Saturday, June 30, 2007

Him We Proclaim 2.0

Who are your favorite preachers?

What do you consider good preaching?

What makes a "good" preacher?

When does a preacher "cross the line" from preaching to teaching? From sermon to lecture?

What does a "biblical" preacher look like?

Ok…that's enough. Even if you answered these questions with a concordance in your hand there is a boatload of subjectivity laced throughout your answers. My answers. Now, I've only been in supported ministry for a cumulative 6 years, but it seems to me that if you've got a church of about 150 people you've got at least 200 opinions when it comes to "this is the way a preacher should preach."

That's the reality we have to have in mind as we read Johnson's second chapter of Him We Proclaim. It's called "Priorities and Polarities in Preaching" (pp. 25-61) for good reason. If there's one area a pastor can be tempted relentlessly to cower to the idol called "Fear of Man" or "Foolishly Trying to Meet Everyone's Expectations" it's the area of preaching. Thankfully, Johnson gives some good advice for us to navigate the fluctuating opinions of preaching.

"Because human nature is prone to oversimplification and imbalance, differences of opinion on priorities to be pursued in preaching easily degenerate into polarization." (p. 27)

Of course I've opened up a can of worms, and neither this chapter , or my post, will answer all of the questions about what makes good, biblical preaching. Instead, we're gonna talk about purpose.

Our author identifies three general purposes of preaching are 1. To convert, 2. To edify, and 3. To instruct. Since you have the book (or could buy the book and read along with us) I won't reiterate the chapter. But essentially, Johnson summarizes (at length) the strengths and weaknesses of these three preaching purposes. The 30 pages are well worth reading and will help you work through some very practical issues: felt needs, evangelism vs. edification, theological jargon, value redemptive-historical, the indicative and the imperative, etc.

Then in the last 10 pages, he recommends another purpose. It's really a hybrid of the three (especially #3) and is what the book contends for. He dubs it a very cumbersome, yet meaningful title: "Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching."Even if you don't read the footnotes (which you should in this case), you'll notice right away his interaction with/reliance upon Tim Keller. In fact if you've heard Tim Keller preach, then you've got an inkling of what Johnson is proposing. He defines this kind of preaching like this:

"Preaching must be Christ-centered, must interpret biblical texts in their redemptive-historical contexts, must aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation (grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, God's glory alone) with passion and personal application, and must speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture, shattering their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Christ, who meets sinner's real needs—felt and unfelt." (p. 54)

Keller gives props to his mentor Edmund Clowney and sees his method right in line with Clowney's redemptive-historical approach. He just kicks it up a notch. Here are some foundational characteristics of this "gospel changes everything" kind of preaching.

  1. Biblical Theology, Biblical Theology, Biblical Theology! If that term doesn't mean anything to you, if it doesn't cause your heart to skip an exegetical beat, then you need to repent and get saved…or at least read up a little bit more. Johnson gives a summary that'll do for now: "It emphasizes the unity of the history of redemption—the enactment of God's plan for the rescue, reconciliation, and re-creation of his people, climaxing in the person, obedience, sacrifice, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and reaching consummation at his return in glory." (pp.48-49) Biblical Theology (BT) is the discipline that traces all of the promises made in the OT to the promises kept in the NT (thank you, Mark Dever). One key result of BT is that we always see Jesus as the hero of every OT narrative: "The purpose of the Old Testament historical narrative is not to teach moral lessons, but to trace the work of God, the Savior of his people, whose redeeming presence among them reaches it's climatic expression in Christ's incarnation." (p.51)
  2. Believers and unbelievers both need to hear the gospel in preaching. As Keller says, "the gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity."
  3. The root of all sin and misery is idolatry. "Our idols are whatever (other than the triune God) we trust in to gain 'salvation,' however we define it—whatever we believe that we cannot live without." (p. 57)
  4. Preachers and congregations must assume the presence of unbelievers in gathered worship and therefore not always speak in only Christianese. Rather than dumb down the gospel, though, the preacher should take apologetic sidebars that challenge non-Christians with the coherence of biblical truth and its superior ability to address the dilemmas of human life and thought.

Having read on, I'll encourage you that Johnson does a good job explaining how we can preach like this, but for now let's get to some discussion.

Discussion: (pick one and comment)

  1. How would you define biblical preaching? What's it look like? What does "meaty" preaching look like?
  2. Do you think that preaching can be intelligible enough for unbelievers and still remain edifying for believers? Why/not?
  3. What are some challenges that you've faced in preaching in a redemptive-historical fashion?
  4. In what ways is Keller's approach ("Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching") different from seeker-sensitive preaching?
  5. Have you taught or preached the Bible (esp. the OT) in a moralistic way? How does biblical theology help us move away from that?
  6. How do you combat the "fear of man" and the tyranny of others' expectations when it comes to preaching?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Basic Biblical Theology Resources

As we're reading through Him We Proclaim I wanted to make sure that we're all on the same page when we're talking about Biblical Theology. So here's a couple quotes and some resources you'll want to have handy.
From the evangelical preacher's point of view, biblical theology involves the quest for the big picture, or the overview of biblical revelation. It is of the nature of biblical theology that it tells a story rather than sets out timeless principles in abstraction. It does contain many timeless principles, but not in abstract. They are given in an historical context of progressive revelation. If we allow the Bible to tell its own story, we find a coherent and meaningful whole.
Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 22.
To understand the Bible as a single divinely-inspired narrative, a revelation of God’s purpose and plan for humanity that unfolds in time and space, is the task of biblical theology. More than just theology that is biblical, biblical theology attempts to understand God’s revelation as it progressively unfolds in history and culminates in the person of Jesus Christ. It tries to understand how the Old Testament points forward to and prepares us for the New, and how the New Testament is contained in the Old.
Michael Lawrence, "Where is Your Story Written", Nov-Dec 06 9News.
"What is Biblical Theology?" from Beginning With Moses. Tons of great articles on biblical theology that are especially helpful for sermon preparation.

"Biblical Theology" from Monergism. THE place to go for anything that has to do with Reformed theology. Tons of links and articles covering almost every facet of Biblical Theology.

"Biblical Theology" from 9 Marks. The second mark of a healthy church is one committed to biblical theology. Check out the other 8!

"9News on Biblical Theology" from 9 Marks. An entire 60 page newsletter discussing the "ins" and "outs" of Biblical Theology.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is Gathered Worship for Edification or Evangelism?

For a long time, I used to argue that the Gathered Worship (aka, Sunday church services) were primarily for Christians. And to really show that I went to Bible College, I would argue that the main purpose for such meetings is for edification. And if evangelism took place, it would be because non-Christians saw a group of Jesus followers edifying each other well. I'm beginning to see that such a divorce between evangelism and edification is unnecessary and reveals a minimized view of the gospel.

Taking his cue from Tim Keller and summarizing Keller's paper, The Centrality of the Gospel, Mark Driscoll resonates what I too believe is the point of gathered worship.

"My articulation is, Sunday is for the worship and the adoration and the exaltation of Jesus, and if everything is about Jesus, then it works for Christians and non-Christians. Everyone needs Jesus, and the gospel is for Christians, too. It's not just something you believe and then move on with the rest of your life. The gospel of conviction of sin and repentance and trusting in the finished work of Christ is something that every Christian practices every moment of every day, and I think it's a truncated view of the gospel if it's a few laws, or a sales pitch we give to someone, they pray the prayer, and then we've concluded our evangelistic endeavor. I think it's a very reductionistic view of the gospel."

Mark Driscoll, Modern Reformation "Christless Christianity" May/June Vol. 16 No. 3 2007 Pages 39-42

Friday, June 08, 2007

Him We Proclaim 1.0

So let's talk about the first chapter of Dennis Johnson's book, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures. Hopefully you've read it, but if not feel free to comment if you can help spark good dialogue!

Ch. 1 is an introduction, and like any good introduction the author sets the stage for the rest of the book. The book tries to answer the question "How can I preach like the apostles, like Peter and like Paul; how can I preach so that Christ is the hero of every passage, the hope for every need, and the promise for every command?" So Johnson gives the thesis/goal of the book:
"This book tries to answer that question, first by arguing in favor of reuniting insights and disciplines the apostles displayed in harmonious unity but that sadly have become disconnected since then. Then it suggests perspectives and strategies to help ordinary Christians discover their Savior throughout Scripture and to equip ordinary preachers to proclaim their Savior convincingly and powerfully from the diverse panorama of Scripture's genres and eras." (p. 2-3)
After setting this lofty goal, he goes on to briefly discuss some "tragic divorces" that have occurred that make it difficult and/or suspect for us to understand and teach the unity of Bible like the apostles did. So he calls for a re-uniting of three divorced "couples":
we need to reunite...

Old Testament and New Testament,
apostolic doctrine and hermeneutics, &
biblical interpretation and biblical proclamation.

Addressing the the reuniting of OT and NT, Johnson says:
"One major theme, to which this book will return repeatedly, therefore, is the unity of the Old Testament and the New in the person and work of Jesus Christ and consequently, also in the community composed of believing Jews and Gentiles that his Spirit is now assembling." (p. 9)
Pp. 10-12 address the debate of "Can we and should we imitate the apostles in the way that they understand, interpret, and teach Old Testament promise in light of the fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah?" John bluntly warns that he will persuade us that we if we believe the gospel that the apostles proclaimed then we too must proclaim the gospel in the same way.

The third reuniting involves biblical interpretation and proclamation. Seeing how I'm still thawing out from seminary, I found great encouragement in these words:
"Exegesis itself is impoverished when specialization and professional pressures in the academy inculcate into faculty and students a model of biblical interpretation that aborts the process short of application, depriving it of its sweetest fruits." (p.13)

He further goes on to say,
"Application that does not emerge form the purpose for which God himself gave his Word, will in the end, lack credibility and power to motivate hearers who hunger for the truth and mercy that is found nowhere but in Jesus.(p. 14)
In the last section of ch. 1 we introduced to three descriptions of Apostolic Preaching: Redemptive-historical, Missiologically communicated, and grace-driven. One of the fears that is often raised when trying to preach like the apostles is "they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so they could 'read between the lines of the OT' without error, but we we should not." To this charge Johnson responds,
"There is a distinctly apostolic way of being Christ-centered, and it is this hermeneutic that places appropriate checks on the preacher's hyperactive imagination, thereby assuring listeners that the message is revealed by God, not merely generated by human activity." (p. 16)
Finally ch. 1 ends with a survey of the rest of the book.

So...let's talk about it now. Feel free to bring up other issues. This is just to get things rolling.

  1. What questions or concerns came to mind as you read ch. 1?
  2. In what ways do you find it difficult to trace the unity of the Scriptures?
  3. Re-read pp.16 (last paragraph)-18 (first paragraph). How helpful to you is the phrase "redemptive-historical"? This is going to be key.
  4. To what extent is the "promise-fulfillment pattern" of redemptive history on your radar screen when reading and teaching the Bible?