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Posts Tagged ‘hell’


I‘ve been preaching for over 20 years. I haven’t arrived. I still read books about preaching so I can, hopefully, become a better preacher. This year in particular I wanted to focus on my preaching. Earlier this year I read Tim Keller’s book on preaching. This more recent vacation I decided to read Zack Eswine’s Preaching to a Post-Everything World.

I really like his book, The Imperfect Pastor. From that book I picked up his idea of the “gospel waltz” and have used it in my preaching. Zack teaches homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary.  He also addressed our presbytery a few years ago, with material in The Imperfect Pastor. It was very helpful material. I had high hopes for this book.

I was not disappointed. An important part of what a book on preaching should do is help you look at your preaching and see what you can do differently so you can communicate more effectively. I didn’t want an echo chamber that merely encouraged what I was already doing.

He addresses preaching truth in a post-Christian context where the Bible isn’t the authority that it once was. There are competing worldviews that are often better known (and lived) by the people to whom we speak. We can know longer assume biblical knowledge and a biblical worldview. This adds to the challenge.

He begins by encouraging us to preach what is real. We want to help people connect what the Bible says to the reality they live in today. We identify that reality in the text.

“By the Context of Reality, I mean the mutual life environment that contemporary believers and unbelievers share in common with those to or about whom the biblical text was written that teaches us about the nature of reality.

By showing them this mutual context, they see that the text matters and can inform them about their similar struggles. The Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum, not is it read or preached in one.

At times we avoid aspects of reality. The Scriptures can uncover them. They can force us to talk about the things we’d rather not talk about.

He wants us to preach what is redemptive. We want to explore connection between creation, fall and redemption. He discusses Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus and expands it:

“The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers or nonbelievers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him or for those who resist God to properly regard him and to be reconciled to him.

We experience a fallen condition, a finite condition, a fragile condition (fra-gee-lay), and a faltering condition. Eswine explores these so that we are better able to connect the text to people’s need for Christ in these areas. In this context, he warns of moralism.

He deviates from the repetition by telling us to preach the stories. We need to help them understand the story. He encourages us to pay attention to parrot words (repeated words and phrases), These give us a clue as to the big idea of a passage. Any divine comments or assessments can also give us a hint as to the big idea of the story.

One of the most helpful ideas for me was inductive preaching. It was like one of those light bulb moments- “why hadn’t I seen that before?” Often the point of a passage is unclear until the end of the passage. We tend to frontload the big idea instead of exploring the text in the sermon to discover the big idea. This way people are engaged, curious, and the sermon follows the track of the story. I’ve begun to utilize an inductive approach more often. Let’s see if my congregation stones me.

He does discuss a deductive approach, but I’ve been utilizing one for decades. So …. not as useful for me. But that is just me.

He advises us to remember where we’ve been. We need to keep our presuppositions and personal history in mind. I’m not preaching to myself (that’s preparation) but people who don’t necessarily share my presuppositions and history. We can address how others look at the topic or text so they know others dissent, and therefore why we hold to this. We also share some of our history that connects with the text so they can see how truth works in a life. He calls this redemptive vulnerability.

“Redemptive vulnerability invites preachers to a general transparency with everyone, a specific vulnerability with a few.”

He also address how to face the inevitable criticism that comes. As well as the inevitable misunderstanding since the truth will generally offend the irreligious and religious, the progressive and conservative at times.

He moves into the second part about biblical models to explore. We are to follow God’s lead. You are not your favorite preacher. We have to find our own voice. We can all fall into this trap, especially if we listen to one person too much. I’ve been there, hearing another pastor’s intonation and going to myself “hold on a minute.” God wants to speak to them thru me, not me channeling my best Sinclair Ferguson impersonation (for an example). He speaks of the main voices as prophet, priest and sage (there is a footnote explaining this last one).

The Bible uses different kinds of language, all of what the people understood. We can use different kinds of language, as long as they are what the people understand. We can be scientific, poetic doctrinal etc. We can also preach in different cultural contexts. He groups them as churched, unchurched, and once-church or in-between.

“… the prophet primarily addresses the relational faithfulness of what we might to as a churched audience. The priest’s teaching maintains doctrinal clarity and integrity in audiences that are churched or in-between. The wise likewise address any audience. But I suggest that their fear-of-the-Lord approach to reality forms a communication approach that is accessible to nonchurched hearers.”

I think this is why Tim Keller is generally successful in NYC, but a lot of churched people (particularly pastors in the Bible Belt) get frustrated. He’s not speaking to them directly. He’s speaking to people with little to no biblical background. Therefore he doesn’t meet their shibboleths.

The next three chapters address those prophetic, priestly and sage (wisdom) paradigms that Eswine mentioned earlier. He then mentions that we should step outside and explore creation so we can speak about it. For instance, both Edwards and Spurgeon loved being outdoors, taking in God’s glory in creation and used illustrations from nature frequently.

The third part is about engaging the cultures of a post-everything world. He begins with accents: the biblical text’s, yours and your audience’s accents. He interacts with war passages in our age of terror as well. He helps us learn to speak about hell, addressing idols and devilish spin. He ends with crying out for the Holy Spirit.

I found this a helpful book as an experienced preaching pastor. There were some new ideas explored, old ones (to me) expanded and I felt encouraged. This is a book well worth reading for pastors experienced and inexperienced.

 

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We’ve had a number of events recently that have shaken many Americans to the core. The reality of evil was pressed home in painful fashion. Sadly, most Americans aren’t prepared to face the reality of evil. If people are considered basically good, then we essentially think such things should not happen here where we are educated and prosperous. Those things only happen there, wherever there may be. But not to us, not on our shores.

There are a number of books that have tried to tackle this problem. Some good. Some bland. And some quite horrible, like the sadly popular book by Rabbi Kushner about the God who wants to help but really can’t. He also assumes there are good people.

“To come to grips with the problem of evil and suffering, you must do more than hear heart-wrenching stories about suffering people. You must hear God’s truth to help you interpret those stories.”

Randy Alcorn has released The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering for this reason. It is a shorter version (120 pages) of his book If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering. It makes a readable, meaningful book that you can hand out to people who are suffering, or struggling with the suffering of others. He covers lots of ground in succinct fashion, including illustrations and examples to help people understand his point. It is not dry and academic. He writes of his own suffering and how he had to make sense of it. He believes any faith that doesn’t prepare you for suffering is not a biblical faith, and our churches must do a better job teaching biblical theology to prepare people for suffering.

“The pain of suffering points to something deeply and unacceptably flawed about this world we inhabit.”

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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming things at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated for the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

Well, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

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There has been lots of sex talk by pastors lately, and a lot of push back from other pastors and lay people. This whole thing has produced lots of heat, and not nearly as much light. Some of it simply reeks of sensationalism, like Ed Young’s bed on a roof stunt. Some of it has been pastors trying to pastor their people.

The push back is that pastors shouldn’t talk about sex, or write about sex. And I’ve seen quite a few people say Mark Driscoll is obsessed with sex. I don’t remember any push back to Lauren Winners’ book about sex, Real Sex. Any any number of Christian therapists’ books about sex. Perhaps it is that people just expect pastors to say “don’t do it”. They are uncomfortable with pastors, who speak to mixed audiences, talking about it positively beyond “it’s okay if you are married”. But there is no reason that pastors need to surrender this topic to counselors. But, let’s slow down.

In my advanced years, I’m less reactionary. So I’ve been pondering this. I want to explore a few things. First, why pastors need to talk about sex. Second, how should pastors talk about sex. And lastly, how pastors should help their people think thru sex. I’m anticipating three posts on this. I’m sure to offend someone. That is not my intention. I’m going to try to bring my experience as a pastor who does some counseling (yes, I have an MA in Counseling) to bear on this.

Why Pastors Need to Talk About Sex

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A few years ago I came across The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor.  It intrigued me.  John works in establishing pregnancy centers worldwide.  He lives in Boston as well.  So for years I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book.  Something always seemed to be more important at the time.  Until recently.  I picked up a copy about 2 months ago and decided to read it since I was beginning a series on the atonement for Lent.

I’m sorry I waited, but the book was timely in light of the whole Rob Bell thing.  The Christian should treat grace like a scientist treats gravity: not merely accepting its reality, but want to understand its totality.  As recipients of grace, we explore grace that our hearts might be more captured by it and more grateful for it.  To adapt an old saying, unexamined grace isn’t worth having.  This is because to understand grace is to understand Christianity.  How can you be a Christian without wanting to understand it?

“The grace of God that forgives us changes us. … The grace of God wounds our pride but then increases our confidence.  When God forgives, he exposes the most shameful things only to then cleanse them all from our conscience.”

Let’s stop for a moment.  Some personal context to lay my cards on the table.  I grew up Catholic.  I have a Ph.D. in guilt: true and false.  I am a recovering Pharisee who couldn’t keep his own high standards, much less God’s.  There are MANY things I don’t want you to know about me.  There are things only a privileged (and I use that term loosely) know about me.

But I have no interest in cheap grace, or cheap forgiveness.  I’m not trying to ignore God’s standards.  Neither is Ensor following the fashion of the day.  He structures the book on the topic of the Great Work.  When we own up to our guilt, we desire forgiveness and grace.  But if we never own up to guilt, then grace seems pretty much irrelevant.  In all of the chapters, Ensor examines a variety of biblical texts and addresses numerous misconceptions.  In the chapter on desiring grace, for instance, he tackles self-esteem and the reality of the conscience.

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Cathleen Falsani has released her complete, unedited interview with Barak Obama on his personal faith from back in 2004 (all quotes are from that article).  Nothing he says should preclude him from being President, in any way, shape or form.  But much of what he says should preclude him from being a member of any evangelical church I know.  I’ll summarize it, but my goal is not to skewer him or correct him (ok, once or twice).

He denies the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.

So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived. …

I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.

That’s just not part of my religious makeup.

Faith for him is more about living values than trusting a person (Jesus) and believing certain truths about him.  These are values that many religions have in common, rather than reflecting the character of God.

I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who’s now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

He’s pretty vague on Jesus beyond the fact that Jesus really existed.

Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher.

And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.

The guys who keep him straight probably need to be straightened out.

Well, my pastor [Jeremiah Wright] is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for.

I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.

For a constitutional law professor he doesn’t understand the Constitution.  1st, the Non-establishment Clause means no Church of America, or state church.  2nd, the Free Exercise of Religion which guarantees both Obama and I can freely exercise our faith here in America.

Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I’m a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root ion this country.

Fox News and talk radio confuse well-meaning Americans.  They apparently invented the pro-life movement.

Like the right to choose.

I haven’t been challenged in those direct ways. And to that extent, I give the public a lot of credit. I’m always stuck by how much common sense the American people have. They get confused sometimes, watch FoxNews or listen to talk radio. That’s dangerous sometimes.

He doesn’t seem to get grace.

What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.

Sin is …

Being out of alignment with my values.

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I read Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith’s sixth chapter, New, last night.  I nearly choked.  Rob Bell seems to have painted himself into a corner.  Any issues that popped up before are miniscule compared to what I read last night.  Any thoughts I might have that maybe I was being tough on Rob, well….. vanished.

It starts out okay.  He was weary of counseling a guy who got total depravity real well, but didn’t get the sanctifying grace part at all.  You know… worm theology- a corruption of Calvinism.

But Rob, like Robert Schuller, seems very concerned about what people think about themselves.  So he makes an over-correction to ‘worm theology’.

“Have you ever heard a Christian say, ‘I’m just a sinner’?  I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners.  Now this doesn’t mean we don’t sin; that’s obvious.”

A Christian, by definition, is not ‘just a sinner’ because of what Rob talks about next- we have been regenerated and given a new identity.  But, Paul still called himself a sinner, the foremost sinner, in 1 Timothy 1:15.  He did it in a way that he expected all of us to affirm that we are the biggest sinners we know.  BUT, that Jesus came to save sinners like us.  James 4 address Christians as sinners too.  So, while we needn’t beat ourselves up for our sin, since it accomplishes nothing, we shouldn’t avoid the fact we are sinners- not just that we sin.

“Beating others up about who they are and what they are doing is going in the wrong direction.  It is working against the purposes of God.  God is not interested in shaming people; God wants people to see who they really are.”

Now Rob starts to go down the wrong road.  He thinks that ministry is primarily telling people who they are now, not telling them to stop being who they were.  I have a hard time with this sentiment of his since much of the New Testament is filled with rebuke and admonishment.  Thankfully, the power to change comes to us from the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We have power to live differently, and a new identity as God’s adopted children.  These go together, always together.  But sometimes we need to be rebuked so we’ll repent.  God certainly shamed Israel to try and produce repentance (read those prophets like Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah- that’s some serious shaming going on).

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