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Posts Tagged ‘Expository preaching’

A danger was pointed out to me recently that simply being gospel-centred is not enough – for an individual, church or ministry.

Let me try to illustrate with a few diagrams.

  1. Gospel-centred but gospel-assumed rather than gospel-explicit

Gospel assumed

With gospel-assumed there is a lot of talk about gospel but we never quite get around to defining and spelling out exactly what we mean by the gospel. So very quickly not only are we not actually preaching the gospel to others (so no-one is being converted or built up), we start to forget it ourselves.

The solution: We go back to the Bible every day to remind ourselves of the good news from all over Scripture. We need to fill in the word with Bible detail.

For example in my Bible reading this morning I saw in 1 Chronicles 11 a little vignette of the gospel – one man standing against a whole army of Philistines ‘and the LORD saved’ (v14). And I see a tiny picture of the One Man who stood instead of us and triumphed over all our enemies – Satan, death, hell. And I’m reminded that the LORD saves – the most succinct summary of the gospel – salvation belongs to the LORD. His is the victory we will praise for all eternity (Rev. 7:10). I did not save myself. I was not one of David’s mighty men, I was more like a faithless Israelite or a hostile Philistine. I didn’t do a thing to move towards God. But he saved me. The Father chose me, the Son took my place on the cross, the Spirit grabbed me and united me to Christ. Sovereign grace grabbed me.

  1. Gospel-centred but gospel-small rather than gospel-big

Gospel small

With gospel-small there may be explicit regular mention of the gospel but it is a bit formulaic and anemic. I make sure I get into every sermon ‘Jesus died on the cross for us’ but that’s about it. So before long it loses its impact on our hearers or even on our own hearts. It starts to seem like a small thing and (if we’re honest) a rather boring message. So it doesn’t change lives.

The solution: we go back again and again to the Bible – all different parts of the Bible – Psalms, prophecy, letters, stories – to see the richness and depth and vastness and complexity and multi-faceted, multi-coloured beauty of the gospel from the detail of specific Bible texts.

For example in my morning devotion in 1 Chronicles 11 I see David finally acknowledged as king by his people. I see that he is of the same bone and flesh as his people (v1), that he is the shepherd of his people (v2), that he binds himself in covenant to his people (v3). I am reminded by the mention of Uriah the Hittite (v41) that this was not the perfect King. And my eyes are drawn to the Son of God who took bone and flesh that he could be the Second Adam united to his bride and the Second David, Goliath-slaying king over his people, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15) and makes incredible promises binding himself to his people (John 10:27-28; 11:25-26; 12:26; 14:3, 23; 15:7-8).

If I had longer I could try to explore the significance of the King winning Jerusalem for his people (1 Chron. 11:4-9), the pattern of taking advantage of something won for you at great cost (1 Chron. 11:15-10 cf. John 6:53), the need for a hero (1 Chron. 11:20-25. And this is all from one chapter. If we keep doing this from text after text we start to build up a rich, beautiful, big heart-capturing gospel picture.

It’s the difference between a little stick man picture and a 6” by 6” Klimt portrait.

Gospel small - pictures

  1. Gospel-centred but floating rather than rooted

Gospel floating

Gospel-floating is where we do a decent job of explaining the heart of the gospel but it is not rooted into the rest of the Bible text and systematic theology. The gospel is floating unmoored, unanchored, untethered. This is a subtle danger. We can appear to be ‘just wanting to preach the gospel’ and ‘just wanting to preach Bible’ but by failing to tie the gospel into broader biblical themes and doctrinal structures we can drift off into something less than orthodox and biblical. In times of increasing biblical illiteracy this is going to be a serious issue – we can’t take for granted the doctrine of God, doctrine of creation, doctrine of man.

Solution: We go back to the Bible and seek to do exposition which avoids both the danger of eisegesis (where we pour our systematic framework into every verse – a rather boring and dangerous form of exposition) but also the danger of preaching things from one Scripture that assume or are even deny the truths of other Scriptures. We need to go to the Scriptures with a view that it is one story with a consistent theology that we need to seek to learn as well as we’re able (though humbly accepting that no one of us will never see it perfectly).

For example, 1 Corinthians 15:1-10 – that great gospel summary – is actually leaning on a whole lot of stuff. That’s why it says ‘according to the Scriptures’ twice. The idea of ‘dying for our sins’ only makes sense if you know a) what sin is and b) how it is possible for one to die for sins. To really understand this gospel summary I’m going to need to dig into the Old Testament for a complex biblical understanding of sin, including particularly the fact that it is first and foremost against God and calls down the wrath of God. Then I’m going to need to unpack the sacrificial system and the whole idea of a substitute being burnt up in the wrath of God instead of me. And the same is true of ‘rising on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ I’m going to need to look at what resurrection really means – the end time, the judgment day, the need for this creation to be swallowed up in an imperishable holy new creation. Without a lot of biblical undergirding the language of ‘Christ died for you and rose again’ is almost completely meaningless.

Another example: When I look at 1 Chronicles 11:1 and think through the way in which Christ shared our human nature (bone and flesh) I need to connect it all the way back to Genesis 3:16 and the promise of one born of woman who would crush the serpent. I would also need to look forward to what the New Testament says about the human nature of Christ. I would want to be guided in that by the ancient creeds and historic confessions where the church has thought long and hard and come up with very carefully considered words to express the completeness of Christ’s humanity and the wonder of two natures in one person without confusion or separation. I might also want to think of Athanasius and Irenaeus and the huge importance of the incarnation, God becoming man that we might share in his divine nature. Then I might want to think about the ascension and the importance of Christ retaining his human nature there, right now calling me his brother.

One more example: When we read in the prophets of the LORD’s yearning for his beloved people, his heart being moved, his inmost parts (KJV: bowels) being disturbed (e.g. Jeremiah 31:20) then surely we are seeing the very spring of the gospel – the passionate love of God. I’m definitely going to want to preach that to myself and others. But at the same time I’m going to have to be careful I don’t deny the orthodox definition of God. I’ll want to give full force to the biblical language of affections but also keep respectfully in mind the ancient understanding that God is immutable, ‘without parts or passions’ and the biblical material that says that God is wholly other and ‘not like a man.’ Not to say that all this has to come into a pulpit. Most of it will stay in the study, but if I ignore this theology I run the risk of teaching fluff or heresy.

  1. Gospel-centred but DIY implications rather than Bible implications

DIY implications

Here we have a good, rich, well-rooted biblical understanding of the gospel, but when it comes to working out the implications of the gospel (for my own life or for church life) then I sort of ‘wing it’ – DIY – Do It Yourself. I assume a) that God is not particularly prescriptive about exactly how I should lead my life or how the church should be ordered and b) I assume that I am able work out for myself, from the internal logic of the gospel, how if should be applied in different areas of life.

For example I see that the gospel springs from the consistent other-person-centred love of God and so I think the implication of the gospel is ‘any stable, loving, other-person-centred relationship’. Or I see that the gospel is the salvation not only of our souls but also of our bodies and indeed the renewing of the whole creation and so I think an implication is that the church’s mission is, with equal emphasis, to a) care for souls and b) to care for people’s bodies, transform society and fight for the natural environment.

I was reading a good Christian book the other day by a fine author who knows and explains the gospel extremely well. Much of the book was excellent. But, as I read one chapter where he described the implications of the gospel for church life, I started to feel something was a little bit off. And then I realised that he hadn’t quoted Scripture for several pages. We were moving into deductions from deductions from deductions – DIY implications.

The solution: We go back to the Bible and find the implications of the gospel from the Bible itself. This is particularly clear in the Apostle Paul’s letters. Most of them (roughly speaking) start with a couple of chapters of gospel doctrine then move to a concluding couple of chapters spelling out the implications of the gospel in some detail.

Ephesians, for example, lays out the great gospel of sovereign grace – the Trinitarian God grabbing a people for himself – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone (Eph. 1-3) – then Paul starts talking about the implications of that for how we live as this new community of God’s people (Eph. 4:1-5:21). Loads of detailed instructions about the role of church leaders, every member ministry, speech, sex, work, reconciliation. But even this is not specific enough. People could take ‘submit to one another’ (5:21) to mean that there is no longer such a thing as differentiation of roles or authority or respect. So then there is a section laying out how exactly different relationships should work – wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (Eph. 5:22-6:9). In each of these relationships we can see that it is the gospel which is shaping the structure and manner of that relationship (in a beautiful way) but the point here is that God doesn’t leave us to guess how the gospel shapes these relationships he tells us.

The same could be said for the ordering of the local church (1 Timothy). Not that everything is spelled out – of course not. In loads of things we are free – it doesn’t matter what colour the curtains are. And yes there will still be lots of things where we will have to make gospel-hearted decisions about what is wisest for the advance of the gospel – how long will the sermon be? But in a lot of things – in fact all the important things – we’re actually given a lot of guidance by the Holy Spirit.

Why the detail? Because I cannot be trusted to work out all the implications of the gospel for myself. I will naturally use the right doctrine in the wrong way. Like people in Paul’s day I will take the grace of God and make it a license for sin (Rom. 6:1) rather than a spring of good works (Rom. 6:2-23). I need to be taught the right out-working of the gospel and the specific good deeds I need to do. I need both the gospel at the centre of everything that teaches me to say know to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14) and I need someone (God) to draw the lines out from that centre to show me what true godliness looks like in detail (Titus 2:2-10).

 

Maybe this is all just another way of saying, let’s be expository. Let’s be gospel-centred and Bible-rich – getting our gospel from the Bible – a beautiful, big, detailed, rooted, worked-out gospel of Christ Jesus who came into the world to save sinners of who I am the worst.

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Kenneth Irungu, second year iServe Africa apprentice who blogs excellent stuff at Gospel Insights, reviews David Helm’s 9Marks book Expositional Preaching.

helm-expositional

In a generation of prosperity preachers who use the Bible, as Helm would put it, the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than for illumination, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is of much relevance. We greatly need such a book that exhorts every preacher, the beginners and the experienced, to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what they think might be there.

In a small book, which one can read in one sitting, Helm points out that all preachers should commit themselves to a preaching that rightfully submits the sermon’s shape and emphasis to the shape and emphasis of any given biblical text. He shows how preachers can declare God’s Word with clarity, simplicity and power always, as Simeon put it,

  • humbling the sinner,
  • exalting the Saviour and
  • promoting holiness.

The book has four chapters, with a well-crafted introductory chapter introducing Charles Simeon, a man who returned the Bible to the center of church life in England, and a conclusion chapter calling upon every preacher to hope that some good will be done by their preaching .

The first chapter of the book points out three common mistakes we make as a result of our attempts to contextualize biblical texts. It shows how we preach without doing an exegesis of the text (paying attention to biblical text’s original audience and its purposes) or having any theological reflection on the text (seeing how a bible passage relates to the saving acts of God in Jesus).

The other three chapters highlights approaches for preparing sermons that enable preachers to join Charles Simeon and other solid expository preachers in the faithful and fruitful work of biblical exposition. These steps include doing a biblical exegesis on the text, having a theological reflection of the text and then applying God’s word to today.

Helm argues that leaving a sermon at exegetical step makes it purely intellectual and imperative. He also notes that preaching a sermon after theological reflection without applying it to today ends up having spiritualized and dehistoricized preaching.

The author notes that prayer is key in expositional preaching. He urges preachers to pray in advance of preaching, in the act of preaching and after preaching is done. He calls us to be ever desperate for the power of Holy Spirit to attend our preaching for the power does not rest on us.

Helm concludes the book by warning every preacher from looking for more creative and artistic ways to make the sermon relevant. He calls the readers to see preaching as a duty bound to the text. He adds that the preacher should keep the eyes open and face planted in the text to be able to articulate the theme of the text and the aim of the author. He also gives an appendix of helpful questions that every preacher should ask during sermon preparation.

Another nice feature of the book is the line drawings throughout. These make it easier for the reader to understand the key points. He also uses his example and pitfalls to help the reader learn from his mistakes. Helm does so well in connecting one chapter to the other, with each new chapter having a recap of what has been learnt so far. He also repeats the key points to note as he concludes every chapter.

I highly recommend the book to young preachers, like myself, who are trying their teeth in preaching. It is a relevant book too to experienced preachers who want to remain faithful in their work. It is unfortunate that I can only say this little about this impacting book that should be on the shelf of every Bible preaching preacher.


 

AH: I agree with Ken and very much appreciate this book. Just one concern would be that it is very much from and to an American/European context so some of the language and a number of the illustrations sound very strange reading it in an African context. E.g. “Contextualization is a good dance partner, but she should never be allowed to lead… It’s like we want to spin her out away from us in exciting circles, showing off her long legs and high heels.” (p.40-41) As I said to Ken, we desperately need someone to write an African book on preaching Christ faithfully from the Scriptures.

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We were very excited when Emmanuel Baptist Church ran the first Proclaim Conference in 2014. Now we’re particularly excited that the focus this year will be on Bible-driven preaching. If you can make it, get it in the diary and we’ll see you there. Here’s the invitation to pastors:

sponsor

Dear Friend/Church Leader,

Greetings from Emmanuel Baptist Church. We are writing this letter to invite you to our annual church leader’s Proclaim Conference (www.ProclaimConference.org). This year’s theme is: The Primacy of the Proclaimed Word | Handling and Hearing the Word of God and is focused on addressing the great need for biblically grounded preaching in our country.

The conference will be held Thursday 9am through Saturday 5pm, the 26th and 28th of May 2016, and the venue is Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC), King’ara Road, Lavington, Nairobi.

Our vision for the Proclaim Conferences is to equip church leadership to passionately and accurately minister the Scriptures to the churches they serve.

We are purposed to serve and strengthen the Church in Kenya by promoting robust God-­centered evangelical theology by: preaching from the Scriptures expositionally, modeling  healthy church life, providing quality biblical training resources, and by providing opportunities to develop ministry relationships and build healthy gospel-centered church networks.

For this year’s conference we will be examining the topic of expositional preaching. Dr. Mark Brock, Crossway Baptist Church, Bakersfield, California, and Pastor Ken Mbugua, Emmanuel Baptist Church, will be preaching the six general sessions. Other able and gifted men (lecturers, pastors, etc.,) will be teaching over 25 different workshops that address expositional preaching, discipleship in the church, theological training, and more.

Dr. Brock will also be conducting a separate pastor’s track on how to do expositional preaching in your church where Dr. Richard Ramesh’s book, Preaching Expositional Sermons will be given to all registered pastor’s track attendees on a first-registered, first served basis.

Please join us to learn, share, interact, and fellowship with these gifted pastors and careful theologians for three full days of workshops as they explain and explore the importance of faithfully preaching from the Scriptures.

The cost of the conference is Kshs 750/= per person if registered by 15/4/16. Otherwise, registration is 900/= per person; 1,500/= per couple for the entire conference (includes conference materials, meals during the day, etc) and can be paid at the entrance gate.

Finally, it is our desire to serve the churches of Kenya and their leaders, and we will be distributing the following resources to all registered attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  1. Proclaiming a Cross Centered Gospel, various authors
  2. Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today, Helm
  3. ESV Global Study Bible, Crossway Publishers
  4. Prosperity: Seeking the True Gospel
  5. Foundations Discipleship Booklet II (tool for one on one discipleship)

In addition we will have a large displays of new and used theological books for purchase. We will have very good prices on these books, so don’t miss out!

We look forward to serving you at this conference. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call 0708 802 375 or email: conference@eabst.org. You can also visit our Proclaim conference website, register for the conference, and check our Facebook page for more information.

Praying with you for the Priority of the God’s Word in our lives and ministries,

Kenneth Mbugua

Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church
King’ara Rd, Lavington, Nairobi

Entrusting the Word
eabst_logo

 

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Many of us would want to say, as preachers, that our confidence is completely in the Spirit-breathed Word to do a genuine, lasting work in people’s hearts. It is the seed of the Word which brings the great harvest. It is the Word of God that is living active. It is the Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword. That’s why we spend hours and hours labouring to get our understanding right (knees on the floor, nose in the text) before we work on how to get it across. But how can we tell if we are putting our confidence in the Word when it comes to Sunday morning? A few suggested measures:

  1. Ratio of amount of Bible read to length of sermon. Paul calls Timothy first to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. In the 1662 BCP service of Morning Prayer as originally conceived, there would have been 7 or 8 chapters of Scripture read in the course of the service (including set Psalms and Scripture in the liturgy). That would be at least 30 minutes every Sunday (and possibly more with total Scripture length sometimes over 4000 words). In contrast the average length of the Homilies prescribed by Cranmer is around 3200 words (though some in the later second book of Homilies are considerably longer). Again, around 30 minutes. Compare that ratio of 1:1 with our more normal modern practice of a short reading immediately before the sermon.
  2. Placement of prayer. Is it before the reading or between the reading and the sermon? If I pray for our hearing of the Word before it is read then that implies that it will be speaking even as it is read. If I always pray immediately before the sermon then the implication could be that we’re only going to hear God really speak when I unpack what would otherwise be rather unclear and hard to understand.
  3. Ratio of introduction to body of sermon. How long does it take me to get into the passage itself? Introductions can be helpful in many ways but when it gets over a certain length then questions may be asked about whether I am really confident that the Bible is a) clear and b) gripping.
  4. Speed and expressiveness in reading the Scriptures versus speed and expressiveness in the delivery of my words in the sermon. For one thing we need to make sure that whoever is reading the Scriptures in the public gathering does it really really well. But even in the sermon itself there is a danger – that when I as the preacher refer back to a verse or quote Scripture in the body of my sermon, I read it very quickly, rushing through it as a footnote or a parenthesis, while in contrast, when it comes to my own words and phrases and headings and points, I go more slowly, with much more emphasis. What I am subliminally communicating is that the Scriptures are my launchpad – and a rather dry and dusty one at that – while the thing you really need to take away is my carefully crafted rhetoric or 3 points beginning with P. What if I reversed (or at least equalised) the equation and gave great attention to how I read the Scriptures – with real force and authority and expressiveness – stressing the key words that make the point? What if I aimed to have the congregation go away with God’s words ringing in their ears not mine?
  5. Number of cross-references, particularly corroborative and thematic. There is a place for cross-references, particularly Biblical theological ones connecting a passage into the big salvation story of Scripture, but generally, once the number goes beyond two or three cross-references there is an inverse relationship between number of references and our focus on and confidence in the text in hand. Particularly troublesome are the ‘this makes me think of…’ type of cross-reference or the ‘as it also says in…’ type. In contrast, a tight focus on one text communicates that there is plenty here; each passage of Scripture is clear and rich and solid.
  6. Relying on God’s words to do the cutting versus relying on additional illustration or application to do the cutting. It’s important to illustrate and apply God’s Word. It’s important that things are grounded in real life. But there is a danger that, as one brother put it, “we use the illustration to do the work and make the turn.” In other words the thing that brings the energy or twist or punch in the sermon is my story that I have made up or my clever incisive application. It’s a form of preaching that people love but the warning sign is when you get feedback like “That was so powerful. I would never have got that.” or “It was so clever what you did with that passage. You made it so relevant.” Another warning sign is it people are nodding off as you go through the text but then sit up for the second half of the sermon when it gets to ‘application time’. Let’s labour to preach God’s Word with the clarity and relevance that it innately has, but let’s make sure that it is the Word that is cutting to the heart and not my elaborate application bolted on the end. Let application be flowing throughout, straight from the text itself.
  7. Physical distance from the Bible. This is perhaps the easiest one for the observer to spot because you can literally measure it with a tape measure. I remember watching Dale Ralph Davis preach and his head never moved more the 30 centimetres from the Bible (which was incidentally his Hebrew Bible) as he passionately wrestled with and preached the Scriptures to us. I can remember another time with another preacher when the Bible was left on the pulpit as the preacher moved further and further away, and the further he moved physically, the further he moved in terms of content, until he was spouting complete nonsense. Certainly there’s nothing magical about the Bible and being close to it but if you want to ‘reason from the Scriptures’ (Acts 17:2) and if you want to show that your authority is the Word and you have nothing to say apart from this book, then it would make sense to stay glued to it.

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noses in the text

We often quote the old advice for sermon preparation (from Dick Lucas?): “Knees on the floor, nose in the text” (cf. 2 Tim. 2:7). As we did a taster day for the Utumishi wa Neno preaching course on Saturday we were really trying to say that this is not rocket science. The Bible is essentially simple, sacred, saving and sufficient (2 Tim. 3:14-17). We just need to hear it telling us how to preach. We just need to read it carefully, read it in context, read it and read it and read it again, humbly praying for light, and we will hear the living voice of the living God speaking and telling us wonderful, surprising things about Jesus.

After Fidel, Harrison, James and I had spent the day with a lovely group of brothers and sisters from a new church plant on the outskirts of Nairobi, the most encouraging feedback was: “You have taken us very close to the Word today.” That’s exactly the idea. That’s where the answers are.

For those who were there on Saturday and wanted the notes from the taster, you can download them here.

If you’d like iServe to visit your church and do a taster day, get in touch with the office here.

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Yesterday’s Church service was quite encouraging; not because the preacher had a Rhema word that spoke to my current prevailing situation or because we sung praise and worship until the heavens came down but because there was some faithful Bible teaching from the pulpit! In a country where we get less and less of the Bible being preached but more and more of preachers expressing their own agenda and using the Bible as a back-up, it’s only prudent that we marvel and rejoice when we see the Bible being taught faithfully!

The O.T text was Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel) and the N.T text was Matthew 19:1-30 (The Rich Young Ruler). The ongoing series for this month are on ‘Discipleship’ and on this particular Sunday, the topic was ‘Misconceptions of Discipleship.’ The first good thing is that the preacher stuck to the texts given, he didn’t jump about from one thing to another.

From the Genesis passage, there were two main points that were drawn out;

  • Humanity seeking Self-Praise- All men uniting to build a tower whose top reaches the heavens with one aim of making a name for themselves!

This is what man-made religion does; seeking glory and praise for man instead of giving praise and glory to God. It was helpful here for the preacher to draw out some relevant illustrations from the contemporary scene where we see so many false teachers whose aim is nothing but making a name for themselves! The application being we need to be weary of seeking to make a name for ourselves and that every effort we make in trying to ‘reach heaven’ by our own means apart from Jesus Christ are only but futile.

  • Humanity seeking Self-sufficiency & Security- Here, they built a city in order that they won’t be scattered/dispersed in the face of the earth.

The problem with their thinking is that it is exactly in contravention of the command that God had given to ‘go and fill the whole earth.’
They have forgotten that this is the duty of man and now want to have a city of their own where they can be secure from the dispersion. And oh, how often we seek our sufficiency and security from other things apart from God! It could be our finances, our wealth, knowledge, education, family or even church. We easily drift off the purposes God intended for us and form our own goals that we seek to achieve.

He was clear and precise and in 25 minutes or so, he had driven his point home.

Can we have more of this please?

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