Old Wine, New Wineskins

Alvin Reid, Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, makes this statement often: “Lost people are more amazed at our silence than offended at our message.” Understand this statement in the context of the local church and you understand my perspective, including the premise behind this blog post.

I was reading an article Reid wrote in the Spring 2017 edition of Facts & Trends, a publication of Lifeway Christian Resources, Nashville, Tennessee. He discusses the findings of a recent study undertaken by Lifeway Research / Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. He couches the findings in terms of his latest book, Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out, available from B & H Academic. I have to say I find the results of the study profound, while not all that surprising. Let me clarify.

The researchers asked several questions concerning the interest of unchurched Americans in listening to what Christians have to say. Examples include statements such as: “I would be more interested in listening to what Christians have to say if I saw Christians treating others better because of faith.” “I would be more interested in listening to what Christians have to say if I saw Christians caring for people’s needs because of faith.” Each statement was listed with a percentage value indicating its popularity as a response from the sample group. There were three values, however, that stood out to me above the others in the article.

The first two values are related and they may surprise some who read this blog. Among unchurched Americans surveyed, 79% agree with this statement: “If a friend of mine really values their faith, I don’t mind them talking about it.” Similarly, among unchurched Americans, 73% of those surveyed don’t think their Christian friends talk about their faith too much. Given these responses, it seems the door to gospel-centered conversation is open far wider than the average church member may care to admit. I believe the average church member may suffer more from fear or lack of confidence than they do from lack of opportunity when it comes to gospel-centered conversations.

Now, let me say up front the following information is based on my personal experience and is certainly not descriptive of every church in every city. However, I believe many other churches in America may hold similar positions. This is my premise: some churches believe sincerely they have no need of changing their current practices when it comes to great commission mobilization or advancing the gospel to the ends of the earth. They are content to continue doing things the same way they have been doing them for whatever historical period of time with which they are comfortable. Unfortunately, this is where the final value of which I spoke comes more clearly into focus.

According to Lifeway Research, “67% of unchurched people say they are unlikely to attend church in the future. For them, spirituality and church do not naturally go together. When millennials were asked where they go for spiritual help, church did not make the top 10” (Facts & Trends, Spring 2017, 15). Consider the juxtaposition of these three values and draw your own conclusions, but I see one glaring, if not completely obvious, inference based on the data. Churches must be willing to hold their methodology with open hands while holding the biblical truth of the gospel with closed hands. In other words, the church must never retreat from sharing the whole truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. But the church must always be willing to adapt and contextualize the presentation of this truth to an ever-changing culture. Missionaries study the best ways to present the gospel truth in the context of the mission field in which they serve. Why should the local church on American soil be any different? Answer: it should not be.

Reid concludes his article with five helpful “reminders for Christians to help alleviate their fears” when it comes to engaging others in gospel-centered conversation:

  1. Think less of giving a presentation and more of having a conversation.
  2. Tell them the great story of the gospel more than listing propositions.
  3. Connect the story to their everyday life experiences.
  4. Start in their worldview, not yours.
  5. Don’t just invite them to church—invite them into your lives and your community.

I would suggest another important principle to remember: the conversion of every person with whom you share the gospel does not constitute success in evangelism. Obedience to share the gospel through words and actions constitutes success in evangelism. Pray. Share. Leave the results in the capable hands of Almighty God.

Mike. Out.

[Note: All statistical data and quotations taken from an article entitled, “How to Share Jesus without Freaking Out: Effective Evangelism in the 21st Century,” by Dr. Alvin Reid, published in the Spring 2017 issue of Facts & Trends, Lifeway Christian Resources, pp. 12-17.]

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Perspectives on Leadership

Sunday afternoon I was reading a post on social media from a friend. He had spent many years in ministry serving local churches. He recently took an extended leave from ministry after a challenging situation. I sifted through the details of his post and was shocked by what I was reading. At one point, this brother of mine spent three days in the hospital undergoing a battery of tests to understand some significant physical symptoms he had been experiencing. After receiving normal test results, he was told by his doctor his physical symptoms were stress-induced.

Upon returning home, he received a phone call from a deacon in the church he was serving. This gentleman asked him how he was doing and then proceeded to berate him for having missed three days of work. Yes, that’s right. You heard me correctly. A deacon in the church called the pastor specifically to chastise him for having spent three days in the hospital. The irony of this story is that the behavior of this deacon was representative of what was causing the pastor’s health problems to begin with.

Unfortunately, this type of story is all too common. Pastors deal with a variety of issues and challenges about which the average church member knows nothing. This particular story prompted the writing of this blog post. Why would pastors and churches hurt each other? I mean…aren’t believers supposed to be on the same team? While a variety of answers exist for this question, the two most likely explanations are unbiblical leadership or unregenerate church membership. These are not new concerns. Unfortunately, churches have been dealing with the problem of unsaved church members and unbiblical leadership for quite some time. I am stating this as a reality rather than a supposition because of personal experience and observation. Let me explain what I mean.

I know there are non-Christians masquerading as Christians in local churches all across America. I also know there are pastors who are not following Scripture and the Holy Spirit as their primary sources for leadership in God’s church. How do I know this? I’m glad you asked. It is really quite simple if you think about it. The very fact that conflict exists between pastoral leadership and church congregations demonstrates one of two truths: either the Pastor is not leading biblically and is, therefore, sinning, or the congregation is not following biblical leadership and is, therefore, sinning. Someone is sinning against God in either scenario and it could actually be a combination of the two.

The first scenario looks like this: the pastor is doing everything in his power to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God. He is trying to lead the church to be biblical in every way and to be obedient to Scripture. He meets opposition at every turn because not everyone in the church belongs to Jesus. Therefore, they ultimately don’t follow Jesus’ plan for His church. This explains why they would oppose the leadership of a pastor who is trying to lead them to follow Jesus.

The second scenario looks like this: the pastor is not following Jesus or His Word. Perhaps he is following some clever “church growth” strategy that looks more like friendship with the world than biblical theology. Perhaps he means well, but is simply being tempted by sinful behavior. In this scenario the people of the church desire to follow Jesus and follow the Bible, but their leadership is not heading in that direction. The pastor is possibly more concerned with his own well-being or his own glory than he is with the glory of God and His church.

Both of these cases represent opposite ends of a spectrum. Granted there are a myriad of potential combinations of these two extremes lying in the middle of this spectrum, but it seems the first scenario tends to be more prevalent. In my personal observation (so take it for what it is worth), churches tend to seek pastors who have been seminary trained and educated. Churches also tend to seek pastors with pastoral leadership experience. Finally, churches tend to seek pastors with personalities and backgrounds that fit the culture of the church. It is only after a pastor is called and arrives on his new ministry field that he discovers the “dirty little secret.” The members of the church want him to lead them as long as no changes are required. The subtle truth here is churches call pastors who possess the education, experience, expertise, and spirituality to exert biblical leadership over them, but then they spend a considerable portion of their time opposing the very leadership God has provided.

The bottom line, I believe, is this: every human being is in desperate need of Jesus. Sin causes division regardless of where it is found. Jesus is the solution to the problem of sin. The answer to the Pastor who is not leading according to Scripture is Jesus. The answer to the congregation who is not following God’s ordained leadership over them is Jesus. So the answer to either problem is praying for Jesus to have His way in the hearts and lives of people to the end that the church begins to look and act like the church.Think of what that might look like. Any time a pastor, fully trusting God’s Word and following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, comes to his congregation saying something like, “Brothers and sisters, the Bible teaches us we are to be actively engaged in making disciples of all nations. We need to take that more seriously as a church. I believe we should structure our staff, our facilities, our ministry activities, and our budget to reflect this gospel priority,” the congregation would respond by saying something like, “Amen! Let’s begin moving in that direction!”

The very fact that this is not the norm demonstrates how far the church has drifted from the biblical ideal. We need to work together for the glory of God and for the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Selah.

Mike. Out.

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The Prevalence and Peril of Spiritual Immaturity

There is a condition found in some infants called “failure to thrive.” It can be extremely dangerous if left unaddressed. Johns Hopkins Medicine defines this condition as “decelerated or arrested physical growth and is associated with abnormal growth and development. The reason for failure to thrive is inadequate nutrition…Failure to thrive has many different causes, and sometimes more than one cause may contribute to the condition at the same time. If an infant is not offered enough food or is not willing to eat enough food, or vomits repeatedly, there will not be enough calories to support growth. A child who is unable to absorb enough calories will also not grow as expected” (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/pediatrics/failure_to_thrive_90,PO2297/). I have come to realize this is not just a physical ailment. This alarming condition is present in the spiritual realm as well.

Consider the text of Scripture found in Hebrews 5:11-14:

About this we have much to say and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

The author of Hebrews had introduced the idea of Jesus as our great high priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” The author had much more to say about this priestly comparison (which will resurface again in Chapter seven), but was reluctant to continue with the explanation because of the dull hearing of the audience. Evidently, the readers had not made sufficient progress in their faith because the author accused them of still needing to be taught “the basic principles of the oracles of God.” Two important principles surface in this passage, principles to which believers today would do well to pay attention.

First, believers should be good listeners and thereby, good learners. The audience to which the letter of Hebrews was written was not following this principle. Their hearing was “dull,” meaning it was lazy and sluggish. A.T. Robertson characterizes the readers as having “no push in the hearing, slow and sluggish in mind as well as in the ears” [A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933) Heb 5:11-14]. For this reason, the audience had not made reasonable spiritual progress. Sadly, they still needed to be taught rather than being able to teach others. They were still nursing a bottle rather than cutting into a steak. Again, Robertson laments, “Alas, what a commentary on modern Christians…Because [they are] still babes and not able to chew ‘solid food,’ without intellectual and spiritual teeth” (Robertson, Word Pictures).

Second, believers should not be babies. Certainly all believers begin their spiritual walk as infants, but they should never remain at that level. That would make about as much sense as parents never feeding their newborn child and expecting them to be able to function in life without proper nourishment. Just as one must grow physically, one must also grow spiritually. The author compares different kinds of food which are appropriate for different levels of growth and maturity. Solid food is for the mature. Mature adults can distinguish good from evil. Children, however, must learn this skill as they are taught by someone older and more experienced. The author employs here the perfect passive participle form of the Greek word γυμναζω in order to demonstrate the manner in which the mature are able to discern good from evil. We derive the English word “gymnasium” from this Greek word. The senses (powers of discernment) of the mature have been trained by means of constant practice or exercise.

Spiritual growth does not just happen automatically because of the passing of time. Each individual believer, upon being rescued by the wonderful grace of God, is given the opportunity to begin to grow in their knowledge of Christ and his Word. This only happens by reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word of God. Robertson explains, “By reason of use one gains such skill” (Robertson, Word Pictures). Many Christians today seem to have neglected their own personal spiritual growth by delegating that responsibility to the pastor of the church they attend. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Each one of us is personally responsible and accountable for their own spiritual growth. It is time to take ownership of our faith. It is time to press forward, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Mike. Out.

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  -Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV)

The life of a Christ-follower proves to be filled with challenges. One could make merely a cursory review of the Apostle Paul’s epistles to see some examples of these challenges. Perhaps the word “battles” would be more appropriate. Paul, in the seventh chapter of Romans, speaks of “another law” in his members “waging war against the law of [his] mind” (Rom 7:23). He refers to this constant struggle against sin whereby he labors to do good in the face of fierce opposition. I must confess: I can sympathize with his struggle. I often find myself engaged in a battle wherein I know what is right. I know what is good. It is precisely at this moment, however, that I am opposed most vigorously by the enemy of my soul. So how does one navigate through this battlefield victoriously?

Paul poses this important question in verse twenty-four. He states, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul then answers his own question in the first portion of verse twenty-five. He concludes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He elaborates in the first two verses of Chapter eight, saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (emphasis mine). This mention of the Spirit becomes crucial to the believer’s spiritual battle plan. This plan is brought into specific relief in Paul’s inspired words to the Galatians.

How can one say no to the sinful desires of the flesh in favor of the glorious desires of the indwelling Spirit of God? The believer must walk by the Spirit. In other words, the believer must daily, hourly, even minute by minute, make a conscious decision to submit to the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit. This is how one is able to “walk by the Spirit,” as Paul says in Galatians 5:16. This volitional act is facilitated by continually and consistently feasting on the riches of the Word of God. Foolish indeed would be the believer who presumed he could “walk by the Spirit” without daily taking up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). I firmly believe a direct correlation exists between one’s personal devotional habits and one’s ability (or empowerment) to “walk by the Spirit,” thus experiencing the victory secured by the blood of Christ on their behalf.

I base this firm belief on the truth of Scripture, but also on my own personal experience. I have found, in a very real and practical sense, I am most equipped to face the daily battles with sin when I have spent the most time feasting on the abundant riches of Scripture. Conversely, I have found I am ill-equipped to face the daily battles with sin when I have spent the least time in the Word of God. I can tell you from personal experience how heart-breaking and gut-wrenching it is to choose the lie of sin over the truth of Christ. I suspect, while reading this blog post, you have called to mind unfortunate instances in your own life in which you “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Moments such as these are no fun.

The stark contrast Paul describes between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:19-23) should give us sufficient motivation toward obedience. The works of the flesh only result in condemnation and separation from God. Paul explains, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21b). There is no law, however, against the fruit of the Spirit since there is no law against living a godly life. The bookends framing this passage of Scripture are quite instructive toward keeping in step with the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit provides a great benefit to the believer. Paul explains, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). God calls each believer to demonstrate their faith and repentance in word and deed. While this sounds like a herculean task, we must remember by whose power we are strengthened to walk by the Spirit in the first place.

Paul ends this passage by reminding the believer of the forensic truth of Christianity. He concludes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). You may be wondering, “When have I ‘crucified’ my flesh?” I am glad you asked. Paul already reminded the believer of their standing before God in Christ. He declares, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Take heart, believer. You have been crucified with Christ.

Walk by the Spirit. Live in His victory.

By His grace and for His glory,

Mike. Out.

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God of This City

About ten years ago Chris Tomlin recorded a song entitled, “God of This City.” The song has a very simple but profound message. The lyrics describe the God of the Bible as One who is incomparable and One who has a missionary heart. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. I was in a van high in the Andes mountains of Peru. It was evening. Three Christian brothers (one who had traveled with me from the U.S., one driver, and one translator) accompanied me. We were moving from one village to another where we would meet with a new believer in order to begin a discipleship process.

As we carefully traversed the mountain road, the driver of the van was playing music from his phone through the sound system in the van. It was dark. The road was treacherous. I was in completely unfamiliar territory. Then it happened. This song began to play. I heard these words for the first time:

You’re the God of this city, You’re the King of these people,

You’re the Lord of this nation, You are

You’re the light in this darkness, You’re the hope to the hopeless

You’re the peace to the restless, You are

There is no one like our God, There is no one like our God

Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city

Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city

Needless to say, given my situation and surroundings at that moment, the words of this song made a tremendous impact on me. I began to weep. I was overcome with the truth of who God is and the reality of the darkness in the world. I was also reminded of the fact that, regardless of what I may see with my physical eyes, God had bigger plans for the people of these villages, these cities. He is God. He is King. He is Lord. God is who He is irrespective of whether or not we choose to acknowledge Him as such.

Fast forward five years. I am sitting in a hotel room in Raleigh, North Carolina. I am attending a conference about biblical discipleship sponsored by 9Marks and SEBTS (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). I bumped into a good friend earlier today who is also attending this conference. He serves a church in Roanoke, Virginia. He loves the Lord, he loves the Gospel, and he loves the people whom he serves. You may be wondering why I am telling you about my friend. I’m glad you asked.

One striking similarity ties these two stories together. Every time this brother of mine posts something on social media regarding his ministry in the local church in the city of Roanoke, he types this statement at the end: “Roanoke belongs to Jesus.” Again, what a simple but profound statement. I took the opportunity this afternoon to tell my brother what an impact his statement has made in my life and ministry. What I neglected to tell him was how his statement takes me back to the mountains of Peru. It also gives me great encouragement for ministry in general.

Here is what I know. It matters not the geographical location where you serve. It matters not the particular people group you serve. What matters primarily is the God you serve. When you understand it is the Creator of the universe, the God of the Bible, whom you serve, things change. When you understand the Gospel of God, things change. When you understand the mission of God, things change.

Wherever God sends you to proclaim His gospel message, take heart and remember this:

Your city belongs to Jesus.

Mike. Out.

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Christ-Centered Preaching

Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, ed. Bryan Chapell. Baker Academic, 1994, Second Edition 2005. 386 pp.

* The following is a book review submitted as partial fulfillment of the Master of Divinity degree with emphasis in Pastoral Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fall 2008).

51JXk9zUngL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Does every text of Scripture relate to Christ and bear witness to His glorious message of salvation? Indeed! In his book, Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell argues that all of Scripture reveals God’s redemptive plan for fallen humanity and that Jesus himself introduced this pattern, (Chapell, p. 40). John’s prologue explains “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,” (cf. John 1:1,14a).

Since the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to the person and work of Jesus Christ [the Word who became flesh] why would a message ever be preached without reference to Him? How could a sermon be prepared without using a Christocentric hermeneutic? How could a text be delivered that is divorced from the One who breathed it into existence? Chapell addresses each of these questions as well as champions an expositional approach to preaching that reaches fallen humanity with the life-changing truths of Scripture. Chapell refers to this as Christ-centered preaching.

Chapell explains that all of Scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) and that God is the central theme of every verse, (Chapell, p. 50). All Scripture illustrates humanity’s fallen condition and God’s divine providence. As creatures in a fallen condition, man has but one option – to focus his attention on a loving, gracious, and merciful God. This message of redemption must surface in every message that is proclaimed. During his life and ministry, Jesus taught that he was the central message of the Scriptures beginning with Moses and the prophets (cf. Luke 24:27). In his book, Spirit-Led Preaching, Greg Heisler says, “If Jesus used the Old Testament to preach about himself, then so should we,” (Heisler, p. 26)! Heisler goes on to say, “Paul’s approach to preaching is his strong emphasis on the Christ-centered gospel,” (p. 35).

In chapter ten, Chapell discusses the importance of solid biblical, theological, and exegetical work required for preaching redemptive sermons that are grounded in the person and work of Christ, (Chapell, p. 275). In his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy affirms the redemptive preaching of Scripture by explaining that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to understanding the Scriptures, (Goldsworthy, p. 85).

“Christ is revealed as the meaning of the Scriptures so that no part can be rightly understood without reference to him,” (Goldsworthy, p. 85).

Goldsworthy creates the imagery of the gospel as being the interpretive lens through which we can understand the Bible. Chapell presents the same understanding in his FCF model, but this reader favors Goldsworthy’s explanation. Heisler connects practical theology and preaching when he says, “We preachers must practice in our pulpits what we believe in our theology: Christ is the grand theme, the singular message, and the supreme subject of all the Bible. Whereas the Old Testament predicts Christ, the New Testament presents Christ. Both Testaments bear Christological witness,” (Heisler, p. 26).

Expository preaching faithfully explains the text but application makes the text practical to those who are listening. Faithful exegesis without effective application is being negligent behind the pulpit. The application process seeks to answer the “so what” question of a passage and “fulfills the obligations of exposition,” (Chapell, P. 210). The task of exposition is incomplete until the call to action is presented, which comes from effectively applying the message. When the Word of God is preached, people must be confronted with either changing their beliefs or behaviors. Chapell says that application is the “present, personal consequence of scriptural truth,” (p. 210), but Heisler says, “what we are doing in application is displaying how the truth of the Word of God shows up in real life,” (p. 123). This explanation by Heisler most clearly communicates the heart of application; something that is relevant to everyday life.

In his book, Anointed Expository Preaching, Stephen Olford quotes Haddon Robinson as saying, “Christians must conform to the age to come, not this present age. Biblical truth must be related to men’s lives; but on the other hand, men’s lives must be changed to be relevant to biblical faith. This is the work of application,” (p. 252). Regardless of one’s understanding and definition of application, it is crucial to the effective preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

Christ-Centered Preaching offers a wonderful introduction for preparing and delivering expositional sermons. This book contains several strengths. First, it provides sufficient diagrams and illustrations that aid in understanding the material. The diagram (figure 11.2) is especially helpful in illustrating the importance of viewing all Scripture within the scope of God’s redemptive work, (Chapell, p. 304). The picture begins with Adam and Eve and surveys the whole counsel of God’s Word culminating with the return of Christ. The double helix diagrams that appear throughout the book are helpful reminders that all of the elements of expository preaching (explanation, illustration, and application) tie together under a common theme. These elements may not always be taken separately, but rather, some experienced preachers learn how to effectively intertwine them throughout the sermon.

Second, the book thoroughly covers the material and gives helpful examples for creating sermon outlines, diagramming a text, and writing a manuscript. For example, the sample sermon located in Appendix twelve helps to synthesize the material and demonstrate various elements of expository messages.

A third strength of the book is the clear communication and defining of key terms. Whenever uncommon language or terminology is used there are adequate explanations or helpful footnotes available to the reader. The footnotes also provide helpful cross-references and supplemental reading information for conducting further study on a particular item.

In addition to strengths, there are also notable weaknesses. First, the book is too verbose. At times, the wordiness causes difficulty in reading and in staying focused. The 400 page small-font work could have probably been written in 250 pages or less. For example, the Pattern of Illustrations (Chapter 7) labors on with regards to finding and storing illustrations. This entire section could have been handled in one page as opposed to three. At times, it is painfully laborious in arriving at conclusions. Just get to the point! Second, the book is weak in establishing a good argument for the need of expositional preaching. Expository preaching illustrates God’s Word as the authority for all matters of life. Chapell does highlight the authority of God’s Word and how humanity is constantly seeking for authority and meaning, (Chapell, p. 31). While this point is understood, Chapell could have spent more time fleshing it out. A third weakness of Chapell’s book is the minimal treatment of personal piety and holiness of the preacher. Heisler devotes an entire chapter in his book addressing the importance of the preacher’s sanctification, which includes conversion, call, training and education, character, and humility. Heisler does a much better job than Chapell in discussing the importance of the preacher’s personal holiness; specifically the removal of sin which invites the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Olford also devotes an entire chapter in his book addressing the importance of God’s man being holy, happy, and humble as His instrument. Humility is mentioned by both Heisler and Olford.

J. Sidlow Baxter once said, “No man is full of himself can ever truly preach the Christ who emptied himself.”

Alistair Begg has said that you can’t make much of God and much of yourself at the same time. Humility is foundational to Christ-likeness (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Chapell mentions personal piety issues in the opening chapter, but expanding on this topic would have enhanced the book.

There are five quotations from Christ-Centered Preaching that impressed this reader.

“Expository preaching solemnly binds a preacher to the task of representing the precise meaning of a text as intended by the original author or as illuminated by another inspired source within the Bible,” (Chapell, p. 75).

The preacher is not at liberty to impose personal meaning on a text. Scripture alone interprets Scripture and the meaning must be consistent with the whole counsel of God’s Word. Interpretation must also honor authorial intent.

“A sermon remains expository and Christ-centered not because it leapfrogs to Golgotha but because it locates the intent of a passage within the scope of God’s redemptive work,” (Chapell, p. 304).

Expository preaching understands the text in its context and what it meant to the original audience. This becomes a springboard for applying it to a contemporary audience by connecting it with God’s redemptive plan.

“Excellent preaching makes people confident that biblical truth lies within their reach, not beyond their grasp,” (Chapell, p. 110).

Putting the cookies on the bottom shelf is a phrase commonly used to refer to presenting complex issues in simplistic terms. There are many who suffer from biblical illiteracy. Good exposition is when the preacher can take complex truths of Scripture and explain them simplistically while maintaining doctrinal and theological integrity.

“The authority of the Word enables us to say the most challenging things to any person without apology, but that same authority lets us speak tenderly without compromising strength,” (Chapell, p. 95).

Standing on the authority of God’s Word gives liberty to the preacher. Expository preaching that honors the context and content of Scripture is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the preacher can say, “Thus says the Lord” with all authority as opposed to “Thus says the preacher” which is powerless. Power comes from the Holy Spirit; authority comes from the Word.

“Unfolding and opening the meaning of the Word of God characterize the expositor’s task, not merely on the basis of Christ’s example but also on the basis of ancient biblical precedent, which further defines exposition’s essentials,” (Chapell, p. 86).

Apart from the Word there is nothing of any value that can be said with the power to change lives. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who were faithful in serving God and fulfilling their assigned duty. Preaching the ancient biblical precedent means that preachers must observe and heed the entire counsel of God’s Word; from the ancient prophets to the New Testament apostles and disciples.

Christ-Centered Preaching is thought-provoking and enriching. There are several items that have influenced this reader for many years of ministry to come. First, preaching begins with the text. The text drives the sermon not the other way around. Even when topical approaches are used, Scripture in its context must remain the focal point. Second, every text connects the dots between fallen humanity and God’s divine providence. Christ is the central theme of the Bible. Therefore, every sermon must survey the cross. Third, expository preaching means that the text is exhausted. This does not mean that all of the gold has been mined from the passage, but rather that all of the major truths have been explored and that none of the verses have been skipped. Preaching line-by-line and verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible is a great way to preach expositionally. Fourth, expository preaching requires much practice. It is hard work to exegete, faithfully explain, illustrate, and then apply the relevance of that passage to a contemporary audience. Fifth, before the man of God can stand before the people of God he must first stand under the authority of God.

Personal holiness is key to preaching with power.

God transforms lives through His Word, but “it is accompanied by the regenerating, convicting, and enabling power of the Holy Spirit,” (Chapell, p. 33). In essence, good preaching “involves getting out of the way so that the Word can do its work, (Chapell, p. 34).

Brett
M.Div., SEBTS 2010

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Gospel Intentionality

“Christians today increasingly find ourselves on the margins of our culture. In fact, we live in a post-Christian culture. The majority of people in the West have no intention of ever attending church. Most only utter the name of Christ as a swear word. Some prominent churches are growing, but much of this is transfer growth rather than true evangelistic growth. Yet many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christian mentality. We expect people to come when we ring the church bell or put on a good service. But the majority of the population is disconnected. Changing what we do in church will not reach them. We need to meet them in the context of everyday life” (emphasis mine; Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, p. 10).

The paragraph above is both discouraging and compelling at the same time. It is discouraging because it highlights a truth regarding the lack of influence the church seems to be having in the culture. It is compelling because it inspires the follower of Christ to be intentional with the gospel message. As a believer, I must take the gospel with me, both in word and deed, wherever I go. I must be prepared to meet people where they are “in the context of everyday life” if I am to have any hope of reaching them with the power of the gospel. What do you suppose it would look like if every believer within the body of Christ became intentional and took this idea seriously? I am talking about local churches everywhere becoming serious about the Great Commission by living and sharing the gospel of Christ. I have to say I get excited just thinking about the possibilities.

Mack Stiles wrote a powerful, little book about the importance of developing a culture of evangelism within the local church. “Evangelism: How the whole Church speaks of Jesus,” is a brief but potent volume that highlights the importance and necessity of individual Christians being intentional in their efforts to engage in conversations with those within their sphere of influence. In the foreword, David Platt explains, “It is a culture of evangelism that is not ultimately dependent on events, projects, programs, and ministry professionals. Instead, it is a culture of evangelism that is built on people filled with the power of God’s Spirit proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace in the context of their everyday lives and relationships” (Evangelism, p. 14-15).

Stiles points his readers to the relationship between personal evangelism and cultures of evangelism, describing the way in which it should be a “both/and” arrangement rather than an “either/or” arrangement. He clarifies, “I appreciate personal evangelism, and we need to be equipped for it. But since I believe in the church as the engine of evangelism, we need to develop cultures of evangelism in our local churches, too. We want whole churches that speak of Jesus…It just makes sense to share our faith alongside friends” (Evangelism, p. 42-43).

Matthew’s gospel describes the way in which Jesus was moving “throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Matt 9:35). The very next verse, however, describes the compassion Jesus felt for the people which should supply every believer with motivation for evangelism. Scripture tells us Jesus saw the people as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It is at this point Jesus emphasizes the dire need for laborers in the ripened harvest fields. We should “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38). It is not so much a matter of believers doing different things as it is a matter of believers being intentional with the gospel as they continue in their current activities. As Chester and Timmis remind us, “Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality” (Total Church, p. 63).

What will it take for the local church to develop an intentional culture of evangelism? I believe a good starting point is cultivating a deep love for Christ and His gospel. That is something every Christian can do. That is something every Christian MUST do for the glory of God and the glory of the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.

Lord, send revival and let it begin with me. For the glory of Christ, Amen.

Mike. Out.

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