Which gospel?

David Powlison contrasts the therapeutic gospel with the once-for-all gospel in this very helpful essay, and asks:

Which gospel will you live? Which gospel will you preach? Which needs will you awaken and address in others? Which Christ will be your people’s Christ? Will it be the christette who massages felt need? Or the Christ who turns the world upside down and makes all things new?

The entire article is well worth reading.

Not about moralism

This is written about Christian fiction, but it applies to preaching as well. L.B. Graham writes:

Christianity is not about moralism, and Christian fiction shouldn’t be either. Christianity revolves, not around good behavior, but around God’s mercy shown to man in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, even though we know this to be theologically true, I think we struggle to remember this as we go about our daily lives...

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Running after God's blessings without running after him

From D.A. Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation:

So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs - and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God's blessings without running after him. We are even worse than the man who wants his wife's services - someone to come home to, someone to cook and clean, someone to sleep with - without ever making the effort to really know and love his wife and discover what she wants and needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: he is perfect in his love, he has made us for himself, and we are answerable to him.

The Bible is not about you

From Bekah's Weblog:

Too often when we study scripture, we start with the wrong question: "What does this say to/about me?" If we start our study asking, "What does this tell me about God?" then we really get down to the deep riches of the Word. After all, if we are called to conform to the image of Christ, shouldn't we be learning more about him and less about us?

Therapeutic Gospel

David Powlison writes about the therapeutic gospel, which is probably one of the most common forms of anthropocentric (human-centered) preaching:

When this way of looking at things is ported into Christianity, then the gospel of Jesus becomes the better way to meet your needs. Perhaps your sin is that you look to your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse to meet your need for love, when Jesus is the one who lives to meet that need. In this way of looking at things, God's chief purpose is often portrayed as merely giving us what we deeply desire, gratifying our deepest instinctive longings.

This way of describing how God interacts with our desires is a "therapeutic gospel." It offers to heal the woundedness we feel because our needs weren't met. It offers to fill those empty places inside with Jesus.

I think that the therapeutic gospel gets it wrong. It gets God wrong. It gets people wrong. It gets suffering wrong. It gets the gospel wrong.

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Much of the trouble in the Church today

From God's Ultimate Purpose by Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

The Bible is God's book, it is a revelation of God, and our thinking must always start with God. Much of the trouble in the Church today is due to the fact that we are so subjective, so interested in ourselves, so egocentric. That is the peculiar error of this present century. Having forgotten God, and having become so interested in ourselves, we become miserable and wretched, and spend our time in 'shallows and in miseries.'

The message of the Bible from beginning to end is designed to bring us back to God, to humble us before God, and to enable us to see our true relationship to Him. And that is the great theme of this Epistle [Ephesians]...We must not start by examining ourselves and our needs microscopically; we must start with God, and forget ourselves. In this Epistle we are taken as it were by the hand by the Apostle and are told that we are going to be given a view of the glory and the majesty of God.

Our greatest object

From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981:

The more I study this New Testament, and live this Christian life, the more convinced I am, indeed the more certain I am, that our fundamental difficulty, our fundamental lack, is a lack of love of God; it is not our knowledge so much that is defective, it is our love of God and our greatest object and endeavor should be to know Him better and to love Him more truly.

Common hermeneutical mistakes

John H. Walton, who teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, describes five common hermeneutical mistakes of children's curriculum. They are equally applicable to preaching, including this common mistake:

Focus on people rather than God: The Bible is God’s revelation of himself and its message and teaching is largely based on what it tells us about God. This is particularly true of narrative (stories). While we are drawn to observe the people in the stories, we cannot forget that the stories are intended to teach us about God more than about people. If in the end, the final point is “We should/shouldn’t be like X (= some biblical character)” there is probably a problem unless the “X” is Jesus or God. Better is “we can learn through X’s story that God . . .”

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Packer on what young leaders should study

Mark Driscoll writes:

In the lengthy time that Dr. J. I. Packer afforded me to speak with him while we were recently together in Orlando, I asked him which theological issues he would commend young Christian leaders to study in order to be prepared for the next fifty years. His list was quite insightful...

The second item:

God-Centered Theology — He said that theology today is rife with man-centered thinking so that the glory of God in all things is not the essence of what is taught to be faithfully Christian. The result, he explained, is that even Christians often live their lives for the supreme purpose of their perceived happiness, feelings, and satisfaction. Yet, biblical Christianity differs from the other religions of the world in that the desires and purposes of God override ours; we are not the number one priority, but rather God is.

A sense of God and His presence

What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence...I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers)

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Two Ways to Preach

I've really been enjoying Iain Murray's two-volume biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In the second volume, Murray contrasts the preaching of the Doctor with some of the other preaching taking place in London.

Many talked about "the apparent failure of the church." In response, preachers focused their message on "the supposed well-being and happiness of the hearers. Preachers were aware of what kind of sermon the people wanted and commonly they attempted to supply it." Many proposed innovations that would lead to a new day for the church. Some fell strangely silent in the first days of the war.

In contrast, the Doctor's message did not change. He felt that the problem with his fellows preachers is that "it did not start with the Bible; it only made use of Scripture to present a philosophy of religion which was not the Christian gospel at all."

Lloyd-Jones preached a different message, as seen in this address:

First and foremost we are face to face with the fact of the wrath of God...God has decided and ordered and arranged that a life of forgetfulness of Him, and antagonism to Him, shall not be successful and happy. Cursing falls upon such a way of life. The facts of life, the story of history, proclaim the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. We have sinned against God...

It is as the idea of judgment and the wrath of God have fallen into the background that our churches have become increasingly empty. The idea has gained currency that the love of God somehow covers everything, and that it matters very little what we may do, because the love of God puts everything right at the end. The more the Church has accommodated her message to suit the palate of the people the greater has been the decline in attendance at places of worship.

This is a very good example of God-centered versus human-centered preaching.

Finding Our Place in God's Story

Only as we see our story enfolded in the larger story of redemption will we begin to live God-honoring lives. Lasting change begins when our identity, purpose, and sense of direction are defined by God’s story. When we bring this perspective to our relationships, we will have a dramatically different agenda. It will take the principles and commands of Scripture and use them as God intended. We will see how each principle, promise, and command finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ. Separate them from Christ and they lose their God-intended meaning and get hijacked by other agendas. (Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands)

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Rediscovering the importance of passages we ignore

I'm sitting in a room with with other preachers who get together every year to work through a biblical book. We bring in a commentator to help us exegete the text, and then discuss together how we could preach it. It's always a good week.

This year the commentator is Daniel Block, who is currently finishing a commentary on Deuteronomy that should be out in another year. We've just been discussing Deuteronomy 7:1-11, which is certainly a challenging passage to preach today. It's the sort of text that preachers like to avoid because it raises troubling questions about the complete destruction of the Canaanite people as part of the conquest. Yet Block has presented it in such a way that most of us can't wait to get home and preach it.

It's a good reminder again that some of the most neglected passages of Scripture are highly relevant to us today, and that our job is not to make them relevance, but to discover and demonstrate their relevance. This is the challenge and the joy of preaching.

God is the subject

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From Justin Buzzard:

It is no accident that God is the subject of the first sentence of the Bible, for this word dominates the whole chapter and catches the eye at every point of the page: it is used some thirty-five times in as many verses of the story. The passage, indeed the Book, is about him first of all; to read it with any other primary interest (which is all too possible) is to misread it. (Derek Kidner, Genesis, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series)

Two ways to read the Bible

Tim Keller from last Sunday's sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York:

There are two ways to read the Bible. The one way to read the Bible is that it's basically about you: what you have to do in order to be right with God, in which case you'll never have a sure and certain hope, because you'll always know you're not quite living up. You'll never be sure about that future.

Or you can read it as all about Jesus. Every single thing is not about what you must do in order to make yourself right with God, but what he has done to make you absolutely right with God. And Jesus Christ is saying, "Unless you can read the Bible right, unless you can understand salvation by grace, you'll never have a sure and certain hope. But once you understand it's all about me, Jesus Christ, then you can know that you have peace. You can know that you have this future guaranteed, and you can face anything."

Not biblical enough

The sad fact is that many of us are simply not biblical in the way we use the Bible! Being biblical does not mean merely quoting words from within its pages. Being truly biblical means that my counsel reflects what the entire Bible is about. The Bible is a narrative, a story of redemption, and its chief character is Jesus Christ. (Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer's Hands, p. 27)
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