There seems to be a host of posts that have come across my line of vision in the last couple of days dealing with preaching and doctrine. I can honestly say that both topics are dear to my heart, that is sound preaching and excellent doctrine. I strive for both, so much so, that while discussing doctrine, I will often go to preaching. I humbly tell the listener when I do that this is an “occupational hazard.” The point is that as a pastor, and any elder for that matter, both sound doctrine and good preaching should always be our goals.
Don’t Settle for Mediocre Preaching — Paul Tripp counsels preachers that the real problem with preaching in America is… the preachers. Tripp writes:
Preaching is more than regurgitating your favorite exegetical commentary, recasting the sermons of your favorite preachers, or reshaping notes from one of your favorite seminary classes. It is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he now stands to communicate. You simply cannot do this without proper preparation, meditation, confession, and worship.
Amen and amen. If we haven’t lived the sermon, chances are, we probably won’t preach it very well. I’m not talking about personal testimonies every time we step into the pulpit. What I’m talking about is the fact that the Spirit has worked in our lives in the way that the text calls for. Pastors should expect the Spirit to work on us as we are preparing the sermon throughout the week. My wife can tell you plenty of stories about this as it has happened to me. I usually have to live the sermon before preaching it.
One more thought from Tripp’s piece:
There simply is no way that you can begin to think about a passage for the first time on Saturday afternoon or evening and give it the kind of attention that it needs. You will not be able to understand the passage, be personally affected, and be prepared to give it to others in a way that ontributes to their ongoing transformation. As pastors, we have to fight for the sanctity of preaching, or no one else will. We have to demand that our job descriptions allow for the time necessary to prepare well. We have to carve out time in our schedules to do whatever necessary for each of us, given our gifts and maturity, to be ready as spokesmen for our Savior King. We cannot become comfortable with patterns that denigrate preaching and degrade our ability to represent a glorious God of glorious grace. We cannot allow ourselves to be too busy and too distracted. We cannot set low standards for ourselves and those we serve. We cannot be self-excusing and self-accommodating. We cannot allow ourselves to try to squeeze a thousand dollars worth of preparation into dime moments. We must not lose sight of the excellent One and the excellent grace we have been called to represent. We cannot, because we are unprepared, let his splendor appear boring and his amazing grace appear ordinary.
Tender Mercies has an excellent post on Why Doctrine Matters, quoting from R. Scott Clark. I told him that I wished I had seen the post last week, since I was preaching upon Christ’s doctrine. I would have used the following quote from Mr. Clark dealing with the fact that doctrine is unavoidable. This is similar to what I tend to say about us being theologians. We are all theologians, the question is whether or not we are good, biblical theologians or idolatrous theologians. Here is Mr. Clark’s quote:
Non-doctrinal Christianity is impossible. The teaching of non-doctrinal Christianity is doctrine. It is bad doctrine, but it is doctrine nonetheless. Some argue that “doctrine divides,” and, therefore, that we should avoid it. True, doctrine sometimes divides, but that is what the Lord intended. In Luke 12:51–53, our Lord expressly taught that He came not to bring “peace on earth” but rather to bring “division,” even among family members. We cannot hereby justify schismatic behavior in the church, which Scripture condemns repeatedly, but we cannot accept the notion that division is inherently evil.
The real question is not whether Christians will have doctrine but which doctrine or whose doctrine? Our Lord and Savior Himself advocated a host of doctrines. The Gospels are replete with His doctrinal teaching. He taught about the nature of God (John 4:24), humanity (Matt. 10:28), creation (Mark 10:6), sin (John 8:34), redemption (John 3), the church (Matt. 16), and the end of all things (Matt. 24). He taught doctrines about the history of salvation and how it should be understood (Luke 24). Anyone who advocates non-doctrinal Christianity must do so without Jesus.
But obviously, the LORD didn’t want me using that quote in my sermon. However… it’s great for a blog post.
Heath posted on Why Pastor’s Need to be Readers and quoted from several different sources. This one from Spurgeon:
We will LOOK AT [the Apostle Paul’s] BOOKS. We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read…A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying…
What struck me is that this quote reminded me of Heath’s earlier post about a man who came back from the dead, saying that he could tell us what Jesus looked like and sounded like. Quite a stretch of a story, but it struck me from Spurgeon, that if the Apostle Paul wasn’t at liberty to speak about the third heaven in which he was privy to, why did the man who came back from the dead think he had the right to tell us what Jesus was like? Why does anyone listen to such claims when the Apostle Paul himself was forbidden from speaking such truths? Listen to Paul’s words: 1 Corinthians 12:3-4 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Yet some bozo comes along who has had a vision thinks he is the one to share Jesus with the lost. Not the Jesus of the Bible, mind you. As Heath noted, the man wanted nothing to do with the Bible. He wanted to share the Jesus of his own personal vision. If the vision were true, it is still not lawful for him to share it.
Finally, Tim Bayly has an excellent piece called The Redemptive-Historical Preaching Fad… Redemptive-historical preaching is the model that turns every story in the Old Testament into the story of Christ. I think there is a bit of legitimacy with the model, but recognize what Bayly is attempting to get us to see. When we do this, we lose the heroes of the faith in our quickness to jump over their courage, faith and obedience in order to get to Christ Himself. Bayly writes:
The failure of men who take pride in being Christ and Gospel-centered isn’t that they’re wrong in affirming how types and examples point to Christ. Reading, teaching, and preaching Christ in all of Scripture is foundational. Obvious.
Their failure is that they deny the morals and virtues of the types and examples–the flesh and blood of history, if you will. It’s as if no one is capable of loving David as a man and desiring to be like him while also loving the God Who made him as he was and worked through him to accomplish his sovereign decrees, including the very public execution of blaspheming Goliath, the very public vindication of His Name resting on Israel, the eventual replacement of King Saul with this man whose Davidic Line would end with our Messiah, and so on.
To speak of courage and faith together does not tie even, or especially, very young boys’ brains in knots. They get it. God has made man capable of amazing intellectual feats and those feats are often seen at their most brilliant in little people who haven’t yet had blinkered professors tell them they can’t think that way. Those possessing wisdom rather than degrees are fully capable of thinking both ways at the same time, and for intellectuals to tell them that they must choose one way and delete the other from their mind, also deleting all those obvious paths criss-crossing between both ways, is for professors of hermeneutics and exegesis to chain Scripture to the same pulpits the Roman Catholics had chained it to back at the time of the Reformation.
Bayly then quotes Rob Rayburn:
[I]n my opinion, the men of this (redemptive-historical) school of thought and preaching in the 20th century have not been strong on practicalities of living the Christian life, such wisdom as the Puritans were master teachers of. The redemptive-historical men so fear moralism they seem afraid to draw out of the text the perfectly obvious lessons that may be found in it on obedience and disobedience, sin and temptation, faith and doubt, the life of prayer, and so on.
For, the fact is, the biblical history is a “thick” history. That is the term the literary scholars have invented and I like it. It has layers. It can say many things at the same time and teach many lessons. If the first lesson here is about Israel’s deliverance through a deliverer that God supplies her, the second lesson is surely that the way of that deliverance is the way of faith. David is an exemplar of the believing man just as he is the exemplar of Jesus Christ himself.
There is so much on that one post, that I may draw from it again, since it has given me a lot to think about concerning my approach to preaching. I do focus on our responsibility as believers, which I think is part of the problem of much of preaching. My point is that if we have been saved, and born again, to what end? To live as the rest of the world, tattoos and all? No, not at all. Christ redeemed us from that lifestyle and we are to live as He lives, with the reality of His Spirit dwelling in us, turning from sin, not embracing it as so many in our culture and the church tend to do. If the Bible declares something to be sinful, then we should turn away from that which is sinful and live as the holy people we are. Not so that we earn righteousness, but because we have been given righteousness. We need to live as those we are called to be, not as the world or what we were before the grace of salvation came to us.