temporary editor for this edition. It was worth the wait though, as the journal is full of interesting articles.
Stephen Clark discusses The Doctrine of the Lesser Evil. With his lawerly mind and highly developed theological nous, he brings a welcome sharpness and clarity to a subject that is often frought with fuzzy thinking.
Anthony McRoy draws attention to The Theology of Arius. With conspiracy theorists such as Dan Brown and Muslim apologists suggesting that the church pronounced a human Jesus God at the Council of Nicaea, McRoy gives careful attention to the issues that were really at stake in 325AD. Arius did not believe that Jesus was a mere man. He accepted his pre-existence as Son of God, a divine figure, but not as divine as God the Father. Nicaea clarified the church's understanding of the relation between the Father and the Son in the godhead. Contrary to Arius' teaching that the Son had a different nature to the Father, the Council of Nicaea insisted that the Son was homoousios, consubstantial with the Father. McRoy also considers Arius' teaching on the role of the Son in salvation. He held that at the incarnation, the Son, who was less than fully God, took a human body, but not a human soul and mind. Arianism therefore gives us a Jesus who was neither truly divine or authentically human. Such a Jesus is incapable reconciling lost human beings to God. In this well-argued essay, McRoy convincingly explodes the conspiracy theories that swirl around the Council of Nicaea.
Mike Plant examines The Call to the Ministry, drawing attention to the historical debate between R. L. Dabney and J. H. Thornwell, two heavyweights of 19th century American Presbyterianism. Dabney disliked the idea of men receiving an "immediate call" to the ministry. He was given to urging men whom he thought fulfilled the biblical criterion to consider entering the ministry of the Word, whether they felt a subjective sense of call or not. Thornwell however, taught that while the church has an important role in discerning whether a man has the necessary gifts and graces to be a Minister, a sense of calling is indispensable. Versions of these two views are still around today, and Plant's foray into historical theology helps to throw welcome light on contemporary deliberations. This is no academic issue, as Evangelical and Reformed Churches in the UK are facing a serious shortfall on candidates for the ministry.
Chris Kelly helps us to get to grips with the underlying structure of the second Gospel in his article, Towards an Outline of Mark's Gospel. His five-part analysis is well worth considering.
Kieran Beville has an article on Preaching that Persuades. He wrestles with the biblical material and ponders how we can preach persuasively in the postmodern world. Beville argues that preachers need to be convinced of the truth and the gospel must be proclaimed boldly. But this must not be confused with arrogance or tub-thumping demagoguery on the part of the preacher. We need to be humble and aware of our own weakness and fallibility even as we declare the Word of the Lord. Thought-provoking stuff.
The journal is rounded off by Alistair Wilson's New Testament Literature Survey 2007-8. He offers comment on various recently published books under the headings; Introductory Issues, Biblical Theology, Gospel Studies, Pauline Studies, Commentaries, and General NT Studies. He concludes with the wise words, "I leave my readers to consider how they should spend their time and money in the face of an overwhelming array of literature. May the Lord grant that the books we read, whether in (reflective) agreement or (fair and loving) disagreement, press us to re-examine the authoritative texts of Scripture and may his Spirit lead us to the viewpoints which may truly be described as biblical."
I haven't a clue when the Autumn 2008 edition of the Foundations will be published. Be nice to get it before Christmas!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Paul Wallace

This is the forth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

Paul Wallace

GD: Hello Paul Wallace, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

PW: Hello Guy, I’m Paul Wallace, I’m 37 years old, I’m the pastor of Magherafelt Reformed Baptist Church, in Northern Ireland. I’ve been a pastor there since about 2003 but have been in full time vocational ministry only since May 2008. I’m married with three children.

GD: Your blog is called "Reformed and Baptist". What made you start blogging?

PW: I think as with most people there was a combination of reasons. One of them was to provide another route for people to become familiar with our church in Magherafelt. Another was evangelistic, I think blogging can be another way of making unbelievers think of eternal things or introducing them to the Gospel, thus I think it’s good to offer posts on history and geography and any other subject of common interest, who knows but that someone who wants to read about Edinburgh history or the Falkirk Wheel will stay on and read some of the more spiritual posts as well. Use tags wisely!

GD: In a recent post, you wondered if blogging might be past its sell-by-date (here). What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of theology/ministry blogging?

PW: Well I suppose that post sums of most of my thoughts. I think a lot of folks are re-evaluating blogging, I don’t think blogging is past its sell-by-date, but it does need reformation. In many places it has become a pedestal for divisive people to spread their poison, or a medium for overnight character assassination and above all else, an exercise on missing the point. Thus it is virtually impossible sometimes to have a meaningful conversation.

Likewise as Dr. Frame noted the freedom of speech offered by blogging is both an advantage and a disadvantage. To paraphrase the book of Judges, because there is no Internet King every man and women can say what they want, when they want and how they want without oversight or accountability. The biblical reality is somewhat different; most of us would be better off doing a lot less talking or writing and a lot more listening and reading (James 3:1ff.) With blogging one can have a “ministry” now by spending 10 minutes setting up an account on Blogger or Wordpress with zero connection to the Church, with zero accountability to the Church and with no credibility prior to being in what in essentially an influential position.

I also fear that blogging like everything else these days has been afflicted by the cult of celebrity -however in my humble opinion even if you get 20000 hits a day that does not guarantee that you something worth listening to.

That said, there is much edification and indeed education to be had on many blogs. This is especially the case when men have specialist subjects like Michael Haykin (interviewed here) on baptist history.

GD: Which blogs do you find most helpful?

PW: I find small, shall we say intimate, blogs most helpful and edifying; those where ordinary folks just share what the Lord is teaching them from his word, or sharing experiences which reveal his wonderful purposes in their lives, or where ordinary pastors of ordinary churches share their meditations. They tend to not have hundreds of comments, they tend not to be argumentative and arrogant. (See my blogroll for examples).
I also appreciate some blogs where substantial critiques of books and movements are posted, emphasis on substantial, which in this context means biblical argumentation based on Biblical truth not on personal opinion and prejudice. For example Iain Campbell’s excellent Creideamh .
So I like blogs like yours, Martin Downes’ Against Heresies (interviewed here), of course I appreciate my friends over at Reformed Baptist Fellowship, as well as a scattering of other folks from around the UK and USA. I do check into the big hitters occasionally, especially Church Matters the 9 Marks blog, because they are very much local church based and centred on the development and ministry of the local church.
GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?
PW: Well my wife has a blog too ( Home but not alone) so she can’t really criticise! And she is a much more frequent poster than I am. Since I’m not a daily poster by any means, it has virtually no impact on family life. The children just know I have one that’s about it.
GD: What makes you laugh/cry?
PW: Mater from "Cars" makes me laugh.
Preaching and participating at The Lord’s Supper which so vividly reminds me of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and of my communion with Him, not infrequently raises very real affections and emotions in me. I’m not given to crying as such.
GD: How did you feel the call to pastoral ministry?
PW: My call to the ministry was, and still is, related to both the spiritual gifting and “inward” calling, and providential opportunity to serve - “external” calling. I believe there must be both. In a sense then I feel the Lord had been preparing me for service for many years prior to taking up office, but in His time gave me a irresistible desire to serve and a providential sphere in which to answer that call. The assurance that God has inwardly called me to the ministry (a subjective judgment) has been verified by the church’s recognition of gifting and grace which (an objective judgment).
GD: Where did you train for the ministry and what did you find most useful about your studies?
PW: I have no formal training for the ministry, as in College or Seminary, but have many years of informal, local church based training, though I am presently studying again with Reformed Baptist Seminary. In a way it would be true to say that the church I now serve was the location of my training.
Probably the most influential and useful study I have done was Hermeneutics, get this one right and you’re well on the way to being a dependable pastor.
GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
PW: On Calvinsm: Loraine Boettner, then theology general: A.A. Hodge, he was my first systematic theology professor! - Outlines of Theology was my meat and potatoes for a couple of years in my late teens. Then John Gresham Machen whose works I devoured and which started to connect everything together.
GD: Who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?
PW: Can I have two? [Oh alright then - GD] Firstly my former pastor and co-pastor Robert Briggs and secondly Professor Edward Donnelly who I believe to be the most gifted and effective preacher I have ever heard and yet is the simplest preacher I have ever heard. Preaching is much better caught than taught and I am very thankful for having sat under the preaching of these men regularly.
GD: What is the best bit of advice anyone has given you on preaching?
PW: A summary of what preaching is about: “Tell them what it says and then tell them what it means to them”.
GD: What are the most enjoyable and the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry?
PW: This will sound selfish perhaps but the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of the pastoral ministry are for me one and the same thing - there is the joy and privilege of studying God’s word every day and there is the challenge of having to do so and be accountable to God for it, (not to mention the frequent difficulties encountered in studying it).
GD: The Reformed tradition has been overwhelmingly peadobaptist. What does it mean to be a Reformed Baptist?
PW: It means for me that I am as close to historic Reformed orthodoxy as my conscience will allow, and that is pretty close. There is all sort of talk about what is and what is not “Reformed” and that’s a discussion that is necessary, however there are few paedobaptists today who are strictly aligned with the magisterial reformers on every detail and so by definition being “Reformed” allows for some movement.
For me Reformed means not only adherence to the five solas, not only adherence to and preaching of the 5 points of Calvinism, but also adherence to the three primary marks of a Reformed Church which were and are; preaching of the authentic Apostolic doctrine and application of the same in evangelism and worship, biblical discipline in the church and, proper administration of the sacraments.
Granted my paedobaptist brothers would say I’m at least 25% out on that last point but here I stand I can do not other! I must say I am quite amazed at some of the folks who are still deemed “Reformed” just because they are paedobaptist and in spite of their seismic shifts away from Reformed orthodoxy on the most essential doctrines such as justification, inerrancy etc. I’m not at all convinced that infant baptism and that form of covenantal theology that supports it is the sine qua non of what it means to be Reformed.
For a good summary definition I would fully agree with your readers could consult the links posted here.
GD: Name a top Reformed Baptist theologian.
PW: Dr. Sam Waldron - Owenboro, Kentucky.
GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet, and what would you say to him?
PW: Oh that’s a hard one! I think it would have to be John G. Paton (if I must choose one) and I’d just ask him to tell me the whole story of his life, I think he was an exceptional example of God’s grace in almost every aspect of his life. His autobiography is wonderful, but I just know there is so much more, and he’d be so good at telling it.
GD: In your profile, you describe yourself as amillennial. I'm with you there. Is it me, or do you also think that premillenialism seems to be gaining ground in Reformed circles? Have you any thoughts on why this might be, and should we be concerned?
PW: Can I be provocative and suggest that it may not be so much that premillenialism is gaining ground in Reformed circles but that it is the other way around? As Colin Hansen has observed there have been many young people won over to the doctrines of grace in the last 10 years, and it seems to me the main areas of growth have been in constituencies that are premillenial and/or dispensational. Should we be concerned? in that I believe premillenialism is wrong - Yes, but nevertheless “the truth shall set you free”!

This is however related to concerns I have about the reformed resurgence in general, it seems to be somewhat disconnected from a covenantal understanding of Scripture which leaves a vacancy that dispensationalism will only too quickly fill given such high profile proponents as Dr. Macarthur. Likewise it seems to be a resurgence that is largely unrelated to the historic confessions which are good sentries of what is biblical. I think until these “resurgents” rediscover the riches of a confessional heritage they will lack a permanency of conviction on anything other than the doctrines of grace, which in turn will make the whole movement no more stable than mainline evangelicalism i.e unstable. I fear sometimes that Calvinism for some is a sort of a theological avant garde movement.
GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?
PW: I don’t hardly listen to Christian music at all, so I'm relieved to see the parenthesis!I’m a real eclectic but mostly listen to classical...here are a few favourites. Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Vítezslav Novák - Slovak Suite, Coldplay - In my Place.
GD: Some evidence of good taste there. I sometimes wish I hadn't asked that question. Peter Mead said he liked We Are The Champions by Queen - on my blog! Now, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
PW: George Smeaton - The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Banner of Truth) and you must read it because the only people who seem to talk about the Holy Spirit much (apart from in relation to regeneration) are the charismatics. Smeaton’s work is one of the few full size works on Him from a confessional Reformed perspective indeed it is the only one I'm aware of.
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Reformed Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PW: Apart from what I have already mentioned I’d have to say that at a pastoral local church level and therefore I assume at a global level also, the biggest enemy is materialism and the cult of self, it is endemic and diametrically opposed to New Covenant Christianity.
How should we respond? By elevating Christ and Our Eternal inheritance as often as possible....and by every year, at least once preach on Phillippians 2,3 & 4!
At a theological level I fear at the amount of high brow theological iconoclasm that seems to be going on at present. How to deal with it? Less separation of Church and Seminary would be a good start.
GD: Well, thanks for dropping by for this conversation, Paul. Bye.

Soul & Inspiration: Love


An edited version of a talk for BBC Radio Wiltshire's Soul & Inspiration with Heather Skull.
We’ve been thinking about what the apostle Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, “And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13).We have reflected on faith. How important it is to have personal trust that God accepts us as his own in Jesus Christ. The Christian looks forward to the future with hope because we know that Jesus is coming again to make all things new. But there is something greater even than faith and hope. That is love. Faith will one day be turned into sight. Then we will need it no more. Our hope will ultimately be realised in the gory of God’s kingdom. We won’t need to hope for what we already have! But love remains. Love is eternal.

1 Corinthians 13 is really all about love. Without love the most wonderful spiritual gifts are worthless. Without love the greatest self-sacrifice is worthless,

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1-3).

What then is love? Paul describes the characteristics of true Christian love,

"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (4-8a).

Is that not a wonderful description of love? This is the kind of love that was exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. Only he has fully embodied the love Paul so eloquently described. Jesus said,

"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends." (John 15:13)

It was love for us that drove Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This bowls us over. As Isaac Watts put it in his hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross”,

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my life, my soul, my all.

Love is the true hallmark of Christian discipleship,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34 & 35).

Heaven will be a world of love, where those who have believed in Jesus will bask forever in the love of the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Has this heavenly love gripped your soul? “And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
You can listen to this week's edition of Soul & Inspiration here. The talk is 42.18 into the programme.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Soul & Inspiration: Hope



An edited version of a talk for BBC Radio Wiltshire's Soul & Inspiration with Heather Skull.

We are reflecting on the words of the apostle Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, where he says, “And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Earlier we thought a little about faith. Now we are going to focus on hope.

We often tend to think of “hope” in terms of vague optimism. We hope a special something is going to happen in our lives, but we can’t be sure that it will. Many perhaps hope to escape the problems generated credit crunch by winning the National Lottery. Others hope to win talent shows like the X-Factor, or to score a winning goal at and FA Cup Final. Some hope!

The Christian hope however, is much stronger than that. It is not wishful thinking – just hoping that everything will turn out for the best. Hope is faith looking forward to what God will do in the future. Hope seems to be in pretty short supply these days of Global Warming and economic gloom. Politians talk of hope and change. But we tend to be a bit sceptical about their promises.

Here’s a promise you can trust,

“I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What is this “hope and future” that the Lord promises his people? God has acted in Jesus Christ to rid this world of evil and suffering. Jesus died and rose again to give us hope. With hope in our hearts we can face death knowing that for the believer, death will bring us face to face with our Saviour Jesus Christ. But death is not the end. The Bible teaches that Jesus will one day return to our planet. He will hold the world to account and make sure that justice is done. Jesus will raise his people from the dead and renew the whole creation. Suffering, sorrow and death will be no more.

Having this hope gives our lives meaning. There is nothing random or pointless about our existence. God has wonderful plans for his people. This puts the problems we face in this world into perspective,
.
For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18).

This hope is something to get excited about. Our children are already scanning the pages of shopping catalogues, to see what they would like for Christmas. They are certainly excited about what they hope to receive. Christians face the future with hope, because we have so much to look forward to,

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2).

Is that your hope too?

You can listen to this week's edition of Soul & Inspiration here. The talk is 33.55 into the programme.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Peter Mead

This is the third in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello Peter, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
PM: Hello Guy, thanks. I’m originally from Bristol, England. Married to an American, Melanie, and we have four children under 8 years old. We’re both committed to being involved in world missions and said we didn’t want to end up in the USA or the UK. So we’re living in Surrey! Actually, we’re working full-time with Operation Mobilisation and I have a Bible teaching role that allows me to preach and train in various settings – Bible schools, missions’ teams/conferences and local churches. An increasing proportion of my ministry is given to training preachers in full courses or church-based seminars. I could also mention that I’m a football fan, a book lover, a martial arts student, a very amateur guitar player and someone trying not to like chocolate so much. (Our family site is http://www.pouredout.org/)
GD: Your blog is called "Biblical Preaching". What made you enter the world of blogging?
PM: I have never been a great reader of blogs. At the time I started the Biblical Preaching site I was emailing with three or four friends who were asking questions related to preaching. After answering the same questions a couple of times I decided it would be better to put the answers on a site so that they could all read the same information (and save me from hunting through Sent Items!) So really I began the blog for an audience of thee or four. Once I started it, I found that others in various countries and from different churches were appreciating the site too. In those first weeks I discovered there were other preaching blogs too, although each has its unique goals and approach (before I started my site I was only aware of the Preaching Today blog).
GD: In what ways do you think that blogging can be a help or hindrance to those in preaching ministry?
PM: I want to be a lifelong student of preaching. I want to be a good steward of the ministry God has given me, so that involves learning from others. In recent years I have always been reading a book related to preaching to stimulate my thinking and challenge my ministry. I suppose good preaching blogs can serve as that brief stimulus to improve in various aspects of preaching. For some preachers, books are inaccessible, so free information on a blog is priceless. Sometimes blogs can touch on subjects generally untouched by books. The interaction of a blog allows thoughts to be sharpened or corrected. This is all helpful.
At the same time blogs can be a significant hindrance to preachers who are already over-busy. We live in a time of unprecedented distractions. I know it is easy for preachers to literally waste hours of valuable preparation time by surfing from one blog to the next. Blogrolls are an incredible resource, or a menacingly entangling web, depending on the situation!
GD: This one's for the Geeks: Why Wordpress rather than Blogger?
PM: That’s easy. A totally un-geeky answer, but I preferred the name, so I chose Wordpress!
GD: Fair enough. What does your family think about your blogging habit?
PM: My children don’t really understand it yet, too young. My wife has gone from ambivalent (“don’t let it take time from your ministry”) to gently supportive (“as long as it doesn’t take too much time from your other ministry”). I like her perspective because it reflects mine. I view blogging as a 10-15 minute per day exercise. It’s good for me to crystallize my thoughts on preaching, and if those thoughts help someone else preach biblically, great!
GD: Where did you train for the preaching ministry and what did you find most helpful about your training?
PM: I grew up in a “denomination” that encourages all most men to preach (there is good and bad in that approach). So I started preaching at 17. My father and grandfather were preachers, so it might seem an obvious thing to do, but I was very resistant (shy personality, other goals in life, etc.) I started preaching and was very encouraged to keep on doing so. Then during university I spent my placement year working on an OM Ship (see http://www.omships.org/). I had constant opportunities to preach during that year and learned a lot from the sheer diversity of opportunities. During that year I decided to go to seminary after I finished my business degree. So I went to Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, OR for a year.
After getting married we later returned to Portland so I could do another three very full years at Multnomah. This is where I got my grounding biblically and theologically. As well as enjoying hermeneutics, languages and biblical theology, I particularly appreciated the preaching classes with John Wecks and Gene Curtis. Both had learned from Haddon Robinson, so after finishing at Multnomah, I decided to study under Haddon too. So once we were in our present ministry role with OM, I also did the Doctor of Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – purely in order to study under Haddon Robinson.
It’s hard to boil my training down to one most helpful thing. A lot of people seem to delight in declaring that their seminary training didn’t really prepare them for the realities of ministry. It seems fashionable to bash your bible school! I feel for these people as they obviously chose poorly. My training at Multnomah, as it was at that time, was great preparation for ministry. It may sound a little vague, but the most helpful thing was drilled into me by numerous teachers. It was to have a very high view of the Bible. People don’t need my advice, or new instruction, or clever schemes, they need the Bible. I’ve been trained to study the Bible, seek to understand the Bible and then present the relevant message of the Bible – and I’m thankful for that training. In fact, the more I see all that is going on in churches and pulpits around the world, the more I am grateful for the privilege of the Bible training I received at Multnomah and with Haddon Robinson.
GD: What is the best bit of advice that you have received on preaching?
PM: There has been lots of advice along the way, little comments here and there. I was once told, “don’t apologise for being the preacher, no-one else feels as bad as you do about it!” Or similarly, “don’t apologise for not covering everything you planned to cover – let people think they are getting the full meal deal!” But really it’s the core “advice” in seminary that has made the most difference. I suppose as a Haddon student I should say always having a big idea. I am deeply indebted to Haddon for his perspective on preaching, but actually I would point to another piece of advice which has to supersede having a big idea. In my first ever preaching class, my prof took Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:2 and drove them home – "Preach the Word!" That perspective has marked me and nothing is more important than that. (Big Idea preaching doesn’t disagree with that, it teaches the importance of getting the big idea from the text and preaching that clearly . . . so the two pieces of advice go together!)
GD: Why do you favour expository preaching?
PM: If expository preaching is defined well, I see no alternative worth considering. Expository preaching is not a matter of preaching form (3 points, verse-by-verse, etc.), but a preaching philosophy. It is an approach that seeks to explain the true meaning of a text, using effective communication skill, with applied relevance to the listeners, all under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Since the definition allows for flexibility and creativity in form, I feel no restriction from my commitment to expository preaching. There are many who hold to a more restrictive approach to preaching and label it “expository.” Some insist that there is only one legitimate form of preaching, some even seem to think their form of sermon came down from the mount with Moses. In some ways when I teach preaching, I am advocating for greater commitment to solid Biblical understanding, but also greater flexibility in terms of selecting sermon form. So with expository preaching defined properly, and a very high view of the importance of the Bible in the life of each believer, I honestly see no alternative.
GD: Are you an extemporary preacher, or do you tend to use notes?
PM: I differentiate between preaching and teaching. When I teach (a seminar, a workshop, a full course), then I will use notes, handouts, powerpoint, etc. When I preach, I don’t use notes. I’m hesitant to use the word extemporary though. Too many people seem to take that to mean “off the cuff” or unprepared preaching.
I used to use notes. I preached with notes for a decade, until I was required in class to preach without notes (note the Robinson influence on my preaching instructor!) I was very resistant, as are all students required to do such a crazy thing. But once it was explained to me and I tried it, I have not gone back. I believe in well-prepared sermons, but I now also believe in note-free delivery. Many people have said that for the eye contact alone, a move to no-notes is worth it, but actually the benefits are numerous! As well as improving eye contact, preaching without notes can really improve the sermon: it forces you to do less jumping around in the Bible, to have a simpler and clearer sermon structure, and a more natural flow of thought. No-notes also helps the speaker in other ways: better eye contact means better connection with the listeners, a more natural manner, greater depth through encouraging study in the actual preaching passage rather than a wild ride in a concordance or a memory trip through systematic theology.
Just yesterday I was in a conversation with another preacher. He told me how he works so hard on his sermons and then doesn’t want to miss anything out in delivery. So he takes a full manuscript when he preaches, but then is never sure at the end whether he actually said what he wanted to – because in his concentration on what he sees before him, his mind is not fully on what comes out of his mouth! Ironic really, but I think many preachers would be surprised if they checked their preaching. They’d be surprised by how much their eyes go to their notes and consequently how little connection there is with the listeners. I’m sure many would be surprised by how well they would do without notes if they were well instructed in the process.
People seem to get very heated on this issue! Most seem so committed to defending another approach or insisting that their memory is not good enough to lose their notes. I don’t insist this is the only way or the right way. If I am teaching in a seminary, then I would insist on no-notes for in-class preaching. But each preacher should do what they can in their own ministry. I would only suggest that people honestly evaluate how effective they really are with their manuscript or notes . . . perhaps some video self-analysis is the way to go!
GD: I think watching myself preach on video would totally freak me out, but I agree with what you said on preaching without notes (see here for an old post on this). What, in your view is the relationship between the work of the Spirit and preaching?
PM: This is a critical question. I think every aspect of the preaching event is spiritual and should be influenced and empowered by the Spirit. When we preach, hopefully we are Spirit-filled and empowered to preach the Spirit-inspired text to Spirit-prepared people.
There are two dangers in this area. One is to assume that relying on the Spirit negates our role in the process. I come across people who hold the view that an unprepared preacher who simply speaks off the cuff is somehow more reliant on the Holy Spirit than one who has prepared carefully and sought to honour the Spirit-inspired text by actually trying to understand it first. The same Spirit who is at work in people’s lives during the sermon can also be very much involved in the preparation process. Sometimes the “Spirit-only” approach is simply due to lack of thinking through the logic of it. Other times it is due to a wrong understanding of the role of the Spirit or a key text – Matthew 10:17-20 (not surprisingly taken out of context and misunderstood!) Other times I think this approach is simply a cop out to avoid facing up to the required work in preparation or personal insecurity due to lack of training and knowledge.
The other danger is to presume preparation alone is sufficient and negate the role of the Spirit. We can easily fall into the trap of professionalism when we have received good training. The solution to professionalism (in the sense of self-reliance) is not amateurism (in the sense of poor quality), but “prayerful professionalism.” This means being the best steward of the ministry opportunity by giving your best, taking advantage of good training, etc., but doing so in reliance on and in the power of the Spirit.
It may be an inadequate answer, but I think the best thing to do is maintain a prayerful conversation with God throughout the process. Pray about passage selection. Pray as you utilize good hermeneutics and exegetical skills to understand the text (that means not expecting direct revelation to do the work of understanding for you!) Pray as you formulate the main idea of the passage and then of the message. Pray as you consider who will be listening to the sermon (prayer for the listeners should also be more ongoing than merely at one stage of the preparation). Pray as you define the sermon’s specific purpose. Pray as you choose the strategy for delivery (sermon form). Pray as you search for and select support materials and design the intro and conclusion. Pray as you run through the sermon ahead of time. If the prayerful conversation with God is maintained throughout the process and before delivery, then hopefully the Spirit will be unhindered by us as He does what only He can do – drive the inspired text home into the hearts and lives of the listeners. I suppose I am saying that prayer matters!
GD: It certainly does. Care to tell us your most embarrassing experience in the pulpit?
PM: I was leading a missions team in central Panama. Sunday morning I was scheduled to preach in the local Baptist church (we were all staying with the pastor). For breakfast we were served a fried egg. I took one small bite and immediately felt my body heat up and react. The physical consequences were immediate and I didn’t know how I would manage the walk to church, let alone get through the sermon. I made it there, physically drained (literally) and still overheating! As I started to preach I asked if someone could get me a drink. Two people independently rushed out and brought back a huge glass of Sprite each. I gave the next sentence of my sermon, then as the pastor translated into Spanish, I downed the first glass of Sprite in one. I gave my next sentence, then downed the second! The faces of the congregation were priceless, they’d probably never seen a preacher with a (soft) drink problem before!
GD: They have now. If time travel were possible, which post-biblical preacher would you most like to hear and what question would you ask him?
PM: Honestly, I would choose A.W. Mead, my grandfather. He died three years before I was born, but everyone who knew him speaks so highly of his ministry. I would love to hear him and learn from him. I’m hoping we’ll be sitting near each other at the first heavenly feast! In terms of someone better known, I would choose Bernard of Clairvaux. While it is politically incorrect to want to hear someone commissioned to preach for a crusade, it seems clear that Bernard was a deep lover of God, a man of the Bible, a leader and a man of lasting influence. His critique of Abelard regarding atonement theory is highly relevant in today’s evangelical climate, but I’d be really interested in his “marital mysticism” that has influenced many down through the centuries (Luther and Calvin, for instance). I would ask him to outline his understanding of God’s love relationship with humanity through the pages of Scripture (if time travel were possible, then I’d have time to hear a long answer!) I suppose I’m drawn more to the understanding of Scripture and theology than I am to any technical preaching question (times have changed a little, after all!)
GD: Which contemporary preachers do you most admire?
PM: I have to say Haddon Robinson, but that is an honest answer. He is a wordsmith, certainly, but he is much more than that. I admire his ability to handle the Scriptures. I admire his ability to say so much, but never seem rushed. I have also appreciated the ministry of Joe Stowell, Bruce Fong and others. I also appreciate men who handle the Bible well, like David Jeremiah or Walter Kaiser (even though he is a big advocate of “keyword” preaching, I love his humour and engaging manner).
GD: If you had to recommend only one book on preaching, what would it be?
PM: I don’t want to be evasive, but it depends who wants the recommendation! Robinson’s Biblical Preaching is genuinely the core text in the field of homiletics as far as I’m concerned. But someone wanting their hand held through the process more and needing more examples would do well to go for Donald Sunukjian’s Introduction to Biblical Preaching. People who get the point of these two books might benefit more from a push toward making their preaching more engaging (Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change) or more biblically creative (Jeffrey Arthur’s Preaching With Variety). Then again, if I ever get a book published, ask me again and I will give just one answer!
GD: What? I ask you for one recommendation and you give me four, but not one of them is Preaching and Preachers by Lloyd-Jones. And, I would want a hefty fee if you were to use my blog to advertise your book! Now, what are your top three songs or pieces of music (Christian or otherwise)?
PM: I like music, but don’t listen to much these days. I tend to use car time for phone calls (hands-free!), listening to teaching or football, or praying (not necessarily for the football). When I do listen to music it can be anything from hymns or classical to rock music (especially if it evokes memories like “We are the Champions” by Queen! A song I’ve enjoyed as a football fan!) But since you want me to list my three top ones: (1) I Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Keith Green. I love the clean sound and the simple heart stirring lyrics. (2) The Love of God is Greater Far, by whoever wrote it. I could list any number of worship songs that I appreciate, When I Survey, etc., but this one has a beautiful and powerful simplicity. (3) For something different I would add in a good guitarist playing anything. For an example, listen to Naudo (or Andy McKee) on YouTube playing something like Africa, or Clapton playing Signe.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
PM: I am enjoying The Future of Justification by John Piper, although I haven’t finished it yet. So I would say Act and Being by Colin Gunton. This is a must read because although not the easiest read, its critique of negative theology challenges so many of the core assumptions of Christian theology, but not in such a way as to undermine the Bible, but hopefully to drive us to be more biblical in our theology.
GD: You run courses and seminars on preaching. What are they all about?
PM: I enjoy teaching full courses in the area of preaching. While I would love to teach over the course of a term or a semester, I am usually limited to modular courses. In the last year I have started to run one-day training seminars in Biblical Preaching. This started almost by accident. I had run a full-week course a couple of times and a friend who had participated in that course wanted me to run a scaled-down version during a weekend in his church. This model has proved popular and I have half a dozen or so scheduled for the coming few months. Basically, after an intro to the philosophy rather than form approach to expository preaching, in the course of a few hours we work through the process of moving from text to sermon, and enjoy a fun concluding session on effective delivery. The passage that we work through during the Saturday I then preach on the Sunday morning. In an ideal world, with more time, participants would preach to the group for feedback, but at least this way they get to see the full process and hear “an” end-result (also, after going through a preaching seminar, nobody wants to be the one who preaches the next morning!)
I am also offering this seminar in two 3-hour blocks, sometimes with an extra block allowing participants to preach for the group. Then there are follow-up seminars and workshops too. I am returning to one church to run a seminar on preaching biblical narrative. I have a seminar based on my doctoral work – preaching to model and motivate personal Bible study. Also other related subjects can be taught in an evening workshop session to follow-up on the main seminar. My goal is to help equip people who are preaching, or who are interested in preaching. Many people do not have the benefit of Bible school training, and even some who have gone to Bible school still feel uncertain in their preaching.
If anyone reads this and is interested in possibly having a seminar at their church, please get in touch with me (here). I am always willing to consider travelling for even a handful of people who are committed to preaching as biblically and effectively as possible!
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PM: I see slightly different issues facing evangelicalism in different cultures. For instance, evangelicalism in the US faces different struggles than here in the UK. Next week, I’ll be in Sri Lanka and the issues there are different again. But there is one issue that I’ll mention.
I think the biggest issue we face is a sliding away from the centrality and authority of the Bible. There is an increasing and alarming biblical illiteracy among believers, including church leaders and preachers. As is usually the case, the church reflects the culture around it. Right now this includes an unwillingness to stand for much of anything and a fear of offending. An increasing number of biblical subjects are being treated as no-go areas and the church is losing out as a result.
I recently heard a helpful comment in this regard. To say, “I don’t know” is humility. To say “we don’t know” is both pushy and presumptious. To say “we just don’t know” or “we just can’t know” is supposedly definitive, end of discussion, time to change the subject. The Bible does teach about many subjects that today are simply shut down by this prevailing attitude. I’m not saying we have to all agree on secondary issues, but I don’t like the notion that anything other than an increasingly shrinking set of primary issues is off limits. Perhaps it is a reaction to past errors, divisions or unhelpful sensationalism. But the answer to error is not silence, but truth. The answer to division is not avoidance of the issue, but gracious teaching and careful interaction. The answer to sensationalism is not ignorance, but sensible teaching.
I suppose our response has a lot to do with preaching, but it goes further than that. It has to do with our expectations of ourselves and other believers, with our ability to both model and motivate personal Bible study, with our capacity to naturally present a contagious passion for God and His Word. The goal is not to have a church of filled heads, repositories of Bible trivia for church quizzes. The goal is to see believers captivated by God’s love and drawn to Him, which means knowing Him, His heart, His values, His mind, His plans . . . all of which is found in the Bible.
GD: That's a good note on which to end this conversation. Thanks for dropping by, Peter!