Posts Tagged ‘sermon’

Hearing people’s thought on preaching is always interesting.  You can ask “what makes a good sermon?” to a number of different people and receive a number of different answers.  Because churchgoers are “trained” in Christianese, you might get the standard answers: a good sermon brings glory to God, makes the Bible relevant to our lives, etc.  But truth be told, I’m not sure most of us think this way.  I say this because if we were to ask someone on a Sunday afternoon how the sermon was that morning, they’d probably say “good.”  If we asked that same person on Wednesday what the sermon was about and how it has impacted their week, they probably won’t have much of an answer.  This is, of course, my opinion and purely anecdotal.  But I’d bet it would stand up to scrutiny.

The truth is that (again, this is simply my opinion) we judge most sermons by whether or not they keep our attention.  If we can listen to some guy talk for 30-45 minutes, then he must be a good preacher.  Nevermind if we actually remember or are transformed but hearing the word of God proclaimed.  It was good because I was entertained.

Now, to be sure, I believe sermons ought to be able to keep people’s attention.  No one is served by preaching that follows all the “rules” (whatever they are) but inspires snoring.  Hearing the Bible preached is something that should excite us.  More importantly, hearing a sermon ought to have an impact on our lives, either directly (go and do ___) or indirectly (shaping our understanding of God and the world).  But I’d venture to guess they really do.

I’m an advocate of what might be called “simple preaching.”  “Simple” does not mean “shallow,” although I suppose it’s often confused with that.  I’m simply saying that a person ought to be able to tell you what the preacher spoke on and how it should have an impact.  If they can’t open up the Bible passage(s) preached on and tell you what it means and why it matters, then the sermon was, possibly, not simple enough.

And I would argue that expository preaching- preaching which focuses on a text moreso than a topic- is the simplest form of preaching.  Sure, there are a number of expository sermons that are not simple, especially those that are more an exercise of public exegesis rather than proclaiming the word.  Let me give an example.

I have on my iTunes a sermon preached by David Wells, the now retired Gordon-Conwell theology professor.  He preached it at his congregational church on a Sunday morning.  The sermon is on Psalm 33, with a few quick references here and there to other passages.  Here’s a link if you’d like to listen.

Halfway through listening to this sermon a while back it hit me that a third grader could follow it.  Mind you, David Wells is one of the top theologians in evangelicalism.  He is quite capable of losing his audience- trust me, I had him for Systematic Theology!  But this sermon was so simple that anyone, if they were truly listening, could have walked out and told you what Psalm 33 said and how to apply it.

Let me reiterate: a top notch theologian preaches an expository sermon in 31 minutes and makes it simple enough that pretty much anyone could follow it.  That’s my kind of sermon.

Keep in mind, Wells is not necessarily a great preacher.  He’s not bad at all, but he won’t be making anyone’s top 5 list any time in the near future.  You can take his sermon and use different illustrations, focus on different phrases or verses (he had to pick and choose, 22 verses in 31 minutes isn’t easy) or maybe even adjust his points a bit.  But the main thrust of the sermon and the passage will come through.  That’s simplicity.

This is one of the overlooked problems of topical preaching, at least some forms of it.  It seems like a simple style of communicating, right?  After all, if your topic is tithing, everyone can go home and tell you that they heard a sermon on tithing.  But is it something simple enough that a listener could reproduce it in another setting?  There’s a good chance it won’t be.  Why?  Because sermons that bounce from passage to passage generally rely on the unspoken connections made in the mind of the preacher.  Sure, they have words that link them together (give, love, fire, etc), but how they work together to form a simple, reproducible lesson is often unclear.  Not always, of course.  I’ve heard some absolutely atrocious expository sermons in my life, as well as some tremendous topical ones.  Topical preaching is not the bad guy.  Preaching that is unclear and relies more on the speaker’s stream of consciousness rather than a biblical text is the problem.

But now when I read Psalm 33, I know this psalm reminds me of why we gather corporately to worship God (vv1-3).  We worship God because of his character (vv4-5), his power (vv6-9), his sovereignty (vv10-12) and his knowledge (vv11-19).  And I know that vv20-22 give a quick summary of the entire psalm.  I’m not left guessing how things fit together after the sermon, because it’s right there in front of my face.  I can take this, maybe tweak it a bit, and use it in any number of settings (Bible study, discipleship, or my own sermon).  It will sound different than a David Wells sermon, but it will still be the teaching and application of Psalm 33 that comes out.

That is preaching that is simple.  It’s not shallow, it’s not theological deficient.  It’s clear and practical.  That’s one major reason why I’m an advocate of simple, expository preaching.

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5.5. This post is dedicated to my old roommate, JP.  He’s an Arizona Wildcat fan, and I’m a UConn fan.  Our teams play each other in the Elite Eight on Saturday, so it’s probably just as well that we aren’t roommates anymore.  That, and we’re both married with kids now, and that would be awkward living together…

5. Nick Norelli reviews Sean McDonough’s (coughgogordonconwellcough) new book, Christ as Creator.  I took McDonough’s Life of Jesus class, so I heard some of his early thoughts on Christ as creator in the gospels.  Looks like a fascinating read.  Now if we can do something about that ridiculous price…

4. Keith & Kristyn Getty (of “In Christ Alone” fame) are offering three free hymns for download on their site, until March 31 (I think). 

3. The incomparable Marcus has given some helpful thoughts on how to build a theological library– and he’s not talking about making bookshelves.  There’s some good advice here.  Or you could do what my coblogger, Brian, does and wait until your friends move and “borrow” their books. 

2. Brian and I were discussing the other day how the Minor Prophets are perhaps the least preached on portion of Scripture.  In his last post, Brian links to a sermon where he tackles a passage in Micah.  Cousin Jeremy has also been posting sermons from his church in Syracuse, starting with sermon series from Hosea and MicahUpdate: A couple hours after I posted this, Cousin Jeremy posted some sermons from Amos.  In fact, he went ahead and made a central location for any more sermon series he will be posting, so you may want to bookmark it. 

1. Speaking of preaching, I commend to you Tom Schreiner’s sermons from his church, Clifton Baptist, in KY.  He’s been doing a series on Romans for a while now (I think he’s up to 29 sermons and he’s only through chapter 7).  You can find a number of other sermon series he’s done, such as Revelation (which I think I’ve linked to before), James, Galatians, etc.

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5.5.  This post is dedicated to the word “manya,” my daughter’s favorite word.  What started as the word for “milk” (spoken in the manner of an Asian tonal language) has now branched out to “Michael” (her uncle), “banana,” “balloon,” and even “clean up” (as in The Clean Up Song).  Seinfeld fans may even recall Manya from The Pony Remark (fair question, Jerry, fair question).  It’s amazing what this one little word can do.  Manya is the David Grohl of my daughter’s vocabulary. 

5. Not sure how many of our readers have heard of Meredith Kline, but he was an Old Testament professor at Gordon-Conwell a number of years ago; I went to Gordon-Conwell at the same time as his grandson Jonathan.  There is a website up dedicated to him, which includes the audio from classes he taught at a church, including his Kingdom Prologue.  I think I’ve tried 3 times to read that book, but could hardly get 5 pages without losing him.  Maybe his audio is a little… less dry.

4. Zondervan is giving away a copy of Klyne Snodgrass’ commentary on Ephesians, if you’re lucky.

3.A Caution for Expository Preaching” by Iain Murray (HT).  I’m a fan of expository preaching, though I think there are good and bad ways to do it.  Murrary does a good job here. 

2. Another interesting scholar/preacher you should listen to is Rikk Watts.  Watts is an NT professor at Regent College in Vancouver, and used to preach at a church called The Rock Garden.  You can check out his sermons here, especially if you’re into quirky Pentecostal New Testament scholars.  Included are sermon series on Mark, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, Isaiah… you get the picture.

1. It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned my love for biblicaltraining.org.  They now have Darrell Bock’s Life of Christ class online, free as usual.

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Special thanks again to Caitlin of Baker Books for a review copy of the DVD and Study Guide.  See my previous post for my review of the 3rd Edition of the book.

Along with publishing a 3rd edition of John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad, Baker has released, a helpful complement in the DVD and DVD Study Guide.  I for one applaud the attempt at a multimedia approach, as different media reach different people.  While some may be put off by long chapters (see my review) and extended footnotes, Piper’s passionate preaching and pleading (which is often what he does) with his listeners to pursue and support missions may speak to them.  The content of the actual sermons is largely the same as the book itself, so I won’t spend as much time reviewing that as I will the quality and character of the sermons on the DVD and the helpfulness of the accompanying Study Guide.

The DVDs are divided into 6 talks of approximately 30 minutes.  I think they were originally 2 talks when they were given (I read somewhere they were given in NC).  I’m not entirely sure, but it seems they were given to a group of pastors, presumably under the label of “missional,” since Piper consistently makes the point (especially in the first sermon) “you are not biblically missional unless you pursue missions.”  In the third sermon he also does a Mark Driscoll impersonation, so I’d imagine he was involved in the conference at which these messages were originally given.

The titles of the 6 talks are:

  • Defining Missions and Defining Peoples
  • The Urgency of Missions: The Reality of Hell and the Work of Christ
  • The Urgency of Missions: Preaching, Hearing, and Believing
  • The Goal and Fuel of Missions
  • Prayer: the Power of Missions
  • Suffering: The Cost of Missions

Interestingly, while the content is mostly the same as the book, the order is slightly different.  I say this because after hearing the second sermon, specifically the section on the urgency of missions because of the reality of the eternal nature of hell, I thought, “he really needs to balance this with chapter 1 from his book.”  This came in the fourth sermon (which is why I need to learn to look ahead!).  Without going into all the details (and the book lays out the exegesis for his conclusions), I agree with Piper that the glory due the name of Jesus is the primary motivation for missions, not the fear of hell or anything else.  God is the center of our missiology, not people. 

Piper’s preaching is passionate and powerful.  If I had to pick one sermon for anyone to listen to, I’d probably pick sermon four, “The Goal and Fuel of Missions.”  I think this lays out the basis of missions in a way that anyone interested in the subject can learn and be blessed by.  But none of these sermons stand out as much lower in quality.  In fact, the listener/viewer will find themselves challenged by any and all of these.

The Study Guide contains 8 Lessons for 8 weeks geared toward a small group, with the sermons coming in weeks 2-7 (though it has suggestions for how to do this in a 6 week time frame).  There are questions for people to read 5 days in the week prior to watching the DVD.  They also ask people to read sermons available for free on desiringgod.org, so it isn’t simply watching the DVD and answering some questions.  The advantage to this is that it gets the small group members thinking about God’s plan for the nations of the world throughout the week rather than succumbing to the “once a week” bare minimum that so many groups are built on. 

The questions, by and large, do a good job getting to the heart of each week’s focus.  In my opinion, the success of small groups comes less from the quality of the study guide and more from the discussion leader’s ability to facilitate the discussion.  It seems the folks at Desiring God know this as well and offer simple advice for small group leaders at the end of the Study Guide, a wonderful feature I hope doesn’t slip by because of its location.

I really only have two caveats to make in my praise of the DVD and Study Guide.  First, if you are leading a group of people who are already convinced of the necessity and value of cross-cultural missions to unreached people groups, you will find yourself nodding in agreement more than feeling the conviction of what Piper says.  It seems to me that he is trying to convince those who are not convinced.  So, if you’re group falls into the “already convinced and active” camp, then use the book and DVD as refreshers and support.  The Study Guide will be less helpful for this group, though I suggest using it as a basic guide for asking good questions.  But if you are a pastor and/or a small group leader and you are looking for a way to introduce missions to your church or group, this will be a wonderful tool to do this.

The second caveat is this: it is very John Piper heavy.  This will naturally be the case with a Study Guide based on a DVD of John Piper sermons, which are based on a book by John Piper.  But each week’s discussion also has you read a sermon or article also written by John Piper on desiringgod.org.  I understand the logic behind this: all the items on this website are free for download and reading, and they can control the permanence of this material unlike those which appear on other sites. 

However, John Piper is not the only one who has written on missions.  There are many helpful writings online from missiologists and missionaries that could be used in a small group setting.  Again, I understand why the Study Guide is set up the way it is.  My suggestion for group leaders is that they research and add some supplementary material as they see fit.

Other than those caveats, and they are admittedly small, I highly recommend these materials, especially for those who are on the fence regarding world missions.  Piper’s biblical and passionate preaching stirred my heart and confirmed what God has speaking to me over the years.  I pray that we heed the call to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to those who have never heard and see the Lord worshipped as He alone is worthy to be worshipped.

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Book Review: Scandalous

Special thanks to Connie of Crossway for a review copy of this book.

D A Carson is one of the most prolific and respected evangelical teachers alive today.  Not only is he an outstanding New Testament scholar, but he is a dedicated churchman.  His most recent book is Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.  The five chapters of this book are actually printed (and slightly edited) versions of sermons he gave at a conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle (previously linked to here).  If you’re wondering how a world-class Bible scholar would sound outside of the classroom and in the pulpit of a church, this is your chance.

The book’s subtitle gives away the subject matter, though this is hardly a collections of topical sermons.  Instead, each chapter deals with a biblical text, with the death and resurrection of Jesus being the unifying theme.  The texts and titles are:

  • The Ironies of the Cross (Matthew 27:27-51a)
  • The Center of the Whole Bible (Romans 3:21-26)
  • The Strange Triumph of the Slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 12)
  • A Miracle Full of Surprises (John 11:1-53)
  • Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus (John 20:24-31)

These sermons turned chapters are probably more detailed (theologically and exegetically) than most sermons we hear preached Sunday after Sunday.  But they are not simply mini-commentaries, though I suppose it’s significant he’s written commentaries on Matthew and John, and is working on a Revelation commentary.  Carson’s goal isn’t simply to mine the text for intellectually exciting nuggets, but to apply the text faithfully. 

While all of these chapters were excellent, my favorite were the ones from the gospels.  The first chapter, from Matthew’s recording of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion is less “practical” in that one doesn’t come away with a “now, go do this…” application.  It is, however, quite moving as it reveals the true nature and mission of Jesus in a powerful way, which is a noble end in its own right.  The two chapters from John encourage us in understanding the surprising love of God and the nature and reasons of doubt (and the redemption of those who do). 

I don’t want to make it seem, however, that the other two chapters were in any way subpar.  In fact, I’m having the students in our church training school listen to audio from the Revelation sermon to get an idea of how to approach and preach this confusing book.  It is simply the nature of apocalyptic literature, not to mention the (unfortunately, in my opinion) strong influence of purely futurist readings of Revelation, that this chapter may require more than one reading. 

The chapter on Romans 3:21-26 is the most theologically and exegetically dense of the book.  Carson tackles the issue of God’s wrath and propitiation, and handles it admirably well considering the sermonic nature of the medium.  He also dives (albeit, shallowly) into the pistis Christou debate, arguing for “faith in Christ” rather than “faithfulness of Christ.”  But, given his acknowledgment of the need to handle the passage “phrase by phrase” (p39), I kept wondering why he never discussed the “righteousness of God.”  In fact, he alternates between “righteousness from God” and “righteousness of God,” which would be referring to two different things, at least ostensibly.  Again, I want to reiterate that because of the nature of a sermon, Carson couldn’t address every exegetical detail.  But by any reckoning, the meaning of “righteousness of God” is hugely important for the meaning of this passage, not to mention the book of Romans. 

In the end, this is yet another fine addition to Carson’s books of short expositions intended to reach a non-academic audience.  What makes this one unique, perhaps, is that it is not based on a single Biblical book or passage.  It does serve, however, to demonstrate the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the biblical storyline.  Anyone looking for an enlightening and uplifting study on this topic would do well to pick up a copy of Scandalous.

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This was mentioned in a comment on a previous post, but I’ll post it here: Moore Theological College in Australia has posted 1700+ free sermons and lectures online.  I’ve already listened to Peter O’Brien’s 4 sermons on Romans 8 and thought they were outstanding (I’ll have to listen again and take notes).  There’s William J Dumbrell on eschatology, stuff from Brian Rosner, D A Carson, N T Wright, and so on.  I highly recommend you take the time to browse through and pick some good stuff out.  For anyone who’s already listened to some, I’d love to hear any recommendations in the comments.

(HT: New Testament Perspectives)

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What Is the Purpose of a Sermon?

Preaching has always had a central role in the life and work of the church.  While they may look and sound different through the ages and cultures, sermons have always been around and show no signs of going away.  For some unknown reason, I began thinking about what the purpose of a sermon is.  Why do preachers preach?  I thought this could be a good question for our reader(s) to sound off on.

I suspect the answer is something along the lines of “the purpose of a sermon is to explain and apply the Scripture,” with the assumption that 2 Timothy 3:16 applies: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV).

Now, it’s always dangerous that a post asking for interaction will end up with tumbleweed blowing by and crickets chirping in the background.  But I’m hoping we’ll get some thoughts thrown out here.  Let me ask a few questions, though feel free to pick up a tangent you might think is helpful:

1) Do you agree with the purpose of a sermon given above (keeping in mind I’m simply trying to give what I think is the most common sentiment)?

2) What would you say the purpose (or purposes) of a sermon is?

3) In your opinion, have most sermons you’ve heard in your lifetime fulfilled this purpose?

4) Have any of these been lacking in the majority of sermons you’ve heard: teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness?

Okay, go at it.  Let me say that I do think it’s good to think through these things every so often.  It’s easy to get too comfortable with church life that we don’t ask why we do the things we do, or even if we’re doing it for the reasons we should be.  In my opinion, that’s a quick way to make the work of the church ineffective.

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Free Tim Keller Sermons

This has already been thrown around a bit in the blogosphere, but I’m already playing catch up on this site from being inactive (sick) for 2 weeks, so I may as well finally post this.  Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has made available 150 Tim Keller sermons for free.  I confess I haven’t listened to much of Keller, but I’ve read The Prodigal God (see Brian’s review here) and thought it was great.  At any rate, Keller’s one of the most respected evangelical pastors around today, so I highly recommend checking out his stuff.  Some of his “classics,” such as his Prodigal God series are available here.  Happy listening!

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This month we’re highlighting some D A Carson resources that we think will be helpful to anyone interested in the intersection of biblical studies and the Christian life.  In this post I want to recommend Carson’s sermons; you can find many of them here.  Listening to a Carson sermon will probably be a different experience for most people.  He’s definitely a scholar, and it shows in his preaching.  There is a depth not present in most sermons preached in churches on Sunday mornings.

Yet, his sermons aren’t lectures, nor are they step-by-step guides on how to live a better life.  He digs into a text, but pulls back to show how this text ought to influence our worldview and practical living.  Chances are it will take some listeners a couple Carson sermons to get used to his style.  You might, at first, think it’s like listening to a commentary.  But after some careful listening, you’ll realize that he’s penetrating into the heart of what’s going on in the Bible and today.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I recommend the series he preached last December at Mars Hill Church in Seattle (also know as Mark Driscoll’s church) at an event called A Day with Dr. Don– it’s easier to access the audio or video at this link than the TGC site.  (Irony alert: the event was advertised “A Day with Dr. Don” with the subtitle “It’s All About Jesus.”  I found that funny.)

For instance, in his sermon on John 11 (the raising of Lazarus), you get all sorts of insights: mourning practices in ancient Judaism (historical background), thoughts on the relationship of God’s love and delay (theology), how this chapter fits into the surrounding context (literary context), and so on.  And along the way you just might have your perception of God and His Son broadened.

A couple random things I appreciate about Carson’s sermons:

1)  He’s funny, though sometimes unintentionally.  I always get a kick out of his insistence on pronouncing foreign words with the proper foreign accent.

2)  Since he’s ministered in contexts all around the world, he has valuable insights into how culture and the church fit together.

3)  I thoroughly enjoy his thinly veiled shots at N T Wright.  I say “thinly veiled” because he doesn’t name him, but if you’ve read Wright and Carson’s critiques of him, you’ll definitely pick them up.  It’s not that I dislike Wright, in fact, I’m a fan.  It’s just that I like finding the potshots, almost like a Where’s Waldo? game or something.  For the record: he does give credit to Wright when it’s due, such as Wright’s work on the resurrection.

4)  Most importantly: Carson does an admirable job making Jesus the center of all things.  Sounds like an evangelical cliche?  I can assure you that when he connects different themes of the Bible to Jesus, it isn’t in some cheesy worship tune way.  Christ, and what He has accomplished, stands in the middle of all that God has done and is doing in this world.

So, go check out some of his stuff.  Like I said, I recommend the talks at Mars Hill.  I also recommend his series, Missions as the Triumph of the Lamb, from the missions week at Reformed Theological Seminary in 2004.  The format at the TGC site is a little confusing (and I think the dates are wrong), so I’ll give you them here in the order preached: Revelation 4, Revelation 5, Revelation 21:1-8, Revelation 21:9-22:6, Revelation 12, Revelation 13, Revelation 14.  That’s right- a missions conference preached entirely from Revelation.  No wonder I like this guy so much.

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I mentioned a while back that I’ve been listening to some of Tom Schreiner’s sermons on Revelation, given at Clifton Road Baptist Church (I’m not sure how long the audio will be on the site, so check it out now).  I just finished listening to his sermon from 6/14/09 on Revelation 20, the infamous Millennium passage.  I was intrigued, because I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to a sermon on the Millennium before.

I thought he did a good job.  There’s a lot to tackle in preaching this passage, not least of which is properly respecting other views held by believers but not causing more confusion than necessary by summarizing those positions.  What made it even more interesting is that he changed his view on the Millennium about a month before preaching this sermon.  He jokes about it at the beginning; I appreciated his humility and honesty.

Also of interest to me were the reasons he gave for this change.  He changed from being an Amillennialist to a Premillennialist.  I enjoyed his reasons, though probably because they were incredibly similar to my reasons given in a post about a month ago.  Hmmmm…, who knew Tom Schreiner reads BBG (I’m joking, by the way).  He even jokes about N T Wright on this passage, something I like to do in my teaching.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering how anyone could preach on this passage, go check out Dr Schreiner’s sermon, and some of his others on Revelation while you’re at it.

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