Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unashamed Workman>>Preach on Alienation In Order to Reconcile

image Last Saturday, Colin Adams posted a quote on his blog, “Unashamed Workman.”  It comes from Chad Brand, professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He said it in reaction to those who would say that to reach our world, preachers must quit talking about sin, alienation and (especially) hell. 

Here is what Dr. Brand states:

“So, we preach on alienation, but not in order to alienate. We preach on alienation in order to reconcile. So, when you preach on sin, do it with tears in your eyes and not a flash of anger. (Don’t preach against anger angrily.) When you preach on sin and alienation, do it recognizing your own sinfulness and alienation. Admit that you, too, have been where they are, and that you are not the expert come here to lecture them on getting their lives right. You are simply the one who got out of the mire before they did, so that you could throw them a rope of rescue. But when you preach on sin, make it clear that this is a crucial moment. With both anger and lust, Jesus said, “Do something now! This is not the time to mull it over. Get out now, or you may be in hell by morning.”

You can find Colin’s blog here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is “The Big Idea” Insufficient?


For years, preachers and teachers of preachers (W.A. Criswell, Haddon Robinson, Bryan Chappel among others) have stressed the importance of what Chappel calls  “The Big Idea.”  What one thing legitimately arises out of this text that needs to be shared with the congregation. It is an idea that needs to be summarized in one sentence. Haddon Robinson says that “sermons should have one major idea (having one subject and one complement), even if the big idea breaks down into 3 subpoints.” 

Criswell stated that having this “big idea” (he didn’t call it that) is the most fundamental step in preaching.  He works to keep that “big idea” in mind throughout the entire sermon. 

Bruce Walkte in an article in Biblioteca Sacra (more about this series tomorrow) challenges this.  He states that the idea of a “Big Idea” “though good, is inadequate.”

The Bible is not interested in impersonal "ideas" and ethical principles. Moreover, the Bible is not simply about divine matters. The Bible is more than concepts about God or ethical principles or Israel's witness to God. The Bible is God's address to His people and He encounters them through Spirit-filled communicators of His Word. Since the inspired author's "ideas" and "principles" are true, they contain a moral imperative that demands a response. In other words an "idea" in the Bible is a message to be believed and acted on, not merely a notion and/or a guide to proper behavior. A message, then, is not an idea but the expected response to the idea.

image One of the struggles in my many years of preaching has been to keep that in mind.  There is a lot in the Bible “to know.”  And I think that there is, today, a dearth of biblical literacy.   And so too often my preaching has been “to inform.”

One of the recurring themes of my discussions with my friend Bruce Nelson (this month is the first anniversary of his tragic death).  Is there a difference between intellectual belief and saving belief? (The presumed answer is “yes.”)  But then WHAT IS THAT DIFFERENCE?

This goes beyond moralizing.  As one person has put it (and for the life of me, I can’t remember who it was) “Our knowledge already far out-strips our obedience.”

Waltke’s point is well taken (although I don’t think that Criswell, Robinson or Chappel would exclude what Waltke is talking about).   Every sermon must drive us to action.  If the message is true, then it demands something of  us.  And our job is to make that clear to our hearers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: The Hole in Our Gospel

imageIt seems that one of the prerequisites for heading a large Christian humanitarian and relief organization is to write a book detailing ones journey towards a deeper understanding of the issues of world pain and deprivation and the role that Christians need to play in alleviating that.  The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns is no different.

Stearns details his journey from being an executive with Parker Brother Games and President/CEO of Lenox, Inc (known for their fine tableware and luxury-goods) to the head of World Vision, U.S.  The move of Stearns from the world of business to the world of humanitarian relief, was not so much a change in direction as to a return to his roots.  As a young believer, he and his wife Renee were committed to living out the gospel in a radical way.  He was “determined not to become one of those hypocrites who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk.”

But God had much for Stearns to experience before he was ready to head this organization with world-wide influence.

Stearns reviews the huge needs within our world and why the church has been so ineffective in fulfilling the entirety of the Gospel:  thus the “hole” of the title.

Stearns writes: 
“I believe that we have reduced the gospel from a dynamic and beautiful symphony of God’s love for and in the world to a bare and strident monotone. We have taken this amazing good news from God, originally presented in high definition and Dolby stereo, and reduced it to a grainy, black-and white, silent movie. In doing so, we have also stripped it of much of its power to change not only the human heart, but the world.”

While it is a bit of a slow read, Stearns’ emphasis is undeniably Christian and powerful.  I believe it is worth your time.  More information about the book can be found here.  You can read the first 35 pages of the book here.   Last, you can see videos about the book, including an interview with Richard Stearns by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How Do You File Sermon Illustrations?

Often in blogs like this, we stress fidelity to the biblical text, and how to get to the essence of a text.  But in reality, that is only 50% (at most) of the work of the sermon. 

One huge element is the “illumination and application” of the text to our lives today.  That is often (although not always done through sermon illustrations). 

I am aware of those who eschew all sermon books and resources, and there are pretty good reasons for doing so.  They are often hackneyed, trite and over-used. 

The best illustrations are, of course, home-made.  As you prepare a sermon, it is excellent if there is an current illustration from your life or church life (appropriately told) that can help the text come alive to the hearer.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to capture the best of your experiences, or reading, in some format so that it can be recaptured when you need it.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t happen just in accordance with our preaching plan.

Through the years I have tried several methods: 

  • 3x5 cards with one illustration per card and then kept in a file drawer alphabetized by topic.
  • Clippings thrown in topically arranged file folders.
  • Taking illustrations of similar topics and photocopying them together onto a 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper & then placing it in those topically arranged file folders.  (If I told you I have five 4 and 5-drawer file cabinets full of folders with articles & illustrations in my garage, I suspect you would not be surprised).
  • Notebooks of sermon ills, photocopied & inserted into notebook, arranged  by topic.
  • Microsoft Access, using the Kerux template created by David Holwick.  It is indeed an incredible resource. But currently, the data file alone is right at 1 GB of space. It is so unwieldy as to be less and less useful.
  • Creating my own e-book of Sermon Illustrations within Libronix. (Libronix also allows you to put in the text of your sermons & search them both topically as well as for specific words/phrases.

In the July-August issue of Preaching journal, Jere Phillips (the professor of Practical Theology at Mid-American Baptist Seminary in Memphis TN) gives a fairly simple and useful method.  All it takes is Microsoft Excel, which is a part of Office (or really you could use ANY spreadsheet application). 

You create a series of columns (I have simply put into my copy below the example they give in the article.)



Here is how Phillips describes the recording process:

When you find a good illustration, determine which topic it describes. Type the topic into a cell in the first column of an Excel worksheet. Excel allows selected sets of cells to be alphabetized. Being able to sort illustrations by topics in alphabetical order puts all your material into easily accessible order. 

Into the cell of the second column, type the name of the speaker. Record the source of the illustration with bibliographical information in the third cell. The fourth column allows you to note the date you found the illustration so you can cull old illustrations from your database.

The illustration itself goes in the fifth column. It can be typed or copied and pasted from another location, Web site, e-mail or document. (Hint: Paste copied data into the active cell of the formula bar to avoid having information placed in multiple cells.) The illustration can be as large as you need without unduly distorting the appearance of the worksheet. Simply format the cell to “wrap text.” If the height of the row becomes unwieldy, format the row height to “13.”

Hyperlinks provide another option for larger illustrations, scans of magazine articles, sections of books, maps or pictures. Simply save the scan, jpeg picture or other material into a Word document or other file. Right-click on the active cell into which you want to create the hyperlink and click on “hyperlink” in the drop-down menu. This simple box allows you to hyperlink the cell to the document saved elsewhere on your computer. You also can hyperlink directly to a Web page that has a story, statistic, quotation or other illustration. Of course, you risk the good chance that the provider may change the Web site, and you’ll lose your content.

Put the date and place you use the illustration into the sixth cell. You may want to use the illustration again—but not at the same church. People may forget your sermons, but they will remember good illustrations. Finally, if you want to associate this illustration with a particular biblical text, type the textual reference into the seventh column.

As you add rows of illustrations, you can find illustrations by alphabetized topic or by searching for specific words within an illustration. Using the edit function of Excel, click on “find” and simply type the key word for which you are hunting.

You can view the entire illustration by clicking on the active cell. The formula bar will open a box with the whole text available for viewing, editing or copying and pasting into a Word document containing your sermon outline.

Phillips gives much additional helpful information on sermon illustrations.  Check it out here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Peter Mead>>Stott’s Five Paradoxes of Preaching

imageIn last Fridays blog post, Peter Mead gives us John Stott’s listing of the five paradoxes of preaching.  They are worthy of contemplation:
  1. Authentic Christian preaching is both biblical and contemporary
  2. Authentic Christian preaching is both authoritative and tentative
  3. Authentic Christian preaching is both prophetic and pastoral
  4. Authentic Christian preaching is both gifted and studied
  5. Authentic Christian preaching is both thoughtful and passionate

Peter says more about Stott’s quote, but I’ll direct you there to read it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Last Sunday, in our quest to find a church with whom to worship regularly, we re-visited the church led by a minister who I consider a casual friend and for whom image I have great respect.  He is one of those hip, shirt-tail out, hair usually a mess, always-got-a-smile, guitar playing kind of preachers.  And God has used him to build a solid congregation.

But I noticed something in his preaching that prompted this post. 

He hardly ever looked at the congregation. In fact, he stood at the BACK of the podium at a music stand and read his sermon from there.  (The last time I worshipped, he stood at the very front of the podium). 

He reads his sermon from a manuscript.  Now, USING a manuscript isn’t bad.  I did it for decades in my preaching up until the last six months of my time at Tigard Christian Church.    But the bad part was, he read it.  And he read it using words that are not a normal part of his speaking vocabulary.  It was a good sermon, content wise. But I found myself distracted and bored because he was reading it to me.  I though, “Hey man, just e-mail me the transcript & let me read it at home on my own time & own pace.” 

(Digression:  I remember the former preacher at the Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY, Wayne Smith, saying that he received a note about a particular sermon that he had preached:

“There were just three things wrong with your sermon:

  1. You read it
  2. You read it badly
  3. It wasn’t worth reading.”

But back to my point):

When using a manuscript, the effective communicator will always know the manuscript so well that he basically just glances at it as if it were an outline.  (The only exception to that was in sermons that I knew were going to be highly controversial and I wanted to make sure that I stated each sentence exactly as I had prepared it). 

Eye contact.  It is a huge part both of preaching as well as general public speaking. Public speaking Guru, Lisa Miller, says that we need to be looking at the audience 90—95% of the time that we are preaching/speaking.

Miller, on her website “The Public Speaker,” notes the three top eye-contact mistakes

  • Looking at the projected slides.  Do NOT use your slides as your notes.  When you lose eye contact with people because you are facing the slides, you lose a huge percentage of your audience members who never come back, or don’t come back quickly after you are facing them again. If you MUST point out something on a slide, animate your slide by putting an arrow at it, or a spinning circle around it that will come up when you get to that part of your sermon. I particularly did this when I put up maps of Bible lands to point out a city or a region.  My sons made fun of me for using a laser pointer (“too geeky”) and so I began to put flashing arrows or spinning circles as animations in my slides.
  • Not giving everyone in your audience/congregation your eye contact.   It is fun to look at those who are smiling at you and who are nodding their head.  But in most audiences there are those who just are what Miller calls “curmudgeons”.  There may be people who look like they are angry with you (and maybe they are!)  But you will not win them over by avoiding eye contact with them.  Look at everyone in your audience.  Miller states that about 2/3 of the way back and in the center of the audience is the “sweet spot” for eye contact.  If you are focusing on people in that range, 90-95% of the people will think you have looked at them.  Do also, however, spend time making eye contact with those in the very front, the very back and the extreme sides.
  • Looking away when word planning.  There are simply times when we must stop to think of our next point or how to phrase our next sentence. Often we will look up, look down, look to the side. 

“Some psychologists think we do this because concentrating on a person’s face requires complex processing and by looking away we free up some processing space.”

Miller states that this makes us look unprepared and disrespectful. 

But she suggests two hints:

  • Always be solidly prepared.  This lessens the number of times we have to pause to think of what to say.
  • Look BETWEEN people, instead of in their eyes in those verbal pauses. 

image So, while I do believe that manuscript preaching is a valid and sometimes essential tool to have in our toolbox, it must NEVER come at the expense of a high level of eye contact with our listeners. 

So what do you think?  Have you found tricks of the trade or suggestions that are helpful?  Share them with us.

(You can find Miller’s post here.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are Yo Comments Whack?

There are several podcasts that I appreciate.  A quick sample of my iTunes favorite podcasts include: Speaking of Faith, with Christa Tippett, the Christianity Today podcast, and two vodcasts: Larry King Live (the link is half-way down the page) and the sermons by Matt Boswell [from the church my son serves as worship pastor: Duvall Church. (hit the media tab).]

But I recently have been introduced one of the best podcasts I have seen in a long time if not ever!image 



It is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.  (When my wife first saw “Quick & Dirty Tips” she thought I was looking at porn…honestly!)  I admit that I can be a little A-R about grammar (OK, a LOT A-R about grammar), but I am really loving this podcast.

OK, but except for improving our grammar in preaching (which would be a VERY GOOD THING for many of us), why do I mention it here?  This is a preaching blog!

Because this is a preaching BLOG.  And one of the important elements of blogs are reader comments.  I don’t get a lot of comments here.   image   But I do get some. image (As an aside, the lack of comments is what led me to add the counter at the bottom of the page:  is ANYBODY really reading this stuff?  Thankfully, I found out, you are!  But it’s still OK to comment!)

So as my public service for the day, I thought I would link to Mignon Fogarty’s blog post on writing comments on blogs

I’ll list her suggestions here, but Mignon amplifies on each one.  You really should read her comments about each “rule”:

Rule #1 -- Determine Your Motivation

Rule #2 -- Provide Context

Rule #3 -- Be Respectful

Rule #4 -- Make a Point

Rule #5 -- Know What You're Talking About

Rule #6 -- Make One Point per Comment

Rule #7 -- Keep it Short

Rule #8 – Link Carefully

Rule #9 – Proofread

Read the entire post here

Mignon also links to a terrific YouTube video of two girls rapping about the negative comments they get on their YouTube videos.  It’s is great! (Take a look):

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bryan Chapell 3: The Imperatives Are Based on the Indicatives!

image The last observation that I want to make from the Bryan Chapell lecture “Communicating the Gospel In and through Preaching” is summed up in the statement in the title of this blog post: “The Imperatives Are Based on the Indicatives!”

What in the world does that mean!?!  There is a theme that runs through the Bible and that theme is the grace of God. Many church people think of the Old Testament was a time of Law and the New Testament is a time of Grace.  That is not totally accurate.  While the Law was a prominent part of the Old Testament the statement that “the Old Testament was a time of Law” is misleading.

If we are going to see the gospel in all of the scriptures, as is Chapell’s point, we must understand that the Old Testament narratives can ONLY be accurately understood in the context of grace. 

Beginning in Egypt (actually before that, but that is where Chapell begins) God did not say, “If you obey Me, I will let you out of Egypt.”  That never happened.  God delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt.  THEN at Mt. Sinai God, declared: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; (Exodus 20:1-2)

and what immediately followed:

  • “You shall have no other gods before me.
  • “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…..
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  • “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:3-8)

you know the rest…

It was not, “If you are good enough, I will move and save you.”  It was always, “Because of what I have already done for you, I expect you to obey me.” 

“What you do is based on who you are and the order is not reversible.” is the way that Chapell puts it.

Listen (with your eyes) to what Chapell says:  (there are my notes, not a verbatim transcript)

That message doesn’t wait until the NT. It is NOT obey me and then I will love you. It is I love you; you are my child; be who you are, live according to who you are. That is not just a NT message.

God has provided food for the hungry, strength for the weary and forgiveness for the defiled. He wasn’t waiting until the NT to tell us that. He was waiting for THE FULFILMENT of that in Christ, but it was what he had been telling us all along. Many passages are reflecting the gracious character of God so that when Christ comes, I can understand what this fulfillment is about.

This principle can change everything in your life: the imperative is based on the indicative; what you are to do is based on who you are & the order is not reversible.

Too often we preachers say, “You’d better straighten up so that God will love you.” In that case, the indicative was based on the imperative.

But that’s not the Gospel. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5)

Be what you are: you are already loved; you are already my child; be what you are!

That is the Gospel that permeates ALL of scripture; so that when Christ comes, we understand grace, because it has been echoing all along until its fulfillment in Christ.

That is a message that somehow I didn’t get in the church growing up. I am coming to understand it more and more as an adult. But I am coming to understand it slowly.  Old habits die hard.

But that is what we are to preach.  We are to bring GOOD News.  And we do that by finding the Gospel (the “good news”) in ALL of scripture.

Again, one last time, I cannot encourage you enough to listen to Chapell’s message here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quick Observation of a Milestone and a Thank You

imageAs I posted the blog entry for this evening, “All of Scripture Points to Christ, Pt 2”, I glanced down and saw that we had passed what is to me a gratifying milestone.  Sometime in the past day we  passed the 30,000 visits mark for my blog.  Actually, it’s been more than that, because I didn’t add the counter until Dec. 11, 2007 and I had begun my blog the previous May 24.

But since I wasn’t counting before that, I don’t worry about it.  For the big mega-blogs (Like Top News and Opinion on the Huffington Post, TechCrunch, or Boing, Boing) they get 30,000 visits in an hour.  But I am not them, and this blog is not meant to be attractive to everyone (as I keep telling Loretta… ‘You find it boring because I am not writing it for you!”)

But one of the several reasons I keep doing this is because you check it out, occasionally you respond (I would like more of that) and you tell others who you think would find this blog useful.  So, thank you. It is OUR milestone together!!

All of Scripture Points to Christ, Pt 2

Yesterday I began reflecting on a lecture that Bryan Chapell (pictured, left) gave this past June at the Encounter09 conference.  Chappell is president and professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. His Bible teaching can be heard daily via the Internet on Living Christ 360.

But yesterday I talked about his emphasis is that one of our key preaching responsibilities is to look at each text and see what it teaches us about Christ.

In review, he held that all of scripture points to Christ’s person/work in one of four ways

  • PREDICTING the coming & work of Christ
  • PREPARING FOR the coming & work of Christ
  • REFLECTING the coming & work of Christ
  • A RESULT OF the coming & work of Christ

But what about some of those “hard” passages?  How do the judges point to Christ…even the poor ones like Samson?  We may find it easy to see Jesus in the throne & reign of David, but what about in the Bathsheba and Uriah story?  Or his falling away in old age?  What about Solomon’s compromise?

Chapell points out that some passages point to Christ in that they are meant to be dead ends: God has filled the Old Testament with caveats: “That is not the answer. Don’t go there.”

Oriental thinking is different from Western thinking, and the Bible is an oriental book.  It is often speaking around the truth so that you can get to an understanding of the truth.

God sent Judges:  perhaps they were the answer that God’s people needed.  How does the judges plan work? Not well. While some of the judges were better than others, all of them fell short.  After Samson’s judgeship, there is the condemning declaration “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).  First dead-end.  A judge is not what we need. 

OK, well if we only had a king!  How does the kingship work? It was not enough.  We glorify David, but even he falls woefully short. 

OK, well if we only had a king with just enough wisdom then everything would be ok, right?  How well did Solomon turn out for Israel?  Another dead end. 

There is dead end, after dead end in the Old Testament.  None of the answers offered are enough. 

But with Jesus,

  • We’re going to have a better lawgiver
  • We’re going to have to have a better judge
  • We’re going to have to have a better king.
  • We’re going to have an ultimate prophet

The Bible takes great care to tar every person in the Bible except one: the hero, God in Christ.  In the Old Testament, some of the main players have good characteristics, some have bad characteristics, most are a confusing mix so that we can identify the perfect one when he comes.

So, what about hard cases like Samson, or David’s adultery, or Solomon’s polygamy and attendant idolatry. 

There is only one who is sufficient for all our needs:  Jesus Christ himself. 

As they say, “That’ll preach.”

You can find the audio of this lecture here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All of Scripture Points to Christ?

image If you read widely in preaching blogs, this lecture is not new news to you. But it was to me and I found it very helpful.

In June, Bryan Chappell spoke at John Piper’s Advance09 conference. I want to spend a couple of days reflecting on some things in Chappell’s address.

His assigned topic was to help preachers learn to find Christ in all of the scriptures. (His title was: “Communicating the Gospel In and through Preaching"O).  We may think that there are large sections of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament that really have nothing to do with Christ unless you moralize and allegorize it to death. But such is not the case. At least Jesus didn’t think so.

Luke records that on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25)

We could also add the words of Jesus to the Jewish leaders in John 5:39: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”

Chappell notes that all (yes, all) points to Christ’s person/work in one of four ways

  • PREDICTING the coming & work of Christ
  • PREPARING FOR the coming & work of Christ
  • REFLECTING the coming & work of Christ
  • A RESULT OF the coming & work of Christ

Try it out.  Look at any pericope in scripture and see if it doesn’t play out.  You may have to work at bit (I did NOT say “stretch it a bit”), but they are there.  Jesus said so. 

I will say more tomorrow about those accounts that seem to be “dead ends.”

I believe there is great merit in this. Chappell notes that “If Christ ever takes second place in our preaching you can be sure that something else will come in & takes it’s [His] place.”

He second, notes that if we fail to see Christ in all of scripture we will miss the point and begin to moralize…what people “should do.” (More about that on a later day).

I would recommend you carve out an hour to listen to the full lecture. Find it here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection


If you are unfamiliar with it, I was again tonight overwhelmed by Thomas Chalmers sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”. If you have Libronix, I have  produced a little .pbb of it.  (Find it here --at the bottom of the page).  If not, you can find it here.

(Although to be true to the sermon…I correctly was not overwhelmed by the sermon, but by the love of God.)

Whenever I preach these things (as I did in my last month at TCC and in the four week series I did at Somerset Christian Church last month) people seem amazed:  “We have never heard these things!”  Sad, but true, even in my own preaching.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Plagiarizing Sermons Is Not New!


In my Personal Book Builder creation project, I am working on putting vol. 1 of Alexander Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger into Libronix format. As I was working  through the early issues, I smiled as I read the following excerpt that Campbell put in from the Religious Herald.  There is much-ado (appropriately) about plagiarizing sermons, since so many sermons are available on the internet.  Some websites even center their business model on selling sermons to preachers “for research”.  But these words from 1830 show that the practice is not new and was widespread enough even then to be criticized.

"IF we oppose reading sermons, and especially when they are borrowed or bought, shall we countenance the mere rehearsal of them--by worse than plagiarists! It must be a painful thing to an intelligent man to hear young men, without improvement in any department of learning or knowledge--unacquainted with the truths of Divine Revelation, uninformed on all subjects, repeat sermons full of rich thought, expressed in appropriate and eloquent language. It looks like the efforts of a giant put forth by an infant. It is as if we should see young scions in nurseries, borne down by a weight of mature fruit. The practice is now carried to a shameful extent--and it ought to be exposed; the practice of committing to memory short sermons composed by others, and delivering them, with the profession, a profession almost invariably implied in the first prayer, that they are extempore. We are not advocates for extemporaneous preaching; but we do object most solemnly against professing to do one thing, and doing another; and against doing what in its tendency leads to such pernicious consequences. We have ourselves heard eloquent sermons from young men who cannot spell correctly in two syllables; and who understand nothing, even of the structure of a common English sentence. Nay, worse; we have heard Greek and Chaldaic quoted by a preacher who did not know a noun from a verb in his own nor any language. We guard our young men against this growing evil. Some early opportunity shall be selected for giving our readers a review of some of these fine discourses. According to this plan the country may be supplied with spiritual guides, "manufactured," not, indeed, in what some have been pleased to call a "mill" but in a much more summary way."   (Campbell, A. Millennial Harbinger 1830 [p. 94])

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Essential is Hebrew Language Study?


I am currently reading a series of articles from 2008 Biblioteca Sacra by Bruce Waltke.  The title of the series is “Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of  Proverbs.”  It is a fascinating series that is useful both in study of Proverbs, but also in sermon preparation.  I probably will comment on several things in the series.

But Waltke makes a statement that makes me squirm a bit. 

Understanding grammar is essential if one is to be literate.  Knowledge of phonology (meaningful words) morphology (meaningful terms) and syntax (meaningful combination of terms) is the means for all discernment.  Without knowing grammar,the expositor cannot know the message.

I’m OK so far. Then he states:

Knowledge of Hebrew grammar is essential for interpreting the Book of Proverbs accurately, for its sages play with sound and sense in that language.

How essential is a knowledge of Hebrew for “accurately” understanding the Old Testament? 

The poet Hayim Nahman Bialik stated that reading the Bible in any language other than the original Hebrew is like kissing a beautiful woman with a veil between your face and hers.

If I REALLY want to lay the guilt on myself, I remember the words of Richard Wurmbrand: “When people of different nationalities love each other, they usually learn one another’s language. Why do the children of God, especially those who are cultured, not learn the original languages of the Bible?” (If Prison Walls Could Speak, p. 95)

Dr. Daniel Botkin echoed that sentiment when he said:

If I were married to a foreign woman, I would soon grow tired of communicating with her through a third party, regardless of how well the third party could translate. I would be very thankful for the translator for as long as he was needed, but I think I would eventually become frustrated and maybe even a little jealous. I wish she could understand my words as they come from me, I would think. When she expresses delight at the words the translator speaks to her, it almost seams like she loves the translator instead of me. I would get my wife enrolled in an English class as soon as possible.

I am one who deeply appreciates the importance of original languages and have made a conscious effort over the past 7-8 years to really brush up on my Greek. 

But my Greek wasn’t awful before I started brushing up.  I felt like I had a solid background with the Greek language I took with Dr. Donn Leach & Dr. Dennis Glenn at Manhattan Christian College and Dr. Beuford Bryant at Emmanuel School of Religion.  A lot more “stuck” than I realized at the time.  There was still brushing up to do, but it was easier because I had a solid background.

My Hebrew was a different story.  I had no Hebrew in my undergraduate studies and only one year in seminary.  I want to be totally respectful in what I say next, because I have total awe and respect for my Hebrew teacher, Dr. Toyoza Nakarai.  Dr. Nakarai’s personal story, his personal holiness and his professional expertise in Hebrew are awe inspiring.

But the Hebrew he taught me never took.  I have sometimes snidely said, “I took Hebrew in east Tennessee from an 80 year old Japanese man! No wonder I didn’t get it!”  But the problem was not really Dr. Nakarai. It was me.  I never could really even get a solid handle on even the alphabet, not to mention grammar!  I passed the class (I think I got a C), but that was only by the grace of God and Dr. Nakarai.

It is a lack that has nagged me for the past twenty-five plus years.  I have several Hebrew resources in my Libronix library, but have been hesitant to jump in since I still don’t feel fluent in Greek.

So, what do you think?  In your sermon preparation, have you found Hebrew to be an essential part of your tool-chest?  Or are the commentaries and Hebrew grammar tools in English sufficient?  If you have found tools that have been especially helpful to you in either learning or improving your Hebrew skills, what have they been?  Anyone willing to share?  I think there are a lot of us in the same boat!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Alexander Campbell’s Recommended Qualifications for Preaching

Alexander CampbellI am working on putting a number of early Stone-Campbell resources into Libronix format so they can be incorporated into Logos software.  I have produced a couple dozen, so far. (See

In the process I was working on Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell and came across an interesting list for preachers.   Campbell had kept copious notes on reading that he did.  In one place he had notes from Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," and Dr. Beattie's "Ethics."

Richardson notes:

“Among these, we have much upon the principles of Law and Civil Government, Right, Obligation, Justice, etc., also upon Reasoning and Evidence, and style of composition, historical, rhetorical, etc. Under the latter head he particular to record the following qualifications, "as necessary to attain excellence in the composing pronouncing of sermons:"

      "1. The preacher must be a man of piety, and one who has the instruction and salvation of mankind sincerely at heart.

      "2. A man of modest and simple manners, and in his public performances and general behavior must conduct himself so as to make his people sensible that he has their temporal and eternal welfare more at heart than anything else.

      "3. He must be well instructed in morality and religion, and in the original tongues in which the Scriptures are written, for without them he can hardly be qualified to explain Scripture or to teach religion and morality.

      "4. He must be such a proficient in his own language, as to be able to express every doctrine and precept with the utmost simplicity, and without anything in his diction either finical on the one hand or vulgar on the other.

      "5. A sermon should be composed with regularity and unity of design, so that all its parts may have a mutual and natural connection, and it should not consist of many heads, neither should it be very long. [Note: Campbell would preach for an hour and a half when at his home church and often up to three hours when a visiting preacher at another church.  Obviously not “very long” is a relative concept.]

      "6. A sermon ought to be pronounced with gravity, modesty and meekness, and so as to be distinctly heard by all the audience.

      "Let the preacher, therefore, accustom himself to articulate slowly and deliver the words with a distinct voice, and without artificial attitudes or motions or any other affectation."

      These rules are here inserted, because he seems to have been impressed by their justness, and to have modeled himself by them in his future course as a preacher.

Robert Richardson. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume I. (1868).  p. 136-7.


Preachers today would do well if we lived up to such standards. 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Even Popular Culture Sees It


So where would you expect to find the following paragraphs:

Everybody is guilty of something. This is a truism of the West. It goes all the way back to Cain and original sin and has been a central topic of discourse among members of society from the construction of the laws of ancient Rome, through the Inquisition, into the Jim Crow system of the South (and North), stopping to wallow in the culture of the Soviet Union, and going right to the rotted heart of the race laws of Nazi Germany.

In 2,000 years of Western civilization we have been guilty of heresy, perversion, theft, and murder; of fighting and refusing to fight; of loving, lusting after, and sometimes just looking. We have been guilty of speaking out and keeping silent, of walking, marching, and running away. We have been found culpable for following orders and for refusing to follow them, for adultery, child endangerment, sexual harassment, and elder abuse. We have also been guilty of our religion, national origin, skin color, sexual preference, gender, and, now and then, of the blood in our veins.

Guilt is the mainstay of who we are and how we are organized, and is, seemingly, our undeniable destiny, along with Death and Taxes.

Our relationship with guilt is as old as the DNA that defines our species. But the nature of culpability changes with technology and technique. These changes affect the way we see the world and the way we seek to understand our predicament.

A book of theology?  A depressing preachers harangue?  A street preacher’s ranting?

Would you guess these are the first lines of this week’s cover article in Newsweek (here).

It goes in the file and will eventually end up in a sermon on guilt or sin or forgiveness.  Where it will show up, I’m not sure. But that it will, I am.

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