Preaching has fallen on hard times in our day. Many insist that pulpit ministries are boring, ineffective, outdated, and irrelevant. And if you listen to a sampling of sermons from various pulpits, there is an element of some truth to the frustrations.
So how does the preacher who wants to preach the word of God not get in the way and make the sermon become the Sunday morning equivalent to the flight attendant’s reading of the pre-flight safety instructions?
Author and pastor Jack Hughes has some ideas. He has written a very helpful book entitled Expository Preaching with Word Pictures. Hughes is convinced for the need of more colorful and descriptive preaching in our day. To help with the task he enlists the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson. Watson is renown for his ability to carve spiritual truth into our minds through powerfully weighted words.
Consider these examples:
“Zeal in a minister is as proper as fire on the altar. Some are afraid to reprove, like the swordfish which has a sword in his head, but is without a heart. So they carry the sword of the Spirit with them—but have no heart to draw it out in reproof against sin. How many have sown pillows under their people, Ezek. 13:18, making them sleep so securely, that they never awoke until they were in hell!”
“The sins of the wicked pierce Christ’s side. The sins of the godly go to his heart.”
“A godly man loves the Word preached, which is a commentary upon the …
It is a scene that I’ve seen replayed several times over. Someone comes across a few lines from the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and they are mesmerized. They ask, “Who talks like this?” When they find out that it was Jonathan Edwards they begin researching and then read the rest of the sermon and begin other writings. Then, like a drill running low on battery, they lose steam. Edwards’ writing is something of a thick piece of wood. Some would even say he is a stud. Because his writing is so theologically dense he is tough to work through. People get discouraged and decide to stay away from the guy with the fantastic quotes and outstanding hair.
What they need is some help. They need Edwards’ writing to be a bit more accessible. John Piper has done this for an entire generation, not the least with God’s Passion for His Glory. But even this, for some, is tough sledding.
Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney have worked hard to serve the church by putting together an accessible introduction to the life and thought of Edwards. It is both theological and biographical. The authors compiled a series of 5 books entitled The Essential Edwards Collection: Jonathan Edwards Lover of God, Jonathan Edwards On Beauty, Jonathan Edwards On Heaven and Hell, Jonathan Edwards On the Good Life, and Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity.
The endorsements are helpful and spot-on:
“Why hasn’t this been done before? The Essential Edwards Collection is now essential reading for the serious-minded Christian. Doug Sweeney and …
One of the dangers for students of the Bible is to get so into details that we end up forgetting how these details fit together. It is not to say that the details are bad, for we love the details. However, if we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the big picture and how the various details fit together, then how much do we really understand these seemingly unrelated facts?
This is a good tension to realize and address. To help us in doing so T. Desmond Alexander has written a terrific book entitled From Eden to the New Jerusalem. And as the title suggests it is a study that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. It is a study called thematic biblical theology. That is, he tackles the Bible’s meta-story of creation, fall, redemption and runs it through the various books to understand their contribution to the big story, or the whole.
Here is one of the quotes that impacted me:
God’s original blueprint is for the whole earth to become a temple-city filled with people who have a holy or priestly status. Tragically, the actions of Adam and Eve endanger the fulfillment of this project. In spite of this, God graciously and mercifully embarks on a lengthy process designed to reverse this setback and bring to completion his creation scheme. pp. 30-31
The treasure in a book like this is its simplicity. Alexander is not writing too far above us. He takes the themes and chases them down through the Scriptures …
As Christians we know that our goal is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). How do we do this? We do it by obeying God. But how do we know how to obey God? How do we know what he desires? This is where we see the important connection between Christian doctrine and Christian living. In view of this I try to regularly read a book on a particular doctrine or doctrines. This helps remind and refresh me with things I know and provide rich new discoveries of things I don’t yet know. It has been a very helpful practice for me.
This last month I picked up a book that has had great reviews for years but was not something that I had read personally. The Christian Life, by Sinclair Ferguson is walk through 18 chapters on the “nuts and bolts” of basic doctrine for living. Anyone who is familiar with Ferguson knows that he is able to take complex topics and make them accessible without compromising. In particular, he is able to take the concept from the “classroom” to the “pavement” by teaching how it applies. I really appreciate this about the author.
One feature that makes this book especially helpful is how the author is able to distill very important concepts from authors that laymen may find intimidating. Ferguson quotes or pulls from authors such as John Calvin, John Owen, Augustine, and others, to further bolster his teaching. When you read Ferguson you are reading Calvin and Owen without …
Like many people, I enjoy documentaries. Producers spend significant amounts of time investigating a topic, analyzing it, interpreting it, and then providing a way forward. The best documentaries are those that help you better understand—even feel—the tension in and burden for the subject. In his latest book The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Jared C. Wilson gives us something of a documentary on the contemporary evangelical church, particularly those who carry the enduring scent of the church-growth movement by means of attractional ministry.
Gracious Diagnostic for Churches
Wilson, director of content strategy for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and managing editor of For the Church, is not an outsider to this topic. Serving as a pastor for a number of years in churches thoroughly committed to the newest and seemingly best ways to do church, he has what you may call “pew-cred” when discussing the attractional church. In The Prodigal Church he simply asks Christians, particularly pastors and church leaders, to reexamine what we do and why we do it. In this way, the manifesto is something of a diagnostic for churches that provides a simple, clear, and actionable plan for biblical reform.
Many people have been taught to read their Bibles as a collection of isolated books. The books spans over millennia and many different cultures. How do these books fit together? Does the Bible have an organized, coherent theme? Or, are we simply doing a biblical jig-saw puzzle without the picture?
Michael Williams believes that the Bible should be read redemptively. Or, to put it another way, he believes that the Old Testament looks forward to Christ’s work then the New Testament describes Christ’s work and then explains all of its implications. Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation. In his book, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens, he sets out on a task to help ordinary Christians see the person and work of Christ in every book.
The concept sounds simple but the task, in my opinion, is a bit daunting. We have 66 books in the Bible. Some are very long books (i.e. Genesis) and some are short (i.e. Ruth). Some are very complicated (i.e. Ezekiel) and some are more straightforward (i.e. Mark). Williams aims to take every book and introduce it, explain its basic objective and them, and then show how it points forward or reflects Christ. He does this in about 4 pages or so per book. Some may want more detail but I don’t think this is the point of this book. If you want to study in more depth perhaps a NT/OT …
Have you ever wondered why evangelism seemed to come so naturally to you when you were first converted to Christ but then over time became increasingly difficult? This is the common experience of Christians. Rico Tice has some answers and help along this way. And Rico is apt to help us. He is a minister at All Souls Langham Place in London and the Founder of Christianity Explored Ministries. He has served as an evangelist who equips Christians for gospel ministry for decades.
In his book Honest Evangelism Rico intends to be honest with us. He shoots straight: we don’t like getting hit. He is saying “hit” metaphorically of course. His point is we don’t like the negative pinch that witnessing brings. It causes a strain on relationships, brings awkwardness with strangers, and it could even bring about more extreme unpleasant consequences. However, says Tice, most people don’t like the gospel. They don’t agree with what the Bible says. There are going to be strains on relationships. Therefore, if we are going to be faithful with the gospel we must be willing to cross, what Tice calls, “the painline”.
This sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it?
Exactly. Rico would say that now we are onto something.
“….whenever I tell someone the gospel message, and get hit (metaphorically speaking) there’s a temptation either stop saying anything, or to change what I’m saying. I know there’s a painline that needs to be crossed if I tell someone the gospel; but I want to stay the comfortable side of the …
Most books on prayer are convicting. The authors don’t have to work too hard to give us the Bible verses, make some helpful observations, and point us to simple application. On the other hand, I have found it somewhat rare to find books on prayer that also provide clear, practical instruction. Perhaps this is due to people being afraid of imposing standards or practices that are not mandated in the Scriptures. At any rate, I am very excited when I can find a book that does both: provide conviction and instruction.
The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre is one of those books. It is not a long book. It weighs in as a paperback at about 120 pages. However, whatever is lacked in volume it brings in substance. Think of it as a cup of espresso for the discipline of prayer.
McIntyre (1859-1938) was a minister in Scotland. His daily faithfulness precedes this volume. It is helpful to remember that this book was an outflow of a life that was bathed in prayer and the ministry of the word.
I don’t think I have ever met anyone who was not somewhat curious about their family history. We know that we are now living something of an extension of their lives; their stories are part of our stories.
If this is true in the natural realm it is most certainly true in the spiritual. In the church, the body of Christ, believers are united together even as they are united to Christ. Those who have come before us have a unique and special relationship to us as believers. Their stories serve to encourage, instruct and bless us when we consider them.
In his recent book, Early Christian Martyr Stories, (Baker, 2014), Bryan Litfin takes his readers on a historical tour through the first five centuries of the church. His emphasis, as the title implies, is upon the stories of those martyred for their faith.
I came to this book seeking more information but came away with inspiration. My heart was melted by reading these stories in succession.
One question that seems to come up regularly in conversations about Biblical doctrine is the subject of “free-will”. Does man have free-will? Is he a robot? Is he incapable of choosing God? These questions and more abound. We should note that these are not new questions. People have been debating the topic throughout church history. And, church history is a valuable resource for us in understanding not only our topic but how we got where we are today.
R.C. Sproul has been evangelicalism’s smart uncle for over a generation now. We are blessed to have his biblical clarity and faithfulness at arm’s length. A number of years ago he wrote a book entitled, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. The book aims to provide a historical and theological survey of the doctrine.
I found the book to be accessible and fair. It is tempting when writing on a polemical subject to throw haymakers in the periphery or to suffocate people with rhetorical skills. Sproul doubtlessly could do both well. He is a brilliant man. Instead, he helps to introduce us to the key players and their teaching throughout church history.
He introduces us to the following figures with the subtitle of the chapter summarizing the teaching:
Pelagius: We are capable of obedience
Augustine: We are incapable of obedience
Cassian (Semi-Pelagian): We are capable of cooperating
Luther: We are in Bondage to Sin
Calvin: We are voluntary slaves
Arminius: We are free to believe
Edwards: We are inclined to sin
Finney: We are not depraved by nature
Chafer: We are …