Friday, April 24, 2009
I'm in the Classics Library reading Augustine's sermons - gathering material for a chapter entitled 'Preaching on Death & Resurrection.'
Had to catch myself and enjoy the moment as I realised that I was simultaneously experiencing two things-
Music playing through headphones was Muse - 'Thoughts of a Dying Atheist':
'It scares the hell out of me,
The end is all I can see,
I know the moment is near,
And there is nothing we can do,
Look through our faithless eye
Are you afraid to die?'
As my music played this track, I was reading the following words preached by Augustine in about the year 415AD:
'You see the dead bones, the burnt flesh - will this body rise again you ask?
Because if you believe in this, your soul will be raised to life. Indeed, believe, and your soul is raised now. "Do not be surprised at this - an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and live." (Jn.5:24)' Sermon.127.15.
Experiencing both the hopelessness and hope in a simultaneous sensory moment. It's quite a thing, but is it not essential if you are to be an effective preacher and evangelist? Let's all share a moment of schizophrenia and enter into the atheism of hopeless secularity. It is a dark place in need of a light.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A tutor lent me a copy of Thielicke's book 'Encounter with Spurgeon', yesterday.
It is a remarkable work - Thielicke was one of the great German Lutheran theologians in the post-war years. Men of such a high academic standing do not usually publish on, or even encounter, what may be termed 'popular preaching.'
Yet here we have Thielicke publishing a selection of Spurgeon's works, and adding his own introduction. This introduction is gold-dust. It contains numerous splendid insights about preaching that are very much needed today.
The book, originally published in the 1960s, now sells for around 15 pounds. However you can read the entire introductory essay on Googlebooks, for free - and most of the rest of the work.
In all seriousness - this short essay ought to be read by every preacher. Check it out for free at:
Encounter with Spurgeon - Thielicke
Comparing preachers in training with flowers, Thielicke mourned:
'We keep killing flowers in the bud, because we are no longer capable of letting things grow. We can no longer let things grow because we have forgotten how to pray 'Thy Kingdom come.' In its place we have put our 'manager's faith,' our belief that everything can be produced and organised... We say 'our God reigns,' - and still we run around madly trying to keep the ecclesiastical machine going... The result of this may be some kind of success, but it is not the fruit of the Spirit... We are pragmatists, awed by the art of influencing people.' p.12, 13.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
If you live in the UK, then you can watch the recently broadcast BBC programme 'Planet Narnia.'
I have looked into the theory presented and find it very compelling - as the author says, 'It is a real literary discovery.'
If you are at all interested in Narnia - then you should watch this programme. In addition, the final ten minutes or so is an excellent response to modern scientific atheism. Check it out and jump into a 'meaning drenched universe!'
By the way - when you see 'E Staircase' in the Cambridge college - that is my staircase from whence I pen this blog....
Monday, April 20, 2009
I have just finished reading the second volume of 'The Evangelical Faith' by Thielicke. He has many thoughtful insights. Since a lot of us were preaching or listening to preaching yesterday, here is a comment from Thielicke:
'Preaching, then, is an exercise in conservation which is indispensable for the theologian.
Its correctives keep him close to the heart of the matter and protect him against the ferment of destruction and disintegration which will inevitably be present in reflection when it is not corrected by immediacy.
Being direct, preaching is the most appropriate form of Christological statement.'
Friday, April 17, 2009
For those of us who work in the university environment, it is easy to put too high a premium on cleverness and intelligence - those gifts of God that often resist the Gift of God.
Kierkegaard made a relevant and amusing sarcastic riposte to Hegel's famous model of intellectual enquiry 'thesis, antithesis and synthesis.' It is worth a moment:
"I am so stupid that I cannot understand philosophy; the antithesis of this is that philosophy is so clever that it cannot comprehend my stupidity. These antitheses are mediated in a higher unity; in our common stupidity..." Kierkegaard, Prefaces.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
There are still some who think that all you need to be an efficient evangelism machine (!) is a simple Gospel outline and relentless energy. Increasing numbers of people are however searching for more profound ways to connect the Gospel with people; ways that can be heard and understood. We have many people to thank for such positive developments - Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, DA Carson - to name but a few.
But perhaps we ought to be especially thankful for the man who started the ball rolling, and spoke up for the need to communicate the full riches of the Gospel. There were not many taking the stand he took in the 1960s. Here is a comment from Francis Schaeffer's work, 'He is there and He is not Silent':
"At times I get tired of being asked why I don’t just preach the 'simple gospel'. You have to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is no longer simple. The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless. Man’s aspirations to the reality of personality are in line with what was originally there and what has always intrinsically been.
It is the Christian who has the answer at this point — a titanic answer! So why have we as Christians gone on saying the great truths in ways that nobody understands? Why do we keep talking to ourselves, if men are lost and we say we love them? Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man."
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I have been writing some teaching material on the Abrahamic Covenant recently. As I read over the texts and review various sermons on the issues, one small point has arisen.
Many preachers criticise Abraham for taking Lot with him (Gen.12:4). This is said to be evidence that Abraham did not fully trust God to care for him, and so he disobeyed the command of Gen. 12:1. This assessment of Abraham is made fairly frequently, since Gen. 12 is referred to regularly by those who are influenced by the Biblical Theology books from G. Goldsworthy etc.
I am just wondering - ought we to be more nuanced in our assessment? The pastoral value of making such a negative comment is to suggest to listeners - 'You should do better than Abraham.' However one might just as easily exhort listeners - 'You should imitate Abraham.'
The command to leave his 'kindred' and 'father's house' (ESV) could not be an absolute command to go on his own - that would have necessitated him to leave his wife. Though she was barren, the alternative to taking her; that Abraham could be expected to later take a Gentile wife, would fly in the face of God's choice of him as Israel's father.
As soon as we grant that the command was not an absolute call to an individual trek - we are left unsure how general or specific his leaving was to be.
The ESV study Bible notes (really excellent but not inerrant - I have discovered a few places one may wish to respectfully demur!) specifically comment on the issue and say that we ought to assume a positive view of Lot accompanying Abraham. At least I think that is what the notes imply - or they could be hedging their bets a bit: 'Abram may have been responsible for Lot...Since by this stage Lot is wealthy, readers may assume that he desires to support Abram's mission.' (ESV notes on 12:4) Are they specifically saying that Lot thought it was a good idea, but remaining silent on Abram's attitude?
Add to the mix that this is the crucial turning point of salvation history, and despite future unbelief mingled with belief, Abraham is held up as the man of faith (Rom. 4); All things considered, I suspect that we ought to hold back on criticising our father at this specific point. I think that those who went with Abraham were evidence not of his unbelief, but God's graciousness in catching his family up in the blessings of the Gospel which was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8).
Friday, April 03, 2009
One of the aims of my academic work, currently, is to encourage evangelical preachers to remember that they must avoid being boring. We need to preserve our accuracy and rigour in handling the Bible, but dullness will undermine the value of said enterprise.
In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins makes the same point in the secular sphere:
'When a good speech fails, it is not because its words are mendacious - many of the best speeches have been stuffed with lies - but because it is boring.'
Read the full article at:
All Spin and Flam