Preaching the Gospel

Steve Mathewson has an excellent post on preaching the gospel in the coming year:
Earlier in my life and ministry, I’m afraid that when I read Romans 1:16 I only thought of the gospel in terms of conversion. But the more I read Paul, I realize that the gospel is all-encompassing because salvation is all-encompassing. Salvation has past, present, and future aspects. It involves justification, sanctification, and glorification...So when Paul challenges Philippian believers to stand firm in the face of opposition, he calls them to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel” (see Philippians 1:27). When Paul challenges Peter’s legalistic behavior in Antioch, he accuses him of “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (see Galatians 2:14).The point is, then, that the gospel is never something we outgrow. It’s at the core of Christian living. It’s at the core of what God is doing to save us – including the past, present, and future aspects of this great salvation. The answer to our struggles with greed, immorality, legalism, jealousy, hatred, and selfish ambition is the gospel...Whatever challenges or problems we are facing in our churches, the solution takes us back to the gospel. That’s why I’m eager to preach the Holy Scriptures which present the gospel. What a message! I’m eager to preach it in 2008 and beyond!

Daring proclamations of Christ

Jack Miller gives some advice on how to preach with power:
Make each sermon a daring proclamation of Christ, not just of the text, but of Christ in His glory and power. If I were to say what I see in many men who foster the bland saltless model...they just do not lift up or herald Christ Himself in their sermons. Since they are not heralding Christ, they do not receive Christ's power. Will Christ empower a man to make an intellectual discourse when the preacher has no real intent to preach Christ? He can give the intellectual content via his own strength and zeal. The delivery is his own and he can do what he intends to do. I have had some experience of this. But this is not the preaching of the New Covenant. We are a city of good news. We are commanded to lift up our voices with strength and to get up to a high mountain to proclaim this good news. Exposition minus the heralding has all of Christ's foolishness in it, but none of Christ's power. (The Heart of a Servant Leader)

Blessed Christmas

This blog began very quietly back in June 2006 as I was working on my thesis on theocentric preaching at Gordon-Conwell. Since then it's grown slowly. About a hundred people subscribe to the feed, and it gets over a thousand visits a month. These aren't huge numbers, but they're sure a lot more than when this blog first started! I wasn't sure how many people would ever read a blog about a topic like theocentric preaching. I'm grateful that you do.

A couple of things excite me. One is the number of excellent blogs that have started on preaching. You can find some of them on my blogroll. At a time of supposedly waning interest in preaching, I'm excited to see thoughtful practitioners reflect and write on the preaching task and life.

I'm also excited and humbled that preachers read this blog. Preachers have the unimaginable privilege of opening God's Word and proclaiming its message. Anyone who has done this knows how challenging and humbling this can and should be. Your task is important, and your role is often undervalued. If you are a preacher who takes preaching seriously, and who preaches in a way that is centered on God and Gospel, then I have all the respect in the world for you. May your tribe increase.

I pray that as you celebrate Christmas, you will be drawn to worship the one who, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). May you have a very blessed Christmas.

Morality is never enough

Tim Keller often emphasizes a point that's often missed. When we think of those who are not in relationship with Christ, we often think of those who live in open rebellion, like the prodigal of Luke 15. But Keller reminds us that the older brother in this story is also lost. We can be lost when we are in open rebellion; we can also be lost when we live the religious life, trusting in our own goodness to save us.I've been listening to an audio version of Pilgrim's Progress, and I'm surprised at how clearly this theme appears. The main character, Christian, is on his way when he meets Worldly Wiseman. Christian desperately wants his burden removed. Worldly Wiseman suggests an easier way than following Christ. He suggests that Christian goes to the town of "Morality" where he will meet a man named "Legality" who is skilled at curing those who are bothered by sin. This is an easier way, Worldly Wiseman tells him, than following the way of Christ. Morality and civility are offered as substitutes for the real gospel, at a lower cost but (it is promised) the same results.As Christian heads in that direction, he meets Evangelist, who tells Christian what is wrong with going to the church in Morality:
  1. It turns us from the way of Christ;
  2. It makes the cross odious to us;
  3. It leads to death, not life.
Moralism looks at first like it's a good substitute for the gospel. It produces good, religious people who go to church and live well. Both Keller and Bunyan remind us, though, of the dangers of taking, or preaching, this path. Morality is never enough. We need the gospel.

Preaching Christ at Christmas

allaboutme-mug.jpg

(photo from Subversive Influence)

Last year I heard a Christmas sermon on CD based on Luke 1. The story highlighted the stress Mary and Joseph faced in their relationship as they reacted to Mary's surprise pregnancy. The sermon used Mary and Joseph as an example of how to handle stress in our marriages today.

What surprised me most about this sermon is that it came recommended as a good way to preach a Christmas sermon!

On one hand, it's pretty hard to preach Mary and Joseph's story without highlighting this as a significant issue. And, to be sure, marriage stress is a very relevant issue to people today. It's fair to bring this up and even comment on it as we preach this passage. But there are all kinds of dangers in making marriage stress the center of this story.

Luke 1 is not ultimately about marriage stress. We need to be on guard against inserting ourselves and our needs into the center of every passage. Luke 1 is ultimately about one of the most significant events ever - the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah. It's a pivotal moment in all of history. We risk trivializing the passage when we make it a how-to sermon on dealing with marriage stress.

As preachers, let's help our people find their place in the grand story of God's mission. Preach Christ and what his arrival means for the world today. It's a story that deals with marriage and all the other stresses we face - but it is much bigger than that. Preach Christ this Christmas. It's not all about us!

Him We Proclaim

How do we preach Christ from all of Scripture? Dennis E. Johnson, author of Him We Proclaim, suggests that we follow the example of the apostles:
One major theme, to which this book will return repeatedly...is the unity of the Old Testament and the New in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and consequently, also, in the community composed of believing Jews and Gentiles that his Spirit is now assembling. This unity, I am persuaded, unlocks the whole of the Scriptures to the twenty-first century preacher and his hearers...The title, Him We Proclaim, is drawn from Colossians 1:28, in which the apostle Paul sums up the message he preaches as, simply, Christ. Between the resurrection and his ascension to God's right hand, the Lord Jesus taught the original apostles that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all predicted the Messiah's suffering, rejection, death, resurrection, outpouring of the Spirit, and worldwide reign through the servants of his Word. The fruit of this intensive forty-day hermeneutics course is heard in the apostolic sermons preserved in the book of Acts, as well as in the Gospels themselves and the other New Testament books.
We'll return to this book again in exploring how to preach Christ from all of Scripture.