Archive for October, 2013

(This is a follow-on from my previous post “What I Learned About Preaching THIS Sunday – Oct 27th”)

OK, when I put it like that, it seems terrible!…Doesn’t it?

To me this raises two important and related issues:

I. What Makes a Sermon a Christian Sermon?

II. What Does One Do If One’s Exegesis Doesn’t Get One to Jesus

Let me deal with these, over several posts,  one at a time.

I. What Makes a Christian Sermon a Christian Sermon?

There is a line of thinking that says that Jesus must be the focus and subject of every sermon.

I have heard this put in various ways…

“Whatever the text is, make a bee-line from it to the Cross” (after CH Spurgeon)

“If you preach a sermon from the Old Testament that a Jewish person would preach, then you have preached it wrong.”

“Every sermon should reveal the gospel.”

I am sympathetic to these approaches. If a preacher is proclaiming a text and  there is no mention of Jesus or the Cross or the Gospel, one may well wonder if that is indeed a Christian message. But… I am also uneasy.

The underlying principle here seems to be that every true Christian sermon will take a text and then show how it fits in to the wider, broader, Christio-centric meaning of Scripture as a whole. Now that is surely a good thing, a right thing, a necessary thing. But,

  • EVERY message, on
  • EVERY text

1. Is this preaching or theology?

This seems to be more a practice of biblical or even systematic theology. What about actual exegesis? What about what the text actually says? What about what it actually meant in its original context?

I accept that no Biblical text can be viewed in its original context alone. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, then every text began originally in the heart of God, where Christ has dwelt since before eternity. Therefore from God’s perspective, every text’s original context was in some way Christ.

2. Do we take context seriously enough?

However, God also chose to unveil His full revelation slowly and in stages. He chose to reveal Himself in and through history–real people and real events in specific historical and cultural contexts. Therefore, if preaching a text without placing it in its wider gospel/Christ context is to not fully preach the text, then to preach its Christ dimension without also preaching its specific historical and cultural context is to not fully preach the text as well.

To take my dilemma as an example, Jonah chapter 1 meant something specific to its original audience, not just in the light of Christ. To fully understand and expound the text, I must do both. I must show how it fits into the Christ context, but also how it fits into it’s specific ‘there and then’ context too.

3. From Christian sermon to Christian series?

The thing is, I’m not convinced you can always do that in one sermon. If you have 50 minutes, maybe. But 20 or 25? And what about the idea of each sermon having one specific proposition or thesis? (This is the idea that one of the things that makes a sermon a sermon, as opposed to a talk or a lecture, is that it has a very focused message and purpose. It is like a nail or an arrow, a singular message designed to penetrate a specific target.) What does one do if one finds one dominant theme or message from the Christo-centric context, and a different one from its specific historical/cultural context?

In other words, one sermon may not be enough to legitimately expound the different meanings of a text, and not every one of those meanings may explicitly be Jesus. Hence, a sermon that is not explicitly about Jesus or the Cross.

Perhaps we need to say that a sermon series may or may not be fully Christian, given its overall emphasis of different truths. But that within any given series, individual messages may not talk about the Cross or the Gospel.

[…to be continued.]


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A heavy cold and cough threatened disaster. My voice nearly gave out during the prayers. So I had to improvise a little. It was the first in a new series on the Book of Jonah, and “stand-up & preach” had to become “sit-down & talk”. Here’s what I think I learned….

1. Sometimes a Change is As Good As a Change!

What do I mean? My church normally gets a change by me being away and a different preacher takes the pulpit. A different voice, a different style, it’s refreshing for them. They appreciate the quest speaker, and they appreciate having me back too. Well it seems that a radical change of presentation by the same preacher can work just as well.

I sat down on a stool, rather than standing behind the pulpit.

I spoke much more conversationally, rather than a preaching/declaration style

I shared something of my thought processes of how I had explored the text, not just the conclusions/points arising from that thinking.

All in all, it made for a very different sermon experience. People found it a refreshing change.

I would not do it every week. But it has made me wonder whether I need to be a bit more deliberate and varied in choosing my preaching style. I have a preferred style. But it is not my only one.  Selecting a different option at least once a month might be a good idea.

2. I Didn’t Preach All My Material

I had four points. The first two seemed to go really well. I had already preached for 25 min. So maybe more is less…and less is more. I stopped at two points. Had I gone on, I may have finished my material, but lessened my impact. As John Maxwell would say, “it’s just a thought…”

3. I Didn’t Mention Jesus.

Wha-? Really? Yes, really. And as someone who believes in a (gentle) Christocentric approach to the interpretation of Scripture, that bothers me. But, Jonah chapter 1 didn’t seem to lead naturally to Jesus. Should I force a link when I honestly can’t see one? That would have bothered me too. My exegesis may have been weak, but is that any excuse for isagesis? Ummm…another post for another day I think.

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I thought I would start a new weekly series.  A few minutes reflection upon my own preaching experience week by week, with one simple question: “What have I learned about preaching, by preaching, this particular Sunday?”

So here is my first venture…

This Sunday I broke from my current series and did a one-off on a subject that has been occupying my mind a lot of late: how do we cope with life’s storms? I took the four classic storm stories of the Bible–Jonah, Jesus calming the storm, Jesus walking on water, and Paul’s Shipwreck–and offered a simple reflection on each.  It was amazingly well received for what was a rather simple and straightforward message. Here is what I think I learned.

1. Make God BIG and CENTRAL

Although it was a message about coping with life’s storms, I focused a lot on God. Which if you think about it, is so obvious it shouldn’t need saying. But it seems that when the chips are down, people don’t want “four easy steps to survive your storm”. What they want is to be reminded of how great God is, and particularly of such things as His sovereign power, His great compassion, the unstoppable nature of His purposes, and His faithfulness to His people.

2. Be Honest About the Christian Life

Within the context of a BIG God, and a faithful and merciful one too, it’s ok to be honest about the Christian life. If we make God big and central, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have all the answers and that not everything seems to make sense.

3. Use Pictures.

A new use for the much maligned powerpoint. For each point/storm, I had a picture of the relevant Biblical story. One was a famous Turner painting, one was a modern collage, one was a Sunday School picture I think! The point is, just having the picture up there on the screen seemed to help people. Partly it gave them a simple visual to reflect on whilst I was preaching. Partly, it made it obvious when I moved on to another point/storm! Simple visuals seem to help some, without distracting others. It was evangelist Denis Pethers who said that every sermon should be expressible in one simple picture, as well as one short sentence.

That’s all for this week. Let’s see what next week brings.

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