August 21, 2012 by Matthew Mason
Peter Leithart has a great short essay at First Things On the Square, on the need for preachers to be men who know God deeply. “Preachers should believe that God knows what people need better than people do.”
In a similar vein, Paul Tripp urges us not to settle for mediocre in our preaching, again calling us to be humble, repentant men of God.
John Frame distills the wisdom of decades of service as a theologian to offer 30 pearls of advice for theological students and young theologians. One to read, re-read, and ponder often.
“Five minutes with…Peter Hitchens”. Matthew Stadlen interviews Christopher’s curmudgeonly conservative Christian brother. On the back of Leithart and Tripp’s pieces, his unswerving commitment to the truth, and his answer to the question, “How long does it take to write a column” is instructive and challenging for preachers. And his answer to why he started believing in God is beautiful. (HT: Paul Levy)
December 8, 2011 by Matthew Mason
2. In the sermon, God speaks. Preaching is not human speech about God; it is divine speech to humans. Preaching is the personal communication of the living God to his people to enable the personal communion of the living God with his people. Teaching is part of the means to this end, but it is not the goal of the sermon.
3. “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! Show me!” “What we need is not information but transformation.” But words shape reality. And the Word of God shapes all reality. In the beginning…God said…and it was so.
4. Where words are spoken, there must be breath; my words come to you on my breath. So it is with God’s hypostatic Word, eternally begotten in the Spirit, by whom he also became incarnate. So it is with God’s written Word, Breathed out through the prophets and apostles. And so it is with the preached Word, which can only be the words of men unless enlivened by the Spirit that it may be received as it really is, the word of God. Lloyd-Jones and his apostles are right to emphasise our need for ‘unction’, ‘the anointing’, ‘an access of power.’
5. Word and breath go together. The Spirit brings the Word. And so when the Spirit comes, you can expect a long, convicting sermon (Acts 2)!
6. As God’s Word to his people, preaching must seek to be true to the Word written in such a way that it testifies to the eternal Word made flesh. A monologue in a church on Sunday that isn’t true to the Scriptures may look and sound a lot like the genuine article. From the mouth of a gifted speaker, it may be better than the genuine article. But it’s not the Word of God. It’s not preaching.
7. There is no divinely mandated method that preaching must follow. Nevertheless, there is great wisdom in following a consecutive expository method that tethers the Word proclaimed to the inscripturated Word, and allows the contours of God’s canonical Word to shape the contours of the Word proclaimed.
8. There is no divinely mandated form that preaching must take. Nevertheless, as God’s authoritative address to his people, a monological form is appropriate. Scripture’s command is “Listen!” not “Discuss among yourselves.”
9. As an exposition of the written Word, deriving its authority from that Word, the sermon should follow and be surrounded by the reading of the Word. Pastors are called to devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture as well as to preaching. Reading the day’s text at the start of the sermon is inadequate; the church was wise to establish the pattern of OT Lesson, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel.
10. In the sermon, God speaks to his people. The context for preaching is the assembly of the saints. As he gathers his people in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, by that same Spirit, the Father speaks lovingly to his household, the Son speaks lovingly to his bride. Unbelievers are welcome to listen in and may well receive crumbs from the table, but until they are baptized into the household, they remain eavesdroppers on a conversation not their own.
11. The most appropriate context for preaching is the eucharistic assembly of the saints. In the Spirit, Jesus brings his Father’s Word in a twofold form—audible and edible. As we hear and then eat the Word our hearts burn within us and our eyes are opened to behold his glory.
12. God’s Word shapes reality. It calls into being the things that are not. And so his Word spoken takes on flesh in the concrete life and practices of the assembled saints. In response to the Word proclaimed, we pray and confess the church’s faith. We are then scattered to fulfill our callings obediently in the world.
13. In the sermon, God speaks to his people through the mouth of a man. Can God really speak through a man, a handful of dust conceived in sin? Surely. He spoke through the braying of Balaam’s ass. And Man is the image and likeness of God, an image of the Image. As the image of the Word, what more fitting vehicle for that Word could be found?
14. But can he speak through this man? Again, surely he can. “Pastor” names an office in the church of Christ before it names a person. Joe Schmoe speaks God’s authoritative Word to his people not because of his personal piety and conformity to that Word, but because God set him apart and endued him with his Spirit when the body of elders laid their hands on him.
15. But the Word must take on flesh in the preacher’s life as well. The call to preach the Word of God to the people of God requires us to live the Word of God alongside the people of God. The apostolic preacher shares both life and doctrine (1 Thess. 2:8). He says, “Imitate me…follow me as I follow Christ.” Can one preach via videolink? Not should one, but is it even possible? Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! Show me.
16. The preacher is to study, do and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). It’s not a purely linear relationship, but the interlocking relationships are important. The preparation of the sermon is irrelevant next to the preparation of the preacher. The pastor must hear God’s Word before he can speak it. How long does it take you to prepare a sermon? 37 years and counting.
17. The gathered assembly is the central place we encounter God’s Word, but it is not the only place, and preaching is certainly not the only way. Receiving the Word takes many forms—audible and edible, public and from house to house, corporate and personal. Sometimes God initiates the conversation, at other times he speaks in response to a particular circumstance. Not just the sermon, nor only the liturgy, but the whole of the pastor’s ministry, the whole of the church’s life together, must be saturated in the Word, prayerfully listening to the voice of God.
18. In the sermon, God speaks to his people in the power of the Holy Spirit through the mouth of a man. The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. But who is sufficient for these things? The preacher looks at his manuscript, himself, the people gathered before him, and hears God’s voice: “Can these dry bones live?”
19. And so we must pray. Before speaking for God to the people, while speaking for God to the people, after speaking for God to the people, the preacher must speak for the people to God. The flesh profits nothing; the Spirit gives life. And so, with the apostles, the pastor gives himself to prayer and the ministry of the Word.0 Comments
November 9, 2011 by Matthew Mason
I discovered today that John Webster has recently published a volume of sermons, The Grace of Truth. If the endorsements – from people like Donald Macleod, Graham Goldsworthy, and Andrew McGowan - are anything to go by, this is preaching that is accessible, practical, scriptural, and theologically rich.0 Comments
August 4, 2011 by Jason Hood
Pop quiz (as a former schoolteacher, I can’t help myself): which statement is true?
(A) Preachers, teachers, and individuals readers should use God’s redemptive actions (even supernatural miracles) to teach and learn about extending grace and mercy to others.
(B) It cheapens God’s great miraculous acts when we use them to inspire our not-so-miraculous works.
I suppose both of these could be true at times; they are not entirely opposites. But for those who answered (B), it is important to remember how Paul encourages “natural” generosity in 2 Corinthians. He spends two chapters on his fundraising for the poor in Judea, using the supernatural of Jesus as a model along the way (8:9). Somewhere in the middle of the spurring and arm-twisting, a second supernatural event becomes a model:
“As a matter of fairness [are my kids right after all?] your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’”
The last sentence is a quotation from Exodus 16, a description of the perfectly equitable conditions that existed when God provided manna. God’s miraculous provision for his people leads is being used to guide his people’s approach to generosity.
God’s perfect provision becomes a goal for the covenant community, across continental and ethnic boundaries, and essentially across denominational lines as well, given that the Jewish Christian recipients of this gift kept Torah. Many early Christians took the objective of “fairness” or “equality” seriously and used their abundance to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters.
We may not part the Red Sea, we may not die for sinners, but we can respond to divine generosity with generosity. And God will get the praise and credit, just as he did on the Canaan-side of Egypt. Paraphrasing 2 Cor 9:13:
Because of the service by which you have proved the authenticity of your love (see 2 Cor 8:8), others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and your koinonia-style generosity for them and all others.
December 22, 2010 by Matthew Mason
This extract from one of Augustine’s sermons to catechumens is a wonderful example of Scripturally controlled (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-4; Rom. 6:1-4), pastorally applied theological exegesis. Notice the way he uses typology and imagery to appeal to his hearers’ imaginations, draw them into their place in the drama of God’s dealings with his people, assure them of cleansing by Christ’s blood, and prepare them in the fight against sin. All in one short paragraph.
Your sins will be like the Egyptians following the Israelites, pursuing you only up to the Red Sea. What does up to the Red Sea mean? Up to the font, consecrated by the cross and blood of Christ. For, because that font is red, it reddens [the water]…. Baptism is signified by the sign of the cross, that is, by the water in which you are immersed and through which you pass, as it were, in the Red Sea. Your sins are your enemies. They follow you, but only up to the Red Sea. When you have entered, you will escape; they will be destroyed, just as the Egyptians were engulfed by the waters while the Israelites escaped on dry land.
(Augustine, Sermon 231.8, cited in L Gregory Jones, ‘Baptism: A Dramatic Jouney into God’s Dazzling Light: Baptismal Catechesis and the Shaping of Chritian Practical Wisdom’, in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, eds., Knowing the Triune God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 147-77, at 156.)
September 27, 2010 by Matthew Mason
Literal (the most fundamental level);
Allegorical (perhaps better, typological: how does the text point to Christ and his body the church?);
Tropological (or moral: what are we to do?);
Anagogical: (or eschatological: what does the text say about what we are to hope for?).
The classic illustration is Jerusalem:
Literal: a city in Palestine, the capital of Israel
Allegorical: the church
Tropological: the Christian as a city in which God dwells
Anagogical: the New Jerusalem
As a hermeneutical tool, the quadriga tends to get a pretty hard time from evangelicals, being regarded as a threat to responsible grammatico-historical exegesis and given to wild flights of fancy. Two observations to the contrary, one theological, one practical/experiential:
Theologically, Peter Leithart observes that something rather like the quadriga is a necessary consequence of a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, particularly if one also has a robust doctrine of union with Christ:
For the medievals, the literal sense of the text opened out into a christological allegory, which, because Christ is the head of his body, opened out into tropological instruction and, because Christ is the King of a kingdom here yet also coming, into anagogic hope. (Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009, 207).
Practically, I have discovered that in preparing to preach, asking what light each aspect of the quadriga sheds on the passage is an excellent way of generating applications that speak to a range of issues in our congregation.0 Comments