I have chosen, in prayer (of course) during Lent and approaching Easter Sunday, to preach through different angles on the atonement, or what academia calls, models or theories. We mustn’t be confused by how the idea of “theories” is being used here. It is not a way to shoe-horn in a text into an abscure or concocted formula, but rather, a working method or structure for how to legitimately view a biblical text.Continue reading “Angles on the Atonement”
Abstract Rhetoric: Schism between Preaching & Counselling
First, interpreting the Bible so as to systematise it without hearing its relational wisdom tends to split Christian discourse into two – between the discourse of the pulpit and that of the counsellors.
Whilst there should be a distinction between the private specifics of counselling and the public language of preaching, the two should not be so different as to seem to belong to entirely different frameworks. I do not see such a sharp split in Scripture. Unfortunately, it is all too possible these days to attend church for decades and yet receive nothing from the pulpit that ‘strikes home’ with concrete relevance to the life issues being faced by the congregation.
One famous preacher-theologian, Gerhard Ebeling, speaks of ‘pious words which have no bearing on reality’. Elsewhere he writes, ‘we have to bring a certain measure of goodwill to the average sermon if we are not to be bored or furious, sarcastic or melancholy in our reactions’.
Recently, for example, I learned that a few centuries ago it was common knowledge in Baptist circles that genuine Christian experience in relation to guilt followed the following sequence, ‘conviction, compulsion, confession, fear, sorrow, faith’. If one felt guilty about something, one could ordinarily expect to go through a compulsion-confession-fear nexus. It was nothing to do with ‘illness’.
I also learned, however, that this kind of wisdom was largely lost through the influence of Western thinking such that, these days, not only do congregation members not know such things, but many pastors don’t know them either. If one has real issues to deal with, it seems – for example questions about homosexuality – one has to go to the counsellors in order to participate in an entirely different kind of discourse to that which normally characterises preaching, a discourse that may well give opposite advice.
In Memory of the 100th anniversary of the death of P. T. Forsyth this year (2021), I will outline his eleven points in the chapter entitled ‘The Ideal Ministry’ (as printed in The British Congregationalist, 18th October, 1906), in the book Revelation Old and New.Continue reading “The Ideal Ministry 6/11 (pt. 2)”
Sermon preached on 13th September 2020.
Luke 13:10-17 ‘Shameful Behaviour’
The last time I entered a synagogue was in Cairo, 2007. It was a beautiful experience and nothing much happened. In Luke’s gospel, this is the last time Jesus enters a synagogue too. Unlike my visit, which was quite sedate; With Jesus (as usual), it all kicks off again!
I want you to notice:
- Last week in Luke 13:11-5 18 we read people were killed by a collapsing tower. This week in following Luke, a poor woman was bent over for 18 years. She never asked for anything. Jesus called out to her.
- The word Sabbath is mentioned what seems like an excessive 5 times
- The synagogue ruler tries to publicly shame Jesus by appealing to the crowds.
- Jesus fights unholy fire with holy fire.
- The man, behaving like a beast, treats his ox and ass better that a human being.
This story is specially tied to the one before. This is the example, given by Luke, of a “fig tree” that is not bearing fruit (13:6-9). It is an example of the “That’s not right!” tragedies in 13:1-5.
Think about Sabbath: mentioned FIVE times!! Excessive! Why? To get our attention! To get our imaginative juices flowing.
In Judaism, numbers are extremely significant.
Most have meaning attached that are symbolic and expressive of deeper truth.
5 in Hebrew numerology is attached to:
- The Torah
- 2×5 = 10 Commandments
And in this way they become symbols of God’s goodness and grace.
There are 5 Great Mysteries:
“When the Day of Pentecost arrived…”
Pentecost….from the Gk meaning 50th. 50th what?
50th day after Passover.
In the OT it is called The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
A national holiday of rest, offering and celebration of the harvest (Lev. 23).
Now that’s interesting.
On the day of rest and offering and celebration:
On the one hand liberation and exodus from tyranny in Egypt.
On the other, the first fruits of the harvest in field and herd in the land.
The disciples were all together, 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection;
Just a few days after Jesus had ascended to the Father (Acts 1).
With final instructions to bear witness to Jesus, here, there and everywhere (Acts 1:8).
OK, Ok, but first they needed to replace Judas; and Mathias became an apostle.
What did Jesus mean when he said we would be clothed with power?
Anyway, until then….
500 posts, and yes, I’ll admit, they are a mixture of the good, the bad and the (very) ugly! But for this milestone I thought I’d post something short and sweet.
It is a comment made after preaching by the greatest Protestant theologian, Karl Barth. I like this because it mocks reductionist simpleton Christianity with a very clever retort to a man at the door who had just listened to his sermon. It is winsome and smart apologetics at its best:
See the short video (June 2019) on The Fuel Cast, filmed at Torre Abbey ruins, Torquay.
Who was P. T. Forsyth?
Peter Taylor Forsyth was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on this day in 1848 to a working-class family, and was educated there through his university years. Afterwards, he became a Congregationalist minister serving in five successive congregations in England at Shipley, London, Manchester, Leicester and Cambridge.
During his 1907 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale University* (these lectures became his classic Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), Forsyth shared the three ways in which he thought the Church suffers: i. from triviality. ii. from uncertainty. iii. from satisfaction (with itself, or more specifically, complacency).
He later went on in that address to emerging pastors and preachers to make this statement: “What we need is not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church.” This was his answer to the three ways the church suffers. But how was this to happen? Here’s what he said and he may well have been speaking yesterday:
The funny guys at Babyon Bee have hit on a Forsythian nerve of mine. The headline ‘Half Of Congregation Dies Of Starvation As Sermon Goes 15 Minutes Over Time‘ is brilliant satire, as are almost all of their other articles; a much welcome relief to the tedium of seriousness we Protestants can so easily find ourselves embroiled in; relieved only by the annual church Barn Dance (this comment is also satire….or is it)?
My first thought upon reading the title was remembering two theological giants famous for, among many other things, their preaching. The first, John Stott, metaphorically places the nail underneath the fast approaching hammer:
“Basically it is not the length of a sermon which makes the congregation impatient for it to stop, but the tedium of a sermon in which even the preacher himself appears to be taking very little interest.”
“I remember one minister for education urging that ‘Britain was the only nation on earth where cleverness was despised’. In other European countries, for example France and Germany, cleverness is sought after and prized. The glorification of educational backwardness, then, is part of a localised British decadence or hedonism that is inconsistent with biblical Christianity.
On this point the stress on ‘right-pitching’ from the pulpit in our churches is potentially confused with the rebellious suppression of the truth which Paul speaks about in Romans 1:18, or with ‘keeping the congregation as babies’ in line with sinful parent-child models of leadership. Right pitching always seeks to ‘move on’ those in the congregation to the next level of understanding. If ‘pitching’ always remains low, then people are not prepared for the complexities of the trials they face in life. When trouble comes, the ‘cartoon’ Christianity they have been fed proves to be hopelessly inadequate and they often fall away. The excuse is often given by ministers that ‘people will not understand’, but this is often nothing more than a patronising assumption that people are stupid.
Some, of course, want to remain ‘as babes’ because they do not wish to be alerted to subtle distortions in their own relational patterns. Right pitching, however, combines intelligibility with the introduction of the new, the more advanced, the ‘not completely understood already’. As the famous philosopher Wittgenstein said, in order for learning and growth to occur, more than mere ‘information’ is required. There has to be a gradual increase in the sophistication of the very categories by which people process ‘new information’.
In my second year at Junior school (age 8-9), we did maths using the ‘A2’ textbook. I remember looking at the ‘A3’ text book and thinking ‘flippin’ ‘eck, that looks difficult!’ Yet, in no way was it ‘unwise’ for me to progress from A2 level to A3 level. In no sense did my teacher think, ‘hmm, yes – we’d better keep the class at A2 level because that’s what they can understand’.
In other words, advancement into the ‘at-present-unintelligible’ was right and normal. And that’s for children, let alone adults. Just as we are born, and require education, so when we are born again, we require re-education. Just as it would be wrong to prohibit education beyond 8-9 year-old level, so it is wrong to prohibit biblical re-education beyond ‘spiritual baby’ level. It may be culturally fashionable, but it panders to parent-child patterns of leadership control that are inappropriate for those progressing towards spiritual adulthood.”
Dr Robert Knowles