Thursday, February 28, 2008

Trusting in Our Own Ability

In 1651 ministers in Scotland were moved to publish an acknowledgement of the sins of the ministry. They'd determined that through neglect of their own Christian lives and ministries they were partly to blame for the problems of Scotland at the time. Bonar's Words to Winners of Souls includes the confession. Today, a section labeled "Trusting in Our Own Ability" really stirred my heart.

Trusting in Our Own Ability

The ministers confessed to...

"Not entertaining that edge of spirit in ministerial duties which we found at the first entry to the ministry. Great neglect of reading, and other preparation; or preparation merely literal and bookish, making an idol of a book, which hindereth communion with God; or presuming on bygone assistance, and praying little. Trusting to gifts, talents, and pains taken for preparation, whereby God is provoked to blast good matter, well ordered and worded. Careless in employing Christ, and drawing virtue out of Him, for enabling us to preach in the Spirit and in power. In praying for assistance we pray more for assistance to the messenger than to the message which we carry, not caring what becomes of the Word, if we be with some measure of assistance carried on in the duty. The matter we bring forth is not seriously recommended to God by prayer, to be quickened to His people. Neglect of prayer after the Word is preached.

"Neglect to warn, in preaching, of snares and sins in public affairs by some; and too much, too frequent, and unnecessary speaking by others of public business and transactions. Exceeding great neglect and unskillfulness to set forth the excellences and usefulness of (and the necessity of and interest in) Jesus Christ, and the new covenant, which ought to be the great subject of a minister's study and preaching. Speaking of Christ more by hearsay than from knowledge and experience, or any real impression of Him upon the heart. The way of most ministers' preaching too legal. Want of sobriety in preaching the gospel; not savoring anything but what is new; so that the substantials of religion bear but little bulk.

"Not preaching Christ in the simplicity of the gospel, nor ourselves the people's servants, for Christ's sake. Preaching of Christ, not that the people may know Him, but that they may think we know much of Him. Preaching about Christ's leaving of the world without brokenness of heart, or stirring up ourselves to take hold of Him. Not preaching with bowels of compassion to them that are in hazard to perish. Preaching against public sins, neither in such a way, nor for such an end, as we ought--for the gaining of souls and drawing men out of their sins; but rather because it is to our advantage to say something of these evils."

In Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (Philipsburg, N.J.: P&R), pp. 30-32.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Man Cold

For all the women who think their husbands are "big babies" when they get sick, here's a clip to show you just how we men see things and how serious it is when we're down. Take 2 minutes for some funny stuff! (HT: Shannon)

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Mama and Barack Obama

I've been as fascinated with this current U.S. presidential election as just about anyone else. And this is surprising to me. Though I spent a few years living and working on policy in D.C., I don't regard myself as a political hound in any way. And yet, I've been glued to CNN and other news outlets catching the most information I can about this election and the candidates. To put it bluntly, in my opinion, this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime. I feel it. And it's important for a whole slate of reasons that are different than the typical reasons that get touted as important or critical. Those typical reasons are still at play, and they are still important.

But what is palpable for the first time in my generation (or at least in my memory of presidential elections) are the possibilities and promises that are altogether new.

The dynamic that most fascinates me involves the sea change and signal effects of the country potentially electing its first woman or African-American president. I flat-out disagree with Shelby Steele who says that the Obama candidacy is exclusively about race. Obama has not run a campaign about "race." The only time "race" has been injected in this campaign was the wicked and failed attempt of the Clinton camp to pigeon-hole Obama as a "black candidate." I love that her campaign essentially imploded with that blunder in S.C. For its part, CNN has repeatedly tried to divide the electorate into ethnic enclaves and ask who "owns" which group. The discussions about "race" have all been abominable, and the Democratic primary campaign itself has defied all the conventional wisdom. Men and women are as likely to vote for either Obama or Clinton, they're open-minded to the extent that Obama is winning majorities in demographics the pundits say he should lose. White men vote for Obama. And guess what? Hispanics are not a monolith either. And many of the Congressional Black Caucus elites have publicly and confidently been in favor of the Clinton campaign all along.

This presidential election is not about "race" in the sense that anyone is running publicly on some racial platform or identifying themselves exclusively with the causes of this or that racial group. And yet, this campaign, particularly if Obama is elected, will do more to (a) advance the cause of equality and opportunity (at least in its signal effects) than anything I can think of; and (b) do more to upset all of our racial categories and stratagems than anything else.

Advancing Equality. If Obama is elected, what my mama told me for years over the kitchen table in an effort to motivate my school performance and expand my sense of the possible, "You can even be president of the U.S. if you want to be," will have been realized vicariously in Obama's successful bid.

And can I be honest? This is probably the only thing my mama ever told me that neither she or I believed. I got her point; strive and achieve and let no one hold you back. But perhaps the insertion of that four-letter word--"even"--betrayed an exaggeration she and I both recognized but never admitted out loud. I never daydreamed about the oval office the way I daydreamed about hitting that last second fade-away jumper to win the NBA finals... or even the way I daydreamed about being a college professor. The presidency was more than daydreaming; it was mythic. And now, in my lifetime, there stands a man who happens to be 'black' by social definition making not only a credible run but a compelling run for the presidency. Perhaps you didn't know that black parents for decades have tried to motivate their children with the promise that they can be president of the U.S. if they set their minds to it. And perhaps you didn't know that black children and parents for decades have entirely doubted the possibility of that ever really happening. So, perhaps you haven't recognized the depths of the signal effects of a possible President Barack Obama. I do. And though I think she probably mis-spoke, I know what Michelle Obama means when she said, "For the first time I am proud of my country." Certainly there are lots of other ways that I (and I would assume she) am proud of my country, but for a lot of Americans there is nothing quite like this candidacy to stir genuine and deep pride.

Upsetting the Phalanx of "Race". Not only am I proud of my country, and proud in this moment, but I am proud of how Obama has conducted himself and how the country has responded. Here's what I think is happening in part: very fundamental assumptions about identity and allegiance are being realigned. Personally, if this is an accurate assessment, the re-alignment of racial attitudes and interaction would be an important enough issue to cast a vote for Obama.

The old, conventional wisdom demanded that a candidate declare his racial loyalty from the outset. Willie Horton could be trotted out to coalesce white voters based on anti-black fear. An African-American candidate had to prove that he was "down" in all the ways black hegemony required. Not surprisingly, the day Obama announced his candidacy, he was criticized by the likes of Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, Al Sharpton and a host of others participating in Smiley's "State of Black America" conference. Why? Obama had broken racial political ranks from the onset. He had not bowed the knee to baals of black public and political opinion. So, his "blackness" was summarily called into question.

And nothing could have been more beneficial to Barack Obama's campaign and to the soul of the American electorate than that he should from the outset be racially ambiguous. After all, his mother is white and his father African. Even in his genesis he calls into question the "one drop rule" and its social artifacts. And he invites an honest ownership of all Americans--white, brown, yellow and black. Just looking at him places an explosive charge at the base of the racial phalanx in America. Steele has called Obama "A Bound Man." IMHO, Obama may be the only free man in America. And his candidacy is setting millions of others free.

And he's had the nerve of channeling not only MLK, but also John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and of comparing his strategy to build a large majority with Ronald Reagan [depending on your political orientation, you can hold your breath or your nose here at this comparison]. He has frankly dismissed all the conventions except one, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...." Leaving aside his policies for a moment (and it will be important to pick them back up for scrutiny), Barack Obama has conducted himself as though he believes that equality as human beings is real and that being judged by the character's content is a better litmus test than being judged by racial categories and allegiances.

What's happening as whites, Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans pull the lever for Barack Obama? Many things. Some people just want to vote against President Bush or whomever is the likely Republican candidate. But honestly, those folks will do that just as easily with Hillary Clinton. Some will be voting for a policy position; but again, they would be making the same vote whichever Democratic nominee is on the ballot.

What I think we're seeing in large measure with Barack Obama is the American way of deposing dictators and fighting revolutions. Only the dictator is the small-minded racial and political genie that has for so long lived bottled up in the American mind. Well, the genie may be out of the bottle and I know what three wishes I'll make: (1) the redefinition of personal identity which puts "race" or ethnicity in its proper perspective and place; (2) the advancement of opportunity at the highest level for all; and (3) the advancement of the gospel which finally and eternally remakes man and promotes him to the highest glories in Christ.

These are reflections, not necessarily an endorsement. As I said earlier, voters need to scrutinize the man's proposed policy directions. But these are excited reflections; we live in an exciting time. Obama excites people and he excites a sense of the possible with people. Now, having been excited, let's not leave it to Obama to fulfill our hopes. Let's live out of our better selves, which for Christians is to live in Christ. But not even sinners are as bad as they could be. And something about the Obama campaign reminds them of what is good and hopeful in people who are made in the image of God.

Helping Our Children Benefit from "Adult" Services

The DG Blog reminds of this helpful article from Noel Piper on helping our children participate in the services of our churches.

Horatius Bonar on the Preacher

From Horatius Bonar's Words to Winners of Souls:

"'Rash preaching,' said Rowland Hill, 'disgusts; timid preaching leaves poor souls fast asleep; bold preaching is the only preaching that is owned of God.'

"It is not merely unsoundness in faith, or negligence in duty, or open inconsistency of life that mars the inisterial work and ruins souls. A man may be free from all scandal either in creed or conduct, and yet may be a most grievous obstruction in the way of all spiritual good to his people. He may be a dry and empty cistern, notwithstanding his orthodoxy. He may be freezing or blasting life at the very time he is speaking of the way of life. He may be repelling men from the cross even when he is in words proclaiming it. He may be standing between his flock and the blessing even when he is, in outward form, lifting up his hand to bless them. The same words that from warm lips would drop as the rain, or distill as the dew, fall from his lips as the snow or hail, chilling all spiritual warmth and blighting all spiritual life. How many souls have been lost for want of earnestness, want of solemnity, want of love in the preacher, even when the words uttered were precious and true!" (pp. 3-4)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Beauty of Christ's Church

The Church is beautiful. Resplendent glory is her face. And it's reflected in the diverse faces of every ethnicity, in communion, praising her one Lord.

Case in point: The Black Creole Reformer posts a youtube video of a Korean strings quartet, featuring a traditional Korean kayagum, playing the beautiful Welsh hymn, Here Is Love. That the truth of gospel and the beauty of the Savior might flow so freely through the breasts of all men demands praise.

Here's the video (HT: Scotty Williams)

Here are the lyrics. One of my favorites.
Here is love, vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as a flood
When the prince of life our ransom
Shed for us His precious blood
Who His love will not remember
Who can cease to sing His praise
He will never be forgotten
Throughout heaven’s eternal days

On the mount of crucifixion
Fountains opened deep and wide
From the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide
Grace and love like mighty rivers
Flowed incessant from above
Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love

Talking It Over

The Lord granted a fabulous time discussing The Decline with Janet Parshall on her show, Talking It Over on Moody Radio. Thanks to those who called in and may the conversation a real joy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Socially Awkward Guys Make Better Husbands

We've just finished our six week Sunday school class on courtship. It was a fun class, with folks very hungry to think through biblical teaching useful for conducting dating and romantic relationships. In one of the classes (based on the notes here), we thought for a bit about attraction. I wish I had had this little article summary to share during that discussion. Provocative... and intuitively it makes sense to me. How about you?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds: Books

(The artist of this cartoon draws for a living and wants you to hire her)

Speaking of good books, David Mathis posts an excellent list of books that help us to believe the Bible. The list is organized into three categories: the canon of the New Testament; the reliability of the New Testament; and responses to critics. A good resource for Christians and inquirers who may be thinking through this issue.

You can't come anywhere near African-American literature, history and culture without encountering the literary giant Langston Hughes. If you think you know something about African Americans and their history, but you don't know Hughes, let me assure you that you're under-educated in this area. If Alaine Locke was the intellectual architect of the New Negro movement, then Hughes was arguably the greatest literary and creative voice of that movement and the Harlem Renaissance. John Piper takes a look at his poetry and warns us not to follow the mistake Hughes made. As an aside, I want to commend John for taking up a figure from outside his own ethnic experience, treating him with biblical seriousness, and helping us all to learn in the process. I think John models, as well as anyone, a sincere interest in, serious responsiveness to, and biblical discernment about culture, ethnicity and Christ without lapsing into diversity platitudes or cultural snobbery. I'm thankful for this soldier.

Justin Buzzard has compiled his list of books in preparation for writing a study guide on the Book of Genesis.

Q recommends The Majesty of God in the Old Testament:

"Recently I picked up The Majesty of God in the Old Testament by Walt Kaiser, Jr. I have only read the endorsements (by likes of MacArthur, Packer, and Haddon Robinson) and Introduction and my soul has been lifted, challenged, and ignited toward a greater and more glorious exaltation of the majesty of God in all my thoughts.

"I already feel that this is a must read, especially for those who take up the preaching task and those who seek to hear God speak through truly biblical preaching."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Review of The Decline

The brothers at The Christian Manifesto have posted a review of The Decline. I am grateful to God for their kind words, and join with them in their prayer that the book would help spark much needed reflection and discussion.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bean Pie, My Brother?

That's what you're likely to be asked by a clean cut, bow-tie-wearing African American man in the intersection of some major city. That, or you're asked to buy a copy of "The Final Call," the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam.

But there's a young brother rockin' bowties for Christ, and bringing much needed leadership to both reform in the African American church and to the desperately needed discussions of unity in the body of Christ. That brother is Eric Redmond, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, MD, 2nd VP of the SBC, and author of the forthcoming, Where Are the Brothers.

Eric and Hillcrest Baptist Church were featured in a recent Washington Post article. Check it out and be encouraged. You can check out Eric's blog, A Man from Issachar, and visit the Hillcrest website to learn more about the congregation and hear his sermons.

Missing Letter to the Corinthians Found

HT: Church Matters. This is a hillariously helpful piece on church announcements.

Discussing The Decline on Hip Hop Radio

Today I'm headed for the Bay area. Well, not really. I could wish I were. It's one of my favorite areas in the world. My wife and I vacationed there about once a year for several years.

Okay... enough free chamber of commerce plugs. The Lord has granted the privilege of speaking with Anita Johnson on "Hard Knock Radio" about The Decline. I'm looking forward to the interview; Hark Knock Radio is a drive time "talk show for the Hip Hop generation."

On their website you can find this list of recent guests and programs:

KRS-One, Russell Simmons, Saul Williams, Sarah Jones, Yuri Kochiyama, Al Sharpton, Mystic, Cornel West, Ben Harper, Tavis Smiley, Sista Souljah, Blackalicious, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Dilated Peoples, Kool Moe Dee, Afrika Bambaataa, The Coup, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Paris, Chuck D and Reverend Jesse Jackson to name a few.

Just reading the list of ol' school hip hop artists took a brutha back: KRS-One ("criminal minded, you've been blinded, lookin' for a style like mine? You can't find it..." or "1-2-3 the crew is called BDP. And if ya wanna go to da tip top, stop violence and hip hop, y-oh!"). Kool Moe Dee (pioneer of battlin'; do you remember his epic wars with LL Cool J?)

It irked my nerve
When I heard
A sucker rapper that I know I'll serve
Run around town sayin' he is the best
Is that a test?
I'm not impressed
Get real,you're nothin' but a toy
Don't ya know I'll serve that boy
Just like a waiter
Hit'em with a place of
These fresh rhymes and
Make sure that he
Pays the bill, and leave him standin' still
When he's had enough,hit him with a refill
And for dessert it won't be no ice cream
I'm just gonna splatter and shatter his pipe dream
Make him feel the wrath,beat him and laugh
Then when I finish them,
I'm gonna ask him
Who's the bests,and if he don't say Moe Dee
I'll take my whip and make him call himself Toby
Put him on punishment just like a child, then ask
How you like me now?

Okay... last one. Public Enemy. Sorta punk meets hip hop and urban rage and black nationalism. Probably the most politically in your face hip hop artists of their era. I wonder if you remember "Makes You Blind" on their '87 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show? I can hear the royal jester of hip hop, Flava Flav, screeching in the background: "Ya blind baby. Ya blind from the fact that you can't see." This verse, in retrospect, is itself both sadly blind and appropriately critical:


Now this is deeply sad because (1) the glory of the Savior is opposed; (2) his diagnosis of some preachers in the African American church as pimps (ouch!) could find justification; in 1987, long before many in the church world took notice, he called out Creflo Dollar in particular; and (3) he sees as clearly as any that the truth is in danger inside many black churches; now he'll have a different "truth" in mind, but he understands the bedrock issue.

Okay... for more edifying hip hop that brings you to the cross and the glorious Savior. Check out shai linne's new LP The Atonement (a review is here).

I'm not sure when the segment will air (it's a taped interview), but if interested you can find the show on It airs daily at 4pm in the Bay area.

Registration Open for Band of Bloggers 2008

This year's Band of Bloggers theme, "The Gospel Trust," should make for an edifying time. Registration opened today! So, if you're planning to make the Together for the Gospel conference, come early and enjoy face-to-face fellowship (instead of the virtual stuff we do by way of blogs)!

Friday, February 15, 2008

How Do You Prepare for Sunday?

An often overlooked truth is that a fruitful Lord's Day begins--not on Sunday morning--but on Saturday. Preparation for the Lord's Day is what makes the Lord's Day spiritually nourishing.

How do you prepare for the Lord's Day gathering? What disciplines and habits have you formed that serve you well?

Reformation Theology (HT: Unashamed Workman) posted this instructive sample prayer:

Our gracious God and Father. I approach Your throne today, knowing that it is only through the name of Jesus that I can stand before You. I thank and praise You for Your goodness in allowing me to do so. I recognize very well that I am unworthy of this honor, this privilege, apart from Your unmerited favor and grace. I come before You to seek Your blessing on the service on Sunday.

Grant that the Word will come to us with power and with great freedom. Be near to our Pastor and his family. Keep the family close as they serve You together. Protect them from dangers both seen and unseen. May our pastor know great wisdom as he plans his day and his week around the priorities You lay before him. May his schedule allow him much time to study Your word and to pray. May he know that he is serving You and all of us very well as he makes these a high priority. May our pastor’s family time also be protected. Grant that he would be free from all unnecessary busy-ness in ministry. Also grant our pastor sufficient rest and sleep.
Grant our pastor humility before Your Word as he finishes his preparations and grant that he may be filled with a holy dread and gravity as he stands before Your people. May he know what it is to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit. May we truly know what it is to sit under the preaching of the Word. Speak to us, we pray. Speak to our hearts through the words we hear. May we never be the same.

Be with those who will lead us in worship. Be near to those who will sing or play instruments. Grant that in all things they may seek to serve You. May songs be selected that will bring glory and honor to Your name. May they lead us in singing songs that celebrate the beauty of the Savior and sing of Your wonders, Your glory, Your triumphs, Your holiness, Your majesty and Your great gospel. Let everything that has breath in that place praise the Lord together. May our worship be a sweet and fragrant offering to You. Accept it Lord, though we know it is poor and imperfect. Accept it through Your grace.

Be with the men and women who will be serving this week – those who are responsible for hospitality, greeting and ushering; those who will work in the sound booth, in the bookstall, in administration, and with those who will minister to our precious children and youth. Even now Lord, please fill all of these people afresh with Your Spirit. We thank you for the servant's hearts You have given to them. I ask that You will allow them to be a blessing to many this week, even to those who do not yet know You. May the service run smoothly and may Your hand be evident in all that transpires. May Your love truly flow amongst us. May each of us be sensitive to the needs of others.

Bless our church’s outreach this week, through the words we speak, the love we show and the help we give to others. Bless the proclamation of Your gospel both by word and by life. In Your goodness, bring many to repentance. Direct our conversations, and help each of us to be bold in sharing the good news of Christ with others. Use me and all of our church in outreach this week I pray.

Would you help all who attend to come to the Sunday service as true worshippers--as those who worship You in spirit and in truth. Remind us that the gathering of Your people to worship is something You have ordained for us. It is a holy and sacred time. Help us to take the Lord’s day seriously. Prepare my heart and each of our hearts even now for what You will say to us then. Grant that we may not come before you as frauds, standing in Your presence filled with unconfessed sin. Give us the strength and wisdom to reconcile ourselves to our brothers and sisters before we come before You in worship. Give us discerning hearts that we may see and confess our sin before You. Open our eyes to see and to know You in a new way. Help us to worship You, not only with our lips, but with our hearts, our souls, and all that we are. Accept the gift of worship we will bring to You. May it please You.

Be with our pastor as he prepares to preach Your Word on Sunday. Grant that his time of preparation will be fruitful and that You will stir His heart with the great news of the gospel, of the precious truth of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone. May all of us at our Church live in the power of this gospel always. Protect us from the devil’s lies and help us to never be bored by the wonderful doctrines of grace, but grant that they may be the joy and delight of our hearts. Open our eyes Lord to see just how Your glorious gospel affects each and every area of our lives. Grant that our pastor or any guest minister may preach with great power and passion on Sunday morning. May the preaching be God centered, cross centered and gospel centered.

Be with me Lord. Prepare my own heart for Sunday morning when You speak to us as Your people. I confess that already my heart is polluted with sin. As I think about worshipping You, already I wonder how other men may perceive me. Already I sin against you. Extend Your gracious forgiveness to me that I may come before You with a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Keep the truth ever before me that to obey is better than sacrifice. Help me to be obedient to You in all things. Fill me with Your Spirit. Grant that I may serve You by serving others.

Grant traveling mercies as men and women, boys and girls come to our Church on Sunday. Keep us safe this week and as we gather together in Your name.

We pray for peace and unity while we gather together. We ask that there will be mercy and understanding. We ask that there will be a great outpouring of your Spirit. We ask that you will bless us for the sake of the glory of Your great name.

I ask these things humbly and in the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that I may be expectant and observant in seeking answers to this prayer so that I may praise You for Your goodness. May we all seek Your presence and glory in it together as we worship You this week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bits and Pieces

This year I'm trying to think about evangelism, so this video caught my eye. I wonder how often my preaching looks like this example of extreme witnessing.

Also, Paul Crouse at Engaging Your World extended the priviledge of doing an interview on The Decline. As did Christian Manifesto.

Later today, Lord willing, it'll be a joy to discuss The Decline with Janet Parshall on Janet Parshall's America.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

A number of worthwhile reads in the blogosphere already this week:

Greg Gilbert poses some really, really, really helpful questions designed to help us think about our attachment to music in the public gathering of the church.

Before he votes, Eric Redmond wants to candidates to talk to him about morality.

Check out C.J. on "the pastor's task of discernment." And it's a great joy to add my brother to the blogroll.

Justin Buzzard provides insights for inserting the gospel in everyday conversation. And the GirlTalkers have some helpful questions for deeper spiritual fellowship in conversation.

My man Carter has his kids "bugging for Jesus."

The Desiring God Pastors' Conference Audio and Sermon Summaries:
Session 1: The Pastor As Son of the Heavenly Father (D.A. Carson)
Session2: The Call to Courage (Crawford Loritts)
Session 3: The Pastor As Son of an Earthly Father (D.A. Carson)
Session 4: Evangelist Bill Piper: Fundamentalist Full of Grace and Joy (John Piper)
Session 5: The Pastor As Father to His Family and Flock (D.A. Carson)
Session 6: Fathering a Pioneer Mission Ministry (Greg Livingstone)

Mark Lauterbach on "The Spirit and the Church" on Acts 2:42-47:

The heart of the passage is this – the church is the work of the exalted Christ. She thrives by virtue of her union with Him. The church is made healthy by going back to him. Sin will disrupt the church. The Savior’s blood is more than sufficient for forgiveness and renewal. The call is to faith, to seek from the Savior the grace necessary for fruitfulness to be renewed. There is no reluctance in Him.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Evangelism: Let's Check Our Method

One more quote from Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In this one, Packer zooms in on the debate about evangelistic method and lays down one principle for all who do the work of evangelism. This is long but very much worth it.

"So, in the last analysis, there is only one method of evangelism: namely, the faithful explanation and application of the gospel message. From which it follows--and this is the key principle which we are seeking--that the test for any proposed strategy, or technique, or style, of evangelistic action must be this: will it in fact serve the word? Is it calculated to be a means of explaining the gospel truly and fully and applying it deeply and exactly? To the extent to which it is so calculated, it is lawful and right; to the extent to which it tends to overlay and obscure the realities of the message, and to blunt the edge of their application, it is ungodly and wrong.

"Let us work this out. It means that we need to bring under review all our evangelistic plans and practices--our missions, rallies, and campaigns; our sermons, talks, and testimonies; our big meetings, our little meetings, and our presentation of the gospel in personal dealing; the tracts that we give, the books that we lend, the letters that we write--and to ask about each of them questions such as the following:

"Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God? Is it calculated to divert their attention from man and all things merely human to God and His truth? Or is its tendency rather to distract attention from the Author and authority of the message to the person and performance of the messenger? Does it make the gospel sound like a human idea, a preacher's plaything, or like a divine revelation, before which the human messenger himself stands in awe? Does this way of presenting Christ savour of human cleverness and showmanship? Does it tend thereby to exalt man? Or does it embody rather the straightforward, unaffected simplicity of the messenger whose sole concern is to deliver his message, and who has no wish to call attention to himself, and who desires so far as he can to blot himself out and hide, as it were, behind his message, fearing nothing so much as that men should admire and applaud him when they ought to be bowing down and humbling themselves before the mighty Lord whom he represents?

"Again: is this way of presenting Christ calculated to promote, or impede, the work of the word in the men's minds? Is it going to clarify the meaning of the message, or to leave it enigmatic and obscure, locked up in pious jargon and oracular formulae? Is it going to make people think, and think hard, and think hard about God, and about themselves in relation to God? Or will it tend to stifle thought by playing exclusively on the emotions? Is it calculated to stir the mind, or put it to sleep? Is this way of presenting Christ an attempt to move men by the force of feeling, or of truth? Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with emotion; it is strange for a person to be converted without emotion; what is wrong is the sort of appeal to emotion, and playing on emotion, which harrows people's feelings as a substitute for instructing their minds.

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the doctrine of the gospel, and not just part of it, but the whole of it--the truth about our Creator and His claims, and about ourselves as guilty, lost, and helpless sinners, needing to be born again, and about the Son of God who became man, and died for sins, and lives to forgive sinners and bring them to God? Or is it likely to be deficient here, and deal in half-truths, and leave people with an incomplete understanding of these things, and hurry them on to the demand for faith and repentance without having made it clear just what they need to repent of, or what they ought to believe?

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the application of the gospel, and not just part of it, but the whole of it--the summons to see and know oneself as God sees and knows one, that is, as a sinful creature, and to face the breadth and depth of the need into which a wrong relationship with God has brought one, and to face too the cost and consequences of turning to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord? Or is it likely to be deficient here, and to gloss over some of this, and to give an inadequate, distorted impression of what the gospel requires? Will it, for instance, leave people unaware that they have any immediate obligation to respond to Christ at all? Or will it leave them supposing that al they have to do is to trust Christ as a sin-bearer, not realizing that they must also deny themselves and enthrone Him as their Lord (the error which we might call only-believism)? Or will it leave them imagining that the whole of what they have to do is to consecrate themselves to Christ as their Master, not realzing that they must also receive Him as their Saviour (the error which we might call good-resolutionism)? We need to remember here that spiritually it is even more dangerous for a man whose conscience is roused to make a misconceived response to the gospel, and take up with a defective religious practice, than for him to make no response at all. If you turn a publican into a Pharisee, you make his condition worse, not better.

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious? Is it calculated to make people feel that they are indeed facing a matter of life and death? Is it calculated to make them see and feel the greatness of God, and the greatness of their sin and need, and the greatness of the grace of Christ? Is it calculated to make them aware of the awful majesty and holiness of God? Will it help them to realize that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands? Or is this way of presenting Christ so light and casual and cosy and jolly as to make it hard for the hearers to feel that the gospel is a matter of any consequence, save as a pick-me-up for life's misfits? It is a gross insult to God, and a real disservice to men, to cheapen and trivialize the gospel by one's presentation of it. Not that we should put on an affected solemnity when speaking of spiritual things; there is nothing more essentially frivolous than a mock seriousness, and nothing more likely to make hypocrites out of our hearers. What is needed is this: that we, who would speak for Christ, should pray constantly that God will put and keep in our hearts a sense of His greatness and glory, and of the joy of fellowship with Him, and of the dreadfulness of spending time and eternity without Him; and then that God will enable us to speak honestly, straightforwardly, and just as we feel about these matters. Then we shall be really natural in presenting the gospel--and really serious too.

"It is by asking questions of this sort that we must test and, where necessary, reform our evangelistic methods. The principle is that the best method of evangelism is the one which serves the gospel most completely. It is the one which bears the clearest witness to the divine origing of the message, and the life-and-death character of the issues which it raises. It is the one which makes possible the most full and thorough explanation of the good news of Christ and His cross, and the most exacting and searching application of it. It is the one which most effectively engages the minds of those to whom witness is borne, and makes them most vividly aware that the gospel is God's word, addressed personally to them in their own situation. What that best method is in each case, you and I have to find out for ourselves. It is in the light of this principle that all debates about evangelistic methods must be decided." (pp. 86-91)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

I really appreciated my brother Lance spotting Shelby Steele's inconsistency when describing the Barack Obama campaign as "solely about race." Steele is a far more able scholar than I hope to be, but I found his interviews re: A Bound Man hopelessly... bound in a way that Obama doesn't appear to be.

I had a good time thinking about the gospel and bitterness at the na blog. Check out their series of practical applications of the gospel to common challenges to the Christian life.

How were you called? This was a fun post from Unashamed Workman.

If you know an African-American man who has written off the church for this or that reason, please order Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men's Questions About the Chruch for them. Eric does a good job of taking popular objections to the church and providing patient, insightful and winsome responses.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Preacher--Be Encouraged!

The pressure on the content and length of a sermon is always downward. When is the last time a pastor had to call riot police because his congregation rose up en masse and demanded more systematic, biblical and historical theology in the sermon, more word study, tighter exegesis, and application Christological, ecclesiological, social and personal? Chances are you've never seen or heard that happen. The pressure on the content and length of a sermon is always downward.

Today Mike McKinley posted what I think is the most encouraging, short statement on expositional preaching that I've read in a long, long time. Mike helps us with why those downward pressures miss the point entirely. Read it and be encouraged to preach the word!

Here's what one bloke left in the comment section of Mike's post:

"Michael, thank you for your post- it came at exactly the right time for me. For exactly a year, I've been the minister of 3 churches in Britain that have never had an evangelical, expository ministry before. A couple of hours ago, I had a church council meeting where I was told very directly that they didn't want to hear about the Bible in sermons- it was boring, and sermons were too long (I preach for 20 minutes). Your post was just the encouragement I needed."

Hey Mike: Sweet new look to the Guilford website!

Does the Local Church Have Anything to Do with Evangelism? And Are Revivals Connected to Discerning the Body?

The pastoral staff at FBC has been thinking through Ed Welch's When People Are Big and God Is Small. We finished up today with chapters 12 and 13. I was really encouraged with chapter 12, which surprised me with a very church (corporate)-centered emphasis on the Christian life. In a book that lends itself to a fair amount of individual reflection, the reader might expect a discussion of "Love Your Brothers and Sisters" to stress individual effort. But Welch warmly clothed love for brothers and sisters in the robe of local church membership and commitment.

Two sections illustrate the helpfulness of this chapter. In the first, Welch provides some good thoughts about evangelism and expectations re: the local church. In the second, Welch connects self-examination at the Lord's Supper with the body of Christ.

Evangelism and the Local Church

"'I want you to forget about institutions,' said the evangelist. 'The gospel is not about churches. It is about a decision you make before Jesus and nobody else.'

"What do you think of his approach? He is right that individual people 'must repent and be baptized' (Acts 2:38). And I can understand that some people have a warped view of the church, so the evangelist did not want those preconceptions to cloud the spiritual issues. But isn't the call to trust and obey a broader call than 'Jesus and me'? The promises of God are 'for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call' (Acts 2:39). And isn't the person being called to Christ, who is the head of an institution? When people were converted in the book of Acts, it was assumed that they would be part of a local fellowship. It could have been no other way. they had been usered into a community of the resurrection, a community of the Spirit."

The Lord's Supper and the Local Church

"When you are told to examine yourself before the Lord's Supper, what do you think about? Most likely you remember a list of recent private sins. If you do, great! For some people it is the only quiet moment in their lives, and it is an excellent time for the confession of sin and repentance. Yet, as good as that is, the passage is saying something more. What Paul is exhorting us to esamine is our 'recognizing the body of the Lord.' Are we realizing that the church is one? Are we aware that those with whom we share the Supper are the body of Christ? Our family? This is clearly the context of the passage.

"This means that we should remember that it is through Christ's death that we are reconciled to God and each other. He has made us one, and we set our hearts on pursuinig unity in love. The Lord's Supper is a great time to pray and plan for oneness with our brothers and sisters. It is a time to explore new ways to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.

"The apostle's exhortation also menas that we should repent of sins that have divided God's people. have we gossiped against or slandered anyone? Have we avoided people? Have we been sinfully angry with anyone?

"Jesus himself gave specific directions for pursuing this unity.

"If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)

"When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins (Mark. 11:25).

"The apostle Paul said the same thing in his letter to the Ephesians.

"We are all members of one body. 'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. (Eph. 4:25-26)

"Can you sense the urgency in these directions? Only a church that is united in love can truly display God's glory to both spiritual powers and the world, and only a church united can stand against Satan's efforts to divide. The Bible is unquivocal: if you have contributed to a lack of unity, deal with it now. Revivals should start at the Lord's Supper."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Evangelism Defined

"How, then, should evangelism be defined? The New Testament answer is very simple. According to the New Testament, evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel. It is a work of communication in which Christians make themselves mouth-pieces for God's message of mercy to sinners. Anyone who faithfully delivers that message, under whatever circumstances, in a large meeting, in a small meeting, from a pulpit, or in a private conversation, is evangelizing. Since the divine message finds its climax in a plea from the Creator to a rebel world to turn and put faith in Christ, the delivering of it involves the summoning of one's hearers to conversion. If you are not, in this sense, seeking to bring about conversions, you are not evangelizing; this we have seen already. But the way to tell whether in fact you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfullymaking known the gospel message."
"What was this good news that Paul preached? It was the news about Jesus of Nazareth. It was the news of the incarnation, the atonement, and the kingdom--the cradle, the cross, and the crown--of the Son of God. It was the news of how God 'glorified his servant Jesus' by making Him Christ, the world's long-awaited 'Prince and... Saviour'. It was the news of how God made His Son Man; and how, as Man, God made Him Priest, and Prophet, and King; and how, as Priest, God also made Him a sacrifice for sins; and how, as Prophet, God also made Him a Lawgiver to His people; and how, as King, God has also made Him Judge of all the world, and given Him prerogatives which in the Old Testament are exclusively Jehovah's own--namely, to reign till every knee bows before Him, and to save all who call on His name. In short, the good news was just this: that God has executed His eternal intention of glorifying His Son by exalting Him as a great Saviour for great sinners.

"Such was the gospel which Paul was sent to preach. It was a message of some complexity, needing to be learned before it could be lived by, and understood before it could be applied. It needed, therefore, to be taught. Hence Paul, as a preacher of it, had to become a teacher. He saw this as part of his caling; he speaks of the 'the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher... and a teacher' (2 Tim. 1:10). And he tells us that teaching was basic to his evangelistic practice; he speaks of 'Christ... whom we preach... teaching every man in all wisdom' (Col. 1:28). In both texts the reference to teaching is explanatory of the reference to preaching. In other words: it is by teaching that the gospel preacher fulfils his ministry. To teach the gospel is his first responsibility: to reduce it to its simplest essentials, to analyse it point by point, to fix its meaning by positive and negative definition, to show how each part of the message links up with the rest--and to go on explaining it till he is quite sure that his listeners have grasped it. And therefore when Paul preached the gospel, formally or informally, in the synagogue or in the streets, to Jews or to Gentiles, to a crowd or to one man, what he did was to teach--engaging attention, capturing interest, setting out the facts, explaining their significance, solving difficulties, answering objections, and showing how the message bears on life. Luke's regular way of describing Paul's evangelistic ministry is to say that he disputed (Acts 9:29), or reasoned (dialegomai: RSV renders 'argued')(Acts 17:2, 17, RV, 18:4; 19:8f., RV, 24:25), or taught (Acts 18:11; 28:31), or persuaded (i.e., sought to carry his hearers' judgments)(Acts 18:4; 19:8, 26; 28:23; cf. 26:28). and Paul himself refers to his ministry among the Gentiles as primarily a task of instruction: 'unto me... was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery...' (Eph. 3:8, RV). Clearly, in Paul's view, his first and fundamental job as a preacher of the gospel was to communicate knowledge--to get gospel truth fixed in men's minds. To him, teaching the truth was the basic evangelistic activity; to him, therefore, the only right method of evangelism was the teaching method."

J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), pp. 41, 47-49.