A Wesleyan Approach to Pastoral Authority (@9Marks, #UMC)

I am grateful for the invitation to contribute to the most recent volume of the 9 Marks Journal. My essay is on pastoral authority from a Wesleyan/Methodist perspective. It’s part of a round-table discussion with Kevin DeYoung offering a Presbyterian approach and Benjamin Merkle giving a Baptist perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

Methodist founder John Wesley considered himself “a man of one book,” and that book was the Bible. Wesley believed that essential doctrines must be grounded in scripture. His attitude toward pastoral ministry was no different. This is clear in Wesley’s sermon, “On Obedience to Pastors,” in which he exposits Hebrews 13:17. He introduces the sermon insisting that the nature of pastoral authority can be understood if we “simply attend to the oracles of God” and “carefully examine the words of the Apostle.” Later in the sermon he rejects views on pastoral authority that cannot be proved from Scripture, and he refuses to “appeal to human institutions,” insisting again on what “we find in the oracles of God.” Wesley also believed Scripture puts limits on the pastor’s authority. He didn’t expect members of a congregation to obey the pastor if that pastor instructed them to disobey Scripture. And when pastors shepherd the flock in a way that accords with scripture, Wesley says, “we do not properly obey them, but our common Father” (italics original). The point should be clear: faithful Methodists locate the source of a pastor’s authority in scripture.

Click through to read the rest. 

Are denominations worth it? (@9MarksOnline)

I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in a roundtable discussion for the 9 Marks Journal on the question: are denominations worth it? The other participants are pastors from a variety of contexts and denominational backgrounds and include Tim Keller, Carl Trueman, Tom Ascol, Tim Cantrell, and Rick Phillips. You can preview the roundtable discussion here, and the full journal should be available soon.

Most of us answered the question with a generally positive view of denominations, though as you read each response you may get the sense that some find denominations to be more “worth it” than others. Several responses focused on the value of connection to foster cooperation between churches in a single denomination. Ascol suggested that denominations are useful in bringing autonomous local churches in the same denomination together as partners in mission. Cantrell praised the cooperation of the Sola5 association of churches in South Africa for their strategic partnership to plant new churches and engage in mission. Keller and Truman, both Presbyterian, find worth in the role of denominations in keeping local church leaders accountable to the larger connection, and Phillips sees value in denominations as long as they don’t begin to think that their boundaries are the same as the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom.

Taking a somewhat different approach, my own contribution focused on the value of denominations in relationship to each other. I’ve learned a lot from reading and studying those with backgrounds in other denominations. I hope that exposure to the strengths and distinctives of other traditions has and will continue to improve my own understanding and practice of ministry. I also hope that people in other denominations will learn from the strengths and emphases of our Methodist heritage. 

What do you think? Are denominations worth it? Why? Why not? Share your thoughts in a comment below. 

Evangelizing the Church

The new issue of Preaching is out and contains my article “Evangelizing the Church”. Here’s the intro:
If you are like me, there may have been a time in your preaching ministry when you thought the gospel was really only for evangelizing unbelievers and did not need to be a part of every sermon on a weekly basis. After all, aren’t we to be moving on from the milk of elementary teachings to mature spiritual meat? If we address the basic gospel on a weekly basis, are we not hindering the growth of our people into deeper biblical truths?
This was the rationale behind my understanding of the place of the gospel in preaching. In thinking the gospel was only for evangelistic purposes, I did not necessarily incorporate it into every weekly sermon because those sermons were directed primarily to church members who already had heard the gospel and professed faith in Christ.
Then I came across Romans 1:15. Once again, Scripture overturned my preconceived and erroneous notions, this time with regard to the gospel and its function in the church. In Romans 1:15, Paul expresses his eagerness to “preach the gospel” to the Christians in Rome, whom he already has addressed as “beloved of God” and “saints” (v. 1:7).
The Greek word translated as “preach the gospel” is a form of the verb euangelidzō, which is where we get the language of evangelism. So, a legitimate and literal translation of Romans 1:15 could read, “I am eager to evangelize you also who are in Rome.” This translation clearly reveals the importance for Paul that the Christians in Rome hear the gospel again in order to grow in their Christian faith.
Having been confronted by Scripture with an understanding of the gospel that did not fit my thinking, I was forced to reconsider the function of the gospel in Christian preaching by asking: What does it mean to evangelize the church?

The Scandal of Preaching in a Digital Age

The new issue of The Princeton Theological Review is now available online and contains my article, “Faith Comes from Hearing: The Scandal of Preaching in a Digital Age.”  The article considers whether contemporary proposals for new homiletic forms is faithful to a biblical understanding of preaching.  Here’s an excerpt:

Not only is Christian preaching to be content specific, it is also often counter-intuitive. Our discussion of the factions in Corinth demonstrated just this point. The gospel itself is counter-intuitive because it is powerful despite its lack of adornment with worldly wisdom and eloquence. The division of the Corinthian church into a Paul party and an Apollos party was, for Paul, a great source of discontent. It is most likely the case that Apollos gained a following because of his eloquence and education. He was a leader whose skill in oratory would provide a source of boasting for the Corinthian Christians. This is what bothered Paul so deeply. The Corinthians were following their culture. The assurance that came through the gospel came paired with the fact that it was foolishness when considered in light of the wisdom of the day. Convention required that orations be adorned with special techniques, and the most successful orators were masters of these techniques. Paul did not want his missionary success to depend on his own skill or eloquence but on the power of God at work in the gospel alone. This was clearly counter-intuitive, but Paul insisted on it regardless.
Click here and scroll down to page 43 to read the whole thing.

New Preaching Article: 5 Things to Know About Preaching Whole Books

The new issue of Preaching (25.6) is now online and contains my article: “Five Things You Need to Know About Preaching Through the Books of Scripture.”  The article provides five suggestions aimed at clearing away some of the intimidation that may be associated with preaching all the way through an entire book of the Bible, line upon line and precept upon precept.