"The pulpit is the place to declare the fitness of Christ's person, and that adequacy of both his humiliated and exalted work for sinners."
T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can't Preach, p.75-76; 91.
I wonder if those who are critical of Young's fictional description of divinity have ever contemplated that one of the Psalm-writers used a similar literary method when he wrote, "The Lord is my shepherd …"
Did Psalm 23 collect critics when it was released? Was anyone offended when Israel's God was portrayed as a shepherd?
If I've got it right, shepherds in ancient times were not the clean, pacific, romantic figures that we cast in our Christmas pageants. As I understand it, shepherds in ancient times were, more often than not, skuzzy, unkempt people that one might prefer to avoid. My perception is that most shepherds did not own their sheep but were merely hirelings (temps, if you please) who did the messy work of flock-tending for sheep-owners who probably lived in town. Bottom line: shepherds lived on the underside of society.
So how does one convey to ancient people the splendor of a redeeming God who is good, gracious, caring, and patient to a fault? How does one describe a God who is not aloof, not capricious, and not cruel or vindictive as most ancient divinities were perceived to be? In short, how does one celebrate a God who is ever-present, always guiding, constantly nurturing and restoring? (source)
[Y]ou've heard sermons suggesting the Twenty-third Psalm is in some way "about" God's being a shepherd. This view is actually fairly wrongheaded. Shepherd is obviously a figure of speech, and as with other such figures, we should attempt to understand it as its own culture did. In the ancient Near Eastern culture, monarchs were commonly referred to by this image of a shepherd, and ancient Israel was no exception. But the Twenty-third Psalm is not an agricultural psalm; it is a royal psalm, and it begins with a profound irony: King David, Israel's "shepherd," acknowledges that Yahweh is his shepherd, his king. The psalm goes on to demonstrate that just as Israel's royal shepherd celebrates and rests in God's royal reign, so Israel should trust in the royal Yahweh also (Why Johnny Can't Preach, p. 47-48).
KJV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Darby Bible 1884/1890 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; but Nechoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharao Nechao king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josias went to meet him: and was slain at Mageddo, when he had seen him.
Geneva Bible 1599. 2 Kings 23:29 In his dayes Pharaoh Nechoh King of Egypt went vp against the King of Asshur to the riuer Perath. And King Iosiah went against him, whome when Pharaoh sawe, he slewe him at Megiddo. [sic]
Jewish Publication Society 1917 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
ASV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and Pharaoh-necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Romans 12:1-2 1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove [same verb]what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that a California law school could lawfully bar the school's Christian Legal Society from being recognized as a student group for requiring its members to sign a statement of faith. The ruling could set a precedent for the way Christian organizations can or cannot retain their distinct religious beliefs at public colleges with nondiscrimination policies.
The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.
Hastings allows other registered student organizations to require that their leaders and/or members agree with the organization’s beliefs and purposes. . . . Outlaw [a pro-gay rights group] is free to remove officers if they fail to support the organization's pro-gay rights purpose; Silenced Right: National Alliance Pro-Life Group may require its members to support its pro-life purposes; . . . Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy is viewpoint discriminatory, as it allows a vegetarian club to require that officers and members not eat meat, but prohibits an Orthodox Jewish group for requiring its officers and members to abstain from pork for religious reasons.
But McLaren said old forms of presenting religion -- by proclaiming one's own as true and everyone else's as false -- no longer resonate today."You bring more credibility to Christian faith by appreciating your Buddhist neighbor than by critiquing him," McLaren proclaimed. "It's a very, very different world, and a lot of people don't understand it."
"It is not a faith that takes sides," [Diana Butler Bass] said. "It is just loving God and loving neighbor. … It forms new communities. It sets new tables. It calls people who had nothing to do with each other to sit at table together and break bread."
Both McLaren and Butler Bass are clearly chaffing against any notion of exclusivism—the belief that salvation only comes to those who have conscious faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, they are both clearly contending against any form of evangelism that relies on an exclusivist evangel. Instead, they reduce Christianity and its mission to social justice causes.
Make no mistake. This is old liberalism reincarnated, and it’s just as dangerous and as irrelevant as ever.
The Greco-Roman world's religious views were open and seemingly tolerant--everyone had his or her own God. The practices of the culture were quite brutal, however. The Greco-Roman world was highly stratified economically, with a huge distance between the rich and poor. By contrast, Christians insisted that there was only one true God, the dying Savior Jesus Christ. Their lives and practices were, however, remarkably welcoming to to those that the culture marginalized. The early Christians mixed people from different races and classes in ways that seemed scandalous to those around them. The Greco-Roman world tended to despise the poor, but Christians gave generously not only to their own poor but to those of other faiths. In broader society, women had very low status, being subjected to high levels of female infanticide, forced marriages, and lack of economic equality. Christianity afforded women much greater security and equality than had previously existed in the ancient classical world. During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, Christians cared for all the sick and dying in the city, often at the cost of their lives.History has shown that the relationship between inclusive love and exclusive belief has by and large been connected. Critics would have us believe that they are inverse: when one is up the other is down. And so we are told if we want to be more loving we must be less exclusive in our beliefs that Christ is the only way. This may be true if one defines love according to the flimsy notions of modern 'tolerance'. However, history has shown that when the church has thrived in its understanding of grace (including its exclusivity in Christ) the church has further thrived in love. When the church has lessened the exclusivity of Christ in one generation it has invariably lost its love and service in the next.
Why would such an exclusive belief system lead to behavior that was so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. (The Reason for God, p. 20)
For those who want to read up more on the concept of the exclusivity of Christ I would recommend starting with Harold Netland's essay "One Lord and Savior For All: Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity." and Adam Sparks' "Salvation History, Chronology and Crises: A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions" Part 1 and Part 2. Somewhat related you can find my essay: Christological Monotheism: A Foundation for Religious Debate.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.
The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives not life or vigor to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have better view of themselves. (Mortification of Sin, John Owen in Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p. 70).
"We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs. This is consistent with the president's determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy." (source)
"It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient--especially when it's inconvenient." (source)
"Let them [the congregation] in on what God is teaching you in your personal life, from the pulpit. Then they will trust you."
Being a pastor is not what I expected it to be. It is harder than I ever imagined it would be. The highs are higher than I could ever dream and the lows are lower than I can often bear. One of the things that has kept me moving are my calling. When I am alone with God I work through this question: Is my calling sure? Am I good in my relationship with God? What do I need to learn right now? What is God trying to tell me right now?
This is called self-leadership.
Too many pastors, the only time they spend in the bible is when they are writing a sermon. I shared last night that right now, God is teaching me things I will probably never preach in a sermon. It is for me. (emphasis mine)
Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others. (The Reformed Pastor, 61).
First, we need to be spending time in God's Word on our own for ourselves. We must take care of our own souls. While we must preach sermons to our heart first, the only nourishment we care about getting should not be from sermon prep. When life gets the busiest it is too often easier to go to bed early and get some rest than it is for me to rest in God's Word and feed upon His Word. I long to be like Jesus who could stay up all night in order to commune with His Father.
Second, what is the role of preaching in the pulpit? Where does my authority come from? My job in the pulpit is not to tell people what God is teaching me... my job is to proclaim what God says in His Word. A particular application of a particular passage may not be the exact same application that someone else needs to hear. God charges the minister not to share what God is teaching him but to share what God says.
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Now the minister is not to make himself superior to the text. The minister is to have his heart warmed by the text and as Baxter reminds us: "When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold..." (The Reformed Pastor, 61). Yet the minister is also not supposed to allow his people to turn away from listening to the truth. The quest for authenticity can be so inauthentic that we actually turn our people away from following the text to following our personable stories, honest confessions, and open sharing about what God is doing for us. The listener hearing my sermon is to trust God's Word. They are to trust me as I point and say "This is what God's Word says." They should be so able to see that what I said is actually what God's Word says. This is the true way to develop trust.
The minister is supposed to me be so focussed on the gospel that his ministry abases himself and exalts Christ crucified. I am all for being personable and friendly from the pulpit in my communication but it is not the time for me to share what God is teaching me. It is the time for me to proclaim the Word that God has for all of us. It is time for me to exalt in Christ work in the gospel.
Third, while it is important not to be distant from people--a shepherd cannot shepherd without relationships--it should be recognized that everything the Lord is teaching me, convicting me and reforming me in should not be lauded for public consumption. I'm not saying this to advocate hiding things, being distant, inauthentic or a whole mess of other buzz words. I'm not saying this because we shouldn't be honest about our failures. We should be honest that we are sinners too. We should be clear about the work of the gospel in our hearts. We should be championing the work of the gospel. But too often in our quest for authenticity we pursue it as an idol. We don't champion the gospel, we champion our lives. If the failure of by gone years was to champion our successes to show people 'you can do it too'; the failure of today is to champion our sins so people can authentically see just how messy we are. Only then are we "real" and "accessible." It becomes a reverse boast and false humility. We create a kind of voyeuristic attitude and culture so that people do not want to hear the objective: God says/does but rather the subjective: what is God doing for you. The focus quickly moves away from the actual work of the gospel.
Pointing people to Jesus means showing how distant the gap is between God and man. God is wholly other. God is also infinitely holy and I am wicked. My job is not to show God as accessible by making myself as "real" and "authentic"--in this I fear we still fall into the trap of exalting the pastor. My job is to point to Jesus as the Word made flesh. Jesus has condescended; Jesus has bore the wrath due my sins. JESUS. JESUS. JESUS.
If I had one word to pastors I'd say this: check your authenticity. Why are you doing? In the pulpit, I am not to draw attention to myself. I am not to share personal stories about what "God is teaching me". Sure, like any pastor I occasionally illustrate from my family life I have been honest about my failings. As I point to Jesus as Savior, I bluntly say "I need this Savior too." But I try to follow the advice of my preaching professor in college: on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 highest) I disclose about a 2 or 3. Again, it isn't that my sins should be secret or stifled away so people think I am closer to sainthood. The issue is: do I point to Jesus and His gospel or myself?
Pelagius wanted Christians to live according to the Gospel instead of according to the Roman Empire. His theology demanded change. It questioned the status quo of the increasingly institutionalized Church in Rome. It made those in power uneasy. It made the morally lax look responsible for changing their own lives. It made people realize they were wasting the gift of life, which God gave humanity, by choosing sinful behaviors. It made this charge to every Christian: "You must avoid that broad path which is worn away by the thronging multitude on their way to their death and continue to follow the rough track of that narrow path to eternal life which few find."
Pelagius' theology was a realistic description of human responsibility and God's graciousness. It wasn't perversely optimistic like the Social Gospel movement and it wasn't perversely pessimistic like Augustine. It was a "third way" between the two extremes. Pelagius says it well in his own words: "I did indeed say that a man can be without sin and keep the commandments of God, if he wishes, for this ability has been given to him by God. However, I did not say that any man can be found who has never sinned from his infancy up to his old age, but that, having been converted from his sins, he can be without sin by his own efforts and God's grace, yet not even by this means is he incapable of change for the future."
"Pelagianism had appealed to a universal theme: the need of the individual to define himself, and to feel free to create his own values in the midst of conventional, second-rate life of society. In Rome, the weight of convention was particularly oppressive. The families, whose members Pelagius addressed, had lapsed gradually into Christianity by mixed-miarriages and politic conformity. This meant that the conventional 'good man' of pagan Rome had quite unthinkingly become the conventional 'good Christian' of the fifth century. The flamboyant courtesies of Late Roman etiquette could pass 'Christian humility'; the generosity traditionally expected of an aristocrat, as 'Christian almsgiving'. 'It is better to give than to receive' was a popular tag; but, like all Biblical citations used to ease the conscience, no one could quite remember where it came from! Yet these 'good Christians', 'true believers,' were still members of a ruling class committed to maintaining the Imperial laws by administering brutal punishments. They were prepared to fight tooth and nail to protect their vast properties, and were capable of discussing at the dinner-table both the latest theological opinion, on which they prided themselves as experts, and the kind of judicial torture they had just inflicted on some poor wretch.
In this confusion, the harsh, firm message of Pelagius came as deliverance. He would offer the individual absolute certainty through absolute obedience...The Emperors use the same desperate language when insisting that their laws must be observed, that Pelagius will use when speaking of the laws of his God. ...To him [Augustine] it seemed that the new claims made by the Pelagians, that they cold achieve a church 'without spot or blemish', merely continued the assertion of the Donatists, that only they belonged to just such a church...[T]he victory of Augustine over Pelagius was also a victory for the average good Catholic layman of the Later Empire, over an austere, reforming ideal." (pp.346-349)
"For, no matter how self-consciously Christian the Pelagian movement had been, it rested firmly on the bed rock of the old ethical ideals of paganism, especially Stoicism. Its moral exhortations had appealed to a classical sense of the resources and autonomy of the human mind" (p.369).
"As we have seen, the difference between Augustine and Pelagius was capable of ramifying from the most abstract issues of freedom and responsibility, to the actual role of the individual in the society of the Later Empire. The basic difference between the two men, however, is to be found in two radically different views on the relation between man and God. It is summed up succinctly in their choice of language. Augustine had long been fascinated by babies: the extent of their helpflessness had grown upon him ever since he wrote the Confessions; and in the Confessions, he had no hesitation in likening his relation to God to that of a baby to its mother's breast, utterly dependent, intimately involved in all the good and evil that might come from this, the only source of life.
The Pelagian, by contrast, was contemptuous of babies. 'There is no more pressing admonition that this, that we should be called sons of God.' To be a 'son' was to become an entirely seperate person, no longer dependent upon one's father, but capable of following out by one's own power, the good deeds he had commanded. The Pelagian was emancipatus a deo; it is a brilliant image taken from the language of Roman family law: freed from the all-embracing and claustrophobic right of the father of a great family over his children, these sons had 'come of age'. They had been 'released', as in Roman Law, from the dependence on the pater familias and could at last go out into the world as mature, free individuals, able to uphold in heroic deeds the good name of their illustrious ancestry: 'Be ye perfect, even as Your Father in Heaven is perfect.' (p.352-3).
Challenging the empire? If we take Peter Brown seriously, hardly. Not "perversely optimistic"? Ludicrous. Pelagianism did not offer the gospel; it offered human security contingent upon my own ability to act. As such it did not 'challenge the empire' or what Scripture calls pattern of 'the world' rather it wholeheartedly embraced it.
Certainly Pelagius believed in sin, even the liberal believes in sin. The issue, as with modern day liberals, is the definition of sin. For Pelagius it was a minor flesh wound of sorts from which one could recover, enabled post-grace to persevere and rise above such incomperances based on one's own efforts and abilities. As Peter Brown puts it: "For Pelagius, human sin was essentially superficial: it was a matter of choice. Wrong choices might add some 'rust' to the pure metal of human nature; [cf. Pelagius ad Dem. 8] but a choice, by definition, could be reversed [cf. Pelagius ad Dom. 3]" (Brown, p.368).
So here's the question: what kind of historiography is at work in the first quote?
Quaker theologian Parker Palmer suggests that "truth is an ongoing conversation about things that matter." In much the same way, I think we could call orthodoxy an ongoing conversation about theology that matters. In this perspective, there is neither orthodoxy nor heresy. That's right. No orthodoxy. No heresy.After all, "heresy" is simply a new theology that hasn't been accepted into the elite club of "orthodoxy" yet. Those with power hold the keys to the club. Those with keys have the power to open and close the gate. It's all political. And by political I simply mean that it's all about power dynamics.Knowledge is not power. Power is knowledge. Those in power get to decide what is considered knowledge.Truth is not power. Power is truth. Those in power get to decide what is considered truth.Orthodoxy is not power. Power is orthodoxy. Those in power get to decide what is considered orthodoxy.
It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do...
What is it?
“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!
Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.
“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”
In preaching, it goes like this:
“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”
The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?
God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.
The “why” is more important than the “what.”
The “how come” is more important than the “when.”
The “because” is more foundational than the “so that.”
In fact, I believe the “what?” “when?” and “so that?” have no meaning outside the “why?” I also believe the “what” can exist alone in many cases and serve to bring great glory to God.
What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves. Yes, this “end” will, more often than not, have natural consequences that will produce certain effects (i.e. good works), but the substance is in the truth understood and believed.
Preaching right belief and understanding, unfortunately, has become the red taped taboo of our generation. Avoidance of such is justified in the name of baseless pragmatism. It is the Evangelical and Emerging misdirection that could alleviate the church of the only legitimate reason we have for boasting. I believe that it is the crisis of the church today.
Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Interestingly enough, our research shows that young adults agree. The survey data confirms that the younger unchurched maintain a high level of interest in theology, apologetics, worldview, and other religions.
Many churches have chosen to lessen their emphasis on depth in order to complement their inaccurate stereotypes of this generation. This isn’t working now, and it certainly won’t in the future. In fact, most young adults are turned off by shallowness and are beginning to walk away from environments (including churches) that foster it.
The days of spiritual clichés and cuteness were never wise, but we can afford to engage in superficiality even less today. No matter your worship or preaching style, study the Word deeply and seek to communicate it thoughtfully. We know you’ve heard the common wisdom to “make it simple,” “make the application your points,” and “make it simple to apply” —and these are not necessarily bad approaches—but many young adults are finding simplistic communication less helpful than their Baby Boomer counterparts.
What young adults are interested in, however, is preaching that engages on several levels, provokes deeper thoughts, and reveals complexity. This doesn’t mean watering down the truth; it means teaching the truth in all its challenging fullness. Preaching that engages the younger unchurched is deliberate preaching crafted with depth of thought and delivered with conviction. Think and rethink. Evaluate and reconsider.
Young adults are looking for something real – something that issues real challenges, reflects real struggles, and prompts real examination. This level of depth, as described by young adults, is characterized by a continual pursuit of knowledge, experience, wisdom, intellect, understanding, and exploratory learning.
This means that the moralizing of our preaching past is out like the 80s. Our preaching should encompass more than do’s and don’ts. It should reach to the why and the how behind our proclamation. Great preaching requires mining truth down to its deepest core and assigning it to resonate within the hearts of our listeners. As a result, our preaching must go beyond appeals to behavior modification, beyond pithy platitudes on being happy and living well. Our preaching must wrestle with the meat and marrow of human existence, because this is what young adults are already doing. Otherwise it becomes like tossing a fortune cookie to a man starving in the desert.
We realize very few Bible teachers set out to provide shallow teaching. No sincere pastor desires to develop biblically ignorant Christ-followers, and none deliberately set out to disseminate false teaching. But it’s happening. Our hunch is that these things aren’t happening because of bad motives but, instead, are the result of weak and inadequate preparation. If this is the case, we each must look long and hard at our approach to studying God’s Word and evaluate our need to improve in this area.
Read Stetzer and Hayes Article here.