Paul didn’t teach unconditional election. Here’s why.

God’s act of election shows up multiple times in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Calvinist interpreters tend to read these passages as evidence for their doctrine of unconditional election. In this video, we consider how the larger context of the Thessalonian correspondence makes that interpretation impossible. Instead, these letters highlight Paul’s understanding that election is conditional on faith. Click here to watch it on YouTube. Don’t forget to subscribe for more videos on Arminian Essentials.


Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Signs and Wonders: The Power of God in the Gospel of John

I’ve just finished a series of messages focused on the miracles of Jesus that appear in the Gospel of John. The miracles can be tough to preach on. So the series was a big opportunity to grow as preacher. It presented challenges, but it was also a lot of fun.

John calls the miracles “signs.” And my approach throughout the series revolved around the way the miracles should be understood as signs of new creation. We spend a lot time considering how John wants his readers to see the Creator at work in Jesus bringing the world he made from darkness to the light of new creation.

One other thing, this series of sermons was the climax of a year-long program under the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement from the Henry Center for Theological Understanding and The John Templeton Foundation. It was a great experience, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity. Here’s the full playlist, or you can click over and watch on YouTube.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Every Sermon Should Answer “Why?” (#CPTConference)


How do we preach to engage in a digital age? That question was the topic of my talk at 2019 Center for Pastor Theologians Conference. I argue (1) that the pervasive triviality on social media offers an opportunity for preachers to say something substantive that cuts through the drivel, and (2) that “bottom line” preaching is a strong strategy for doing that. And you may have guessed from the title that Simon Sinek gets a hat tip, too. CLICK HERE to watch the talk.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Reframing the Wrath of God (@OfficialSeedbed)

The idea of God’s wrath is troubling to many. We’d rather think about God’s love than his anger. But what if we were to consider what scripture says about God’s wrath in light of his love? Would that change anything? This excerpt from my recent book on The Letters to the Thessalonians aims to do just that. The passage under consideration is 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. Read the whole chapter for free, or check out the book and accompanying videos over at the Seedbed Store.

There’s something we need to admit up front. A lot of people struggle with the Bible’s talk of God’s wrath. We find the idea of an angry deity uncomfortable and off-putting. Who wants to worship a God like that? We’d much rather hear about God’s love than God’s wrath. So, what do we do with passages like this?

What if I told you God’s wrath is necessary because of God’s love? Think about it this way. Love is at the heart of God’s character. God loves the world. He made it; it’s his. And God loves human beings. He made us to embody the beauty of the glory of his image and he has graciously called us to represent him to the world. But there’s an enemy out there. And that enemy is committed to destroying God’s beautiful creation. The enemy is sin. It’s a cancer that corrupts human life. It moves people to vanity, to strive for selfish gain, to manipulate the world, and to use God’s good creation for their own evil ends. Now if God is committed to his creation, and if there’s an enemy bent on destroying that creation, what posture do you think God will take toward that enemy? The answer should be clear: he’ll go after it with everything he’s got; he’ll show that enemy no mercy. And he’ll do it because he loves his world. He’ll do it because he loves us.

That’s what Paul means by the wrath of God. We’re uncomfortable with that language because we’ve all seen or experienced unholy human wrath: an abusive husband or father, a vicious colleague, oppressive dictators, merciless terrorists. When we hear of divine wrath, we take those wicked examples and maximize them by infinite proportion. But that isn’t what Paul means. God’s wrath is not the fury of an angry father or the mad aspirations of a power hungry tyrant. God’s wrath is his opposition to anything that harms his good creation. It’s measured and intentional. It’s right and just—holy and good. And it’s the result of his love. God loves us. That’s why he turns his wrath on sin, because sin attempts to destroy everything God loves.

The problem is that people dig in their heels and refuse to break their alliance with sin. They are committed to the corrupting cancerous power of sin. They don’t want to be free from it. They give themselves to it. And they love it. Paul preached that Jesus died and was raised to set us free from sin. Jesus gave everything to disentangle us from that which seeks to destroy us. God will put everything right. That’s what we’re waiting for.

But waiting doesn’t mean passivity. Paul doesn’t expect believers to hang out and do nothing until God wraps up the project. Waiting for Jesus means actively working to advance his kingdom, engaging in mission, proclaiming the good news, and opposing evil in every form. That’s what Paul calls the Thessalonians to do. That’s what Jesus calls us all to do.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Everything You Know about Satan Is Wrong (@cenpastheo)

Well…maybe not everything. But certainly a lot of it. It turns out that church history has, not one, but two major traditions about the Devil. The one everyone knows comes to us from Augustine. The lesser known tradition comes to us from Irenaeus. Augustine is such a towering and influential figure, his version became dominant. A big part of the difference comes in the way the conflict is framed. In the Augustinian account, it’s Satan vs. God. In the Irenaean account, it’s Satan vs. Adam and humanity. There’s much more to be said, but I’ll direct you to Episode 47 of the Pastor Theologians Podcast. It’s an interview with my friend and colleague Gerald Hiestand. Gerald did his PhD on the Irenaean account of Satan. Personally, I find it quite compelling. Click here to take a listen and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Book Release: The Letters to the Thessalonians @OfficialSeedbed

I’m excited to announce the release of my new book The Letters to the Thessalonians in the OneBook: Daily-Weekly series from Seedbed Publishing. This short volume is designed for small-group studies and is accompanied by video sessions for group gatherings. You can preview the first week’s video above. And while the series is produced for use in groups, this book is also well-suited to be read straight through on its own for personal study or devotional reading.  The discussion of the biblical text is informed by scholarship but still oriented toward transformation and practical application. So pastors will also find it useful for sermon prep. Click here to sample the first chapter.

Here’s the publisher description:

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are some of our earliest existing writings in the New Testament. As such, they offer a unique glimpse into some of the most pressing issues as the gospel began to spread across the ancient world. How should believers respond when their faith is a minority perspective and are suffering persecution?

What does genuine holiness look like? Is life after death truly worth believing in, and what does it look like? Will Jesus actually make good on his promise to come back?

These enduring questions and more run throughout these two brief letters, and in this eight-week study, you’ll be introduced to Paul’s inspired response. Discover how the gospel of Jesus will give you the strength you need as you eagerly await his promised return to make our world right again.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact by @TalbotDavis (@AbingdonPress)

Let me begin this way: Preachers, get this book, read it, and do what it says. If you do, your preaching will go to the next level. Whether you’ve been at it a few weeks or a few decades, there is wisdom here for all whose privilege it is to have preaching as a vocation.

Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact is a brand new book from my friend, Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t recall when our paths first crossed, but in 2014 (and in a new appointment for me) Talbot’s influence led to a major shift in my approach to preaching. I did not change my commitment to serious engagement with the scriptures. I did not change my commitment to preaching the gospel. I did not change my commitment to preaching the holy love of God that empowers people to embody that holy love. What changed was the communicative framework for all of that. I began to pay more attention to the homiletic package, not just the content. I began to give more energy to wordsmithing, not just word-assembling. I began (and here’s the crucial change) to preach the “bottom line.” What does that mean? It means I began organizing my sermons around a single memorable (and hopefully provocative!) sentence that communicated the one point of the text being preached that week. I learned this from Talbot Davis.

At that time, Talbot had not written a book on his approach to preaching. I learned the approach over time through observation and interaction. Now that Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact has been published, things will be much easier for you. You can simply read the book and do what it says. And if you do, more people will remember more of your sermons. And the transformative power of your sermons will be enhanced and felt more deeply by your hearers.

Here’s what to expect. Talbot will lead you on a journey from clutter to clarity. This has largely to do with the movement from numerous points to a single point. You will learn strategies for crafting that single point that will make it more memorable. You will learn an approach to scripture that makes it feel more like an adventure than a lecture. There’s help on how to creatively apply what you find in scripture to what you find in the world and in your congregation. Talbot will teach you how to write sermons that help people listen better, that amplify the gospel. And all of that comes with example after example from sermons Talbot has preached to show you how the strategy pays off in the pulpit.

The book is brief and imminently readable. It’s funny and eye-opening. Most importantly, it will make you a better preacher. As I was reading, I thought how I’d like my preaching students to read this book, not only once during the semester, but two or even three times. I’ve already ordered extra copies to read with the folks on my preaching team. And it will likely be a book we revisit frequently. Since I began preaching the “bottom line” of the text, I’ve often thought how we need a handbook on the method. We have that now, which means we are all without excuse.

PS: Check out the accompanying website with extra resources – simplifythemessage.com

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.