Who We Minister To

Greg Scharf, on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has written a book called Prepared To Preach which has some very practical counsel in a number of areas of preaching ministry. One helpful passage says,

When we preach to a congregation in church we may feel confident that most have spiritual life. We see and hear their professions of faith, their love for God and flight from evil, their zeal for the Gospel, and conclude that they have been born from above. Even here, however, we may be surprised (Matt. 7:21-23). With regard to others, in whose live we do not see evidence of God's grace, we may think them not yet reborn. Again, we may be incorrect in our assessment because we cannot see their hearts. In no case are we wise to presume. In the case of the unconverted we pray that God will open blind eyes as we speak his word. In the case of the converted we will labor to establish them in the word. Proclamation of the Gospel in its broadest sense can serve both functions (Rom. 16:25). If we are wise, we will be alert to both sorts of hearers in every congregation we address. (pages 68-69)

Good counsel!

Collected Thoughts

The weekly PreachingToday newsletter contained this quote:

"The danger in topical preaching is we may short-cut the exegesis of a passage, fail to get the true point of the biblical author, and instead attach his words to a topic far different from what he had in mind."

The author, Donald Sunukjian, writes this in an article on how to keep topical preaching biblical.

In one of last week's blogs (actually a re-run of a 6/25/04 article), Al Mohler writes, ". . . but for a sermon to be genuinely biblical, the text must set the agenda as the foundation of the message - not as an authority cited for spiritual footnoting."

Michael Spencer had an article last week called "On Christless Preaching." Worth the read.

Joel Osteen issued a clarification of his answers on the Larry King show. I've never been interviewed on national TV and probably never will be. But some of these folks who are used to this kind of exposure surely ought to get the Gospel right if it is in fact what they believe.

Tim Challies has an article on Open Theism here.

Slice of Laodicea points us to an article by RC Sproul that is well-worth the read.

Thanks to Jon Trainer for posting a link to something I find myself feeling more and more: I am not an Evangelical. Face it, terms and labels do have some use. Evangelical used to mean conservative. More and more it seems like the term is a haven for all kinds of birds. I guess I'm going back to conservative protestant or something like that.

More Thoughts on Preaching

A comment in the previous post by Bumble brings up the issue of Christ-centered vs. Moralistic preaching. He asks what Christ-centered preaching really is. In answer I'm going to quote from Brian Chapell. In the preface to the second edition of his book Christ-Centered Preaching, he offers these words of clarification:

"I have sought to indicate in clearer terms what may be right as well as what may be wrong with messages that encourage imitating a biblical character or practice. The "Deadly Be's" (i.e. messages that only exhort believers to be like a biblical character, to be good, or to be more disciplined) possess deadly stings if redemptive contexts are not included.

"I have attempted to clarify the redemptive context of "Christ-centered" messages in two ways. First, by indicating that the term itself is a syndoche - standing not only for references to Christ's incarnation or death on the cross, but for the entire matrix of God's redemptive work, which finds its culminating expression in Christ's person and work. Second, by indicating that a message is Christ-centered not because it makes creative mention of an aspect of Jesus' life or death, but because it discloses an aspect of God's redeeming nature (evident in the text) that is ultimately understood, fulfilled, and/or accomplished in Christ." (page 15)

If I understand Chapell, there are two extremes to be avoided. On one hand, we want to avoid preaching a message that is not grounded in the grace relationship we have with Christ. These kinds of messages are easy to preach. Frankly, I suspect that a lot of topical preaching (though not only topical preaching) can be this way. Moralistic preaching like this is good advice that happens to be found in Scripture, but is not connected to redemption in any way.

The other extreme, though perhaps more difficult to define, might show itself by looking for parallels between a Bible character or story and the person, life or work of Christ. For example, a study in 5 ways Joseph was like Jesus might be interesting, but I am not sure that showing these kinds of parallels are anything more than that. I'm not sure that I have every really understood the "big deal" of that kind of approach.

I tend to avoid topical studies in my preaching. Preaching messages based on a particular text keeps me on solid ground. That doesn't mean that all of my series are book expositions. I did a series two years ago that I will revisit in another year or two on the Core Values of our church. But even in that series, I chose a passage from which the particular core value could be taught. I don't want to proof-text my ideas - I want people to hear God's thinking.

Some object to expository preaching because it (in their minds) fails to address issues that people struggle with today. I would argue against that. In the last year I have been able to deal with a variety of issues that people struggle with. But I've done so as they are introduced in the text. Some object that the "seeker" might be turned off to what seems impractical. But that betrays a view of our role as preachers that is not biblically accurate. I'm the messenger. God delivers the message. If I stick to popular topics, I'll merely perpetuate the kind of shallow Christianity that we currently have. We've had people come, listen and stay because of the teaching. Others may not. So be it.

As I have been preaching through Romans over the last few months, something has been happening in our church. Something has been happening in ME! I have the sense from feedback I am getting that people are being strengthened in their understanding of the Gospel and are learning to look at their relationship with God in a different way. I'll be able to deal with plenty of so-called practical topics when I get into Romans 12-16 sometime after the first of next year. But it will be built on a solid foundation because I've taught the previous 11 chapters. If I had treated the Bible as a collection of life-lessons or as a repository of good advice, this would never happen. And as I see it happen, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Have a great Lord's Day. Our very capable Student Pastor is preaching tomorrow. I've been able to work a far more relaxed week and I've needed that. Next week I start a series in 1 Thessalonians on evidences of spiritual health. Kind of topical, I admit - but the subjects I've chosen are rooted in Paul's text, not my own self-made list.

"I Don't Know"

At least that's what Joel Osteen says about a lot of important things. Read his interview with Larry King here. Thanks to Denny Burk for this link. Sigh.

Al Mohler had a great piece on preaching the other day. He followed it up with a like-wise excellent article entitled Is This Evangelicalism's Terminal Generation. Check out his June 23rd piece.

You all have to know about Bible.org, don't you? What a great site.

Saddleback Church actually has a Hula Dancing Ministry. No kidding. Thanks to Slice of Laodicea. Can it get any nuttier?? Well, maybe - check out SOL's article on Jed Clampett Opens The Word.

Here is a great post about preaching. Thanks for the heads-up, Milton Stanley.

Have a great weekend!!

ESV Again and other ramblings

The popularity of the ESV is a matter of discussion again - see Better Bibles Blog for some of the latest. It is fascinating how so many have jumped onto the ESV bandwagon - myself included. As one of the commenters on the aforementioned blog notes, the ESV seems to fit the niche between the NASB and the NIV. Now if Crossway would only come out with a thinline large print no-red-letters version!

I am not preaching on Sunday, so I've planned to use a bit of vacation time to just veg for a couple of afternoons this week. Yesterday I watched Gods and Generals. The prequel to the film Gettysburg had been given to me as a Christmas gift. It's not as gripping as Gettysburg, but decent nonetheless. The faith of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee was evident in the film. I'd give it a B- and recommend it for history buffs. A few of the scenes were in Lexington, Virginia. Milton Stanley - did I see you walking around that corner? (grin)

Al Mohler's daily blog today covers the area of the necessity of preaching. IMHO, one of the sure signs that the church is off-course is when we begin to minimize the importance of teaching God's Word. The answer to the "ineffectiveness" of preaching is not to do it less, but to do it better. The previous post on Dr. Mohler's blog has to do with reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention. Interesting reading.

On a different subject (maybe not) if you use Powerpoint, visit SermonCentral and see some of the nice backgrounds that they have available. Another good source of Christian graphics for Powerpoint is Oxygen Multimedia. If we're going to use Powerpoint, let's do it well. These places offer some decent graphics.

If you are looking for a good series of videos for a Sunday School class, I would recommend the new series on Assurance of Salvation by RC Sproul. We saw the first of 6 sessions on Sunday and it was right on. Ligonier has just acquired Soli Deo Gloria Publications, and is now selling the book next on my list of to-reads: Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.

My brother generously gave me a 20-gig iPods last fall as a gift and I love it. I'm listening to some outstanding teaching as I meander around the track a couple of times a week. Ligonier is now selling them filled with RC Sproul teaching. iPods are cool.

More Than Just A Few Good Men

For Sunday, June 19 (Father's Day) - Sermon Summary

I remember several years ago being in a local department store with my wife while she was shopping for lingerie. As she was in the fitting room, I found myself not knowing quite what to do with myself. You guys know what that is like. There is no way you can stand by the fitting room, and you certainly don't want to "browse" by yourself. I suppose I could have gone and looked at tools (grunt, grunt) or something more "male," but Laura was not going to be long, so I found a chair by the aisle of the store and sat down to wait. Unfortunately I was surrounded by all kinds of women's undergarments, sitting there looking like I was on display. Three older teenagers walked by and the one muttered (loud enough for me to hear) "Talk about getting your cheap thrills!" The problem is that I was not in a guy place.

More and more it seems that church it is not regarded as a "guy place." I was reading a Barna survey from 2000 which showed that women were far more likely to be involved in spiritual pursuits than were men. There are a lot of reasons why that is probably true. But the reality is that if the church is to be strong now - and pass on strength to the next generation - we need our men to understand that following Christ is not something unmasculine. We need our men to be men. But what kind of men?

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells us that the church needs faithful men. Men need to be faithful to two things, according to this text: the message (what you have heard from me) and the mission (entrust to faithful men).

First, men need to understand that there is a body of truth that needs to be learned and then lived. Come on guys! We can quote baseball and football statistics, we can rip apart engines, we can work computers, fix things around the house, handle investments - all things that require information. Is it that hard for us to learn what God's Word says? I'm not asking you to be a biblical scholar. But I am calling you to the responsibility of being biblically literate. If we were as thick as TV often portays us, we might have an excuse. But we're not.

Second, men need to understand that they are involved in a mission. In our self-absorbed society, it is rare that people think about leaving a legacy. But the biblical pattern is for men to pass on to other men. There are several times throughout his letters that Paul tells his readers to imitate him. Can you imagine the arrogance? No, it's not arrogance at all. Paul said that because he knew the power of a godly life lived deliberately for the glory of God and the well-being of other believers.

While verbal communication is essential for the church to grow, don't underestimate the power of example. How would Timothy be able to find faithful men? Certainly not by what they profess only! Faithfulness is lived. We need our men to rise to the challenge of being examples of how a follower of Christ lives in this world. Our younger men need the example and encouragement of older men. Our sons need the example of a godly father. In reality, we are all examples - the issue is what we are examples of.

Jesus asked a question that is recorded in Luke 18:8. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" From a strictly human standpoint, He will only find faith on the earth if the church is alive and well. And if the church is not alive and well, the answer is no, he won't find faith on the earth. The church will not be alive and it will not be well without the example of faithful men to set the pace for the next generation. Will you be one of those faithful men?

Friday Findings

9Marks Ministries June newsletter reviews fellow blogger Tod Bolsinger's book It Takes A Church to Raise A Christian. They also have an article on Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy.

I happened to stumble across this treasure-trove of online resources. If you collect links to commentaries, translations, etc., add this one to your list.

SongTouch is an online Christian music service where you can download songs or albums. Speaking of music (it's Friday and I'm a bit fried - no pun intended), has anyone ever figured out why people seem to be "ministered to" more when the soprano soloist hits a real high note to end the song?

Anyone want a Gmail account? Email me at pcbogert@gmail.com and I'll oblige with an invite.

The baseball equivalent of Logos Bible Software, only online. We have to have baseball in heaven. We just have to.

Have a great weekend!

Caring for Pastors - A Request

Blogger Curt Hendley sent a request to about 50 pastors asking how their congregations could encourage them. Several men, as you can see from Curt's page, have responded. Here is the response I am sending Curt. Thanks for asking - and for caring - Curt!

- - - - -
To me, the greatest encouragement in ministry takes place when people connect with what I am preaching or teaching. Seeing a group of people who are interested, alert, attentive - these things are what encourage a pastor the most. And that should be that way, because if we are serving for the right reasons our greatest satisfaction will come from our ministry.
That being said, here are a few tangible and non-tangible ways to encourage. I'm fortunate to be able to write this out of the experience of being in a church that does a pretty good job at this.
1. Be sure to express appreciation for associate staff members. I logged 25 years as an Associate before becoming a Senior Pastor. I have had my share of "I know that the Pastor is busy, so I thought I'd call you" type of phone calls. Associate Pastors are just as busy as Senior Pastors. Appreciate them.
2. Make sure that he has what he needs to do his job. That relates to books, computer equipment, software, etc. Having a portion of his salary or a line item in the budget for books is something that our church has done for us, and it is greatly appreciated, even if we don't use it all the time. Make sure his study environment (if the church provides an office) is kept up. If you provide a parsonage, attend to it.
3. Stand with him unless he's wrong. I've not had to deal with this, for which I am thankful, but I know guys who have been eaten alive by either influential ($$) or vocal members of a congregation because no one was there to stand with them. Don't be afraid to defend him against those who would cut him down.
4. Make sure he is paid an adequate wage. Staff salaries should not be the first place to look when a budget cut is made. Most of the guys I know work 60-70 hour weeks or more. None of us want to get rich, but we need to pay the bills just like anyone else does.
5. Acknowledge faithfulness. I am going to go out on a limb here. I don't know how many of my congregation members read this, but I think it is important to say this. In 2000 I finished my 20th year here at Faith Church. And no one said boo. We had gone through some tough times and I had been working the equivalent of two staff positions for 9 of those years. I didn't expect a gift, a bronze statue of myself for the foyer, the church to be renamed after me, etc. But it would have been nice if even just those in leadersihp had said something. How many people stay 20 years in one church? A year or so later the then Senior Pastor realized that my 20th anniversary had passed and made an effort to do something, which was very nice.
6. Let him get away for professional/spiritual refreshment each year and pick up the tab for it. And if he can, let him take his wife.
7. Respect him. Repect his position, the place he occupies in God's work in your life, respect his privacy (and his need thereof). Respect the fact that he is probably spending a lot more time thinking and praying about the church than anyone else in the church, so let him lead. Work with him as an ally, not as devil's advocate.

ESV Questions and Answers

Adrian Warnock had the opportunity to ask the ESV Translation Committee some questions recently, and he has begun to post about the answers. Check out the site (always worth a visit) and see what they are saying about this new translation that a lot of people seem to be using. I've been preaching from teh ESV since January and really like it.

How We Read Scripture

There has been an interesting discussion going on under some recent posts here on the nature of interpretation, the role of scholarship, etc. in preaching.

To help me stay on track, I try to picture myself sitting in a gathering of Christians who are going to hear the writer's letter read (maybe for the 3rd or 10th time). What would their approach be? Would they be reading between the lines? Would one turn to the other and say, "This is what Paul is saying to me. What does it mean to you?" Would they take a sentence out of context and derive some obscure "spiritual" lesson? I think most if not all would agree that they would not do anything close to that - no more than you would do that with a letter you received.

I've been recently studying and preaching from Romans. I've found a number of commentaries enormously helpful in understanding some of the intricacies of the letter and also pointing out things that I did not see in my own reading of the text. I've been able to understand the book more fully. But I still maintain that Romans is understandable by the people sitting in the pew. I teach and preach because that is one of God's ways of building the Body - not because I have greater insight.

I wrote the other day that when we preach, we are modeling how our people should approach the Bible. Think about that! We have younger Christians sitting in our congregations wondering what to do with this book! And if we preach obscurity, I believe that we are creating an impression that none of us wants to create - that the "average person" would not be able to get that insight, so why bother reading. Instead, I want to take them systematically through a text and help them see the logical argument so that they learn how to approach Scripture on their own: understanding the meaning of the text before they attempt to make application to their lives. Only that prevents horoscope-type applications that are often far removed from the meaning of the author.

Check out what Malcolm Light said here about this subject. Thanks, Malcolm!! Great points! And thanks to KP and Bumble for your comments too.

So Why Is It A Stinker?

A few posts ago I used an illustration from Ramesh Richard's book Preparing Expository Sermons. On page 22 he provides a sermon outline that apparently was something he actually witnessed. The sermon involves nothing about the original meaning of the text, how the author would have intended it to be understood, or how the original readers would have understood it. Richard states that it is simply moralistic preaching, disconnected from any textual authority.

I don't believe that this kind of treatment of Scripture is that uncommon. Especially in devotional-type preaching or speaking, we are inclined to look for "deeper" insights. Such insights often convey good moral lessons, even ones that sound very spiritual. But as Richard points out, they lack textual authority.

So what's the problem? Doesn't the fact that a message emphasizes a good spiritual point - the lordship of Christ in our lives - justify the approach?

There are a number of reasons why this kind of interpretation/application of a passage is problematic. Some of them are technical, but let me note one thing in particular that we need to keep in mind when we preach or teach: We model how to read the Bible to our people.

If this is the approach we use for a text, what are we teaching them? We are modeling a highly suspect subjective approach to Scripture that makes "what I think it says" or "what it says to me" or even the highly pious-sounding but still dubious "what the Spirit led me to think" the authority rather than the text itself. How can we encourage our people to deal with the objective truth of Scripture when we model subjectivity?

Some may protest that it is the right of the Holy Spirit to reveal these "insights" to us. Right? Sure, I'll go along with that. But I don't think he uses that right. Despite what our "every promise in the book is mine" individual-American mind thinks, the Bible is not a personal love letter from God. It is a book written to a community, teaching the same thing to every individual of the community. Certainly there are applications to a passage that strike us differently, but let's realize that what we are reading is already the product of the Holy Spirit. Frankly there is enough there to hold us accountable and guide our lives and thinking without having to bend the meaning of the text to "get something personal" out of it.

Blogging Resources

Adrian Warnock is revamping the Blogdom of God blog collection. He said that he has found 2500 blogs that claim to be Christian in orientation. Watch his site for information.

Is This A Stinker Or What?

Ramesh Richard, who teaches preaching at Dallas Seminary, has authored a book entitled Preparing Expository Sermons that is quite good. He talks, as do most other books on preaching, about paying attention to the author's intent. Then he shares an example of a sermon he heard where this was totally ignored. It would be humorous if it was just facetious, but it is sad knowing that someone spent time preparing this and felt it was acceptable to preach.

Luke 19:29-40 - Jesus & The Donkey
1. You are like the donkey (29-30)
A. You are tied to someone other than the owner to whom you really belong.
B. You are still young - no one has sat on you.
2. Jesus commands you to be set free (30c)
A. He sets you free through his disciples. (31-32)
B. There will be objections when you are being freed to serve Christ. (33)
C. But he has need of you. (34)
3. Are you Christ's donkey? (35-40)
A. Is he riding you?
B. Are you bringing praise to him?

A couple of thoughts.

1. Someone probably worked hard, did some study, prayed about it, and came up with this. But effort alone does not make good preaching.
2. There are biblical principles reflected in this sermon. But principles separated from context is not good preaching.
3. People probably "got something" from this message. But the fact that someone was challenged does not make this good preaching.

Obviously these are factors that enter into a good sermon. But without being rooted in the intent of the author (and Author), the Bible becomes fodder for anyone's seemingly sanctified ideas - even mine. I try to continually ask myself "Is this what the author had in mind?" That at least provides me with a foundation to begin good preaching.

- - -

I've decided to suspend my series on Romans that I began in March until the fall. One reason for this decision is that I want our folks to be able to benefit from the sequential teaching of this book, and there is too much movement with people being on vacation. But perhaps the greatest motivation is that our small groups take varying degrees of time off for the summer, and this book is too important for them not to be exposed to discussing it. Are you (or is your pastor) doing anything different in the summer in terms of preaching?

Random Stuff

Brian Colmery at Sycamore has his second post on preaching. His thoughts have been very much worthwhile.

The newly relocated (to Virginia) and always worthwhile-to-read Milton Stanley has been following some preaching discussions at Transforming Sermons. It seems that on my twice-annual trip to North Carolina to visit my parents I pass right by Milton's new territory and am looking forward to treating him to lunch at some point.

Adrian Warnock has posted a link to three downloadable MP3's by Donald Carson on the New Perspective on Paul. The link is here. Adrian's site, a daily visit for me, is here.

Speaking of MP3's, is anyone aware of any good audio downloads on church history? I found these, and so far they seem pretty good, but the speaker is unfamiliar to me. I wish Audible.com would put out some stuff. I get a lot of great audiobooks on history from them.

Those of you who use Logos Bible Software might find this site of interest. I have a ton of Logos resources, but have yet to tap into the power of the Logos/Libronix engine.

White Horse Inn has some MP3's for download - not all free, but not very costly. I'd recommend you visiting them.

Just read this article on the Church Growth Movement. Hat tip to Slice of Laodicea. Don't always see things their way (SofL), but I appreciate a lot of what I find there.

Pastors' Most Valued Books

There was some cheating (grin) in that some of us wanted to include our laptops as a volume (filled with Logos/Libronix resources) and also glue multivolume sets together to count as one book. But that's ok. I appreciate the input of the people that posted.

My top 5 would probably be:
A good study Bible (Reformation Study Bible - ESV or Spirit of the Reformation - NIV)
Dictionary of Theology - Roger Ellwell
Christian Theology (Erickson) or Systematic Theology (Grudem)
New Bible Dictionary
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Strongs Concordance

And even I cheated with 6 books. Here are the results (my entries included)

ESV Bible (5)
MacArthur Study Bible
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (NIV-Zondervan) - notes very similar to the RSB

BADG & BDB (2)
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Wallace)
Young's Concordance
USB Greek NT
Biblical Hebraica Stuttgartensia
Strongs Concordance
Theological Dictionary of the OT
Theological Dictionary of the NT
Greet & Hebrew Interlinear (2)
Parallel Greek-NASB-ESV (with apologies to a greek prof)

Revell's Bible Dictionary
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (2)
New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP)
Tyndale Bible Dictionary
New Bible Dictionary (IVP)

Introduction & Background
Introduction to the NT (Guthrie)
An Introduction to the OT (Dillard and Longman)
IVP Background & Knowledge Bible Commentary

Commentary Sets
Expository Notes on the Bible (Constable)
Baker NT Commentary (Hendricksen & Kistemacher)(2)
Bible Exposition Commentary (Wiersbe)
New American Commentary
Tyndale OT Commentaries
Adam Clark's Commentary
Calvin's OT Commentaries

Systematic Theology (Grudem) (2)
Dogmatic Theology (Shedd)
Christian Theology (Ericksen)
Dictionary of Theology (Ellwell)

Individual Commentaries, Etc
Romans (Moo)
Treasury of David (Spurgeon)
Galatians (Luther)
God's Empowering Presence (Fee)
According to Plan (Goldsworthy)
Baxter's Christian Directory

Thanks to all who shared their ideas. We are truly blessed. I can remember being in India a few years ago and showing pastors how to use cross-references and the MacArthur Study Bible. They were overwhelmed with just having those resources.

Let's use them well!!

Call for A New Vote

This has purpose to it beyond another poll. I'd be interested, fellow Pastors, in how you woud answer this question:

You are allowed to take any 5 books from your library and the rest are going away somewhere. Which books would you keep to help you in your preparation to preach and teach most effectively?

The Results Are In . . .

. . . but I'm not sure what to do with them. I received about 20 different responses by email and comment, and not everyone stuck to the 5 basic categories that I listed, which is fine. For the most part, if you read the comments here and a comprehensive email sent to me by Malcolm Light that I posted here, you'll get 95% of what was recommended.

It is clear that those who shared their ideas come from a variety of theological backgrounds. That is why in the doctrine category, we had entries ranging from Calvin to Berkhoff to Finney (not a double-play combination that I am aware of).

Most often recommended writers included JI Packer, John Piper, CS Lewis and Jerry Bridges. In the theology category, Wayne Grudem and Millard Erickson's systematics were recommended several times.

The intent of the survey was to suggest books to our congregations that they could use for their own Bible Study and growth. Here is my list:

Bible Background
The New Bible Dictionary
Zondervan Handbook to the Bible

Basic Theology
Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns

Christ and Salvation
Here We Stand by Boice & Stasse
Faith Alone by RC Sproul

Following Christ
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges
Knowing God by JI Packer
Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen - just kidding

Home & Vocation
As For Me & My House (Wangerin)
Shepherding A Child's Heart (Tripp)
Age of Opportunity (Tripp)

Thanks for your contributions! You might want to check out the recommended reading list on Mark Dever's 9Marks website as well. Look at the top menu.