Archive for the ‘preaching’ Category

Speaking God’s Words

October 22, 2008

I’ve read a number of books on preaching over the years and have just finished reading another- Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Words. It is possibly one of the most helpful and challenging of all the books that I have read on the subject. It is useful on a number of levels. First of all it seeks to present a biblical theology of preaching which is very helpful. Secondly, he deals not only with preaching but what he describes as a ‘ministries of the word’ which I found stimulating and challenging. Thirdly, he deal with preaching within the context of the work of ministry which is a very helpful section for thinking through the place of God’s word in church ministry. Fourthly, he gives quite a bit of space to the issue of application which I again found helpful and challenging.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a theology of preaching or anyone engaged in ministry. Sadly it i no longer in print from IVP and second hand copies are ridiculously expensive. But there is now a reprint available at a reasonable price on the Internet. Very helpful.

It’s Sunday but Monday’s Coming

April 7, 2008

It’s Monday but what do you remember of Sunday’s sermon(s)? How quickly we can forget what we hear on Sunday and suddenly the word of God is no longer to our profit. In 1734 Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon on Hebrews 2:1 on the danger of hearing the word of God preached and then neglecting what we have heard. Although the whole sermon is worth reading his applicatory comments are helpful and worth considering on a Monday! Below I’ve given some heads in relation to his applications.

  1. Hearers should listen diligently and seek instruction.
  2. Seek to put what you have heard into practice at the earliest opportunity.
  3. Review what you have heard as the days pass.
  4. Meditate in particular upon those things that have made the greatest impression upon you.
  5. Pray over what you have heard.
  6. Discuss what you have heard with others.
  7. Do not fill Sunday with diversions that will detract from God’s word.

We are all swift to speak of a poor preacher but there are many of us who are poor hearers and we need to give more careful attention to ourselves.

Preaching the Christmas Story

December 19, 2007

Around this time last year I attended a couple of talks by David Jackman of the Proclamation Trust. One of the sessions was called, ‘Preaching the Christmas Story.’ David as usual gave lots of insights into preaching at Christmas. Perhaps the most striking part of the session was the number of texts outside the gospels that he suggested to offer new routes into a familiar story. Who would have thought on preaching a Christmas message from Hebrews 9:26! You can listen to his talk at the link below and scrolling down the page. It is a refreshing talk for the preacher seeking inspiration at Christmas.

Preaching the Headlines

October 30, 2007

The current inquiry into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has taken my mind back to that remarkable time. I remember it chiefly for the fact that my wife went into hospital to give birth to our second daughter the day Diana died. I also recall going to preach the Sunday after that in a church I had never been to before- nor since. My overwhelming impression was that I was expected to have as the theme of my sermon the death of Diana. That was not my theme. I also recall preaching the day after the Omagh bombing in which 29 people died and adjusting my sermon accordingly. It seemed I couldn’t do otherwise. Incidents like this raise the question of how far our sermons should reflect the headlines.

CH Spurgeon pointed out the dangers of constantly  looking to our newspaper for our sermons rather than looking to the Word of God. The danger being of course that it is the world rather than the Word that sets our agenda. John Stott also warns of this danger whilst making the case for what he calls ‘double listening’- that is listening to both the word and the world so that we might bring the word to bear upon the world in a way that is culturally relevant. Recently I heard David Jackman suggest that we should try and have a sermon illustration from something that has happened in the last week just to remind our hearers that we live in the same world. However Phillips Brooks cautions against this same practice. He argues that recent events are so raw that our congregation may end up thinking about the event rather than the Scripture we are seeking to illustrate.

The question of preaching from the headlines is a pressing one today with the constant pressure to be ‘relevant’  in our headlines. My answer to the quest for relevance is that  the Word of God is relevant, we don’t have to make it relevant. The problem I have noted with many relevant sermons is that whilst they are hot on the contemporary they have little of the Word of God in them. Indeed they often descend into moralising pap like a column in a woman’s magazine. What I, and others, have discovered is the power of the Word of God as His living Word. As such it often addresses people in ways that neither they nor the preacher anticipated. Indeed it confounds the agenda that the world sets and calls them to a new set of concerns and priorities.

On the one hand we should not distance our preaching deliberately from what is going on in the world. But we should not let the headlines determine what we preach. It is one of the strengths of consecutive expository preaching that it allows our preaching programme to be determined by the Word of God.

Brooks’ Lectures on Preaching

October 24, 2007

I once heard John Stott speak on preaching. Interestingly he said everything he had learned about preaching he had learned from Spurgeon. He also referred to Phillips ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ Brooks’ Yale lectures on preaching which I have finally got around to reading. Brooks defines preaching as truth through personality and as result much of his work is focussed upon the man behind the sermon. As such the book is a refreshing book on preaching and a challenging one at that. For instance Brooks’ stress upon a man’s need to love truth for truth’s sake and not just for making sermon. But there is also much to be gleaned from his asides on matters relating to preaching such as preaching old sermons, whether we should preach twice on Sunday, on writing or not writing sermons, imitating other preachers etc. There are also some amusing comments such as his comment on the man who leaves his preparation to Saturday and then proves that he has done so on Sunday! There are also some interesting and unusual topics covered such as thoughts on the positive value of persistent critics. His section on ministry in the present age whilst over 100 years old tackles issues that still have a contemporary resonance.

All in all a good read for preachers.

Thoughts on ‘An All Round Ministry’

October 9, 2007

I’ve just finished reading CH Spurgeon ‘An All Round Ministry.’ Despite the fact that Spurgeon obtained almost mythical status amongst Irish Baptists because of his profound influence in shaping Irish Baptist life in the 19th century I’ve never been a great Spurgeon reader. Although I must admit I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve read. And this book was no exception. It is a collection of addresses which Spurgeon gave at the annual conference at his college. Most of them reflect the tumultuous times that he lived through as theological liberalism became rife in the latter part of the 19th century. It was  interesting how much it is a case of plus ca change. They are very encouraging addresses which reflect his own warm personality. I especially enjoyed, and was challenged by, his address on the preacher and power.

I started reading the book online and then discovered that I owned a copy that I had completely forgotten about! One part of me thought it would have been good to read these addresses earlier in ministry. But I also found these addresses were well directed to those who had endured some of the slings and arrows of ministry and so I probably profited from them more after ten years plus of ministry than if I had read them earlier.

Well worth a read. And if your pastor doesn’t own a copy buy him one- it will prove a helpful tonic.

Is there Power in the PowerPoint?

May 30, 2007

At times is seems to take on the proportions of the great christological debates of the early church. What am I referring to? Whether or not we use PowerPoint whilst preaching. One writer has called its use ‘arrogant’ likening it to dressing down in the pulpit! Another asks rhetorically whether or not Spurgeon would have used it. And for him that seems to settle it.

I for one am not a fan of preaching with PowerPoint. I find it restrictive in terms of presentation and in terms of preparation- I don’t want to spend my preparation time looking for suitable images. I also am resistant to the idea in some quarters that any good presentation requires PowerPoint. I am opposed to having preaching with PowerPoint de rigeur.

But I am also opposed to the idea of no PowerPoint in preaching de rigeur. Is that not a little legalistic? There are I find times when PowerPoint in preaching can be a useful tool. Also others have told me that they have on occasions found it useful i.e. to provide a map. I don’t particularly like using it. I don’t really see the point in sticking a few headings up on a screen while preaching. But that doesn’t mean we should completely get rid of it. It does occasionally have its uses.

What is becoming clear however in a number of recent studies that I have read is that PowerPoint may not communicate as effectively as people have supposed. That rather than engaging people it causes people to disengage with material on the screen. Preaching is about engagement. Not just the presentation of information. And we need to think about whether or not the promiscuous use of PowerPoint may inhibit us in that task.

Jonathan Edwards on Hell

May 15, 2007

Jonathan Edwards is often caricatured as being all fire and brimstone. This is usually based on his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of Angry God. Many have probably heard the title but few have read the sermon. Of course Edwards’ great crime in the eyes of 21st century man is not really his powerful and vivid preaching on hell but that he had the temerity to mention hell at all. If there is a hell nobody today wants to talk about it.

Edwards logic was rather different. If there was a hell people needed to be warned about it- that was the loving thing to do he said when he preached on the subject at his daughter Jerusha’s funeral. That he preached such vivid sermons on the subject was itself part of the warning. For he realised that people needed not a notional idea of hell but to recognise it in all its imminent and eternal fury. For as he remarked in another less well-known sermon, you could enter hell in an instant and once there, you are there forever.