Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Semester deadlines, both as a student and a teacher, along with this week's gospel meeting at our congregation have over-filled my plate at the moment. I guess blogging ought to go on the back burner for a couple of days.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The dark side of Pollyanna Christianity

Jollyblogger has some scathing but on-target analysis of Facing the Giants and Polyanna Christianity.

Update: Here's more from In the Clearing.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On illth

We know about health and wealth, but Christians need to start talking about "illth."

Daring to actually read it

I recently discovered this jewel from one of my favorite writers, the late Jaroslav Pelikan:
An appalling ignorance of the Bible seems to have become epidemic in our time. . . .

Yet like the beauty ever ancient, ever new of a Byzantine icon or of Gregorian chant, the stately cadences of the Book of Psalms and the haunting beauty of the Bible do run the constant danger of getting in their own way. The very familiarity of the Bible after all these centuries can dull its sharp edges and obscure its central function, which is not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable, including the comfortable who are sitting in the pews of their synagogue or church as they listen to its words. If it is true that every age manages to invent its own particular heresies, our own age seems especially vulnerable to an aetheticism . . . that finds the ultimate mystery in transcendence, "the mystery that awes and fascinates," in the beauty of art and music, which have the magical capacity to transport us into an otherworldy realm without at the same time calling us to account for our sins in the presence of the holy God and righteous Judge of all mankind.

To invoke a Kierkegaardesque figure of speech, the beauty of the language of the Bible can be like a set of dentist's instruments neatly laid out on a table and hanging on a wall, intriguing in their technological complexity and with their stainless steel highly polished---until they set to work on the job for which they were originally designed. Then all of a sudden my reaction changes from "How shiny and beautiful they are!" to "Get that damned thing out of my mouth!" Once I begin to read it anew, perhaps in the freshness of a new translation, it stops speaking in cliches and begins to address me directly. Many people who want nothing to do with organized religion claim to be able to read the Bible at home for themselves. But it is difficult to resist the suspicion that in fact many of them do not read it very much. For if they did, the "sticker shock" of what it actually says would lead them to find most of what it says even more strange than the world of synagogue or church.
The passage above comes from chapter 12 of Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It?

Update: David Wayne has more at Jollyblogger.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Effects of preaching

Adrian Warnock draws on the writings of a variety of preachers and writers in looking at "the effects of preaching and religious experience."

Our fear of answered prayer

Do you pray as much as you should? Almost without exception, the Christians I speak with don't believe they pray as much as they should. I admit to being one of those Christians. Why is this the case? Brian Colmery offers a few ideas:

We don’t pray as we should because, deep down, we know that if God answers
our prayers we’re going to have to change the way we live. If God really answers my prayer to bring a lot of new converts into the church, I’m going to have to deal with a lot of baby Christians in need of discipleship. If God really answers a prayer for a new job, then I have to show up on time to work. If God really answers my prayer for more mature Christian friends, then I’m going to have to deal with them challenging some of the things I do or say. If God really answers my prayer for humility, I’m going to have to go through some very challenging circumstances. If God really answers prayer, I’m going to be accountable for the things that I neglect to pray for, I’m going to find that the reason I don’t have what I want is that I don’t ask, and I’m going to find that I’d really rather watch television than deal with God showering down blessings if having those blessings mean I have increased responsibility.

Isn't that a sobering thought? We don't pray as we should not because we're afraid that God won't answer, but because we're afraid he will.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More on stealing sermons

Dan Edelen has entered the dialogue on pulpit plagiarism: "To discuss plagiarizing sermons, we must begin with the ultimate source of a sermon message: Does our preaching ultimately have its source in men or in God?"

The sin of being "The Man"

Does anyone take Mt. 23:10 seriously? Brad Hightower does, and shares his experiences in stepping outside the system of Christian leadership:
The reason Jesus prohibits titles and hierarchical structure in His church is because ambition within the social structure of religion will undermine our spirituality and deceive us. This subtle ambition to be something in the structure of religion will prevent us from entering the Kingdom life of poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy, and purity. Lately, I have found this principle to be true not just in theory but in practice.
Brad, by the way, is mighty candid in confessing his own sin of identifying too strongly with being "the man."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Therapy or theology?

At In the Clearing Bob considers "therapeutism as theology."

What is true patriotism?

At God's Politics, Bob Francis wonders about the United States and true patriotism:
It saddens me that in embracing our military, we as a nation have also seemed to embrace an uncritical militarism. In supporting our troops, we have failed to require the utmost justification in order to wage war. In believing in the promise of the spread of democracy, we have excused the means in order to justify the ends. The flag, which we pledged as kids stood for “liberty and justice for all,” has become a symbol that “might makes right” and that there are two standards in the world, one for us and one that we require of everyone else.

Most of all, it saddens me that some in the American church have uncritically elevated our identities as Americans over our callings as Christians. There are moments when we are called – by our Christian identities – to question the values of our American identity. While God most certainly loves our troops, we must guard against the haughtiness that assumes God blesses what we do as a nation, especially when it comes to actions that directly or indirectly lead to the deaths of others. Instead of believing God has written us a blank check, we should fall on our knees in humility, praying for God’s guidance and direction.
In his observations about the church in the United States, Mr. Francis is right. At the same time, I hope Mr. Francis, Jim Wallis, and all the folks at God's Politics don't take the equally haughty position that their politics are necessarily God's.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"More catlike than mechanical"

Chris Erdman offers insights on sacramental logic.

Stealing sermons

The topic of plagiarism and preaching has been getting some attention this week. On Wednesday, for example, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on preachers getting their sermons from the web. I found the article after reading this post by Justin Taylor who, along with Matt Perman, offered guidelines earlier this year for avoiding plagiarism in preaching and teaching.

Reflecting on a couple of these pieces, Tim Challies offers thoughtful reflections on plagiarism in the pulpit and shares an experience from his own congregation:
My pastor, immediately before he began to deliver his sermon, addressed the congregation, thanking them for providing him with the opportunity of being supported in the privilege of spending his weeks studying the Bible. As a pastor, he feels his most important responsibility (and his greatest privilege) is in studying God's Word, and then delivering that Word to the people. In an interview I conducted recently with Mark Dever, he said much the same: that a pastor's primarily responsibility is to serve his church by absorbing himself in the study of the Bible. Rarely can a church outgrow the pastor. The pastor must lead the way in studying the Word. This must be his primary occupation and must take precedence over other tasks, and even important tasks, such as pastoral counselling or providing leadership.

A pastor who plagiarizes sermons is clearly not fulfilling his primary responsibility. He is not investing time and effort in studying the Word, in understanding the Word, and in helping others understand what God has taught him.
Our primary responsibility--Amen.

The WSJ may well have been inspired by Michael Duduit, who wrote three posts on stealing in the pulpit in September.

Update: Terry Pruitt responds to the WSJ article and shares his perspective from growing up in a rural church.

Update 2: Wayne Shih has posted a roundup of blog articles on pulpit plagiarism.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Idolatry today

A couple of worthwhile essays on idolatry have been blog posted this week: a short one by John Schroeder and a long one by Bill Gnade.

Church as a collection of islands

Dan Edelen writes incisively about loneliness, isolation, and the church:
In your church and mine, sheep have wandered away from the fold. Jesus beseeched us to go get them. AloneI used to think that had something to do with blatant sin in the missing sheep's life, but now I understand how easy it is to drift away for no other reason than people simply forget that sheep was ever there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Resisting the urge to glurge

One of my favorite bloggers reminds readers to check facts before passing along information:

This weekend, someone I love very much forwarded an e-mail message she'd recieved. It was about the modesty of true heroes. It told of great valour during war-time as displayed in particular by two men who were famous to American baby-boomers as children's TV presenters.

The stories were touching, even inspirational.

They were also untrue.

Passing on unverified, untrue stories is enough of an issue when it's e-mail. It's a much more serious problem, however, when these kinds of stories find their way into the pulpit. It reminds me of the phrase "preacher's tale," a term used derisively to describe stories that are long on emotional punch but short on veracity. Preachers, let's make sure we check facts on a story before putting it forth with the proclamation of the Word.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Centering on the Word

Good illustrations help reinforce the message of a sermon. But what happens when the illustrations themselves become the center? According to a recent article at, twenty-first century preaching is in danger of allowing "micronarrative" to take the place of the biblical text:
. . . in this postmodern age, a seismic change is taking place, and the reverberations are shaking the pulpit. In postmodern preaching, the center of gravity has shifted away from the text to the preacher's own experience and that of the audience. In this kind of preaching, the traditional relationship between text and anecdote is reversed. Instead of using anecdotes to illustrate the central truth of the text, personal story is the central truth of the message and is corroborated by Scripture. The weight of proof in the sermon does not rest on proposition but on identifiable experience.
John Koessler's article warns against allowing mircronarrative to dominate and offers a historical perspective on illustrations in sermons.

Friday, November 10, 2006

New tool for NT study

If you're interested in studying the New Testament in its original language, but your Greek isn't strong, you might be interested in the ESV Reverse Interlinear New Testament. Tim Challies has a review.

More on prayer and preaching

At Expository Thoughts Paul Lamey is posting a series on prayer and preaching. Here's how the series begins:
At the heart of Christian ministry is the proclamation of the Word to the glory of the Triune God. This might take place in many forms and on many fronts. However, there is a danger lurking in the recesses of many Word-driven ministries. It appears that prayer has been relegated to a lesser role if any at all. Is it possible that there are many well-meaning churches who might offer polished expository sermons, tight musical productions, meaningful programs and yet have no place in their corporate worship whereby people are exhorted to and/or led in prayer? Such churches are often led by prayerless pastors.

You might also be interested in Part Two.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The two faces of hypocrisy

This week Kirk Wellum urges Christians to put to death hypocrisy, while Terry Mattingly points out its good side.

The lack of preaching on hell

At Cerluean Sanctum, Dan Edelen reminds readers that hell is real:
I don't know when the modern Church in the West abandoned talking about hell, but I do know that nothing's been right since. . . .

Where is our zeal for evangelizing the lost? Why are we so dead to the reality that people we know are cruising toward an eternity filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth?
I wish I knew. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Going the extra mile to earn it

Speaking of checklists, Doug McHone has written a good Romans 12:1 post at CoffeeSwirls:
Much of the Christian life is mistaken for a list of rules. Do this, don’t do that. Yes, there are expectations placed upon us by God, but these never have been able to find us acceptable in the eyes of God. And as we sense this, we will often go the extra mile in an attempt to be even more stringent than the law would command. In doing so, we undermine the power of the gospel as we work to attain that which is a gift freely offered, and received through a great price that we do not pay.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chucking the checklist

David Wayne has written a good little post about an alternative to the checklist mentality of discipleship.

Prayer and preaching

Phil McAlmond writes about the need for prayer in preaching:
When I teach preaching, very often I find that those whom I am training are surprised by how much I stress the need for and the vitalness of a strong and dependent prayer life, even more so than a strong Word life. . . .

What I mean is . . . that if I simply study the Word of God and then simply preach what I have studied, it [is] very possible that what I am preaching is my own message and not the very Word of God for this time, place and congregation. Yes, it may be scripturally accurate exegesis but will it in spirit and truth be what the Lord is saying now, at this moment, to His people?
I've noticed a correlation between the amount of time I spend in prayer and the quality (if I may use such a term) of my preaching. Why then, I wonder, do I sometimes find myself working with too little prayer? I appreciate Phil's reminder.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The trouble with stuff

Should we be preaching to Christians?

David Allis makes a strong (but long) case against preaching in Christian assemblies:
Recently, I studied the biblical passages about preaching, and was surprised at what I found - that the preaching that is referred to in the New Testament (NT) bears little resemblance to the practice of preaching in churches. I also looked through the shelves of a good Bible College library - there were about 1,000 books on how to preach a good sermon, yet I could find nothing that attempted to clearly justify why sermons should be preached.
HT: Anti-itch Meditation.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Still recovering

Eight days ago I had surgery to repair a hernia. The surgeon told me to set my own pace based on comfort, stamina, and common sense. The past few days stamina has been the limiting factor. Rather than blog today, I think I'll devote more time to rest and recovery.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Better than field surveys

"I am a preacher. I am not a communicator (only), a Bible teacher (simply), a life coach (merely), or any of those other euphemisms we use today because "preacher" does not test well in field surveys."

Looking at the backs of heads

Have you ever stopped to think about the oddness of pews?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

God's story, God's ways

Theocentric preaching shares a few penetrating thoughts from Ivy Beckwith on the the need for teaching the Bible not as "doctrinal tenets, moral absolutes, tips for better living, or stories of heroes to be emulated," but as "God's story and God's ways."

All the way to the cross

Buzz Trexler has been reflecting on the idea of marketing the church. And what, precisely, is the church brand?
Since the church represents Christ, then perhaps we ought to be marketing suffering, self-denial and sacrifice.
Maybe so.