Tim Keller’s – Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

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A “Must Have” Handbook for the Modern Preacher

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Tim Keller is as Bostonians say “Wicked Smart.” He has also demonstrated humility, wisdom, and faithfulness through much suffering and success in planting one of the most successful and model ministries for City Churches of the world – Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, New York. He has also blessed Christians around the world with wonderful Christ centered and gospel centered resources.

I have read this book twice – in English and Spanish, I am also taking several bi-vocational pastors and elders in my church through this book. In my opinion it is the first go-to handbook for preachers in the 21st Century. Why? Let me give five reasons:

(1) Tim Keller practices what he preaches (a) Tim Keller preaches the Word – he has been preaching for over 45 years in both a semi-rural context and a large city context and knows how to preach to “blue-collar” and “white-collar” congregations; (b) He always preaches the gospel in every sermon; (c) He always preaches Christ whether he’s preaching from the Old or New Testaments; (d) He preaches culturally relevant messages without compromising biblical truth; (e) He preaches so as to help you love Christ with your mind; (f) He preaches so as to stir the soul/heart, which leads to real life change and Christ-like transformation; (g) He preaches with the unction or power of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Tim Keller gives examples, illustrations, principles, and theological reasons for why and how to do all of what he models in his own preaching (see #1 above).

(3) The extensive footnotes are worth gold. Make sure you don’t only read the book – read the footnotes! About 30% of the material in this book is in the notes. There is great stuff in the notes – you will feel like you are sitting with Tim over coffee with what he shares in the notes!

(4) Much of what Tim writes about you will not get in Bible college or Seminary. I didn’t get 80% of what he writes about in Bible college or seminary – I did get about 50% of what he talks about with a month sabbatical I spent taking preaching courses at Westminster Seminary. However, if you didn’t attend a seminary that is reformed you most likely missed how to get to Christ from all of the Scriptures.

(5) The last chapter of the book is also extremely helpful – he gives ample example, principles, and illustrations to help you write and preach an expository sermon.

Tim Keller knows what he’s talking about – when he’s pretty much talking about anything. However, what Keller is best at is preaching. You have the opportunity in reading and studying this book to learn from one of the best preacher’s of our time. 

Preacher: Who Are You Speaking To Every Week?

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People Pastors Are Preaching To Week in and Week Out – *Tim Keller

In Tim Keller’s outstanding book on preaching: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism he has a wonderful section in the footnotes that perhaps a lot of people miss when they read his book (30% of the book is in the footnotes). Here are the different kinds of people you may be speaking to. Does the text you are preaching speak to any of them?

  • Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian.
  • Immoral pagan: Is living a blatantly immoral/illegal lifestyle.
  • Intellectual pagan: Claims the faith is untenable or unreasonable.
  • Imitative pagan: Is fashionably skeptical, but not profound.
  • Genuine Thinker: Has serious well-conceived objections.
  • Religious non-Christian: Belongs to an organized religion, cult, or denomination with seriously mistaken doctrine.
  • Non-churched nominal Christian: Has belief in basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection.
  • Churched nominal Christian: Participates in church but is not regenerated.
  • Semi-active moralist: Is respectably moral but his religion is without assurance and is all a matter of duty.
  • Active self-righteous: Is very committed and involved in the church, with assurance of salvation based on good works.
  • Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet.
  • Curious: Is stirred up mainly in an intellectual way, full of questions and diligent in study.
  • Convicted with false peace: Without understanding the gospel, has been told that by walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or doing something he is now right with God.
  • Comfortless: Is extremely aware of sins but not accepting or understanding of the gospel of grace.
  • Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
  • New Believer: Is recently converted.
  • Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith.
  • Eager: Is beginning with joy and confidence and a zeal to learn and serve.
  • Overzealous: Has become somewhat proud and judgmental of others and is overconfident of his own abilities.
  • Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all of the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
  • Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (Generally we call a person afflicted who has not brought the trouble on himself).
  • Physically or Emotionally afflicted: Is experiencing bodily decay: (a) the sick; (b) the elderly; (c) the disabled; (d) Dying; (e) Bereaved: Has lost a loved one or experienced some other major loss (e.g., a home through a fire); (f) Lonely; (g) Persecuted/abused; (h) Poor/economic troubles; (i) Desertion: Is spiritually dry through the action of God, who removes a sense of his nearness despite the use of the means of grace
  • Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong.
  • Overtaken: Is tempted largely in the realm of the thoughts and desires.
  • Taken Over: Has had a sin become addictive behavior.
  • Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not.
  • Undisciplined: Is lazy in using the means of grace and gifts for ministry.
  • Self-satisfied: Has had pride choke his growth, is complacent, and has perhaps become cynical and scornful of many other Christians.
  • Unbalanced: Has had either the intellectual, the emotional, or the volitional aspect of his faith become overemphasized.
  • Devotee of eccentric doctrine: Has become absorbed in a distorted teaching that hinders spiritual growth.
  • Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient. If a person is a new believer, or tempted or afflicted or immature, and does not get proper treatment, he will become spiritually depressed. Besides these conditions, the following problems can lead to depression: (a) Anxious: Is depressed through worry or fear handled improperly; (b) Weary: Has become listless and dry through overwork; (c) Angry: is depressed through bitterness or uncontrolled anger handled improperly; (d) Introspective: dwells on failures and feelings and lacks assurance; (e) Guilty: Has a wounded conscience and has not reached repentance.
  • Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to a withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church.
  • Tender: Is still easily convicted of his sins and susceptible to calls for repentance.
  • Hardening: Has become cynical, scornful, and difficult to convict.

*Excerpt adapted from Note #20 in Chapter 6: “Preaching Christ To The Heart” in Tim Keller’s wonderful and Highly Recommended Book: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.

James Montgomery Boice – “The Preacher And God’s Word”

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The Preacher and God’s Word

Anyone who thinks seriously about the state of preaching in the twenty-first century must notice a strange contradiction. On the one hand, there is a strong acknowledgment of the need for great preaching, usually defined as expository preaching. But on the other hand, good expository preaching has seldom been at a lower ebb. Evangelical (and even liberal) seminaries exhort their young men, “Be faithful in preaching…. Spend many hours in your study poring over the Bible…. Be sure that you give the people God’s Word and not merely your own opinions” (The author’s own theological training was received at Princeton Theological Seminary, a seminary hardly noted today for being strongly evangelical, though many of its students are. But in the homiletics department the greatest honor was given to expository preaching and the students were repeatedly urged to allow nothing to take the place of solid exegetical work in sermon preparation. The problem is that the admonitions are not followed by the vast majority of Princeton’s graduates, and the reason for this is that the concerns of the homiletics department are being undercut by the views of the Bible conveyed in the biblical departments). But in practice these admonitions are not heeded, and the ministers who emerge from the seminaries—whether because of poor instruction, lack of focus, or some other, undiagnosed cause—generally fail in this primary area of their responsibility.

Pulpit committees know this. So do the people who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday. Many know what they want. They want a minister who will make his primary aim to teach the Bible faithfully week after week and also embody what he teaches in his personal life. But ministers like this from the standard denominations and even some others are hard to find and apparently are getting harder to find all the time. What is wrong? How are we able to explain this strange contradiction between what we say we want and what is actually produced by most of our seminaries?

Decline of Preaching

This problem is so obvious that a number of answers have inevitably been given, most of which contain some truth. One answer is that attention has been shifted from preaching to other needed aspects of the pastoral ministry: counseling, liturgies, small group dynamics, and other concerns. Hundreds of books about these diverse aspects of the ministry are appearing every year, many of them best sellers, but there are not many valuable books on preaching. There are some, but they are not very popular. And one cannot really imagine a work like Clarence Macartney’s Preaching Without Notes attracting anywhere near the degree of attention in the seventies as it attracted just thirty years ago. Clearly the attention of a great majority of ministers is being directed away from expository preaching to other concerns.

On the surface, then, this seems to be a valid explanation of the decline of good preaching, and one might even tend to justify the decline temporarily if, so we might argue, these other equally important concerns are being rediscovered. But the trouble with this view is that these concerns need not be set in opposition to good preaching and, indeed, must not. In fact, the greatest periods of faithful expository preaching were inevitably accompanied by the highest levels of sensitivity to the presence of God in worship and the greatest measure of concern for the cure of souls.

The Puritans are a great example, though one could cite the Reformation period or the age of the evangelical awakening in England as well. The Puritans abounded in the production of expository material. We think of the monumental productions of men like Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Richard Baxter (1615- 1691), John Owen (1616-1683), Thomas Watson (d. 1686), John Flavel (1627-1691), Jonathan Edwards (1702-1758), and that later Puritan Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). These men produced material so serious in its nature and so weighty in its content that few contemporary pastors are even up to reading it. Yet common people followed these addresses in former times and were moved by them. Worship services were characterized by a powerful sense ofGod’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were no less concerned with the individual problems, temptations, and growth of those under their care. Who in recent years has produced a work on pastoral counseling to equal Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656)? Who has analyzed the movement of God in individual lives as well as did Jonathan Edwards in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1737) and Religious Affections (1746) or Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844)? Questions like these should shake us out of self-satisfied complacency and show that we are actually conducting our pastoral care, worship, and preaching at a seriously lower level.

Another explanation given for the current decline in preaching is the contemporary distrust of oratory. Again, there is some truth to this. The decline in popularity of orators such as William Jennings Bryan has been accompanied by a decline in the popularity of oratorical preaching by men like Henry Ward Beecher and his more recent successors. But the trouble with this explanation is that great preaching is not inseparably wedded to any one style of preaching. Indeed, the Puritans themselves were not commonly great orators. And, for that matter, good speakers are not really unpopular today, though today’s popular style is somewhat different from that of a previous age. John Kennedy was quite eloquent, for example, and he was highly regarded for it.

The trouble with these explanations of the decline of preaching is that each is based on an external cause. They deal with the mind-set of the secular world. What is really needed is an explanation that deals with the state of the contemporary church and with the mind-set of her ministers.

What is the answer in this area? The answer is that the current decline in preaching is due, not to external causes, but to a prior decline in a belief in the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God on the part of the church’s theologians, seminary professors, and those ministers who are trained by them. Quite simply, it is a loss of confidence in the existence of a sure Word from God. Here the matter of inerrancy and authority go together. For it is not that those who abandon inerrancy as a premise on which to approach the Scriptures necessarily abandon a belief in their authority. On the contrary, they often speak of the authority of the Bible most loudly precisely when they are abandoning the inerrancy position. It is rather that, lacking the conviction that the Bible is without error in the whole and in its parts, these scholars and preachers inevitably approach the Bible differently from inerrantists, whatever may be said verbally. In their work the Bible is searched (to the degree that it is searched) for whatever light it may shed on the world and life as the minister sees them and not as that binding and overpowering revelation that tells us what to think about the world and life and even formulates the questions we should be asking about them.

Nothing is sadder than the loss of this true authority, particularly when the preacher does not even know it. The problem is seen in a report of a panel discussion involving a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister. The rabbi stood up and said, “I speak according to the law of Moses.” The priest said, “I speak according to the tradition of the Church.” But the minister said, “It seems to me….” (Of course, Judaism and Roman Catholicism are also undergoing their own struggles with the question of authority. The anecdote must involve an orthodox rabbi, a tradition- oriented priest, and an average Protestant clergyman).

It is hard to miss the connection between belief in the inerrancy of Scripture issuing in a commitment to expound it faithfully, on the one hand, and a loss of this belief coupled to an inability to give forth a certain sound, on the other. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one who makes the connection. He writes on the decline of great preaching:

I would not hesitate to put in the first position [for the decline]: the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth. I put this first because I am sure it is the main factor. If you have not got authority, you cannot speak well, you cannot preach. Great preaching always depends upon great themes. Great themes always produce great speaking in any realm, and this is particularly true, of course, in the realm of the Church. While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to speculate, and to theorize, and to put up hypotheses and so on, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane. You cannot really deal with speculations and conjectures in the same way as preaching had formerly dealt with the great themes of the Scriptures. But as belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined. I suggest that this is the first and the greatest cause of this decline (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 13. Lloyd-Jones also cites a reaction against “pulpiteering” [in which he is thinking along lines similar to my remarks about oratory] and “publication of sermons” as literary productions).

Lloyd-Jones is right in the main in this analysis. So our first thesis is that the contemporary decline in great (expository) preaching is due in large measure to a loss of belief in biblical authority and that this loss is itself traceable to a departure from that high view of inspiration that includes inerrancy.

Word Or Deed?

But there is a problem at this point. The problem is that those who approach preaching in this way are accused of making the Bible their God and of centering the gospel in a book rather than in the divine acts of God in history, which is where it should be, according to their critics.

There are various forms of this latter perspective. On the one hand, there is a valuable emphasis on the specific “acts” ofGod. An example of this is the work of G. Ernest Wright entitled The God Who Acts. In this study Wright stresses the acts rather than the Word of God, saying, “The Word is certainly present in the Scripture, but it is rarely, ifever, dissociated from the Act; instead it is the accompaniment of the Act” (G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts [London: SCM, 1952], p. 12. In more recent writing Wright has broadened this view considerably, stressing that a biblical Act is not merely a historical happening but rather one in which the Word of God is also present to interpret and give it meaning – cf. The Old Testament and Theology [New York: Harper, 1969], p. 48).

He points to the Exodus as the event on which the giving of the law is based (Exod. 20:1-3) and to the signs given to and by the prophets. According to Wright, it is the act that is primary. Another form of this critique is held by those who emphasize the revelation of God to the individual in such a way that personal experience rather than the Word of God becomes decisive. What should we say to these emphases? Are those who emphasize the Word in their preaching bibliolaters? Do they worship the Bible? Have they distorted the Bible’s own teaching through their excessive veneration of it?

Not at all! It is true that the acts ofGod can be overlooked in a certain kind of preoccupation with linguistic and other textual problems. But this is more often the error of the Old or New Testament scholar than the preacher. Actually, a hearty emphasis on the Word ofGod is itself profoundly biblical, and it is even mandatory if one is to appreciate the acts of God prophesied, recorded, and interpreted in the Scriptures.

Which comes first, the word or the deed? The most common answer is the deed, which the word is then seen to interpret. But this is a distortion of the biblical picture. Certainly the acts ofGod are of major importance in the Bible and in Christian experience. But it is inaccurate to say that the deeds come first. Rather, the Word comes first, then the deeds, then a further interpretation of the deeds scripturally.

Let me give a number of key examples. First, the creation. It is possible to argue that God created the world initially and then interpreted the creation to us in the opening pages of the Bible and elsewhere. But this is not the way the Bible itself presents this matter. What Genesis says is that first there is God, after that the Word of God, and then creation. God spoke, and after that the things about which God spoke came into being. The words “and God said” are the dominant feature of the opening chapter of Genesis (vv. 3, 6, 14, 20, 24, 26). Only after that does God “see” (vv. 4, 10, 12, 19, 21, 25), “separate” (vv. 4, 7), “call” (vv. 5, 8, 10), “make” (vv. 7, 16, 25), “set” (v. 17), “create” (vv. 21, 27), “bless” (vv. 22, 28), and explain to the first man and woman what he has done (vv. 28-30).

The second example is the call of Abraham, the next great step in the unfolding of God’s purposes. There is nothing in Abraham’s story to indicate that God acted in any particular way to call Abraham. We read rather, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”‘ (Gen. 12:1, 2). It was after receiving this word of promise that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him” (v. 4). Faith in the divine promise characterized Abraham, and it is for his response to the Word ofGod, even in the absence of the deed, that Abraham is praised: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb. 11:8), “And he [Abraham] believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).

A third example of the primacy of the word to deed is the Exodus itself, so often cited in precisely the opposite fashion. Here we do have a mighty intervention ofGod in history on the part of his people, and it is certainly true that the ethical standards of the Old Testament are imposed on the grounds of this deliverance (“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. … You shall have no other gods before me,” Exod. 20: 2, 3). But this does not mean that the deed precedes the word. Rather the deliverance was fully prophesied beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 15: 13, 14) and was announced to Moses as the basis on which he was to go to Pharaoh with the command to let God’s people go (Exod. 3:7-10).

The same is true of the coming ofJesus Christ. This fourth example is the greatest illustration of the intervention of God in history. But the event was preceded by the word even here, through prophecies extending back as far as the germinal announcement of a future deliverer to Eve at the time of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) and continuing up to and including the announcement of the impending birth to Zechariah the priest (Luke 1: 17), Joseph (Matt. 1:20-23), Mary (Luke 1:30-33), and others who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-27,36-38). Emphasis on the word of God and faith in that word in reference to the coming of Christ is particularly evident in David’s great prayer in 2 Samuel 7. God has just established his covenant with David, promising that his throne should be established forever. David responded:

Who am I, O Lord Goo, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in thy eyes, O Lord God: thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! And what more can David say to thee? For thou knowest thy servant, O Lord God! Because of thy promise, and according to thy own heart, thou hast wrought all this greatness, to make thy servant know it. . . . And now, O LORD God, confirm for ever the word which thou hast spoken concerning thy servant and concern- ing his house, and do as thou hast spoken; and thy name will be magnified for ever, saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of thy servant David will be established before thee. For thou, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, hast made this revelation to thy servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore thy servant has found courage to pray this prayer to thee. And now, O Lord God, thou art God, and thy words are true, and thou hast promised this good thing to thy servant; now therefore may it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee; for thou, O Lord God, hast spoken, and with thy blessing shall the house of thy servant be blessed for ever (vv. 18-21, 25-29).

In these words David exercises faith in the word ofGod primarily. A final example of the primacy of the word is Pentecost, which inaugurated the present age of the church. Peter, who was the spokesman for the other disciples on that occasion, recognized immediately that this was nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s promise to Joel regarding a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem … these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'” (Acts 2:14-17).

As the Bible presents the matter, in each of these key moments in the divine economy, the word ofGod rather than the deed of God is primary, though of course in some cases the actual writing of the biblical material followed both. This is not meant to suggest that the actual intervention of God is unimportant, for, of course, that is not true. It is of major importance. But it is meant to say that we are not getting the emphasis reversed when we follow the biblical pattern and stress the actual word or promise of God in contemporary preaching. This does not undermine God’s acts. The promise is about them. It merely places them in the context in which God himself places them in Scripture.

So the second thesis is that an emphasis on the Word of God in today’s preaching is demanded by the very nature of God’s revelation of him self in history. It is declared of God through the psalmist, “Thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word” (Ps. 138:2).

Having recognized the primacy of the word in God’s own dealings with the human race, it is not at all difficult to note the primacy of the word in that early Christian preaching recorded in the New Testament.

Peter’s great sermon given on the day of Pentecost is an example. Peter and the other disciples had experienced a visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested by the sound of a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire that had rested on each of the disciples (Acts 2:1-3). They had begun to speak so that others heard them in a variety of languages (v. 4). In addition to this, they had all just been through the traumatic and then exhilarating experiences of the crucifixion, resurrection, visible appearance, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. These were heady experiences. Yet when Peter stood up to preach on Pentecost, he did not dwell on his or anyone else’s experiences, as many in our day might have done, but rather preached a profoundly biblical sermon centered on specific biblical passages. 

The format was as follows: First, there are three verses of introduction intended to link the present manifestations of the outpouring of the Spirit to God’s prophecy of that even in Joel. These were a lead-in to the major text. Second, Peter cites the prophecy in Joel at length, giving a total of five verses to it. Third, there is a declaration of the guilt of the men of Jerusalem in Christ’s death, which, however, was in full accordance with the plan and foreknowlege of God, as Peter indicates. This takes three verses. Fourth, there is an extended quotation from Psalm 16:8-11, occupying four verses. These stress the victory ofChrist over death through his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Fifth, there is an exposition of the sixteenth psalm, occupying five verses. Sixth, there is a further two-verse quotation from Psalm 11: 1, again stressing the supremacy of Christ. Seventh, there is a one-verse summary.

Peter’s procedure is to quote the ‘Old Testament and then explain it and after that to quote more ofthe Old Testament and explain it, and so on. Moreover, the Scripture predominates. For although there are eleven verses of Scripture versus twelve for other matters, much of the material in the twelve verses is intro- ductory to the Scripture and the rest is explanation.

Peter’s procedure does not demand that every subsequent Christian sermon follow precisely the same pattern.We know that even the other New Testament preachers did not preach in the same way that Peter did; each rather followed a pattern deter- mined by his own gifts and understanding. But the sermon does suggest the importance that Peter gave to the actual words ofGod recorded in the Old Testament and the concern he had to inter- pret the events of his time in light of them.

One chapter farther on we have another example of Peter’s preaching. This time his outline was slightly different, for he began with a more extended statement of what God had done in

Jesus Christ, in whose name the lame man had just been healed. But this quickly leads to the statement that all that had happened to Jesus had been foretold by God through the prophets (Acts 3: 18) and then to two specific examples of such prophecy: Deuteronomy 18:18, 19 (cited in vv. 22, 23) and Genesis 22:18 (cited in v. 25). The burden of each of these sermons is not the current activity ofGod in Christ and/ or the Holy Spirit alone, still less the subjective experience of such activity by Peter or the others. Rather it is the activity of God as proclaimed in the Scriptures: “God has promised to do these things, and he has done them. Now, therefore, repent and believe the gospel.”

Peter was concerned to affirm that God had said certain things about the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, that he had said these in certain specific passages and words of the Old Testament, and that God was now fulfilling these promises precisely. In other words, in his preaching and thinking Peter gave full authority to the very words of Scripture as the words of God.

Peter’s own formal statement of his attitude to the Word is in 2 Peter I: 19-21. “And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse ofman, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

In his discussion of this text and others like it, Dewey M. Beegle argues that since Peter was not in possession of the original autographs of Scripture and does not refer his statement to them explicitly, he is referring therefore only to errant copies and cannot be saying that they are inerrant in accordance with a specific theory of verbal inspiration. He concludes, “There is no explicit indication in this passage that Peter made any essential distinction between the originals and the copies. The important teaching is that the Scriptures had their origin in God; therefore the copies that Peter’s readers had were also to be considered as being from God and thus worthy of their careful study” (Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], p. 155).

But surely to argue that Peter did not believe in an inerrant Scripture in this way is merely to read a twentieth-century distinction into Peter’s situation where it does not belong. Certainly Peter is not making a distinction between the originals and copies. That isjust the point. He is not even thinking in these terms. If someone would point out an error in one of his copies, he would readily acknowledge it-obviously the error got in somewhere-but still say precisely the same thing: that is, that the Old Testament is God’s Word in its entirety. It is “from God” (v. 21). Consequently, it is “more sure” even than the theophany that he and two other disciples had been privileged to witness on the Mount of Transfiguration (vv. 16-19). (A clear example of the fallacy of this kind of argument is Beegle’s similar treatment of the often quoted words of Augustine to Jerome, “I have learned to pay them [the canonical books] such honor and respect as to believe most firmly that not one of their authors has erred in writing anything at all” {Epistle 82, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 12, “St. Augustine: Letters 1-82,” trans. Wilfrid Parsons [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1951], p. 392}. Beegle disregards this statement because we know: 1) that Augustine read the Bible in a Latin translation made from the Septuagint, 2) that this version was errant, and 3) that Augustine was therefore wrong in regarding it so highly [Scripture, Tradition, and lnfallibility, p. 137]. But Augustine was no fool at this point. He knew there were errors in the various translations and copies. In fact, his letter goes on to say, ” If I do find anything in those books which seems contrary to truth, I decide that either the text is corrupt, or the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I failed to understand it.” Still Augustine says that the Bible, as God’s Word, can be fully trusted. He believed that, as originally given, it was an inerrant revelation, and the copies [except where it can be shown that errors in text or translation have crept in] can be regarded and quoted as those inerrant originals).

Peter is not the only one whose sermons are recorded in Acts, of course. Stephen is another. Stephen was arrested by the Sanhedrin on the charge of speaking “blasphemous words against [the law of] Moses and God,” and he replied with a defense that occupies nearly the whole of Acts 7. This sermon contains a comprehensive review of the dealings of God with Israel, beginning with the call of Abraham and ending with the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. It is filled with Old Testament quotations. Its main point is that those who were defending the law were not obeying it. Rather, like those before them, they were resisting the Word of God and killing God’s prophets (Acts 7:51-53).

Acts 13 marks the beginning of the missionary journeys of Paul and contains the first full sermon of Paul recorded. It is a combination of the kinds of sermons preached by Peter on Pentecost and Stephen on the occasion of his trial before the Sanhedrin. Paul begins as Stephen did, pointing out to theJews of the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia that God, who had dealt with the people of Israel for many years, had promised repeatedly to send a Savior, who has now come. He points out that this one is Jesus, whose story he briefly relates. Then he offers his texts, citing in rapid sequence Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33), Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34), and Psalm 16:10 (v. 35). These are explained, and then there is a concluding quotation from Habakkuk 1:5 (v. 41). Clearly the emphasis is on these verses.

On the next Sabbath in the same city many came together to hear this gospel, but the Jews were jealous and spoke against it. Paul responded by preaching a sermon on Isaiah 49:6, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

So it is throughout the other sermons in Acts. The only apparent exception is Paul’s well-known address to the Athenians, re- corded in chapter 17. In this address the apostle begins, not with Scripture, but with quotations from the altars of the Athenians and from Greek poetry, and he never gets to Scripture. But one must remember that Paul’s sermon was interrupted at the point at which he began to speak of the resurrection. Can we think that if he had been allowed to continue he would have failed to mention that this was in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, as he did when he reached this same point in other sermons? Besides, even if he would not have quoted Scripture on this occasion, it would only mean that he departed from his normal procedure. It would not mean that he regarded the very words of God, recorded in the Old Testament, less highly.

We conclude that each of the New Testament preachers is concerned to proclaim God’s word as fulfilled in the events of his own lifetime. Moreover, his emphasis is on this word rather than on his own subjective experiences or any other less important matter. The thesis that emerges at this point, our third, is that preaching that is patterned on the preaching of the apostles and other early witnesses will always be biblical in the sense that the very words of the Bible will be the preacher’s text and his aim will be a faithful exposition and application of them. This cannot be done if the preacher is sitting in judgment on the Word rather than sitting under it.

“Higher” Criticism

But how can the preacher honestly treat the Bible in this way in view of the development of biblical studies in the last century? We might understand how such an “uncritical” attitude would be possible for the early Christian preachers. They probably did not even consider the problem in adhering to an inerrant and there- fore totally authoritative Bible when they actually had only “errant” copies to work from, for they did not know the full extent of the difficulties. But we do know. We “know” there are errors. We “know” that the Bible is not one harmonious whole but rather a composite work consisting of many different and often conflicting viewpoints. Is it not true that we must simply give up the biblical approach because of the assured findings of archaeology, history, and, above all, higher criticism? Are we not actually compelled to treat the Bible differently?

Our “knowledge” that the Bible contains errors and is a composite and often contradictory work is said to be the reason for the overthrow of the old inerrancy position. But is it? When looked at from the outside, this seems to be the reason. But confidence is shaken when we realize that most of the alleged errors in the Bible are not recent discoveries, due to historical criticism and other scholarly enterprises, but are only difficulties known centuries ago to most serious Bible students. Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and many others were aware of these problems. Yet they did not feel compelled to jettison the orthodox conception of the Scriptures because of them. Either they were blatantly inconsistent, which is a difficult charge to make of men of their scholarly stature, or else they had grounds for believing the Bible to be inerrant-grounds that were greater than the difficulties occasioned by the few problem passages or apparent errors.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

Divine truthfulness was the rock beneath their approach to Scripture. Their study of the Bible led them to this conclusion, and thereafter they approached the difficulties of biblical interpretation from this premise.

This approach has characterized the majority of their heirs in the Reformation churches down to and including many at the present time, although not all inerrantists feel obligated to use this approach (Some simply accept the Bible for what it claims to be and then operate on that premise. Thoughtful exponents of this view feel that any other approach is unwarranted and even presumptuous if the Bible is truly God’s Word [“If it is, how can we presume to pass judgment on it?”]). In fuller form, the argument has been presented as follows:

1. The Bible is a reliable and generally trustworthy document. This is established by treating it like any other historical record, such as the works ofJosephus or the accounts of war by Julius Caesar.

2. On the basis of the history recorded by the Bible we have sufficient reason for believing that the central character of the Bible, Jesus Christ, did what he is claimed to have done and therefore is who he claimed to be. He claimed to be the unique Son of God.

3. As the unique Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is an infallible authority.

4. Jesus Christ not only assumed the Bible’s authority; he taught it, going so far as to teach that it is entirely without error and is eternal, being the Word of God: “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5: 18).

5. If the Bible is the Word of God, as Jesus taught, it must for this reason alone be entirely trustworthy and inerrant, for God is a God of truth.

6. Therefore, on the basis of the teaching of Jesus Christ, the infallible Son ofGod, the church believes the Bible also to be infallible (This classical approach to the defense ofScripture is discussed at length by R.C. Sproul in “The Case for lnerrancy: A Methodological Analysis,” in God’s lnerrant Word, ed. John Warwick Montgomery [Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974], pp. 248-60. It is the element most lacking in Earl Palmer, “The Pastor as a Biblical Christian,” in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers [Waco: Word, 1977]. Palmer speaks of a fourfold mandate given by Jesus Christ to every Christian: to grow in our relationship with God, to love our neighbor, to share the gospel, and to build up the body of Christ [p. 127]. But as true and important as these four items are, they do not express the whole of our obligation as Christians. We are to believe and follow Christ in all things, including his words about Scripture. And this means that Scripture is to be for us what it was to him: the unique, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God, and not merely a human testimony to Christ, however carefully guided and preserved by God. If the Bible is less than this to us, we are not fully Christ’s disciples).

The negative criticism of our day does not approach the Bible in this way. Rather, it approaches it on the premise of naturalism, a philosophy that denies the supernatural or else seeks to place it in an area of reality beyond investigation. It is this philosophy, rather than the alleged errors, that is the primary reason for rejection of the inerrancy position by such scholars.

Critical views of the Bible are constantly changing, of course, and at any one time they exist in a bewildering variety of forms. Currently we think of the Bultmannian school in Germany, the post-Bultmannians, the Heilsgeschichte school of Oscar Cullmann and his followers, and others. These views are competing. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics that tie the various forms of higher criticism together.

One characteristic is that the Bible is considered man’s word about God and man rather than God’s word about and to man. We recognize, of course, that the Bible does have a genuine human element. When Peter wrote that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” he taught that it is men who spoke just as surely as he taught that their words were from God. We must reject any attempt to make the Bible divine rather than human just as we reject any attempt to make it human rather than divine. But recognizing that the Bible is human is still a long way from saying that it is not uniquely God’s word to us in our situation and merely human thoughts about God, which is what the negative higher criticism does. The view that the Bible is man’s word about God is simply the old romantic liberalism introduced into theology by Friedrich D.E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), namely that “the real subject matter of theology is not divinely revealed truths, but human religious experience,” as Packer indicates (J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 148). Is this the case? The answer to this question will determine how and even if one can preach the Word of God effectively.

A second characteristic of much higher criticism is its belief that the Bible is the result of an evolutionary process. This has been most evident in Old Testament studies in the way the documentary theory of the Pentateuch has developed. But it is also apparent in Bultmann’s form-criticism, which views the New Testament as the product of the evolving religious consciousness of the early Christian communities.

Again, we acknowledge that there is a certain sense in which God may be said to unfold his revelation to men gradually so that a doctrine may be said to develop throughout the Scriptures. But this is not the same thing as saying that the religious expressions of the Bible have themselves developed in the sense that the negative critical school intends. In their view, early and primitive understandings of God and reality give way to more developed conceptions, from which it also follows that the “primitive” ideas may be abandoned for more contemporary ones. Crude notions, such as the wrath of God, sacrifice, and a visible second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be jettisoned. So may various aspects of church government and biblical ethics. If we decide that homosexuality is not a sin today, so be it. We can even cite the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit in revealing new truth to us in support of our rejection of such “outmoded” ethics. If we find Paul’s strictures regarding the role of men and women in the government of the church obsolete, we can just disregard them. Such thoughts are blasphemous! Yet this is what flows from the essential outlook of today’s higher criticism.

The third characteristic of much higher criticism follows directly upon the first two; namely, that we must go beyond the Scriptures if we are to find God’s will for our day.

But suppose the preacher is convinced by the Scripture and by the authority ofChrist that the Bible is indeed God’s word to man rather than merely man’s word about God, that it is one consistent and harmonious divine revelation and not the result of an evolutionary process, that it is to the Scriptures and not to outside sources that we must go for revelation. We must still ask: Can he actually proceed like this today? Is this not to fly in the face of all evidence? Is it not dishonest? The answer is: Not at all. His procedure is simply based on what he knows the Bible to be.

We may take the matter of sacrifices as an example. Everyone recognized that sacrifices play a large role in the Old Testament and that they are not so important in the New Testament. Why is this? How are we to regard them? Here the negative critic brings in his idea of an evolving religious conscience. He supposes that sacrifices are important in the most primitive forms of religion. They are to be explained by the individual’s fear of the gods or God. God is imagined to be a capricious, vengeful deity. Worshipers try to appease him by sacrifice. This seems to be the general idea of sacrifice in the other pagan religions of antiquity. It is assumed for the religion of the ancient Semite peoples too.

In time, however, this view ofGod is imagined to give way to a more elevated conception of him. When this happens, God is seen to be not so much a God of capricious wrath as a God of justice. So law begins to take a more prominent place, eventually replacing sacrifice as the center of religion. Finally, the worshipers rise to the conception ofGod as a God of love, and at this point sacrifice disappears entirely. The critic who thinks this way might fix the turning point at the coming of Jesus Christ as the result of his teachings. Therefore, today he would disregard both sacrifices and the wrath of God as outmoded concepts.

By contrast, the person who believes the Bible to be the unique and authoritative Word of God works differently. He begins by noting that the Old Testament does indeed tell a great deal about the wrath of God. But he adds that this element is hardly eliminated as one goes on through the Bible, most certainly not from the New Testament. It is, for instance, an important theme of Paul. Or again, it emerges strongly in the Book of Revelation, where we read of God’s just wrath eventually being poured out against the sins of a rebellious and ungodly race. Nor is this all. The idea of sacrifice is also present throughout the Scriptures. It is true that the detailed sacrifices of the Old Testament system are no longer performed in the New Testament churches. But this is not because a supposed primitive conception of God has given way to a more advanced one, but rather because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of himself has completed and superseded them all, as the Book of Hebrews clearly maintains. For this person the solution is not to be found in an evolving conception ofGod, for God is always the same-a God of wrath toward sin, a God of love toward the sinner. Rather, it is to be found in God’s progressing revelation of himself to men and women, a revelation in which the sacrifices (for which God gives explicit instructions) are intended to teach both the dreadfully serious nature of sin and the way in which God has always determined to save sinners. The sacrifices point to Christ. Therefore John the Baptist, using an integral part of ancient Jewish life that all would understand, is able to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Peter can write, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

In this the data is the same. The only difference is that one scholar approaches Scripture looking for contradiction and development. The other has been convinced that God has written it and therefore looks for unity, allowing one passage to throw light on another. The Westminster Confession put this goal well in saying, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” [I, ix]. (I discuss the higher criticism at greater length in The Sovereign God [Downers Grove, Ill.: lnterVarsity, I978], pp. 97- I09. The preceding five paragraphs are borrowed from pp. 113-15.

The thesis that emerges from this discussion is that higher criticism does not make the highest possible view of the Scripture untenable. On the contrary, higher criticism must be judged and corrected by the biblical revelation.

Regeneration

Not only does God exalt his name and his very words in the Scriptures and likewise in the preaching of that Word, but he also exalts his Word in the saving of men and women. For it is by his Word and Spirit, and not by testimonies, eloquent arguments, or emotional appeals, that he regenerates the one who apart from that regeneration is spiritually dead. ‘Peter states it thus: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

There are many moving images for the Word of God in the Bible. We are told in the Psalms that the Bible is “a lamp” to our feet and “a light” to our path (Ps. 119: 105). Jeremiah compares it to “a fire” and to “a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). It is “milk” to the one who is yet an infant in Christ (1 Peter 2:2) as well as “solid food” to the one who is more mature (Heh. 5:11-14). The Bible is a “sword” (Heh. 4:12; Eph. 6:17), a “mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12; James 1:23), a “custodian” (Gal. 3:24), a “branch” grafted into our bodies James 1:21). These are great images, but none is so bold as the one Peter used in this passage: the Word is like human sperm. Peter uses this image, for he wishes to show that it is by means of the Word that God engenders spiritual children.

In the first chapter Peter has been talking about the means by which a person enters the family of God. First, he has discussed the theme objectively, saying that it is on the basis of Christ’s vicarious death that we are redeemed. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18, 19). Second, he has discussed the theme subjectively, pointing out that it is through faith that the objective work of Christ is applied to us personally. “Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). Finally, having mentioned these truths, Peter goes on to discuss the new birth in terms of God’s sovereign grace in election, this time showing that we are born again by means of the Word of God, which he then likens to the male element in procreation. The Vulgate makes this clearer than most English versions, for the word there is semen.

What does this teach about the way in which a man or woman becomes a child ofGod? It teaches that God is responsible for the new birth and that the means by which he accomplishes this is his living and abiding Word. We might even say that God does a work prior to this, for he first sends the ovum of saving faith into the heart. Even faith is not of ourselves, it is the “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Afterward, when the sperm of the Word is sent to penetrate the ovum of saving faith, there is a spiritual conception.

The same ideas are in view in James 1: 18, which says, “Of his own will he brought us forth [‘begot he us,’ KJV] by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

The point of these verses is that it is by means of the very words of God recorded in the Scriptures and communicated to the individual heart by the Holy Spirit that God saves the individual. It is as Calvin says, in speaking of faith:

Faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of a tree. For no others, as David witnesses, can hope in God but those who know his name (Ps. 9: l 0) . . . . This knowledge does not arise out of anyone’s imagination, but only so far as God himself is witness to his goodness. This the prophet confirms in another place: “Thy salvation [is] according to thy word” (Ps. 119:41). Likewise, “I have hoped in thy word; make me safe” (Ps. 119:4, 40, 94). Here we must first note the relation of faith to the Word, then its consequence, salvation (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Vol. I, pp. 576, 577).

Is it really the Word that God uses in the salvation of the individual? If it is, if God chooses so to operate, then the preacher can hardly fail to give the words of God the fullest measure of prominence in his preaching. He will revere them as that super- natural gift without which nothing that he desires to see happen within the life of the individual will happen.

We conclude that the texts of the Bible should be preached as the very (and therefore inerrant) Word of God if for no other reason than that they are the means God uses in the spiritual rebirth of those who thereby become his children.

A Fork In The Road

It is often said by those who adhere to inerrancy that a departure from the orthodox view of the Scripture at this point inevitably leads to a decline in adherence to orthodox views in other areas. This would no doubt be true ifall deviators were consistent, but it is hard to demonstrate that this is always true, since one individual is not always as rigorous in carrying out the full impli- cations of a position as another. It is enough to say that this has happened enough times with those who have entered the ministry to concern deeply anyone who sincerely desires the stability and growth of evangelicals and evangelical institutions.

On the other hand, and this is perhaps even more significant, many of those who have wrestled. through the problem of the Bible’s inerrancy or noninerrancy and have come Jut on the inerrancy side, testify to this as the turning point in their minis- tries, as that step without which they would not have been able to preach with the measure ofpower and success granted to them by the ministration of the Holy Spirit. I can testify that this has been true in my own experience. As pastor of a church that has seen many hundreds ofyoung men go into the ministry through years of seminary training, I can testify that this has been the turning point for the majority ofthem as well. It is sometimes said by those who take another position that inerrantists have just not faced the facts about the biblical material. This is not true. These men have faced them. But they are convinced that in spite of those things that they themselves may not fully understand or that seem to be errors according to the present state of our understanding, the Bible is nevertheless the inerrant Word ofGod, simply because it is the Word of God, and that it is only when it is proclaimed as such that it brings the fullest measure of spiritual blessing.

May God raise up many in our time who believe this and are committed to the full authority of the Word of God, whatever the consequences. In desiring that “Thus saith the Lord” be the basis for the authority of our message, the seminaries, whether liberal or conservative, are right. But we will never be able to say this truthfully or effectively unless we speak on the basis of an inerrant Scripture. We are not in the same category as the prophets. God has not granted us a primary revelation. We speak only because others, moved uniquely by the Holy Spirit, have spoken. But because of this we do speak, and we speak with authority to the degree that we hold to what Charles Haddon Spurgeon called “the ipsissima verba, the very words of the Holy Ghost” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954], p. 73).

We need a host of those who have heard that Word and who are not afraid to proclaim it to a needy but rebellious generation.

*Article adapted from James Montgomery Boice “The Preacher and God’s Word” – Chapter 5 in The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI., 1978

About the Author: James Montgomery Boice was for many years pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the speaker on the Bible Study Hour radio program heard weekly from coast to coast. He was a graduate of Harvard College, A.B.; Princeton Theological Seminary, B.D.; and the University of Basel, Switzerland, D. TheoL. He served as assistant editor of Christianity Today before becoming pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dr. Boice is the author of Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John; Philippians: An Expositional Commentary; The Sermon on the Mount; How to Really Live It Up; How God Can Use Nobodies; The Last and Future World; The Gospel ofJohn (5 vols.); “Galatians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Can You Run Away From God?; Our Sovereign God, editor; The Sovereign God; and God the Redeemer. He was chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and was on the Board of Directors of The Stony Brook School and Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns.

Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

Preaching Christ From the Ten Commandments

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By Dr. John Frame

If all Scripture testifies of Christ, the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law in a seminary context, then, nothing can be more important than to study its witness to Christ. Ministers of the gospel need to learn how to preach Christ from the law.

In fact, the law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.

1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. When we say that Christ was the perfect lamb of God and the perfect example for the Christian life, we are saying that he perfectly obeyed God’s law. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshipped idols or took God’s name in vain. The Pharisees arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, he never violated the Sabbath command. So, the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.

2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath-breakers, and so on.

3. The Decalogue shows the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In him we are holy. God sees us, in Christ, as law-keepers.

4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has> redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.

5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law-keeper (according to his humanity), but that according to his deity he is the one we honor and worship when we keep the law:

(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Is. 45:23).

(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38-42).

(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus who has brought us as his “sons” (Heb. 2:10) to glory.

(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as the life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mk. 10:45).

(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22-33). We love him as no other.

(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as our inheritance (Eph. 1:11) and as the one who provides all the needs for his people in this world and beyond.

(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts.

Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie

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(The Interview conducted with Michael Duduit below is adapted from http://www.preaching.com/resources/articles/11565834/ – Lloyd John Ogilvie recently wrote a book on preaching [pictured above] published by Harvest House Publishers in 2014 entitled A Passionate Calling: Recapturing Preaching That Enriches the Spirit and Moves the Heart)

Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie with Michael Duduit

Lloyd John Ogilvie has served since 1995 as Chaplain of the United States Senate, a role in which he opens each Senate session in prayer and leads an active schedule of Bible studies and counseling for Senators and their staffs. He came to Washington from Hollywood, California, where he had served as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church and hosted a national television ministry. He is author of nearly 50 books and continues to be a popular speaker and preacher. He was interviewed in his Senate office this spring by Preaching editor Michael Duduit.

Preaching: As we conduct this interview, we are sitting in the U.S. Capitol building, a place that is a symbol of political power. As you have made the transition from the pastorate of a local church to chaplain of the Senate, how has it influenced your approach to ministry?

Ogilvie: It has had an influence. I’ve had to discover ways to help people who have immense secular power learn how to find the power of God for their work. The transition that must be made is to help persons realize that the river bed is the flow of God’s power, not the river — to help them be recipients of supernatural power, instead of simply the power of talents. For instance, any Senator to be elected must have talents of articulation, clear thinking, organization, a lodestar kind of leadership that attracts others. However, once in office, a person needs the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of leader the nation needs — gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophetic vision, and then empowered articulation that’s really the result of knowing God personally and yielding the role of leadership to him to receive the empowerment for the task. So our work here is around the motto, “Without God, we can’t; without us, He won’t.” And when we get that into perspective, great leaders can be born and nurtured to recognize that apart from the Lord’s power we can’t move at a supernatural level. God has so created the way He moves providentially in history that He works through people. Where He wants to be He invests a person; when He wants something to occur in a particular society, He puts His people to discover and do His will. And to get leaders to be open to that call is the important thing.

Preaching: You use your ministry of preaching and teaching not only to lead but to build leaders. How would you translate that into the local church setting for the pastor who is trying to build leaders among the laity?

Ogilvie: I think there has to be a fundamental reevaluation of the biblical idea of the meaning of the laity. To be in Christ is to be in the ministry, so every member of a congregation is a minister. The question is: what kind of a ministry does he or she have? So I think our task is to be a coach of the ministers, which puts preaching and teaching, counseling and administration in an entirely different focus:

I used to ask four basic questions in a church:

(1) What kind of people do we want to put into the world?

(2) What kind of church will make that quality of person possible?

(3) What kind of church officer will make that kind of church possible?

(4) And lastly, what kind of pastor will be an enabler of that quality of laity?

Once we make the basic decision that we don’t do ministry on behalf of the congregation but we equip them to do their ministry, then everything else falls into place. If, however, we think that we do ministry for people, and as professional clergy accomplish the work of the church, then our people are simply observers of the game we play as leaders. I like to picture a big stadium with all the seats filled, and two teams seated on both sides of the field, with blankets huddling in the cold. Then the coaches of both teams are running up and down the field, playing the game for everyone to see. That’s the picture of the contemporary church: the clergy — highly trained and honed in their skills — doing ministry on behalf of the people rather than equipping them. Once you get an understanding that our task is equipping the saints for the work of ministry, then preaching with power becomes the task of inciting enthusiasm and excitement for ministry of the laity and the adventure of following Christ in the secular realm. Then you can reevaluate the nature of the church’s program: is it accomplishing the task of putting the people into the world to accomplish that work?

Preaching: As a pastor, what kind of preaching did you find best accomplished that purpose of equipping the congregation for ministry?

Ogilvie: I think there’s a great hunger in our time for biblically-rooted, Christ-centered, Holy-Spirit empowered preaching. Great preaching comes from exposition. An understanding of the original languages is very important, so that the messenger has a message that arises out of a study of the text. Then the whole question is application to the contemporary scene — the explanation of the text, the illustration of the text, and the application of the text becomes the task of the pastor. If you live in the text eventually it will grip you to the place where it becomes like a banked fire, just waiting for the bellows of the Holy Spirit to be placed on it, to set it aflame to warm the minds and hearts of the people. If it happens to us it then can happen through us, so the text must become very real to us.Then I think we’ve got to have Richard Baxter’s rule, “I preach as a dying man to dying men, as if never to preach again.”

So every sermon ought to be preached with vigor as if we will never have another chance. That kind of enthusiasm and passion is what is needed in the church in America today — and all over the world, for that matter. I call it preaching with passion, and that kind of preaching is an understanding, an appreciation and an acceptance of the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ for us, and then an identification with the suffering of human beings, so that we really feel what is going on inside of people. We want to bring the two together in an enthusiastic, heartfelt but intellectually healthy presentation.

Preaching: You talk about living with a text. I recall that as a pastor you would live with a text for more than a year before preaching it. Tell me about that process.

Ogilvie: I would use a three-year process. I would spend a year with a portion of Scripture as a devotional exercise. If I was going to plan to preach from the book of James, I would use that book as my devotional literature for the first year. The next year I would do an in-depth expositional study, and a reading of the great minds — to study the expositors, the great preachers through the ages. In the actual year of the preaching, I would take the time in my study leave to outline the presentation for a whole period of time, a portion of the year, then prepare a manila folder for each Sunday of that series, then publish a preaching guide for that period of time. I would do 45 Sundays a year in the parish, and I would come out of my study leave with 45 outlines of sermons, 45 manila folders, ready to receive the illustrative material that would go into each of them as I read, gathering illustrative materials from everyday life, and as I talked with people. Then, as I got to the week of actually preaching a sermon, there was the devotional year’s resource, the intensive study scholarship, then the practical gathering of material. Then the actual writing of the sermon — it is very important that the writing of the sermon be fresh, not dependent on well-worn phrases and hackneyed language. After the sermon is written it takes about a day of memorization, repeating it until it becomes a part of the preacher, then preaching it with as few notes as possible.

Preaching: What was the nature of the preaching guide you published?

Ogilvie: There would be a single page for each week. I would list out the title, the text, and the development. I would actually write three clear, concise, distilled paragraphs explaining what it is that I wanted to do with that particular text. That would be sent to the director of music, and he would take that and prepare all of the music to fit with the particular theme of that Sunday. So from the beginning note of the prelude to the last note of the postlude, one central theme in all of the hymns, Scripture readings, responses — all would augment that one central theme. Often I would add another page actually outlining the sermon as I envisioned it. Once I got to the week of the preaching of that sermon, the folder would be full of illustrative material that I had gathered through the year.

Preaching: Was most of your preaching in the form of series?

Ogilvie: Yes, I would take books of the Scripture for themes. The book of James I did a series on Making Stress Work for You. I did a book on the “He is able” statements of the epistles; that became the book Lord of the Loose Ends. Then I did one on the book of Acts that was entitled The Bush is Still Burning. I did one on the “I am” statements of Christ.

Preaching: How long was a typical series for you?

Ogilvie: Usually three months, so I’d do three major series in a year. I found that brought continuity and unity to the preaching. I tried to vary them so we would cover the whole of Scripture.

Preaching: I recall sitting in your congregation and marveling that you communicated so effectively with apparently no notes at all. Many preachers struggle with that.

Ogilvie: I learned that from James Stewart, my professor at New College (in Edinburgh). His method was to outline clearly, then to memorize the outline as you worked with it, then to write the sermon from that outline. Then that outline would be clearly focused in your mind so that you could move through it without hesitation. So the outlining becomes very important. Actually the church in Hollywood had a round balcony, and I would often picture the title of the separate sections of the sermon around the balcony, and I would picture them in my mind. I often used alliteration to help me remember the development of the text. All of those things would help me to retain eye contact. However I found that in lecturing or in giving long messages, we ought to be able to use notes unashamedly. But the sermon itself is a different article.

Preaching: And you spent a full day getting it into your memory?

Ogilvie: Yes, I would speak it aloud ten times and then it would be in me and could be communicated without total dependence on notes.

Preaching: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about preaching over the years?

Ogilvie: Nothing can happen through you that hasn’t happened to you. I feel a person’s relationship with the living Lord is the most important aspect of preaching, and a growing relationship with the Lord is essential to powerful preaching. When we realize that we have been given the privilege of communicating the love, peace, power of the living Lord, then it’s very important to maintain a growing relationship with the Lord so that we have something fresh to share with the people.

Preaching: Clearly James Stewart was a great influence in your life. In what way did he influence your ministry?

Ogilvie: He was a great expositor and loved the Scriptures. He was an intense preacher — he had hurricane force. I’ve written a great deal about him and given lectures on him. To me, he was the greatest preacher of the twentieth century. The chance to study with him meant a great deal to me. He was a good friend long after I finished my theological education. I would go back in the summers and renew our friendship. We would often review what I was going to preach on in the coming year, and he would always have new insights. He was the most thorough scholar-preacher I have ever met.

Preaching: If you were starting over, is there anything you’d do differently as a preacher?

Ogilvie: I came to the commitment of a schedule that allowed for intensive study each week later in my ministry. I would start earlier allowing for two full days for study and preparation of the sermon. The commitment of one hour in the study for each minute in the pulpit is one I would apply sooner in my ministry. I think the temptation when you are starting in ministry is to say, “When I move to a larger church I’ll really concentrate on study.” I think you move to the larger church because you have concentrated on study. So the commitment of time to study and prepare is to me the most important aspect. Then the pastor’s own prayer life and commitment to an honest and growing relationship with the Lord, and his accountability to a small group is very important. I would meet with a group of elders every Sunday prior to preaching, and usually one was elected to say, “Are you ready to preach? Is there anything we can pray for?” The renewal of the church will rise or fall on the quality of its preaching, and I think it will depend on preachers who make preaching the central priority in their allocation of time and energy. To do that we will need an understanding of the officers of the church and the membership — to allow their pastor to take the time to be ready to preach is absolutely essential. It’s been a great adventure. It still is.

Dr. Ray Pritchard on 15 Skills Great Preachers Utilize

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15 Skills of Great Preachers

Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes a “great” preacher. The answer must necessarily be subjective. After listening to hundreds of sermons by hundreds of preachers (some famous, most not) in various settings for 45 years, I’ve come to some conclusions about “great” sermons and “great” preachers. I remember when I was in high school getting up very early one Easter Sunday morning and driving an hour and a half to a country church to hear a man give a talk on the Resurrection. He took a little piece of paper and rolled it up to show us what it was like for Christ to be wrapped up in the tomb. Simple, so simple, but it electrified me and for the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus had risen from the dead. That man never went on to any great earthly fame, but I walked away changed by his message. He was a great preacher to me.

Some years ago Keith Drury wrote a column about things he had learned from preachers he had heard. When I read it recently, it started me down this line of thinking. As I ponder the variety of preachers I’ve heard over the last 45 years, I see many differences in style, technique and personality. But there are some commonalities. I pass them along for your consideration.

What can we learn from listening to the best preachers? 

1. They use humor effectively.

Humor is like salt. A little is good, too much spoils the soup. Great preachers know the difference. Some preachers tell humorous stories to defuse tension. Others use puns and one-liners to get a point across. I’ve never a great sermon from a comedian in the pulpit, but I’ve watched quite a few gifted preachers use natural humor to their advantage.

2. They live where you live.

This is hard to quantify, but it means something like, “That man understands my problems. He knows what I’m going through.” Sometimes this is done through references to current events. Other times it is done by a personal illustration.

3. They have solid biblical content.

I don’t necessarily mean that they do only verse-by-verse exposition. But if they take a pressing question or a moral issue or a contemporary topic, they do their homework so you can see the biblical basis of their message. They aren’t preaching their opinion with a few verses tacked on. Great preachers ground their messages in God’s Word.

4. They understand the value of a good story.

Nothing wakes people up like these six words: “Let me tell you a story.” John Stott said that a good illustration opens a window in a sermon to let light shine on the truth. A story can be a brief or long. But great preachers know when to use a story to help a congregation understand and apply biblical truth.

5. They preach with passion. 

Not to be confused with volume, length, shouting, or wild gestures. It has nothing to do with temperament or preaching style. Spurgeon called it earnestness. It’s what happens when the audience realizes, “This man really believes what he is preaching.” It’s encompassed in the Old Testament description of a prophet who had a “burden” from the Lord.

6. They preach with relaxed intensity.

Sometimes I listen to preachers who are “trying too hard,” and it shows. That may be a sign of lack of preparation. Younger preachers often haven’t preached enough to be comfortable in their own skin. The best preachers can be quite intense-like Billy Graham at a crusade-and yet relaxed at the same time.

7. They use memorable phrases.

I’m thinking of aphorisms and pithy sayings. Jesus did this often in his teaching. “Cast not your pearls before swine” creates a vivid mental picture. One good turn of a phrase can lift a sermon from ordinary to memorable.

8. They preach one message at a time.

Young preachers often cram everything they know into a sermon, making it difficult to follow or turning it into a seminary lecture. Great preachers focus on one main idea and bring it home in various ways. They don’t feel a need to tell people everything they know.

9. They vary their pace, pitch, and volume.

Usually they start slow, pick up the pace, raise and lower their voice, all according to the need of the moment. Often they use a pause in their sermon to focus attention on a key point. Their preaching sounds like a lively conversation, not like a lecture or a finger-pointing scolding from the pulpit.

10. They keep it simple.

J. Vernon McGee told his listeners that “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Feed my giraffes.’ He said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Put the hay on the lower shelf so God’s sheep can get to it.” Simple doesn’t mean simplistic. Simple means you don’t show off your education. Simple means you are secure enough in who you are that you can take profound truth and make them understandable to those who lack your specialized training.

11. They keep good eye contact with the congregation. 

Sometimes they preach without notes, sometimes with notes, sometimes with a manuscript. Yet in all cases, they are looking at you as they preach.

12. They are clear and easy to follow.

This may mean they take a question and answer it, or they take a proposition and unfold it, or they tell a story and apply it. However they do it, you can easily follow the message. When they finish, you say, “Now I understand!”

13. They start quickly.

Rookies preachers often make the mistake of taking too long to get into their topic. The best preachers tell you up front what they’re talking about. They grab the congregation with the very first sentence and never let go.

14. They preach for decision.

A sermon is not a lecture. The best preachers never end without bringing people face to face with God in one way or another.

15. They land the plane on the first try. 

When the time comes to end, great preachers don’t circle the field or do a series of “touch and go” landings. They land the plane on the first try.

What about you? What would you add to this list?

Pritchard Ray image

Dr. Ray Pritchard is the president of Keep Believing Ministries, in Internet-based ministry serving Christians in 225 countries. He is the author of 29 books, including Stealth Attack, Fire and Rain, Credo, The ABCs of Christmas, The Healing Power of Forgiveness, An Anchor for the Soul and Why Did This Happen to Me? Ray and Marlene, his wife of 39 years, have three sons-Josh, Mark and Nick, two daughters-in-law–Leah and Vanessa, and four grandchildren grandsons: Knox, Eli, Penny and Violet. His hobbies include biking, surfing the Internet, and anything related to the Civil War.

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com.

8 Advantages of Expository Preaching

Excerpt from Gary Millar and Phil Campbell’s Book [contributed by Andy Naselli]: Saving Eutychus: How To Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake: Kingsford NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013, pp. 40-41 (http://andynaselli.com/8-advantages-of-heart-changing-expository-preaching/May 16, 2013)

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8 Advantages of Heart-Changing Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching

(1) Does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through His Word to change people’s lives–as it ‘uncaged the lion’ and allows God’s Word to speak.

(2) Acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.

(3) Minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.

(4) Minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.

(5) Removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its color and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.

(6) Encourages humility to those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.

(7) Helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.

(8) Drives us to preaching the gospel. Expository preaching persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel–that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of His Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.

Tim Keller on Christ Centered Exposition of the Scriptures

Moralism vs. Christ-Centered Exposition 

Tim Keller seated image

We have said that you must preach the gospel every week–to edify and grow Christians and to convert non-Christians. But if that is the case, you cannot simply ‘instruct in Biblical principles.’ You have to ‘get to Jesus’ every week.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel–Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just a “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on – to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”.) Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable-even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

A BASIC OUTLINE FOR CHRIST-CENTERED, GOSPEL-MOTIVATED SERMONS
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.
“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.
“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.”

The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.
“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad example of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is a narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate embodiment of the principle.

d) Finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.

A Passion for Preaching: An Interview with Steven J. Lawson

Steve Lawson pointing

Tabeltalk (TT): How did you become a Christian, and how were you called to ministry?

Steven J. Lawson: I grew up in a Christian home and was brought to faith as a young boy through the consistent witness of my father and mother. Specifically, it was through the reading of the Bible by my father each night that the seed of the gospel was planted, which God caused to germinate in my heart. Regarding my call to the ministry, I actually began preaching and teaching while in college in various ministries and churches. Upon graduating, I sat under the strong preaching of Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and strongly felt God summoning me into full-time ministry. His bold preaching electrified my heart and served as the catalyst that launched me to seminary, where I would be prepared for a lifetime of ministry.

TT: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during your ministry? How have you faced these challenges?

SL: In my earlier years, the greatest challenges I faced were preaching the doctrines of grace to congregations that were theologically untaught. To say the least, it was difficult and demanding to try to establish God-centered truth and a biblical philosophy of ministry where there had previously been a stronghold of man-centered thinking concerning the work of God in salvation. Though it was obviously a painful process, the only way to meet such an obstacle was head-on, unashamedly preaching the full counsel of God. This required much prayer, pastoral discretion, patience, and perseverance, which God honored. Over time, God established His truth in the minds and hearts of many, though it came at a high price personally.

TT: What advice would you give to a young man who aspires to be a pastor?

SL: First, any man aspiring to the pastorate needs to be sitting under strong expository preaching. He needs a role model who exemplifies what is in his heart to do. Second, he needs a personal ministry whereby he can use what he is learning, test his giftedness, and cultivate what has been entrusted to him. Third, he should surround himself with a small circle of spiritually mature men who can provide wise counsel in helping steer his life and ministry as important decisions arise. Fourth, he must begin to inquire of various seminaries regarding his future theological education. He needs to contact some institutions, visit their campuses, and talk to some of the faculty. Fifth, he needs to become an avid reader of important Christian books, including the spiritual biographies of noted men who have been mightily used by God.

TT: How does a pastor remain faithful to his calling over the long haul?

SL: In order to persevere in ministry, a pastor needs to be, first and foremost, deeply rooted and anchored in God’s Word. The more he studies, learns, teaches, and preaches God’s Word, the greater will be his staying power in ministry. Further, reading Christian biographies of men who have faced great adversity in their ministries provides greater drive and endurance. Reading the heroic accounts of martyrs and missionaries who have faced great persecution should be at the top of his reading list. Likewise, being surrounded by a small group of laymen who will encourage him in God’s work is a necessity. Pastors can be vulnerable to severe bouts of discouragement. Having the edifying feedback of trusted individuals helps him remain steadfast in doing God’s work.

TT: Who has most influenced your preaching?

SL: There have been multiple influences upon my preaching—Adrian Rogers,W.A. Criswell, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and S. Lewis Johnson. Each of these men has contributed something vitally important to my preaching ministry. Over many decades, John MacArthur has most shaped my approach to biblical exposition. He has influenced me in preaching through entire books of the Bible sequentially. I have learned from him the need for sound exegesis, word studies, historical background, crossreferences, theological precision, sermon outline, and manuscript writing. Moreover, Dr. MacArthur has demonstrated the need for guarding the gospel and teaching sound doctrine.

TT: Why have you focused so much of your attention to the practice of expository preaching and to helping both preachers and laypeople see its importance?

SL: I strongly believe that no church can rise any higher than its pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. The deeper the preacher takes his flock into the Word of God, the higher they will rise in worship. The stronger they are in the Scripture, the stronger they will be in the pursuit of holiness. Likewise, strong preaching leads to sacrificial service in the Lord’s work. Strong exposition kindles hearts for the work of evangelism and the cause of worldwide missions. Every great movement of God in church history has been ushered in by a renewed commitment to solid preaching of the Word. If we are to see a spiritual awakening in our day, the church must recover the primacy of preaching. I desire to be used by God to help equip a new generation of preachers and laypeople in recognizing the importance of this primary means of grace.

TT: Can you describe for us what your sermon preparation looks like?

SL: I begin each week by photocopying everything that I need to read in order to prepare my sermon. This includes study Bibles, commentaries, expository sermons, linguistic and historical tools, and the like. I first read the passage and discover its literary unit, determining what verse or verses I will preach. After writing a block diagram and reading the passage in the original language, I identify the central theme of these verses. I then read all of my photocopied information, thoroughly marking it up. I draft the beginnings of a working outline for the sermon. I will start writing the sermon—with a fountain pen, I might add—beginning with the first homiletical point. I then move systematically through the text, creating a manuscript that explains and applies each successive part of the passage. I will then add transitions, illustrations, and quotations as needed. The final step is to write the introduction and conclusion. I will compose this manuscript as though I can hear myself preaching it. At last, I will review my manuscript for length, balance, and quality, praying over its truths.

TT: What is the purpose of OnePassion Ministries and how does it seek to accomplish its goals?

SL: OnePassion Ministries was created to help bring about a new reformation in this day. It has a website in which most all of my preaching and writing resources are found (www.onepassionministries.org). We are hosting conferences both nationally and internationally in order to train preachers, teachers, prospective pastors, and interested laypeople in the art and science of expository preaching and teaching. I want to define what it is, what it is not, and show how to effectively carry out this divine calling. I desire to help take people to the next level in their skills of handling and ministering God’s Word. Also, I want to motivate those who attend our conferences to be fully committed to preaching the Word expositionally. Moreover, we want to host conferences for all people in order to introduce them to Christ and encourage them in their Christian walk. Finally, we will be hosting church history tours in which I will take people to important historical sites around the world.

TT: Why did you decide to establish the book series A Long Line of Godly Men, and what other men do you hope to profile individually in this series?

SL: The Long Line series was birthed in my teaching ministry at the church that I pastor. As I was teaching the men of my church sound doctrine from Scripture, I wanted them to see that what we believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace has been the mainline position by great men and movements down through the centuries. Out of this Friday morning teaching series has arisen these books so that these essential truths may be made available to a wider audience around the world. There is much instruction and inspiration to be drawn from this profile study. In the future, I need to write volume three of the larger books, which will move from John Knox to this present hour. In the smaller books, there are other key figures who I want to address such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and, yes, R.C. Sproul.

Steven J. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today, and former senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He has served as a pastor in Arkansas and Alabama for twenty-five years and is author of many books, including The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield and In It to Win It: Pursuing Victory in the One Race That Really Counts. He is a teaching fellow for and serves on the board of Ligonier Ministries and the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and is professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary.

Source: www.ligonier.org (June 1, 2014)