God-centered refocusing

Christopher J.H. Wright writes in the January 2007 issue of Christianity Today:
God is on a mission, and we, in that wonderful phrase of Paul, are "co-workers with God."This God-centered refocusing of mission turns inside-out our obsession with mission plans, agendas, goals, strategies, and grand schemes.We ask, "Where does God fit into the story of my life?" when the real question is, "Where does my little life fit into the great story of God's mission?"We want to be driven by a purpose tailored for our individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.We wrestle to "make the Gospel relevant to the world." But God is about the mission of transforming the world to fit the shape of the Gospel.We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.
(Christopher J.H. Wright, "An Upside-Down World," Christianity Today, January 2007, 45-46)

How not to preach at Christmas part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on one of the ways that sermons can go off target at Christmas. In an effort to preach relevant sermons, preachers sometimes miss the theocentric purpose of the passage.In this post, I want to look at the second way that many Christmas sermons go anthropocentric. Warning: this one is controversial. Sometimes, especially at Christmas, we preach exemplary or "be like" messages that make a biblical character, apart from God, the focus of the message.Dave from Bluefish comments:
a couple of years ago i went to a few christmas services across the UK (visiting family/friends)… first we were told that the christmas story was all about Mary… then at the next one that it’s all about Joseph…. felt like standing up to shout, but I’m British and we don’t do that.
I'm not saying that the biblical characters don't have virtues, or that we shouldn't learn from their lives. I am arguing, however, that the biblical characters aren't the hero of the text. God is. The Christmas passages are not about the greatness of Joseph, Mary, the Magi, or Zechariah. The focus is about God. The Christmas story is a pivotal moment within redemptive history. Who would think that God would become one of us in order to save us? That, not the virtues of the other characters, is the main focus of the story.You can still, of course, preach about Mary and Joseph and the other characters. But in doing so we must never lose sight of the fact that God has acted, and that we at best respond to what he is doing, and when we respond it is only because he has given us the grace to do so. God is always the hero of every passage.

In the Clearing: A Mild Rant Against Exhortative Sermons

From In the Clearing: A Mild Rant Against Exhortative Sermons:

I heard a sermon recently about Joseph, the husband of Mary. The message, in a nutshell, was all about courage. Joseph was a man of courage and faith. We ought also to be people of courage. Joseph had faith. We ought also to have faith. You get the idea. Now, it's my funny little notion that sermon's ought to be primarily about the business of revealing the heart of God. In other words, after we hear a good sermon, some aspect of the character of God and of His plan for me and for all creation is made more clear, more vivid to my imagination, better understood intellectually and, yes, even more deeply-felt in my heart than before. In other words, a sermon should help us to "know God."


More on this topic to come.

How not to preach at Christmas part one

Preachers face temptations to go anthropocentric at Christmas. There are lots of angles you can take with the Christmas story, but there are also lots of ways to be a little to creative. That can get us into trouble.I'm thinking of a Christmas message on marriage. The sermon went something like this: Mary and Joseph faced marriage stress due to an unplanned pregnancy; our marriages face stress too. Mary and Joseph could have blamed each other in lots of different ways; so could we. Mary and Joseph instead responded in faith and trust, and so can we when our marriages run into problems.The big question, I guess, is this: Is the story of Mary and Joseph in the Bible there to teach us about marriage? The minute we depart from the author's purpose (and, by extension, the Spirit's purpose) for the text, we're missing the point. We are also forced to be selective with the text and skip parts like the angelic visitation and the virgin birth.Two of the most important questions we can ask in keeping sermons theocentric are, "What is the purpose of the text?" And, "How can I preach a sermon consistent with that purpose?"Coming up: one more way not to preach at Christmas, and some excerpts from Kevin Vanhoozer's excellent book The Drama of Doctrine.