Archive for the ‘Study’ Category

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)


       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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I probably learned more about preaching after Bible College, than I did while I was at College.

My College time taught me a lot about how to interpret the Bible, but not necessarily about how to communicate it. Shortly after I’d graduated, however, two things happened that changed my preaching forever;

#1 I heard Dr Jim Packer give some masterly talks on preaching at the 1987 Evangelical Ministry Assembly.

#2 I read John Stott’s “I Believe in Preaching”.

I will talk about Dr Packer at a later date. For now, I want to reflect briefly on John Stott’s excellent book.

Here are three things that I learnt from it. They have stood me in good stead down the years.

1. Preachers Must Have a Theological Understanding of What They Are Really Doing?

In other words, you must have a theology of preaching.

When I was a young Christian, a sermon seemed to equal three points from a Bible passage, preferably all beginning with the same letter. Such a practice probably owed more to the academic class room than to a robust theological understanding of preaching.

Preaching is not delivering a lecture; nor is it giving “a talk”. Many people who criticize preaching rightly point out some of the modern trends that make our task difficult. But they often seem to be confusing preaching with something else, such as giving an educational lecture. There seems little theological understanding of preaching in some of their comments. This worries me.

In “I Believe in Preaching”, Stott lays out some Biblical and theological foundations for understanding preaching and the preaching ministry. They are a useful starting point for developing one’s own theology of this vital ministry.

So what is your theology of preaching? (Do you have one??)


2. The Essence of a Good Sermon is Being Able to Summarize Your Message in a Single Sentence.

For me, this drives at the heart of the difference between teaching and preaching.

In teaching one might be explaining a doctrine, or showing various different truths to be found in a passage. The emphasis is on imparting information, and helping people understand and (hopefully) apply it. But preaching is much more singular. In preaching one has a message. Or one has a single truth and a particular application of that truth. And the emphasis in preaching is on response, on getting people to repent and believe, to change by the power of God. As such, Stott said, one should be able to summarize this message in a single, sharp sentence.

I guess you could say, every sermon should have its own mission statement!

As I looked back on my preaching, I had to acknowledge Stott was right. All my best sermons had that quality about them–there was a focus, a unity of purpose, a single and obvious key point. My poorer sermons were much more muddled and meandering.

So here’s a question to ask (and perhaps a habit to develop too):

Could I summarize the message of my sermon in a 140 character tweet?


3. A Preacher Must Be Disciplined and Intentional in Their Study Habits.

I think I read Stott’s chapter on “Study” more times than any chapter in any other book. It seared into my mind and soul.

Stott outlines the need both for dedicated study of the Word of God, alongside related reading such as theology, and also equally dedicated study of the world around us. This is in order “to bring the Word to the World”, to use a favourite phrase of his.

He outlines several practical guidelines for such study, and I have endeavored to learn and apply his principles. One of the simplest, most helpful, and also most challenging is this; the effective preacher should aim to study,

* an hour a day

*an afternoon a week

*a day a month

*a week a year

As Stott points out, this adds up to some 400 hours a year!

So if you haven’t read “I Believe in Preaching” (or “Between Two Worlds” in the USA) may I recommend it as a positive investment in your preaching ministry.

Until next time, let me close with a final question.

In terms of study, have you found any particular patterns that work? Or any particular habits that have proved useful? If so, why not share them with us?

Please leave your comments below.

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