Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'The God Who Draws Near' by Michael A. G. Haykin

The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality
by Michael A. G. Haykin, Evangelical Press, 2007, 120pp

Spirituality is one of those buzz words that is often used, but seldom defined. It may be taken to mean religious expression in the broadest possible terms. Sometimes attention is focused more narrowly on different forms of the spiritual life such as Catholic or Orthodox spirituality. Michael Haykin has set himself the task of discovering a distinctly biblical spirituality. In this lucid and gripping book, he shows us how sinners may encounter the God of the gospel. The author’s approach is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. He also draws on the timeless riches of Reformed and Puritan spirituality.

Evangelical spirituality is not a matter of mastering certain techniques like Transcendental Meditation. It is directed by an understanding of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. The God who draws near to us is the eternal Trinity, the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Haykin appropriately begins at this very point. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstract, theoretical construction. The New Testament teaches that the Christian has been brought into communion with the Triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to die on the cross for sinners. It is on that basis that God draws near to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit. For many people today, spirituality is all about self-discovery and self-improvement. But in coming to know the holy God of the gospel, we are brought to see ourselves as sinners, wholly dependent upon him for life-transforming grace.

A genuinely Christian spirituality is the product of the Holy Spirit. He shows us the central glory of Jesus Christ and him crucified. The Holy Spirit works in us by the Word, the Bible. Like William Tyndale and others, we need to cultivate a deep and meaningful devotion to Scripture. Those who have sidelined the Bible in order to emphasise the immediate work of the Spirit dishonour the one who gave us God’s inspired Word.

After erecting this doctrinal framework, Haykin gets down to the challenging matters of prayer and meditation in the spiritual life. We have much to learn from the Puritans and the likes of Jonathan Edwards on meditative reading of the Word of God. A chapter is devoted to Spiritual friendship as a means of grace. Haykin draws attention to Paul, the friendly apostle and to the enduring friendship between 18th century Baptists, John Ryland Jr and Andrew Fuller. We seem to have lost the art of making friends these days, so this was a thought provoking read. Finally, the author rightly argues that mission is the inevitable fruit of Christian spirituality. Paul is set forth as an excellent model of active concern for the salvation of lost sinners.
In this fine work you will find a rare combination of deep learning, careful thought and lightness of touch. I warmly recommend this delightful book to all who wish to discover the meaning of biblical, Christ-centred spirituality. See here for an interview with Michael Haykin from Blogging in the name of the Lord: Series 2.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Introducing the Taffia

Dai Corleone
In his comments on the Carl Trueman interview here, Derek Thomas makes some veiled threats against the disrespectful Englishman. He invokes the much feared Welsh Mafioso, "The Taffia". Well, the Don, Dai Corleone himself has recently entered the world of blogging, so you'd better watch out: The Godfather is it?

Against Dispensationalism

Our friend Martin Downes of Againist Heresies has interviewed Kim Riddlebarger. They concentrate on eschatological issues and discuss the baneful effects of dispensationalism: part 1 and part 2. Here's a snippet to whet your appetites,
MD: I take it that you would consider a dispensational hermeneutic to be an incorrect way to read and understand Scripture. How serious an error would you consider dispensationalism to be?
KR: Yes, I consider dispensationalism to be a very problematic way to read Scripture. While dispensationalism is a hermeneutic (despite protests to the contrary), one can be a dispensationlist and a five-point Calvinist. John Nelson Darby and John MacArthur come to mind. But dispensationalism’s two interpretive presuppositions (that God has distinct redemptive purposes for Gentiles and national Israel, and that we must interpret biblical prophecy “literally”) are highly problematic. God’s redemptive purpose is to save his elect–both Jew and Gentile. This is why there is one gospel, and this is why Paul can tell us that Christ’s purpose (under the new covenant) is to make Jew and Gentile one (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). This flies directly in the face of the dispensational hermeneutic which sees one gospel, but distinct redemptive purposes for Jew and Gentile.
And while dispensationalists rail against those who “spiritualize” the Bible, the amillennarian insists upon interpreting Old Testament prophecy as Jesus and the apostles do. The tough thing for dispensationalists to face is that Jesus and the apostles do the very thing dispensationalists claim should not be done. This means that at the end of the day, it is dispensationalists who don’t take the Bible “literally” since they insist that Old Testament passages which speak about the role of Israel, tell us in advance what the New Testament writers actually mean. This, of course, is highly problematic. The New Testament writers must be allowed to interpret the Old Testament, especially in light of the coming of Christ.
All of that is to say, dispensationalism certainly does not rise to the level of heresy. But it really does obscure clear passages, and it does not allow us to understand the course of redemptive history as Jesus and the apostles understand it. Ironically, it was the zealots and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who were most angry with Jesus when he told them that the kingdom promises of the Old Testament were realized in him, and not in a national kingdom, or a restored nation of Israel.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Carl Trueman

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

GD: Hello Carl Trueman and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
CT: I'm an Englishman. I teach church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in the States, where I also serve as Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs. I have a wife, Catriona (a Gael from the Isle of Lewis), and two sons, John and Peter. I like to run long distances, and I'm a very part-time part-time follower the greatest rugby club in the known universe: Gloucester.

GD: So, you're a church historian. What's the point of knowing all that old stuff?

CT: Christianity is an historical religion. It is only as we understand the past, how the Bible's teaching has been transmitted to us through history, that we can truly understand the significance of our position in the present. To be clueless about history is to absolutise the present. I think Karl Marx put it nicely: men make history, but they do not make the history that they choose. We are, individually and corporately, determined to an extent by the past; learning about that past liberates us.

GD: Well, I can see that the Early Church Fathers with their creeds and that are important, and the Reformation just rocks. But who cares about the Medeivals, weren't they all just monks and popes or something?

CT: I used to think that; but study of post-Reformation Protestantism (that of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) has convinced me that much of what is basic to our Christian doctrine in the Reformed tradition (e.g., the nature of God, necessity, predestination etc) was self-consciously appropriated by the Reformed from medieval theology. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If good arguments on these points were made in the Middle Ages, it would be foolish not to use them.

GD: Fair enough. Who has most influenced your theological development?

CT: Theologically, I'm deeply indebted to J I Packer. Martin Luther is a constant part of my theological diet. Other theologians I love to read are Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Owen, Blaise Pascal, B B Warfield, Cardinal Newman, and Herman Bavinck. Of more recent writers, D A Carson and C J Mahaney. CJ has had a deeper impact on my life perhaps than any other recent author -- the deceptive simplicity of his practical writings is simply beautiful and, on a practical level, very convicting.

GD: You recently called yourself a "bog standard evangelical". Do you have to be a Presbyterian to be bog standard, or can I (a Baptist) join in?

CT: Sure. The whole point is that we set the doctrinal bar pretty low for bog-standardism so you should be able to scrape in, even without a decent doctrine of the church.

GD: Are you talking to me? I was going to let you to plug your new book. I'm not so sure now. But to just show you how gracious we Baptists (with our eminently biblical doctrine of the church) can be, I'll still allow the plug. You have just brought out a new title, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, (Ashgate, 2007 - here). What draws you to the great Puritan divine and what lessons does he have to teach us today?
CT: He has a profound grasp of the holiness and grace of God; he has a very high view of divine authority, specifically as manifested in the unique, inspired, inerrant scriptures. He also did theology in a learned, Catholic fashion, wrestling with the biblical text, moving from exegesis to doctrinal synthesis in a manner which respected the great theology of the church of times past.

GD: Naturally, Owen was very decent Independent (as are many Reformed Baptists), rather than a Presbyterian. Now, why should pastors be interested in church history, for the sermon illustrations?
CT: Of course. But also to enable us to grasp the depth of the Christian tradition and also to understand our own context better. Moving to a foreign country allows the emigrant to understand their adopted culture and the one they have left behind better. Doing history is like visiting a foreign country. As we learn to see and think as saints of previous generations, we learn also to think critically about our current situation.

GD: What, in your view are the key differences between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism?

CT: It depends on how you define them. In America, fundamentalism carries strong connotations of a dispensational eschatology and various cultural taboos -- no alcohol etc. Then, evangelicalism has come to be defined more by institutions (colleges, publishers etc) than by specific doctrinal commitments. Both terms are, I think, unhelpful, but we probably have to use them. Evangelical now needs to be qualified -- `liberal', `open', `conservative' etc.

GD: If you could travel through time and meet one person from church history, who would it be and what would you say?
CT: Martin Luther. `Can I join you for one of your round-the-beer-table theological discussions?'

GD: You engage in a little blogging over at Reformation 21. What, in your estimation are some of the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

CT: Few strengths. It's all too anarchic. I think fun and information sharing are the best it can do. Weaknesses: feeds narcissism; allows any old nutcase to present themselves as a serious player in theological and ecclesiastical discussion.

GD: And that's a bad thing? Now seriously, I hear that you are a bit of a Mosher, with a special love for Led Zeppelin. The great Welsh theologian, Derek Thomas recently expressed concern that heavy rock head-banging may have a damaging effect on one's finely tuned theological mind? Care to respond?
CT: Passing by the rather incoherent concept of a `great Welsh theologian', I think anyone who has ever watched the VH-1 program, `On this Rock' and listened to Ozzie Osbourne parsing the differences between supra- and infra-lapsarianism, Eddie Van Halen critiquing the Bultmannian program of demythologising, or Ian Gillan explaining the differences between Lutherans and Reformed on the communication of attributes will immediately realise that Dr Thomas is talking out of his hat. Del-Boy -- if you're reading this, you're a disgrace, boyo!

GD: I think we can conclude from your answer that head-banging does affect the mind. Name your top three songs or pieces of music (no LZ allowed), we've had enough of them.

CT: I think `Down in a Tube Station at Midnight' by The Jam is excellent. The Jam are surely one of the most underrated bands of that whole punk-New Wave transition period of the late 70s to early 80s. On the whole, however, I tend to think in terms of albums: I often play The Who, Live at Leeds (the deluxe edition with the version of Tommy); Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town (`Badlands' and 'Promised Land' have both provided me with quotations for sermons); and, just recently, I have greatly enjoyed Pink Floyd's Pulse. There is an amazing live version on this of `Comfortably Numb.'
GD: Cool, you like the Jam! English head-banging Presbyterians can't be all bad. 'Down in the Tube Station' is one of my favourite songs. But how you can like the Jam and Pink Floyd beats me. Now, what do you miss most about good old Blighty?
CT: Family; Bon Accord Free Church of Scotland in Aberdeen, where I was privileged to serve as an elder. Then, in no particular order, decent pubs and beer, proper chocolate, spaghetti hoops, Indian food, Branston pickle, marmite, thoughtful newspapers, Harry Hill, Terry Wogan's Breakfast Show, orthodox Christians who are left of center in politics.

GD: Don't they have Branston pickle in the US? How can you bear it over there? Right, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
CT: Rober Kolb and Charles P Arand, The Genius of Luther's Theology. Just a great book on the central gospel truths as expressed by Luther. The older I get, the more I crave the simple stuff. This isn't simple, in the sense of being lightweight, but it focuses so beautifully and pastorally on the basics.

GD: What is the biggest challenge facing evangelicals today, and how should we respond?
CT: Church discipline. It's virtually meaningless in a world of motor cars and multiple choice for church. Yet, if it is as central to the success of Christian discipleship as history would suggest, we are in real trouble.

GD: Church discipline is certainly a problem area. Which (if any) theology blogs do you enjoy?
CT: I don't read blogs. I occasionally get sent stuff by friends that they have read and which they think is interesting; but I am just too busy to do it myself.
GD: Well, Carl, I'd better not keep you any longer. Thanks very much for stopping by for this conversation. Bye!

Next up will be one of two people, depending who can be bothered to respond to my questions first.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ted Donnelly on Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Yesterday I crossed the River Severn and entered the Land of my Fathers for a Minister's Day Conference at Free School Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend. The speaker was Ted Donnelly, who has given two series of much appreciated main addresses at the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference. It was good to meet up with some old friends at the conference. On the way home, I was able to drop in on my mum for a cup of tea and some Welsh Cakes.

Ted is a real pastor's pastor. He approached the subject in hand with a fine grasp of the hermeneutical and theological issues at stake. Yet was not afraid to question the received wisdom of the academy. His presentation was engagingly clear and stimulating. But Ted did not come to us an an expert with all the answers. He had the air of a fellow-practitioner, who was himself trying to come to grips with faithfully preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Here's a brief report of what he had to say in his two lectures.

The apostles clearly preached Christ from the Old Testament. That was the only Testament they had! From the Old Testament they proclaimed Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. They preached his death, resurrection and lordship as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. A cursory look at the apostle's preaching in Acts confirms this point. But we seem to have difficulties in this area. We don't want to fall into the trap of "spiritualising" the Old Testament narratives. The Enlightenment has taught us to view the Bible not as supernatural revelation with one essential message, but as a disunited jumble. Such an approach precludes seeing Christ as the key theme of the Old Testament. Perhaps the task of grammatico-historical exegesis has been too narrowly defined, with attention being focused almost entirely on the immediate history and context of the Old Testament texts. The wider canonical context has been missed. This does not mean that sober, grammatico-historical exegesis should be jettisoned. But our exegesis must bear in mind the canonical and Christological dimensions of the Old Testament.

Some scholars argue that we should not follow the apostle's method of exegesis, for they were inspired interpreters of the Old Testament, and we are not. Ted Donnelly turned that on its head by saying that we must follow the apostle's method precisely because they were inspired. They found Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. There are around 1,600 quotes from the Old Testament in the New and around 2,000 allusions. Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. He is found in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. In him God's covenant with Abraham reaches its grand conclusion. The Kingdom of God, prefigured in the Old Testament, draws near in the coming of Christ the King. We should be able to see Christ revealed on every page of the Old Testament.

Redemptive historical preaching is good at showing how big Bible themes are fulfilled in Christ. But those who advocate such an approach to preaching can sometimes be guilty of denigrating a practical and exemplary use of the Old Testament. However, the apostles urged believers to heed the warnings of the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10) and to follow the specific examples of Old Testament saints (James 5). We must build on the work of biblical theology, with its attention to the development of biblical motifs through the history of redemption. But we also need to be careful not to downgrade the importance of systematic theology. We need the guidance and insights of the creedal and dogmatic heritage of the Church as we attempt to preach the Word of God today.

Above all preachers need to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who love him will be careful to preach him from all the Scriptures. We must also love our people. Pastors are more than preacher. We must also be among the saints and minister to them in their afflictions and temptations.

There were times of discussion after each address, where some helpful points were made. In all it was a most profitable day out. I arrived home just in time to grab something to eat and then went off to our Prayer Meeting, where my friend Jim Henry from the Open Air Mission gave the Bible study.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Colin Adams

This is the fourth in our series of interveiws with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is....

GD: Hello and welcome, Colin. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
CA: Well first and foremost I'm blessed to be a Christian: I have known the Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way since I was five years old. Additionally, I am married to my treasured wife Nicki and am greatly blessed to have three children: Glen, Rebekah and Grace. What else can I say?... I'm from Scotland - born and bred - and spent the first 23 years of my life living in the Glasgow area. For the last five years I've 'defected' to Glasgow's ancient rival, Edinburgh, enjoying ministry with Charlotte Baptist Chapel. In my current manifestation, I serve the congregation as an Associate Pastor, a role which involves regular preaching and discipleship of university students.
GD: Your blog is called "Unashamed Workman". What prompted you to start blogging?
CA: Strangely, my wife. Months prior to UW's launch, she and some friends had kickstarted a blog (titus2talk) in relation to Biblical Womanhood. It looked like a lot of fun! One day Nicki asked me whether I had ever thought of starting a blog myself. Knowing that I could never sustain such an endeavour without picking the right subject, I decided to focus on preaching; something I'm very passionate about.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
CA: Two things: personal reflection and interpersonal relationships. On the one hand, having to post something every day on the subject of preaching has disciplined me to continue thinking 'out loud' about the subject. Like most people, my tendency is to want to 'settle' with what I've already learned. In this regard, the blog is a preventative, as well as a productive measure. On the other hand, I really have enjoyed getting to know other believers (especially pastors) from all across the world. Already, the blog has established new relationships and created unlikely opportunities.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
CA: I think blogging could become a form of escapism, so that in an inordinate amount of time is given to it. I suppose this would be especially bad for pastors who might be tempted to flee the responsibilities of watching the flock, praying for and preaching to the sheep. a move that would lead to disastrous consequences. For this reason, I try only to read my blog-reader once a day and only write for a short 'designated time' (usually during my lunch break). I want to ensure it doesn't steal time at home, for example.
GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?
CA: My wife is supportive, though in the earlier stages (when I was less thought through about time management) - I'm not so sure. Thankfully, my wife sees great value in biblical preaching, which I suppose makes a big difference...
GD: Where did you train for the Christian Ministry?
CA: Over the space of four years, I obtained a BA Theology (Honours) from International Christian College in Glasgow, a merger of Glasgow and Northumbria Bible colleges. However, I would also say that these last five years have been invaluable terms of 'practical' ministry training. There is only so much you can learn in the theoretical sphere.
GD: Very true. But what is the most important lesson that you learned from your studies?
CA: That rigorous exegesis must underpin biblical exposition. Learning to exegete biblical texts was one of the primary reasons I went to seminary in the first place. Beforehand, I could stand up and speak to people with an open bible, but I wasn't sure it was the bible I was actually teaching .
GD: Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?
CA: I'm not one of those who has a theological hero; though like many others I have enormous respect for the likes of Augustine, Calvin, Edwards and their ilk. In the modern day, John Piper has perhaps influenced me more than anyone else, particularly shaping my thinking with regards the doctrine of God, Reformed Theology, and complementarianism.
GD: Who has taught you most about preaching?
CA: Every preacher needs an 'expository model', who they can learn from first hand. In my case, that person has been Peter Grainger (the Senior Pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel). It has been a priceless experience to personally benefit from his ministry, but also watch and learn as he explains and apples biblical texts week after week. In my time at the Chapel, pastor Grainger has worked through (in whole) 1 Corinthians, Mark and Luke's gospel, Jeremiah, Philippians, the minor prophets (overviews), and James. From him I've learned many things, but perhaps most of all he has modelled gripping introductions, clear structure, direct and pastoral application, and above all gospel-earnestness.
GD: Do you use sermon notes when preaching or are you an extemporary preacher?
CA: I'm not ashamed to say that I would struggle to preach without notes - we all have different abilities - however in my case I aim not to 'read the sermon.' Obviously, we are there to speak to people and that involves good eye contact which all out reading precludes. For this reason, I prayerfully read through the manuscript two or three times prior to preaching, so that I know it fairly thoroughly. The greatest compliment I receive is when people say its not obvious that I'm using notes. On the other hand, if I have something that is sensitive to say, requiring careful wording, I may for a sentence or two rather obviously read my notes. Sometimes its more important to say things right than pass a 'communications' exam.
GD: As far as you are concerned, what is the most spiritually challenging aspect of the preaching ministry?
CA: Preaching the passage to oneself. It is 'relatively' easy to study the text, construct the outline, work out the application (for others) and then deliver the sermon to the congregation. In this, the preacher can be bypassed altogether. However it is much more profitable (and painful) for God's Word to speak to the preacher first, before applying that message to their flock. Normally the preacher then becomes a more authentic and able conduit for speaking the message. He ceases to lecture and starts to preach a Word that is changing his life. Yet because this approach requires my regular and humble submission to God's Word, it is challenging. Properly done, this practice 'breaks me' every week.
GD: Do you believe that Ministers need to seek the Spirit's empowering presence to make their preaching into an encounter with the living God?
CA: Well, yes - any Christian minister should wish to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the act of preaching! That said, I suspect there is a lot of foggy thinking about how this comes about. First, we find in Acts that Spirit-filled proclamation of the gospel followed fervent prayer. Second, since the Spirit and Word are closely intertwined, the Spirit-filled preacher must be a Word-filled preacher. (That is, we should not mistake relying on the Spirit in the pulpit for replacing rigorous preparation in the study). Finally, we should perhaps reflect on our own personal purity, specifically in relation to 'grieving the Spirit' in a way that would subsequently affect our preaching.
GD: If time travel were possible, which historic preacher might you like to hear and why?
CA: It sounds cliche, but probably Charles H Spurgeon. If for no other reason than to see and hear first hand what all the hype was about! I hear he was pretty good :)
GD: Apparently, yes. If you had to recommend three books on preaching, what would they be?
CA: Christ Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapel, The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper and Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
CA: Just recently I thoroughly enjoyed reading through Pierced for our Transgressions, and the plaudits given to this book are well deserved. It is a must read because the heart of Jesus work on the cross - what has been historically called 'penal-substitution' - is coming under increasing attack in the days in which we live. Yet for all its critics, penal substitution is pervasively biblical and utterly necessary for our salvation to be achieved. Pierced for our Transgressions demonstrates this masterfully.
GD: PFOT seems to be a popular choice for interviewees here. Deservedly so. Now, tell us your top three songs or pieces of music.
CA: There's nothing like a thousand voices (well, almost!) singing "Oh for a thousand tongues to sing." As well as that wonderful song, I also love one of Charles' Wesley's other creations: "Jesus, the name high over all." Regarding songs of a newer vintage, I greatly appreciate the hymns of Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. I particularly like the words and music of "Oh, to see the Dawn" (This the Power of the Cross) and "My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness." Moreoever, despite its relative age (!) "In Christ Alone" remains a real favourite of mine.
GD: Some good choices there. "In Christ Alone" is a contemporary classic. Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
CA: I guess I especially gravitate towards blogs that speak particularly toward pastoral ministry. Pure Church, Biblical Preaching, Pulpit Magazine, Church Matters, Expository Thoughts would be just some of my regular stops. Like many others, I'm in cyber-awe of Tim Challies, while Justin Taylor links me to everything.
GD: Well Colin, thanks for taking the time to drop in for this conversation. See ya!

Next up will be a head-banging English Presbyterian theologian. Guess who?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Word and Spirit in Preaching

Some brethren from the Westcountry Reformed Minister's Fraternal
I often post some notes on papers delivered at Minister's Fraternals (click on 'Fraternals' label below). But it's not so easy to take notes when you are the speaker. My subject was Word and Spirit in Preaching, something that I have often discussed on this blog. In fact some of the material published here fed nicely into the paper. My final conclusion was,
The Spirit's empowering presence enables preachers to proclaim the Lord Jesus with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His presence makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in all the fullness of his grace and power.
Rather than give a precis of what I had to say, I thought that I would give you a flavour of the discussion that followed my address. Several issues were raised. One brother wanted to know how we can "tighten the net" in our evangelistic preaching. We need to bring people to the point where they cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" Men and women will not turn to Christ unless they have a sense of the seriousness of sin. We must preach the law and the reality of God's judgement so that sinners are awakened to flee from the wrath to come. As far as preaching to the saints is concerned, we talked about the importance of application in preaching. Our chairman, Fred Serjeant produced the aphorism, "No exhortation without application". That was helpful. We not only have to exhort our people to live in the light of Scripture, we need to get down to detailed application of the Word of God. We talked about the relationship of prayer to study and preparation. Sometimes it is so east to get lost in sermon prep that we forget to give ourselves to prayer for preaching. Part of the answer to that is that we should prepare and study prayerfully. Certainly, all seemed to agree that we need to experience more of the Spirit's power in our preaching.
If you would like to read the paper, drop me an e-mail, and I will let you have a copy by e-mail attachment (Word document).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gordon Fee on preaching in the power of the Spirit

I'm due to speak on Word and Spirit in Preaching at a minister's fraternal on Monday. Gordon Fee has some thought provoking things to say on this in his work on 1 Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1987). In his concluding comments on chapter 2:1-5 he says,
"This paragraph has had an interesting history of application in the church, depending on where the emphasis has been placed. Some emphasise what Paul did not do, that is preach with excellence of word and wisdom, and glory in a more rough-hewn presentation (which interestingly enough, is often accompanied by a kind of bombast that seems intent on persuasion of a rhetorical kind, despite proofs to the contrary). Others wish to emphasise the "positive," the "proofs" of the Spirit's power, which they see as in contrast to preaching. On the other hand, the polished oratory sometimes heard in...pulpits, where the sermon itself seems to be the goal of what is said, makes one wonder whether the text has been heard at all. Paul's own point needs a fresh hearing. What he is rejecting is not preaching, not even persuasive preaching; rather, it is the real danger in all preaching - self reliance. The danger always lies in letting the form and content get in the way of what should be the single controlling concern: the gospel proclaimed through human weakness but accompanied by the powerful work of the Spirit so that lives are changed through a divine-human encounter. That is hard to teach in homiletics, but it still stands as the true need in genuinely Christian preaching." (p. 96-97)
The writer's God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, (Hendrickson, 1995), is also very useful, especially his exegesis of the passage referred to above, and his treatment of the key text, 1 Thessalonians 1:5. It is not sufficient to argue for Spirit anointed preaching on the basis of historical anecdotes. We need to get to grips with Scripture, and Fee helps us to do just that.

Friday, February 08, 2008

An interview with Robert Strivens

Robert Strivens is Principal-Designate of the London Theological Seminary

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

RS: Thank you, Guy. It is a privilege to be interviewed on your blog.

I am 47, married to Sarah, with three sons: David, Thomas and Daniel – aged 22, 20 and 17. We live in Banbury, which is a lovely market town in Oxfordshire. I was pastor of Banbury Evangelical Free Church for eight years, but finished that last summer in order to take up my current position as Principal-Designate of the London Theological Seminary.

Before going into the pastorate, I trained (at LTS) for 2 years, and previous to that I was a solicitor for 12 years in a large firm in the City of London. Although moving from the legal profession to pastoral ministry was a big change in our lives, the skills and experience I gained there have proved very useful in my current work.

GD: Give us a (very) potted account of the origins and history of LTS.

RS: LTS was founded in 1977, under the leadership and vision of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was set up to provide a training-ground for men planning to enter pastoral ministry. There was a belief that the training available for men in non-Anglican situations needed strengthening. The vision was for a seminary that would serve the evangelical community in this country, by focussing on the need for sound, biblical gospel preaching and the study of the great truths of the Reformation.

GD: As incoming Principal, what is your vision for the role of Seminary in the 21st century?

RS: To build on what has been done here to date. We need to be engaged, as a seminary, with evangelical churches up and down the land. We need to offer training that wins the confidence of those churches. I am currently meeting with pastors and churches around the country to listen to what they have to say about LTS, and we are developing the course in a number of areas to address some of the issues that have been raised.

We are also engaged in the early stages of a building project to enlarge the library and the lecture facilities. I would love to see those new facilities full of UK and international students, all preparing for a lifetime of faithful, biblical ministry.

GD: Many theological colleges in the UK are geared up to educate and train a wide range of students. Why does the Seminary simply focus on the pastoral-preaching ministry?

RS: Because we believe that the urgent need today is for church leaders who are strong in the Word of God – able to grasp and proclaim its message for today’s world. Other areas of ministry are important too, of course, but we believe that at LTS we will do best by focussing on one main aim and carrying it out to the best of our ability.

GD: Is there such a thing as a distinct call to the Ministry of the Word? If so, what is it?

RS: Yes, I believe there is. In Eph. 4:11, in the midst of a passage dealing with the gifts that Christ gives to each believer for the growth and maturity of the church, Paul singles out Word ministry as the particular means that Christ uses to enable this. If these men are ‘given’ to the church, it would be odd if they did not know it. The real question is: how are they (and the church) to know it? All would agree, I think, that this must involve the right character and gifts for the work, and that these must be recognised by the church – not just by the individual concerned. Is there a subjective element to it as well? I would find it strange if there were not, and verses like 1 Cor. 9:16 and 1 Tim. 3:1 seem to indicate such an element – but I know there is controversy over this and this is perhaps not the place to go into it in depth!

GD: Are all members of the faculty men with pastoral experience as well as theologians and biblical scholars?

RS: Yes, absolutely. That is one of the founding principles of LTS. We believe that (at least) two things are essential in a lecturer here: (1) a thorough grasp of the subject he is lecturing, and (2) a pastoral approach to teaching it, i.e. addressing those issues and difficulties which affect pastoral ministry, rather than issues which arise solely in an academic context. We aim for a high intellectual level, at least equivalent to any academic course – but the perspective is intensely pastoral.

GD: What are the advantages of attending a Seminary over "in house" training in the local church?

RS: Breadth and depth, I would say, and perhaps speed. Seminary training is not right for everyone. But it does expose students to a variety of different lecturers, from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, which in-house training may not provide. I think this is an enormous benefit. Mixing with fellow-students from other backgrounds is also, in my view, invaluable. And normally, I think, a lecturer who has specialised in a particular area is able to teach it in more depth than may be attainable in-house. Finally, I suspect you can simply cover more ground more quickly through a seminary course than if you are also working part-time in your local church.

GD: What are the key elements of the two-year LTS course?

RS: We study the Old and New Testaments in depth. Hebrew and Greek are studied with some rigour throughout the course, as we believe these to be invaluable tools for anyone involved in Word ministry. Systematic theology, church history, pastoral theology and contemporary issues make up the other core elements of the course – with, of course, a constant emphasis upon preaching.

GD: The Seminary does not award degrees. Why is that?

RS: We believe that the training of men to serve as preachers and pastors in the church of Jesus Christ must remain under the exclusive control, so far as possible, of the church. We do not see any place for the involvement of secular agencies. Even if such agencies have no input into the substantive content of what is taught, there will be extra administration, extra cost and, I suspect, ultimately some influence on the make-up of the course in some way or others. Of course, the issues may be different for seminaries that are also seeking to prepare people for a full-time academic career, which is a necessary task, but it is not what we are engaged in.

GD: What about the work of the John Owen Centre?

RS: I believe that the John Owen Centre for Theological Study has a vital role to play in the future of independent evangelicalism in this country. I think if we are honest, we would have to say that developments in Reformed theology currently tend to be led by the North Americans and, in this country, the Reformed Anglicans. They are the ones, for example, who have principally led the response to the new perspective(s) and to the recent attacks on the doctrine of penal substitution (though I would mention that one of the first books written on the new perspective in this country, well before many others, was by our current Principal, Philip Eveson – The Great Exchange).

I believe the John Owen Centre is uniquely placed to help develop a strong, robust understanding of Reformed theology in this country. We have exciting plans to develop the courses and seminars we currently run (including a fine ThM course from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, which can be done entirely here at LTS), to develop our library resources, and provide all necessary facilities for pastors and others to carry out research at the highest level.

You might be interested to look out for the Calvin Conference we are planning for 2009, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth. Watch out for developments at, or let us know ( if you would like to be kept informed of regular events.

GD: I first heard of the new perspective in Philip Eveson's lectures on Galatians in the late 80's. He was engaging with Saunders and Wright way before many other Reformed theologians. His book, The Great Exchange, is available online here. The Calvin Conference sounds like a very interesting prospect. Now, pastors are not just preachers. Amongst other things, we have to lead the flock, cope with difficulties in church life, counsel the wayward and visit the sick. What is the Seminary doing to help men face the practical realities of pastoral ministry?

RS: Pastoral theology – meaning the practical aspects of pastoral ministry – is one of the core elements of the course. We also have a mentoring scheme which places each student with a local church, to give him experience of the different aspects of pastoral ministry that you mention. This works well and we are planning to develop it further, to provide students with opportunities during vacations for longer placements in partner churches.

GD: Did the training you received at LTS give you adequate preparation for the Ministry?

RS: It was excellent. I only hope that, as Principal, I shall be able to uphold and continue to strengthen the high standards that have applied under my predecessors.

GD: Over the last twenty years or so, there has been something of a recovery of expository preaching in the UK. This applies both in Free Church and Anglican contexts and is a very good thing. But isn't there more to preaching than simply giving an biblically accurate, well structured, nicely illustrated, and thoughtfully applied address? Where does the work of the Holy Spirit come into all this?

RS: Of course, the work of the Spirit is vital. Without him, we have nothing to give except hot air. We try to impress on our students the preacher’s need for complete reliance upon the ongoing work of the Spirit – in preparation and in delivery of sermons, as well as in the entirety of his life.

GD: Amen to that! Do you think that enough emphasis is being given to evangelistic preaching, that is preaching aimed at the salvation of the lost?

RS: No. And too much preaching that is intended to be evangelistic misses the mark because, in our biblically illiterate age, it takes far too much for granted. A great deal needs to be done here. John Wesley famously said that he would have far rather preached from a comfortable pulpit, but he was barred from most of them and so he went to where the people were. He wasn’t going to be prevented from taking the gospel of life to the crowds who had never heard it. We need the same attitude.

GD: There are many pastorless churches in the UK. But there are also a number of men who have trained for the Ministry, but have not yet found pastorates. What more could be done to remedy this situation?

RS: A very good question, which I think raises a host of issues. More co-ordination perhaps is needed. I wonder sometimes whether churches, and potential pastors, can sometimes be too choosy in their approach. Above all, we need to pray and we need to have a heart ready for service to Christ, in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves.

GD: When I went to LTS, I had a grant from my local education authority, which paid for everything and gave me some money to spend each term. Those days are long gone. In the current climate, isn't attending a Seminary prohibitively expensive?

RS: No, not at all. Our fees are actually quite low! But in any event, God’s people are very generous. We have bursaries and grants available for men who would not otherwise be able to fund themselves – both for UK men and for international students. This means that lack of finance should never prevent someone from coming to LTS.

GD: That's good to hear. What is the main goal of ministerial training at LTS?

RS: To prepare men to minister the Word of God to a world of sinners.

GD: What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?

RS: Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey & Andrew Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (IVP, 2007). This is the definitive answer to current objections to the doctrine of penal substitution. The authors deal with the issues biblically and systematically and answer contemporary objections one by one. A really excellent resource.

GD: I second that. See here for my review. Care to share your top three songs or pieces of music?

RS: If you mean Christian songs: I enjoy Stuart Townend’s ability to put real theology into poetry, as well as his musicianship; specific hymns would feature Toplady, ‘A debtor to mercy alone’; Joseph Hart, ‘Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched’; and David Charles, ‘From heavenly Jerusalem’s towers’.

If you mean any music, then (currently): Beethoven piano sonata Op. 111; the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony; and Rodolfo’s aria ‘Che gelida manina’ in La Boheme.

GD: What is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today, and how should we respond?

RS: An increasingly self-confident and arrogant secularism – which is really the age-old selfish human pride of fallen man, dressed up in 21st century Western clothes. The response is the same as ever – the bold, Spirit-dependent proclamation of the gospel, calling all people everywhere to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who alone saves sinners.

GD: If anyone is interested in to finding out more about the London Theological Seminary, how can they contact you?

RS: Through the link on the website,; email to; or phone us on 020 8346 7587. All very welcome!

GD: Well Robert, thanks for this conversation. I wish you well as you take up the role of Principal. May the Lord richly bless all that you seek to do for him!

Poll result: So, that's who reads this stuff!

1. Pastor 22%
2. Lay-preacher 8%
3. Theology teacher: 5%
4. Theology student: 26%
5. Christian believer: 31%
6. Here by accident: 4%

Taken together, it seems that most of my readers - 62%, are either pastors, preachers, theologians or theological students. No surprise there, I suppose. The biggest single category was Christian believers with 31%. I find that interesting, because the blog is mainly aimed at preachers and theological types. Sometimes, 'ordinary' Christian believers tell me that the blog is 'a bit too deep' for them. I'm not sure quite what to make of that. But it looks as though Exiled Preacher appeals to at least some who are not directly associated with either preaching ministry or theological study, which is nice. Whoever you are, dear readers, thanks for dropping by!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sharia law "inevitable" in the UK says Archbishop

In a BBC interview (see here), Rowan Williams argued that some aspects of Sharia law should be incorporated into the British legal system. He reflected, "An approach to law which simply said - there's one law for everybody - I think that's a bit of a danger." This sentiment is badly misguided. One law must apply to everybody in the same country. As a Christian I may disagree with some aspects of British law, such as the Abortion Act of 1967. I would even be prepared to defy the law if it required me to deny my Christian faith and principles. But I don't want a separate legal system for Christians. The dictum that the same legal system applies to all citizens is fundamental to liberal democracy and the rule of law.

See here for a report of an address by Patrick Sookhdeo, a converted Muslim, where he speaks of the challenge of Islam to society and the church. In Islamic countries, governed by Sharia law, Christians and other non-Muslims are reduced to second-class Dhimmi status. They face discrimination, persecution and sometimes even death. Do we really want that here in the UK? The recognition of some aspects of Sharia law would only be the first steps in a programme leading to the Islamisation of Great Britain. Christian leaders like Rowan Williams should be warning against this, not arguing for accommodation. Thankfully, leaders of all three main political parties, including the Prime Minister, have rejected the Archbishop's foolish and misguided proposals.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Earlier this evening, Exiled Preacher chalked up its 100,000th page view.

Where do I find the time?

When I meet people who have come across this blog, they sometimes say, "I don't know where you find the time to write all that stuff." Maybe I'm just paranoid, but often I detect a hint of disapproval in such remarks. So, how do I find the time? Well, there are some things that consume other Minister's time that I don't do. No committees for a start. Then, I seem to get a lot of other things done, two sermons and a Bible study most weeks, pastoral visitation, church officer's and member's meetings, meetings with other churches in the district, Minister's Fraternals, evangelistic activities, and leading the kid's club each Friday. Recently I've started taking school assemblies in the area. Plus there is my work for the Protestant Truth Society - speaking, writing etc. I also try to make time for the family, watch a bit of telly, listen to music and so on.
Back to the key question, how do I find time for blogging? If I had the time, I would tell you...

Monday, February 04, 2008

'Spirit Empowered Preaching' by Arturo G. Azurdia III

Spirit Empowered Preaching, by Arturo G. Azurdia III, Mentor, 2007, 191pp.
Many books on preaching will help you to hone your homiletical skills. It is important that preachers give attention to accurate exegesis, clear structure, telling illustration and thoughtful application in their sermons. Yet all those things can be in place, but our carefully prepared messages may fail to hit home. They do not have the desired impact upon those who hear the Word of God proclaimed. As Azurdia points out, the preacher "is a man possessed by a holy compulsion but hobbled by human inability." (p. 115.) We cannot make our words powerfully effective and transformatory. Where, then are we to find the power that will make our preaching into an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in his life-transforming grace? Art Azurdia's thesis is that we need the "vitality of the Spirit". I agree entirely. But I am also aware that not everybody is convinced that preachers need to seek the Spirit's empowering presence. Some might ask, "Isn't he always at work when the Word is proclaimed?"
What we need is a carefully constructed biblical theology of preaching in the power of the Spirit. And that is what we get in this book. All too often writers who wish to stress the role of the Spirit in preaching, have focused too much attention on anecdotal evidence. They recall the powerful preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, C. H. Spurgeon and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is here, they say, that we find the meaning of Holy Spirit unction in the ministry of the Word. No doubt, it is good to have these examples of what the Lord can do through his servants. But anecdotes are no substitute for the hard work of Scriptural exegesis and theological reflection. Azurdia's approach, while not ignoring the lessons of history, is resolutely biblical and theological. His exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5 is especially helpful.
The Spirit has been given to glorify Christ. In Acts and the Epistles we find that the apostles were filled and empowered by the Spirit to proclaim their Christ-centred messages. The result of this was that sinners were saved, and the people of God built up in their most holy faith. Preachers today also need to be filled with the Spirit so that we preach Christ from all the Scriptures with boldness and convicting power. Personal witness and group Bible studies are valuable. But Spirit empowered preaching is the principal means of advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The "foolish" message of the Gospel is communicated by the "foolish" medium of preaching. This God 's ordained way, so that all the glory is given to him for the salvation of sinners. None of this means that preachers are exempted from the hard work of sermon preparation. We must study hard and walk closely with the Lord. But knowing that the effectiveness of our preaching rests in the empowering presence of the Spirit, will drive us to our knees in God-dependent, fervent prayer.
Azurida also devotes attention to the role of the church as the community that sits under the preaching of the Gospel. Preaching is not a one way street. A preacher may have prepared a message that deeply moved him in the study. He prayerfully looks forward to preaching it on the Lord's day. But the congregation gives little evident response to the sermon as it is preached. That is a very hard thing for a preacher to bear. God's people should listen to his Word with believing expectancy. If a church sits sullenly under the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit is grieved and his influences may be withdrawn. When that happens, repentance and urgent prayer are the need of the hour. Spirit empowered preaching concerns congregations as well as preachers. That is why Paul often asked the churches to pray for God's blessing upon his preaching. Under God, Spurgeon attributed the success of his ministry to the fact that his people prayed for him. Dutch Reformed pastors tell their people, "You pray me full, and I'll preach you full."
Several other books on preaching may have something to say about the work of the Spirit. But this is the only one that I'm aware of that is entirely devoted to this vitally important subject. I commend this attempt to construct a biblical theology of Spirit empowered preaching. It is certainly true that preaching is (or at lest should be!) "theology on fire". But we also need a theology that will set fire to our preaching. If we take the lessons of this book to heart, we will moved to pray without ceasing for more of the "vitality of the Spirit" in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Art Azurdia III will be the main speaker at the 2008 Evangelical Movement of Wales Aberystwyth Conference.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

England 19 - 26 Wales

Wales turned the game around in dramatic fashion to beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years. See here for match reports and highlights from BBC Sport. Yessssss!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Poll: Who reads this stuff?

I've sometimes wondered who reads this stuff? Sitemeters give a certain amount of info, but they don't really tell you about the people behind the stats. The choices in the poll are:
1. Pastor
2. Lay-preacher
3. Theology teacher
4. Theology student
5. Christian believer
6. Here by accident
Explanitory note: Most if not all people in options 1-4 will profess to be 'Christian believers'. What I mean is, Christian believers not covered by those categories. I didn't really want to put 'lay Christian' because I don't believe in the clergy/laity distinction, and 'Ordinary Christians' just sounds wrong. If you're here by accident via a freak Google referral or something, then you are probably confused enough anyway.
By the way, if your wondering what's happened to the rest of the Blogging in the name of the Lord, Series 3 interviews, then fear not. It's just that the next few candidates for the hot seat have yet to get back to me with their scintillating answers to my penetrating questions.