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Archive for November, 2013

Long term readers of this blog (for whom professional counselling may be advisable) will know that I have been struggling to mention Jesus of late.

The reason for my dilemma was Jonah 1. What does one do if one’s exegesis does not naturally lead to Jesus or the gospel?

You may remember that I explained the tension in terms of

         The Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation    (text means what it meant in its original context to its original hearers)

vs

       The Christo-centric/Theological Method of Interpretation       (the text being viewed in the light of the whole Bible & especially Jesus)

I made the point that it isn’t always easy to cover both approaches in the same message. Indeed, it might make for a rather confusing double message.

Well I still haven’t resolved the issue definitively, but I am thankful to the Puritans and Jim Packer for at least helping me out with Jonah 1.

I heard J.I. Packer back in 1993 at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London. He did two masterly talks on preaching. In one of them he spoke of a simple template that the Puritans often used in examining Scripture. They said that each text should be searched for three different elements:

  • Law
  • Gospel
  • Example 

Every text had at least one of these, if not all three. As Packer explains:

Law: is anything that convicts us of sin, shows us that we are under God’s judgement, and points us towards our need of salvation. So under this head might come such things as God’s righteousness, His glory, His laws and commands, as well as our sinfulness.

Gospel: is anything that speaks of God’s saving provision. So here would come His grace, mercy, faithfulness, as well as the obvious gospel matters of  Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and so on.

Example: are stories and/or people that illustrate the above.

Jonah 1 is a wonderful passage as it contains all 3! So I was able to show this simple framework to my flock and then explain how the first message had been about Law shown through Jonah’s Example–the disobedient, runaway prophet being described as causing the same kind of evil as God had condemned Nineveh for!

But now, in the second message, we were going to see Gospel worked out despite Jonah’s Example, as God is able not only to discipline and turn-around his way-wood servant, but also cause the salvation of a ship load of pagan sailors in the process. Such a message speaks hope and encouragement to us in our fallenness, as we see God’s power to fulfill His purposes and His grace to transform people and situations.

Even I could get to Jesus from there!!

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Non-Christians just don’t get it.

Still preaching through Jonah, and by a happy coincidence we had Jon 2 with the Prophet’s prayer from inside the fish on the same Sunday as a believer’s baptism! There were quite a few non-Christians present, so I tried my best to be interesting as well as preach the gospel clearly.

I started off (and finished off) with a reference to the anniversary of the JFK assassination. My major point in the sermon was on how Jesus had used the sign of Jonah to speak about His own death and resurrection.

One non-Christian fell asleep.

The other telling event was the look of sheer incredulity on the face of a 20-something visitor when I spoke about the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. Her face said “wha-? You believe this stuff! Man I must have come to some kind of cult or something.”

I found the whole thing depressing. Not least because all the Christians thought it was a great service and a top-notch message! In other words, it made sense to them….but not to the unbelievers present.

I am starting to realize how disconnected the average non-Christian really is from church and faith. We don’t even have the common language to have an informed communication about the gospel.

In fact, we are quadrupally alienated.

1. Church culture is odd and strange to them.

2. Christian language does not communicate anything meaningful any more.

3. The Christian world-view is also radically different to their own modern/post-modern secular consumerist one.

4. Even our Christian ethics and value are no-longer broadly shared (consider the fury generated by traditional Christian views on hetrosexual marriage).

What did I learn this Sunday? The gap is huge. Perhaps it is no longer even possible to minister to non-Christians in the same sermon or service as believers.

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I’m Getting Really Worried Now.

Just to talk about a sermon that does not explicitly talk about Christ or the Cross or the Gospel just….well….just feels wrong. I’ve decided to give-up trying to be clever about all this, and simply think-out-loud and see where it leads me.

Firstly, there are other things that make a sermon distinctively ‘Christian’. If I preach on the Fatherhood of God, on our adoption as His Children, or on the difference between being a son of a God and a child of God, then these are distinctively Christian messages. If I focus on the Holy Spirit, His personhood, His deity, His ministry, these are also distinctively Christian. Likewise, the classic framework of Creation–Fall–Redemption–Consummation that gives the Bible its metanarrative, would make for a distinctively Christian message.

Now it might be objected that none of these can be preached without reference to Christ. For example, how are we adopted as God’s children? Through Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. However, one could also contend that no Christ-centered truth can be fully preached without reference to the Father or the Spirit. For instance, can we fully preach the Cross without reference to the Father’s role? Or the resurrection without reference to the Holy Spirit’s working?

So perhaps true Christian preaching is not so much Christo-centric, but Trinitarian?

This is to me and interesting thought. The old joke about preaching says “what shall I preach about?” To which the answer is “about God and about 20 minutes!”  Perhaps a more accurate version would be “about the Trinitarian God and about 20 minutes.”

[More to follow…]

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