“British theologian Colin Gunton once argued that one shortfall of modern ecclesiology derives from the fact that it has rarely been rooted in the conception of the Triune God. This observation is worth consideration. I would argue that the unity of the Triune God, even as each member is distinct in his function to accomplish the plan of redemption provides a framework by which we can understand the unity and the mission of the church.
One might even argue that we cannot formulate a proper ecclesiology without reference to the doctrine of the Triune God. For the purpose of this article, I will utilize three of the primary New Testament metaphors for the church, namely, the people of God, the body of Jesus Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, to build a framework for a Trinitarian ecclesiology. Perhaps a more comprehensive understanding of how the doctrine of the Trinity informs our ecclesiology might nourish a more holistic understanding in at least two particular areas, namely, the unity and mission of the church.”
Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s most renowned realist painters of the twentieth century, had an uncanny ability to capture the solemn nature of the rural American life with painstakingly controlled brushstrokes and a muted color palette. One of Wyeth’s most intriguing and iconic paintings is titled Christina’s World (1948). The central focus of the work is a brunette female lying in a field with her left hand struggling toward her far-off farmhouse. The figure in the painting is modeled after Wyeth’s neighbor, Anna Olson. Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that limited her to crawling around her house and family land.
There is nothing loud or wildly fantastic about the subject matter of Christina’s World. The power of the painting is held in what might be called the familiar whisper of beauty, a sense of the deep struggle in longing for home. It is a whisper that we cannot ignore. Like Christina’s World, beautiful art is never viewed with indifference. As philosopher Roger Scruton has noted, “Beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks directly to us like the voice of an intimate friend.” There is a sense in which all good art gives a certain voice to beauty. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, beauty and art point beyond themselves. Beauty comes through as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
In a world without beauty, Balthasar declares, “What remains is . . . a mere lump of existence.” God did not have to create so many things in our world to be beautiful, but he did.
If beauty demands to be noticed, let us take note. If there’s something intrinsic in humanity that’s drawn to beauty, let it draw us in. Both the world and the Word call us to behold the sovereign Creator God.
As we see in the Word, all the beauty of this world points beyond itself to the breathtaking beauty of God himself. Beauty is a powerful signpost that calls out to all: “Look and see. The one true God is good.”
Preparing a sermon week after week is a lot of work. Preaching a sermon week after week is also a pure joy. This past week I posted pictures of my sermon preparation process on Twitter, and several pastors and church leaders commented that it was helpful for them. I figured I would publish this blog post with a little explanation for each step.
Step 1: Examine The Text Itself
I typically plan my sermon text weeks or months ahead of time. This not only helps me plan and prepare adequately, it also allows our pastor for worship plan the entire service in light of the text.
Very early in the week I will prayerfully and attentively read the text several times, and ask questions of the text. I look for repeated words. I look for phrases or statements that need clarification or seemed to be emphasized by the writer. During this step, I typically use resources in the original languages in a very specific way, namely, to dig deeper on certain words or illuminate my understanding of certain phrases in the passage. My main goal is to understand what the text says as best I can.
Step 2: Divide The Text Into Units And Dig Deeper
Usually, the English translations of the Bible have helpful paragraph divisions that allow us to understand units of thoughts or movement in the narrative. Are there specific scenes or rational arguments that move the reader from point A to point B? If so, that is an indication of how one might break the sermon up into points? Commentaries are helpful at this step. The biblical scholars who write commentaries typically show how the text unit is divided in a literary sense.
At this step, I also read certain portions or commentaries in order to shape the language I use to explain the text. As for the use of commentaries, I try and read several scholarly hermeneutical commentaries, application-focused homiletical commentaries, and books related to the text or topic.
Step 3: Articulate The Main Point And The Subpoints Of The Sermon
I like to have the sermon outlined by Wednesday if possible. Not only does this lock me into a sermon structure, it also allows me to send the outline to the AV Team in order to produce the sermon points for Sunday as well as the Kids Director to produce the Kids Listening Guides.
The main point of the sermon is a sentence that I repeat several times throughout the sermon. In other words, when someone leaves after hearing the sermon – my goal is to have this point seared into their minds and hearts. The subpoints either serve as support of the main point or simply indicate movement in the narrative or argument of the text.
Step 4: Develop The Applications and Illustrations Of Each Subpoint
This past week, I used the application grid that has been produced by Mark Dever of 9 Marks Ministries. What I like about this application grid is that it forces me, as the preacher, to apply the text to the different groups of people that may be in the room.
For many pastors, application and illustration are the most difficult parts of sermon preparation. This portion of sermon preparation requires that you try and anticipate, as best you can, the thoughts, questions, struggles, and needs of your listeners. At this point, my goal is to press in and pray that God would provide conviction, comfort, or confidence in the listener.
I have also found it helpful to read or listen to living trusted preachers throughout the week while walking, driving or working in the yard. Often times, God uses other brothers to help clarify the explanation of the text or shape my own applications or illustrations.
Step 5: Write The Sermon In Its Entirety
I preach from a manuscript. This allows me to remain extremely focused as I preach. Therefore, I begin with my outline, and then work to clarify my explanation of the text. After these sections of the sermon are filled in, I then go back in and add the applications and illustrations. I do all of this, making sure that I restate the main point of the sermon in each section.
The last stage of preparation before printing and delivering the sermon is adding the introduction and conclusion. It is only after the completion of the body of the sermon that I am prepared to frame the sermon with initial and concluding thoughts. As an expository and theological preacher, my goal is to walk people through the biblical text in order that God’s word can be clearly understood. Where the Word of God is properly taught; when the Spirit of God opens the heart; the voice of God is properly heard.
I always ask, how many times will people hear the good news of the gospel during the service in its entirety? How many times will I proclaim the gospel and call for a response during my sermon? Could my sermon be preached as is, if Jesus did not rise from the grave? If not, my sermon is not distinctively Christian.
Step 6: Print And Preach
Once again, I write all of my sermons in manuscript/bullet point form. I typically shoot for 8-10 pages in size 12 font. When I print the sermon, I print it horizontally with two columns. This allows me to fold each page in half and punch holes for a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 binder. I own one of these genuine leather sermon notebooks, and I love it.
Finally, before I preach, I humbly realize that all of my efforts are feeble unless God opens the hearts of the hearers under my voice. While I pray for clarity of thought and sensitivity to the Spirit throughout the preparation process, before the moment of preaching I pray that everyone within the sound of my voice will understand the text clearly, and be sensitive to the Spirit as He calls them to respond.
I am certainly no expert in preaching or sermon preparation. However, I have found this process helpful in the weekly ministry of preaching. Hopefully, you have found something here helpful. We all have our patterns and practices. If you are a pastor, how do you prepare? I would love to learn from you as well.
I just finished preaching through Ecclesiastes. It was difficult but rewarding. When venturing into a complex and debated book like Ecclesiastes, it is always helpful to be in dialogue with others who have gone before you. Here are three accessible companions I found helpful on my journey.
Gibson has provided us with a lively popular exposition on Ecclesiastes. Not only is his exegesis compelling, so is Gibson’s ability to apply the text to our context. This book is a gift to the church and a great resource for teachers and preacher who venture into the wild world of Ecclesiastes.
This book is a must-have for any preacher or teacher working through Ecclesiastes. Greidanus walks teachers and preachers step-by-step from “passage to proclamation” for every single passage in Ecclesiastes. Greidanus also explores various ways to move from this often difficult Old Testament book to Jesus Christ and its New Testament application.
Recovering Eden is a pastorally sensitive and poetic guide written on a popular level. Eswine explores the main themes of Ecclesiastes in a reflective and engaging way. One note, this book does not move through the text chapter by chapter, however, there is a helpful index in the back if you plan to use it as a reference for teaching or preaching.
There are several other helpful works as well, my next choices would Ryken and Akin.
This is not a list of books published in 2017 (though some were), it is a list of books that I read in 2017.
As a pastor, I usually read 3-4 commentaries for each sermon series I preach (6 series in 2017). In order to narrow the list, I will set the commentaries aside.
This is a list of (somewhat) recently published books that had a profound impact on my own spiritual formation and philosophy of ministry. It’s also a list of books that I would recommend to my pastor friends. Click on the title to view it on Amazon.com.
Eswine helped us see that pastoral work keeps requiring our surrender to small, mostly overlooked things over long periods of time. As a pastor, I was never meant to know everything, fix everything, and be everywhere at once. That’s Jesus’ job, not yours.
Smith has long argued, in the tradition of Augustine, that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. Too often we do not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith not only argues that worshiping in a local church is central to the heart of Christian formation and discipleship, he also suggests several practices for shaping the Christian life. This book is a popularized version of the arguments Smith made in his 2009 book Desiring the Kingdom.
Have you ever wondered how much the herd mentality affects your thought life? Perhaps, our hostility toward one another is not based on facts, but on a desire to be included in a particular group. Professor Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all.
In this work, Peterson traces his journey of discovering of what it really means to be a pastor. As always, Peterson challenges conventional wisdom regarding church marketing, CEO pastors, and American Christian consumerism by presenting a simple, faith-based description of what being a minister means today. He urges us to pay attention to God, and to one another.
We live in the age of skepticism, where so much faith is placed in reason, progress, and emotion that one might wonder: why should anyone believe in Christianity? In this follow up The Reason for God (2009), Keller explores what role can faith and religion play in our modern lives.
In this book, Vanhoozer argues that theology is not merely a set of cognitive beliefs, but is also something we do that involves speech and action alike. In order to illustrate his point, he uses a theatrical model to explain the ways in which doctrine shapes Christian understanding and forms disciples. According to Vanhoozer, disciples need doctrinal direction as they walk onto the social stage in the great theater of the world.
Why do so many pastors implode under the spotlight? Why do modern-day churches become so entangled in growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? Because, according to Goggin and Strobel, Christians have succumbed to the temptations of power and forgotten Jesus’ seemingly contradictory path to power – giving it up. This book paints a richly biblical vision of power through weakness.
The gospel answers life’s most foundational questions about identity, destiny, and purpose. Union with Christ is a central gospel metaphor for understanding what it means to live in Christ and actually become like Him. According to Wilbourne, nothing is more practical for living the Christian life than grasping this reality!
The recent publication of The Nashville Statement has provoked a lot of cultural criticism for the traditional evangelical Christian doctrine of sexuality and marriage. In a world where Christian doctrine is often confused, ignored, or even adjusted, such a statement attempts to define a set of beliefs that are consistent with what has been widely accepted as historic Christian teaching.
It has been interesting to read news articles responding to The Nashville Statment. I have not found many that allow for charitable disagreement or meaningful dialogue. Most of them seem to disparage this distinct Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage and those who hold to it. Sadly, this is no surprise. Many within the larger Protestant community have also lodged their criticisms as well.
First, the statement has been criticised because of the timing of its release. I understand the sentiment of this criticism.
Second, the statement has been criticised because of its tone. Written words are what they are. How you hear them, and whether or not you accept them as loving, depends on how you perceive the motivation of those who write them.
Third, one pastor commented: “When we issue statements rather than build relationships we are more like Pharisees and less like Jesus.” However, I do not think statements of belief and relationships are mutually exclusive. Jesus himself demonstrated a deep love for sinners while calling them to turn from their sin. The religious leaders in the New Testament met a different outcome than those who heeded Jesus’ truthful and loving words to “go and sin no more.”
Granted, Christians have not always been charitable or tactful in articulating our beliefs towards non-Christians in a loving way, especially when it comes to controversial matters. Tone and tact aside, we all have beliefs that guide and guard our communities. Tim Keller has a helpful analogy on the role of creeds in a community. (HT Tony Reinke)
“Imagine that one of the board members of the local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center announces, ‘I’ve had a religious experience and now I believe homosexuality is a sin.’ As the weeks go by, he persists in making that assertion. Imagine that a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage announces, ‘I discovered that my son is gay and I think he has the right to marry his partner.’ No matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are, the day will come when each group will have to say, ‘You must step off the board because you don’t share a common commitment with us.’ The first of these communities has the reputation for being inclusive and the second for being exclusive, but, in practice, both of them operate in almost the very same way. Each is based on common beliefs that act as boundaries, including some and excluding others. Neither community is being ‘narrow’ — they are just being communities. Any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all.” (The Reason for God (2008), 39–40).
With these points made, I’d like to aim my reflections in a different direction.
We live in a pluralistic society. In our culture, the word pluralism has become much more than a religious mix. Pluralism has become an ideology, a type of political correctness. This kind of pluralism also calls for a specific kind of tolerance.
By tolerance, our culture does not mean, “to respect another’s view point, even if we disagree.” I could agree to that definition, I can respect someone I disagree with. Respect is the basis for honest dialogue even in the midst of disagreement.
Our culture seems to define tolerance as the “acceptance of different views.” The shift from “respect” to “acceptance” is notable. It communicates that you and I cannot bear to contradict one another.
Admittedly, The Nashville Statement draws a line in the sand, something Jesus himself often did on matters of Christian ethics. One of the things we must face is the reality that no follower of Christ can possibly embrace the full acceptance of different views, especially if they believe one is true and the other is false. This is true regardless of how you feel about the intent or tone of the statement. When it comes to matters of faith, we can discuss and disagree. It is ok. This is the hallmark of religious freedom.
Enter Sam Allberry. I do not know Sam personally, but he is known to many people because of his voice on the issue at hand.
In a society where much hatred and confusion is aroused by clear delineations on sexuality and marriage, Sam needs to be heard. Allberry is a Christian who experiences same sex attraction but chooses not give himself to such relationships because of his personal faith. He is single. Moreover, he affirms and defends the biblical view of sexuality and marriage. He also signed this controversial Nashville Statment.
When it comes to Christians struggling with same sex attraction and yet remain faithful to Scripture’s teaching, I would imagine that he is not unique. He is not alone. However, God has allowed Allberry a public platform to speak to these issues.
I am grateful for Sam’s courageous conviction, and how he has modeled his humble but confident faith, even in the midst of struggle. I think we as the Church need to learn from Sam. We need to listen. We need to be aware of others around us who may find themselves in a similar position.
All of us would affirm that the gospel is good news for all people, regardless of how our human brokenness manifests itself in our individual lives.
One of the reasons that The Nashville Statment is controversial is because it outlines what many evangelical Christians believe the Bible teaches regarding sexuality and marriage. It is controversial because it calls for repentance and faith.
Repentance is controversial because it presupposes that there is something wrong with us. Faith is controversial because it presupposes that we need to be saved from our sinfulness.
All of us have struggles related to sin. Sam struggles with same-sex attraction and other things, I am sure. I may not struggle with same sex attraction, but I struggle with 10,000 other things. Therefore, Sam and I are essentially the same. Broken sinners at the foot of the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.