No one likes a sermon about money. The people in the pews don’t like them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have felt manipulated or scammed by a preacher trying to line his own pockets. Other times they feel convicted because they don’t give as much as they should and hearing a sermon on stewardship only reminds them of their sin. Preachers don’t like giving sermons on money because we know members of the congregation don’t like listening to them. It creates tension in the worship service. And we don’t want that. Stewardship sermons often feel like something to be endured rather than a vital opportunity to grow in grace and faith as a follower of Jesus. But what if there is a way to reframe sermons on money so that they proved to be a joy rather than a burden? What if preachers and their congregations actually looked forward to the stewardship series instead of dreading it? I believe it can be done.
I recently posted a few reflections on John Wesley’s instruction that Methodist preachers ought to preach the doctrine of holiness (or Christian perfection) “constantly, strongly, and explicitly.” Following Wesley’s advice, my January sermons were focused on the topic of Becoming Holy. Take a listen, if interested, and let me know what you think. If you are a preacher, how do you work the call to holiness into your sermons? How much homiletic time do you give to the topic? What strategies have you found helpful in introducing the concept to your congregation? What do you think are the challenges to preaching holiness? If you are a member of the laity, how often do you hear sermons on holiness? How do you respond to holiness preaching when you hear it? If you are not a preacher or part of a congregation, what do you think of the call to holiness? What are your impressions? Do you normally associate holiness with Christianity? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment with your thoughts.
I’ve got a new article up at Preaching.com. Here’s the intro:
Click here for three keys to a more effective stewardship sermon series.
After attending part of the review panel for Richard Hays’ new short book, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor, 2014), I knew I had to get a copy and read it. So I did, and took the long plane ride from California as an opportunity to dig in to this treasure trove of accessible and robust biblical scholarship on the Gospels. Hays is currently the Dean of Duke Divinity School and is well known for his work on the interplay between Old and New Testaments. This book is the published version of Hays’ Hulsean Lectures at Cambridge in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014, and it takes up that interplay as it relates to the canonical Gospels.
The central thesis of the book is that the Gospels teach us to read the Old Testament, and the Old Testament teaches us to read the Gospels. In particular, the Gospels are to be read figurally, that is with a view to the many ways Old Testament texts may signify or pre-figure the Gospel narratives about Jesus. Hays puts it this way: “we learn to read the OT by reading backwards from the Gospels, and – at the same time – we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT” (4, italics original). This is not simply to say we note the citation when a Gospel passage quotes or evokes an Old Testament passage. It means that the Gospel writers intend their readers to soak into the original context of Old Testament passage and to interpret what they say about Jesus in light of that context. So, when Jesus says things like, “I am with you,” or, “My words will not pass away,” he should be read with a view to the rich texture that those words have in the OT when they are predicated of God. Or when Jesus walks on water, it’s not just a neat miracle to illustrate his power over nature. It should be read with the understanding that in the Old Testament only the God of Israel “treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). And the narrative implication is that Jesus embodies the presence of that very God. These examples don’t begin to capture the many and varied ways the Gospel writers see the Old Testament pre-figuring Jesus. You’ll have to read the book. In the mean time, here are three reasons to do just that.
1. Refreshingly Orthodox
A significant number of New Testament scholars insist that stories about Jesus’ divinity were invented by the later Church and read back onto the life of Jesus. Hays cites one of the more popularly known proponents of that view, Bart Ehrman, who says, “The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention, one found, among our gospels, only in John” (Jesus Interrupted, 249). In contrast, Hays shows that each of the Gospels were written to narrate how Jesus of Nazareth embodies the God of Israel. To be sure, the different gospels tell the story to emphasize different aspects of what that embodiment looks like, and the diversity of their portrayals should not be minimized. Nevertheless, when the Gospels are read figurally in light of the Old Testament, they unanimously insist that Jesus bears in his body the unique presence of the creator God. Hays makes his case with elegance and beauty, which is the main reason it is so robust and persuasive. When you come to the creeds after you read this book, their words will carry far richer meaning than you ever might have imagined.
2. Great resource for preaching
This reason for reading is directed more toward the preachers out there. Use this book as a resource for preaching the Gospels. If you are working with a passage in the Gospels, look it up in the index to see what Hays says about it. It will add a multiple layers of depth to your comprehension and preaching of the text. It will point you to features of the text that you had not previously observed. And it will equip you to lead your congregation into a deeper understanding of the connection between the Old Testament and the Gospels. It will make you a better preacher.
3. Perfect for Advent
I’ll finish by saying that this book is an excellent read for the season of Advent, which has just begun. As we draw near to Christmas and our celebration of the Incarnation of God in Christ, what better book to read than one focused on deep clarity with regard to the way the Gospel writers portray the Incarnation? I was very glad to read this book when I did since I was reflecting on scripture and sermons for the season. It has impacted my experience of Advent both in terms of formation and as a resource for preaching. For this I am grateful.
Seldom do I say that I cannot recommend a book highly enough, but that is exactly what I will say about Reading Backwards.
One reason I love Philippians is the constant attention Paul gives to applying the gospel to all of life. He really wants to see the light of the grace of God shine into every crack and crevice of the human heart. He wants to see us work out the grace that God has worked in us. One way he does this is by holding up the example of Jesus, the one who did not exploit his divine status but instead emptied himself to become a servant, and a human servant at that! For Paul, the attitude of Jesus demonstrated in his other-oriented self-emptying is the same attitude that should consistently and comprehensively be demonstrated in the lives of believers. We Wesleyan Christians sometimes happily insist that “all can be saved to the uttermost,” and this certainly reflects Paul’s understanding of salvation all the way through Philippians. To update the language a bit, we might also say that Paul believes we can be saved all the way. Click play above to discover how it happens.
Two of my top interests are combined in the title of this book. So, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to draw attention to it here, and many thanks to the team at IVP Academic for providing a review copy. With Preaching the New Testament, Ian Paul and David Wenham have pulled together a strong team of scholars all with varying degrees of experience in preaching to create a fine handbook that will guide preachers into the many challenges of relating the ancient text of the New Testament to present-day congregations. Each contributor clearly believes that preaching matters and writes with the goal of allowing his expertise to illumine sound and interesting approaches to the homiletic arts.
Books on preaching abound; so let me begin by saying why this one is important. If, with Paul (the apostle, not the co-editor, though I’m sure he would concur!), we make it our aim to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), then before we begin working through the tasks of crafting an introduction, working out our points, finding creative illustrations, and composing a compelling conclusion, we must first deal with the text. That task begins by sorting out what the New Testament authors had to say about the importance and implications of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for their first century churches. The many excellent books written on preaching are often intended to serve as guides to composing and delivering a sermon and articulating a theology of preaching. This book, however, is by biblical scholars for preachers and comes a step before the others. Its contribution is an invitation to the reader to explore the context of the New Testament while keeping in constant view the question of how that context can be effectively communicated through contemporary preaching. Thus, the aim of this book to bridge the gap between the first-century text of the New Testament and the 21st century church-goer is the glue that holds the various essays together, and the contributors undertake to accomplish that aim from a variety of angles.
The chapters take up a number of topics related to the many types of texts that appear in the New Testament. The first five chapters focus on the gospels with an initial chapter by D.A. Carson on “Preaching the Gospels”, which is followed by essays devoted to various topics in gospels studies like the infancy narratives (R.T. France), parables (K. Snodgrass), miracles (Stephen I. Wright), and the Sermon on the Mount (D. Wenham). In chapter 6, Cristoph Stenschke addresses “The challenges and opportunities for preaching from the Acts of the Apostles”, which is followed by essays on preaching Paul’s letters (J.K. Hardin and J. Matson), the Pastorals (I.H. Marshall), Hebrews (C.A. Anderson) and the General Epistles (M.J. Kamell). Ian Paul rounds off the chapters devoted to preaching specific books with a look at “Preaching from the Book of Revelation” (chapter 11). The following five chapters consider how preaching can be informed by various disciplines in New Testament studies including archaeology (P. Oakes), ethics (J. Nolland), eschatology (S. Travis), theological hermeneutics for preaching (W. Olhausen) and the “New Homiletic” (H. Stadelmann). The final chapter brings the book full-circle with a discussion of “Preaching the gospel from the Gospels” (P. Weston). As you can imagine, these many angles will inspire readers with many fresh strategies for preaching the New Testament.
Without taking space to look at each essay in detail, I’ll mention a few contributions that I found particularly helpful. I very much enjoyed the chapter by Peter Oakes on how archaeology might inform our preaching. Oakes suggests that the first century is (often unconsciously) much like a “fairy-tale world” to many modern people and argues that archaeology can help preachers dispel such notions by accurately portraying the world of the New Testament as a real place inhabited by real people. Archaeology helps undo our fantastical imaginings about the biblical contexts and replaces them with a deeper and more informed understanding of how the message of the New Testament confronted the concrete values and ideals of the Roman Empire. I also appreciated Ian Paul’s essay on preaching from Revelation, which aptly develops and sets forth several strategies for helping preachers lead their congregations into what is arguably the most difficult book in the canon. I’ll add that John Nolland’s chapter on preaching the dual eschatological realities of hope and judgment was extremely helpful. These two themes run throughout the New Testament, and Nolland works through some of the barriers that make it difficult to preach them in order that we might ably lead our congregations in reflecting on the way these two important matters impact our belief and practice.
Preachers need to know that this is not a book of scholarship. It is a book that aims to bring the findings of scholars to bear on the ministry of preaching, and it is a book that every preacher should keep close at hand. Pick it up and read through the relevant chapters before setting out to preach on the gospels or on Paul. Use it as you are thinking through fresh strategies for a sermon series on New Testament eschatology. Allow yourself to be stretched by the practical experience and expertise of the contributors. Preaching is not preaching unless it is biblical preaching, and Preaching the New Testament will only help your preaching to become more thoroughly biblical.
Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review. The reviewer is under no obligation to provide a positive review.
Leading the church into an ever deeper understanding of the Bible-as-a-whole is no small task, and all who devote their lives to the ministry of the Word know the weightiness of this responsibility. Like Paul, who told the Ephesian elders that he had not refrained from preaching to them “the whole counsel of God”, we long for our congregations to be nourished by every word that God has spoken (Acts 20:27). This means, however, that we must resist the natural drift to preach only those parts of the Bible that are most familiar to us. If the people of God are to continually grow in health and vitality, then we all must have a balanced and steady diet of scriptural explanation and application. But is there an approach to preaching that will ensure we feast on all scripture has to offer? Here are five recommendations that, when taken together as an integrated approach, will help you preach whole Bible and avoid running in the same old homiletic ruts.
Click through to read the rest of this post at Seedbed.
Books on preaching abound. And those of us who make a regular practice of reading such books must sift through the available volumes to decide which ones merit our attention and which do not. Full of homiletic wisdom and insight, Preach: Theology Meets Practice, co-authored by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, most assuredly falls in the former category.
The subtitle of the book is reflected in its three-part division: Part One: Theology, Part Two: Practice, and Part Three: Sermon Transcripts. Recognizing that the monologue sermon is scandalous in a culture saturated with images, Part One is a carefully composed and rigorous defense of Christian preaching. The argument is grounded in the basic observation that the God of the Bible is a speaking God. His word gives life to his people, and, as a result, his people are in desperate need of hearing his word. As the proclamation and explanation of the word of God, faithful preaching is, therefore, a necessity for the life and health of the people of God. Anyone interested in why Christians have, for centuries, engaged in and sat under preaching will find this part of the book valuable. And it is not written for pastors exclusively. Lay persons interested in what is supposed to be happening when your pastor preaches week after week will also enjoy and appreciate this part of the book.
Taking up the topic of “Practice”, Part Two includes chapters on what to preach (5), sermon preparation (6), structure (7), delivery (8) and review (9). I found this part of the book especially helpful, and have modified the way I prepare sermons as a result of reading it. I also particularly appreciated the section on application and have incorporated elements of the authors’ method into my own work.
Part Two would have been stronger had the topics of chapters six and seven been reversed. The discussion in chapter seven, which briefly introduced the parts of the sermon and their functions, would have led nicely into chapter six, which discussed the process of moving from biblical text to finished sermon. With the way these chapters are ordered in the published version of the book, the reader is instructed on how to prepare each part of the sermon before actually being introduced to the nature and function of those parts. This is no reason to pass over this valuable book. Simply know that chapter six will make more sense once you’ve read chapter seven; or, perhaps, simply read them in reverse order.
Part Three models the weekly sermon review process (introduced in chap. 9) in which each of the authors participate on Sunday evenings after they’ve preached. Two sermon transcripts are included, one from each author, along with comments, both charitable and critical, and feedback from the other. This final part of the book helpfully illustrates much of what has been taught in the first two parts. And, given that most preachers do not engage in a weekly review of their homiletic work, this section should prove interesting and instructive to many. Regular affirmative and corrective sermon review could go a long way in improving much of our preaching.
This book is not just for preachers. Those who listen to preaching will better understand its necessity and importance. Those who do preach will learn and grow as practitioners of their homiletic craft. This is my new favorite book on preaching, and I am happy to commend it to you.