Archive for June, 2009

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Sermons and Sponges

June 30, 2009

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In a spring 2006 chapel service, President Paige Patterson presented the “perfect expository sermon.” It was just one example of Patterson’s attempts to teach a new generation of preachers how the Word of God should be proclaimed.

The perfect sermon, Patterson said, is a dry sponge.

Read the rest.

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“You Are The Treasure That I Seek”

June 29, 2009

Suppose your body was ridden with a life-threatening disease. Would you not want an immediate diagnosis? And say the diagnosis was made in quick time, wouldn’t you desperately desire a prescription for the problem?

TREASURE

Well Greg Dutcher (pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Maryland) is convinced that such a malady exists in your soul and mine. In his inaugural book “You are the Treasure That I seek (but there’s a lot of cool stuff out there, Lord)”,  Dutcher exposes this spiritual cancer. It is idolatry.

The meat of the volume is a fairly slender cut – only 101 pages – but the fare is rich. The 10 chapters unfold in a logical sequence: chapters 1 to 8 are mainly diagnostic, while chapters 9 and 10 provide the remedy. The former seeks to expose the universality and subtlety of idolatry, and is something of a sustained meditation concerning where idols lurk in our lives. The latter (9 & 10) covers both defensive and offensive strategies in the battle against idolatry: negatively, how to flee idolatry;  positively, how to treasure Christ.

While coming earlier in the book, in many ways chapter 4 (“the Cross of Christ – Safety in the Ashes)  falls into the category of remedy also, since it takes us to the cross where Jesus died for our idols and made it so that “idolatry cannot condemn us eternally anymore.” (p 43)

There are also two lengthy appendixes at the end of the book – Idolatry Case Studies and A First Aid Kit for Idolators. Both of these add further practical value to the short volume. The only thing I couldn’t understand was why (apart from their length) they were not found in the main body of the book. Minus these appendixes, the criticism might have been leveled that there was ‘lots on the problem’  but relatively ‘little on the solution’. They are, then, a significant addition.

The brevity of the book’s chapters and its use of every-day life illustrations, make Dutcher’s diagnostic accessible to the average person in the pew, even to those who read relatively little. His style of writing is crisp, clear and keeps the attention. His definition of idolatry, for example, is typically succinct and memorable: “An idol is a lousy substitute for God.” (p31)

One could, however, also imagine this book in the hand of an unbeliever: especially one who struggles to understand what Christian’s mean by sin. Tim Keller has shown in recent years that speaking of sin in terms of idolatry is something that connects with many secular young people today, for example.

I, for one, will be recommending Dutcher’s book to Christians I know. This is not only a nicely written volume, it is a much needed one. Dutcher may be right when he says: “The idolatry syndrome has enjoyed almost invisible status in most Christian communities today.” (p80)

The subtlety and stealth of idolatry struck a chord with me even while reading “You are the treasure that I seek.” When I began reading, I confess to thinking: this may well be a profitable book for other people. I mean, surely pastors are beyond struggles with idolatry.

But then Dutcher relayed a conversation that sounded all too familiar :

“Laying his Bible on the dashboard, the pastor starts the ignition and pulls out of the church parking lot. ‘Your sermon was great today, honey. Did you get any feedback?’ asks his wife. The minister cocks his head slightly, as if retrieving the answer takes a good deal of effort. After a few moments of searching (after all, the people’s comments were the furtherest thing from his mind) he responds, ‘Yes, I think one or two people thought it was helpful. Praise the Lord.” (p12)

OK, idolatry is everyone’s problem.

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New Ballymoney Baptist Church Website

June 28, 2009

Here.

What I wrote to the church:

“It is with great pleasure that I commend the new website of Ballymoney Baptist Church to our members and friends. The website represents, at least in part, the ‘outward face’ of our church, and in our technological age it is a valuable gateway through which people can discover more about our church – and more importantly – about our Saviour.

I trust you will soon realise that the new website has become more of a resource for church members, with the addition of update news, sermons and other resources. I pray that it will soon become a ‘front-page’ that will encourage you in your Christian walk.

Many thanks go to Andrew Wallace and Dave McClean who have put in long hours to produce what is an excellently-finished site.

Happy browsing!

Colin Adams”

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Bryan Chapell – Gospel Preaching

June 24, 2009

From the recent Advance 09 conference. Bryan Chapell gives a helpful lecture on Redemptive preaching. How do we preach the gospel from every text?

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Human Manipulation or Spiritual Power?

June 23, 2009

“Many preachers use psychological manipulation without altogether realizing they are doing so. It is gratifying to perceive a powerful emotion gripping a congregation. We too easily jump to the conclusion that God is at work when in fact this may not be the case at all. This is why so much sterility follows powerful meetings: the power is sometimes psychological and not spiritual. Psychological manipulation cannot produce ongoing spiritual renewal.”

(John White, Nehemiah – Excellence in Leadership, p111)

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Maximising Monday Mornings

June 22, 2009

A typically helpful post from Peter Mead about making the most of our Monday’s after the busyness of Sunday’s preaching. His four-fold formula:

* record
* reflect
* relax
* renew

I particularly appreciated this counsel: “Before diving back into sermon preparation, make it a goal to consciously renew spiritually.  Look to the Lord, dwell in His love, abide in Him, wait on Him, walk in step with the Spirit…  Make it so the next sermon prep is not about getting things going spiritually again (that’s a sign of real spiritual peril), but rather make the next sermon prep an overflow of a close spiritual walk that births a fire in your spirit.”

Read the whole post.

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100 Recommended Reads

June 19, 2009

I’ve been recently compiling a recommended reading list for my new church in Ballymoney. I whittled it down to 100 books, and left off many that could well have been included. It does reflect the fact that I am Reformed, Baptist, cessationist and complementarian! –  but hopefully it will still be helpful to an even wider audience.

For Unbelievers

1.       “Two Ways to Live” by Matthias Media (Tract).  A simple but thoroughly biblical presentation of the good news about Jesus. Charts the two possible courses human beings can take in relation to God. Also available online.

2.       “Ultimate Questions” by John Blanchard.  A little book which asks and answers life’s big questions.  Answers queries like “Is anyone there?”, “Who am I?”, “Is sin serious?”, “How can I be saved?” The entire book is available online.

3.       “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller.  Written with sceptics in mind, this book addresses many of the concerns commonly raised by atheists about Christianity. Keller also positively proclaims the gospel of Christ.  The book has been a recent best-seller in the US, even on the secular market.

4.       “Darwin on Trial” by Phillip Johnson.  With the razor sharp logic of a lawyer, Johnson critiques pro-Darwinist arguments and proposes intelligent design as an alternative.

For New Christians

5.       “Just for Startersby Matthias Media.  This book covers the basics of Christian living in a series of studies. Best done with a mature Christian and maybe ideally in a group setting.

6.   “Hanging in There” by John Dickson. A non-patronising introduction to the Christian life that you can read in an evening.

7.      “God’s Big Picture” by Vaughan Roberts.  An overview of the bible in just over 100 pages. Shows you how the story fits together using the theme of God’s kingdom. Simplified version of the teaching of Graeme Goldsworthy (see below: According to Plan)

8.       “Distinctives” by Vaughan Roberts. Unpacks some areas where the fledgling Christian will have to stand out from the crowd if they are to follow Christ. “Perspective in a world that lives for the moment”; “Purity in a world obsessed with sex” are just some of the chapters.

9.  “Don’t waste your Life” by John Piper. Hugely powerful book. Helpful to read early on in one’s walk with Christ. Examines the cost of discipleship and weighs it against the even bigger cost of wasting one’s life.

Classics

10.  “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan.  Probably the finest allegory every written. More than just a good story, it is rich theology put into story form. “Christian” makes his perilous journey from the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City” , meeting many remarkable characters along the way.

11.  “Confessions” by Augustine. Still well worth reading. An autobiographical and extremely personal work, ‘Confessions’ gives Augustine’s testimony from his early years of immoral behaviour, to his conversion, to his current life of ministry.

12. “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by John Calvin. A heavyweight doctrinal discussion from perhaps the sharpest exegete and theologian of the Reformation period. Regarded as one of the greatest theological volumes ever.

13. The Puritans! The sixteen volume works of John Owen are intellectually rigorous, but wonderful material. Other great Puritans include Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Thomas Watson (see ‘Body of Divinity’), William Perkins and Thomas Boston. Two great introductions to the Puritans are “Worldly Saints: the Puritans as They Really Were” by Leland Ryken, and “A Quest for Godliness: the Puritan view of the Christian Life”by JI Packer.

Defending Your Faith

14.       “Every Thought Captive” by Richard Pratt Jr.  One of the best practical introductions to the practice of defending the Christian faith. No previous knowledge required; written for laypeople.

15.     “Tactics: A Gameplan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions”by Gregory Koulk. A very down to earth discussion about how we negotiate conversations with sceptical non-Christians’.  As a starting point, not much to choose between this one and Pratt’s.

16.     “Apologetics to the Glory of God” by John Frame.  More academic than the previous: a comprehensive introduction to the field of ‘apologetics.’  Superb.

17.     “The Universe Next Door” by James Sire.  Examines other worldviews and critiques them from a biblical perspective.

Bible Study

18.     “Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind” by Tremper Longman III. A book aiming to kindle our passion for Scripture, whilst giving us the tools to read the bible better.

19.    Dig Deeper”by Beynon and Sachs. Introduces some of the basic ‘tools’ needed for effective bible study (eg. The context tool, the repetition tool). Ideal for reading in a pair on a weekly basis.

20.     “According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible”by Graeme Goldsworthy. Looks at the story of the bible as a whole and explains how the entirety fits together. Heavy reading, but a great pay off for the persevering.

21.  Dillard & Longman, “Introduction to the Old Testament” and  Carson, Moo, Morris “Introduction to the New Testament.” These are more ‘technical’ introductions to the Old and New Testament books that discuss the debates of critical scholarship from an evangelical perspective.

22. Bible Speaks Today” Commentaries. A well balanced commentary series with titles available on every book of the bible. This series of commentaries is written by evangelical authors who seriously interact with the biblical text. However, it is simple enough for the layman to follow. John Stott has written a number of times for this series (His BST commentaries on Acts and Ephesians are outstanding).

23. “For the Love of God – V 1 & 2″ by Don Carson. A bible reading plan which follows the pattern laid out by Robert Murray McCheyne. Also has a comment from Dr Carson each day.

The Church

24. “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church Member”by Thabiti Anyabwile. An ideal starting point to introduce the responsibilities of church membership.

25.    “Nine Marks of A Healthy Church” by Mark Dever. A formative book that presents a contrary picture to a consumer-orientated church. Among the ‘marks’ are expositional preaching, a biblical understanding of conversion and a biblical understanding of church discipline.

26.   “Stop Dating the Church” by Josh Harris. Written to convert lone-ranger Christians into those who are committed to the church body.

27.       “Handbook on Church Discipline” by Jay Adams.  A primer on the thorny but important subject of church discipline. Unpacks Matthew 18 passage.

28.  “Worship by the Book” by Don Carson and others. Dr Carson’s opening chapter on worship throughout the bible is worth the price of the book. The remaining chapters show how three pastors in different traditions seek to apply the principles in their confessional tradition.

Evangelism

29.       “The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever.  Answers four basic questions about evangelism: Who should we evangelize? How should we evangelize? What is evangelism? Why should we evangelize?

30.       “Know and Tell the Gospel” by John Chapman. Does exactly what it says on the tin. The first half of the book explains the gospel to make sure we get it; the second half deals with the practicalities of evangelism.

31.       “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”by JI Packer. How do the themes of God’s Sovereignty and our responsibility to evangelise interact? Packer gives a brief but stretching treatment.

32.       “Tell the Truth” by Will Metzger.  If the words ‘God centered evangelism’ mean nothing to you, this book would be a worthwhile read. Aims to help us share the whole gospel to the glory of God.

33. ” Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions” by John Piper.  Simply the best contemporary theology of mission. Returns frequently to God’s goal in all mission work: to bring honour to His great name, thereby bringing joy to the nations.

Theology

34.      “Know the Truth” by Bruce Milne. A great entry point for those new to theology.

35. “Concise Theology”by JI Packer.  Contains concise chapters (2-4 pages) on about 90 doctrines.

36.      Reformed Dogmatics” by Herman Bavnick.  Richard Gaffin calls it: “arguably the most important systematic theology produced in the Reformed tradition.”  JI Packer adds:  “Bavinck’s Dutch masterwork was the Everest of which the textbooks by Louis Berkhof and Auguste Leoerf were foothills”! Need I say more!

37.       “Chosen By God”by RC Sproul. Trying to wade through the issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the plan of salvation? One of the simplest introductions to a profound subject.

38.      “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended and Documented” by  David Steele, Curtis Thomas and S Lance Quinn. Philip Ryken callls this book “the best short introduction to the doctrines of grace”; RC Sproul dubs it “a classic.” Unpacks the five points one by one.

39.       “The Theology of the Reformers” by Timothy George. A historical and biblical introduction to Reformed Theology.

40.     “The Holy Spirit” by Sinclair Ferguson, “Four views of Spiritual Gifts” by Counterpoints & “The Final Word: A biblical response to the case for tongues and prophecy today” by O. Palmer Robertson. A triad of books that will be helpful  in orienting people toward the work of the Holy Spirit as well as controversial questions about spiritual gifts today.

41.  “Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul” by Guy Prentiss Waters. Reviews and responds to the so called ‘new perspectives on Paul ‘which are causing a wide-spread re-interpretation of books such as Romans and Galatians. Written to introduce the subject to those who know little or nothing about it.

The Cross of Christ

42.       “The Cross of Christ”by John Stott. Arguably the best treatment on the death of Christ available. One to read through slowly and several times over.

43.       “Pierced for our Transgressions” by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach. A superb contemporary defence of the long attacked doctrine of ‘penal substitution.’ (ie. The idea that Christ died for our sins as a substitute, bearing God’s wrath)

44.    “The Cross Centered Life” by CJ Mahaney. A five star devotional book that explores how we can make the cross of Jesus central to our everyday living.

45.   “The Passion of Jesus Christ: 50 reasons why Jesus came to Die” by John Piper. An ideal book to read daily on the run up to Good Friday.

Baptism

46.      “Believers Baptism” by Tom Schreiner. Takes seriously the challenge of the paedo-baptist position, but defends and promotes believers baptism. Superb treatment.

47.     “The Water that Divides”by Donald Bridge and David Phypers. A believer’s baptist and a peado-baptist argue out the respective merits of their positions.

48.    Why I am a Baptist” by Russell Moore and Tom Nettles. Avariety of authors (including Carl. F.H. Henry, Roger Nicole, R. Albert Mohler Jr. & Geoffrey Thomas) commend baptist credentials from a variety of angles: personal, historical, and theological.

Prayer

49. “A Call for Spiritual Reformation” by Don Carson. This celebrated work looks at the prayers of Paul the apostle, and calls on us to imitate his priorities in prayer. A watershed book for many in their understanding of how to pray Scripturally.

50.  “Pray with your eyes open” by Richard Pratt. An excellent introductory book to prayer, complete with study questions.

51. “A Method for Prayer” by Matthew Henry. Henry’s commentary on the whole bible is famous, but his lesser known Method for Prayer is a real gem. Full of practical pointers for prayer, and gives hundreds of biblical examples of the things we should pray for. Readers will be amazed at Henry’s grasp of Scripture.

52. “Valley of Vision” by ed. Arthur Bennett. A collection of Puritan prayers. Many have found these prayers a useful stimulus to their prayer lives.

For Singles and those Dating

53.   “Boy Meets Girl” by Josh Harris. Romance from a biblical perspective.

54.  “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris. A candid look at the dating culture among Christians today and what the bible has to say about it.

55.  “Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?” by Carolyn McCulley  A book on making the most of the single life as a Christian; written by a single lady.

56. “The Single Issue”by Al Hsu. Probably the best book written on singleness available. Looks at all the main issues, whilst keeping close to the Scripture’s teaching.

For Children

57. “The Big Picture Story Bible” by David HelmAn overview of the bible story, told with Jesus at the center. Probably best for under 5s.

58. “The Jesus Story Book Bible“. Similar idea to the Big Picture Story Bible, but much longer narration. Aimed at 5-10′s.

59. “The Big Book of Bible Truths” & “The Big Book of Questions & Answers About Jesus” by Sinclair Ferguson

60. “Praise Factory”. Ok, so strictly speaking this isn’t a book. But a whole host of excellent online materialis available to download from Connie Dever.

On Marriage

61.  “God, Marriage and Family”by Andreas Kostenberger. The magnum opus of books on all issues relating to marriage and family. Comprehensively sweeps over the territory of Scripture and draws out lasting principles for the conduct of marriage, singleness, divorce and a host of other topics. A reference book to return to.

62. “Love that lasts”by Gary & Betsy Riucci.  One of the best books in recent years dealing with marriage. Jointly written by a married couple, this biblical and practical volume is a good primer on all things pertaining to marriage.

63. “Lasting Love”by Alistair Begg. Perhaps best read by couples who have been married for some time. Stresses marriage as a covenant commitment and talks about protecting our marriages from a variety of threats.

64. “When Sinners say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage” by David Harvey. The title sums up the book’s theme. If you don’t know why the gospel would relate to your married life, you need to read this book!

Pastoral Issues

65. “When the Darkness will not Lift” by John Piper. Deals with depression from a biblical standpoint. You can read this book online.

66. “When People are Big and God is small”by Ed Welsch. Everyone struggles with the fear of man, to a greater or lesser extent. Ed Welsch explores what to do about it.

67. “How long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil” by Don Carson.  A no holds barred look at what the bible teaches about suffering. Written with exegetical precision and pastoral sensitivity.

68. “When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty”by Joni Erickson Tada.  Co-authored by a woman who has experienced deep suffering first hand and endured it with a rock-solid theology of God’s Sovereignty.

69. “Quick Scripture Reference for Counselling”by John G Kruis. An aid for elders, but actually a good reference for struggling Christians themselves. Has extensive scriptures to address a range of themes (eg. Adultery, affliction, alchohol, anger…)

70. “The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness” by Tim Chester. “I’m busy” – how often do we say it?! Chester examines why we workaholics fill our lives running around with no time to spare.

71. “How can I be sure I am a Christian?” by Donald Whitney. This book meets head on perhaps the most common and perplexing pastoral issue: a lack of assurance. Whitney takes us back to the bible and helps us distinguish between presumption and true assurance.

Eldership

72.       “Biblical Eldership” by Alexander Strauch.  Deals with every major biblical passage pertaining to eldership, explaining and applying them. A bit of a tome, but no better single-volume on the market.

73.       “Leading with Love” by Alexander Strauch. A practical book which looks at the vital part that love plays in church leadership.

74.     “The Peacemaker” by Kevin Sande.  THE book on dealing with conflict in the church. A comprehensive and practical theology for conflict resolution, designed to bring about not only a cease-fire but also unity and harmony.

75.      “The Elder and his work” by John Dickson. Written by an elder, for elders.

The Pastor’s role

76. “On Being a Pastor”by Derek Prime & Alistair Begg. More geared toward ‘paid’ pastors, but much that is covered pertains to all elders. Covers a wide range of subjects from priorities in pastoral work, to teaching and visitation.

77.    “The Reformed Pastor” by Richard Baxter. A classic work on the fundamentals of a pastor’s role.

78.  “The Christian Ministry” by Charles Bridges. Rivals the Reformed Pastor as one of the finest works on pastoral ministry.

79. “I believe in Preaching”by John Stott. If you don’t believe in preaching, you should at least give this book a hearing. A comprehensive and persuasive case is made for preaching by Stott that appeals to history and Scripture.

For Women

80. “Feminine Appeal”by Carloyn Mahaney. A study of what the bible teaches about femininity, over and often against what the world teaches.

81. “God’s Design for Women” by Sharon James. As above.

82. “Biblical Womanhood in the home”by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. This book particularly looks at what goes on within the four walls of our homes, and what biblical womanhood looks like in that context.

83. “Women’s Ministry in the Local Church”by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt. Deals with the thorny issues of the extent of women’s role in the church. A wholesome treatment of the subject that elevates the worth of women in the church congregation, and discusses how to implement a women’s ministry.

84.  “50 Crucial Questions about Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. For those wrestling with what the bible really teaches about femininity. Answers the tough questions.

For Men

85. “Discipllines of a Godly Man” by R Kent Hughes. Examines 20 disciplines that are necessary in the godly man’s walk. An ideal study to do in a pair or a group. Has questions at the end of each chapter. (Note: There are also two other similar books available: “Disciplines of a Godly Woman” and “Disciplines of a Godly Family“)

86. “Men of God: Growing Men’s Ministry in the Local Church”by Benton, Coekin, Jackman, Jensen, Roberts, Tice. Very helpful booklet which grew out of the men’s conventions in the London.

87. “Thoughts for Young Men”by JC Ryle. Blunt, straightfoward advice man to man. Tackles what godliness needs to look like, especially in the lives of younger guys.

Biographies

88. “Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God”by Noel Piper. Not just a book for women to read! Chronicles the lives of Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare, drawing out spiritual lessons.

89. “The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce” by John Piper. This biography, like Piper’s others, give a brief summary of the individual’s life, and then draws out themes and lessons to learn for today. Read it online.

90. “The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther and Calvin” by John Piper. Similar format to the Roots of Endurance. Available to read online.

91. “Portrait of Calvin” by THL Parker. There isn’t much in the way of good biography on John Calvin, so THL Parker’s offering is a needful addition. Also available online.

92. “Here I stand: The Life of Martin Luther”by Roland H Bainton. The man who was God’s instrument in the Reformation. Bainton tells the story with all the eloquence it deserves.

93. “Jonathan Edwards: A Life”by George M. Marsden. Still a hero of many (not least John Piper!). Preacher, theologian, philosopher, missionary, pastor, author – Edward’s was all of them. Marden portrays the man who was a catalyst for the Great Awakening.

94. “George Whitefield: The Life and Times of an Eighteenth Century Evangelist”by Arnold Dallimore. Heart warming tale of Whitefield’s life is a favourite biography for many.

95. “D Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The first forty years” and “D. Martyn Lloyd Jones: the fight of faith” by Iain Murray.  Celebrated account of the great expositor preacher, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, who graced the pulpit of Westminster Chapel for almost 30 years.

96. “William Tyndale: a Biography” by David Danielle. Remarkable story of the brave bible translator who put the bible into the English language, at the cost of his life.

97. “The Forgotten Spurgeon” by Iain Murray. A sane account of an extraordinary man, who was one of the greatest preachers ever. Alternatively “Spurgeon: A New Biography” by Arnold Dallimore.

98. “Through the Gates of Splendour” by Elizabeth Elliot. A story that has inspired millions of missionaries since the 1950′s, when Elizabeth’s husband was killed by the Aucu Indians in Ecuador.

99. “Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne” by Andrew Bonar. The life of McCheyne, much straight from his personal diary, is particularly well worth reading.

100. “Out of the depths” by John Newton. An autobiography from the quill of the slave trader turned hymn writer.

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Review – Doctrine that Dances

June 17, 2009

Just completed a review for the Discerning Reader. The introductory paragraph:

The title of Robert Smith’s book Doctrine that Dances is enough of a juxtaposition to make most of us curious. Some, coming from proudly anti-theological traditions, find it moderately amusing to discover books still being penned on doctrine at all. Others, though fully persuaded of doctrine’s consequence, may still raise eyebrows at the sight of ‘doctrine’ and ‘dance’ in the same terse sentence. The idea of some of our most cherished theological doctrines doing ‘the foxtrot’ is a new one for most of us!

Read the rest of the review here

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Further Pulpit Points

June 17, 2009

A few responses and clarifications in light of the comments.

  • Again, I don’t think pulpits are biblically mandated, and actually agree with one commenter that “the only purpose it should serve is for the preacher to place his notes and bible somewhere to save him holding them.”
  • I agree too that if there is a pulpit, “it’s more important that the bible is visible than the pulpit.” I also recognise that the bible may not be central even when the pulpit is.
  • I didn’t say that “removing the pulpit is tantamount to removing the bible”, but I did ask the question: “will the bible remain central if the pulpit isn’t?” In some cases the answer will be yes, as in the instance of one commenter’s pastor who holds his bible in hand and continues to refer to it. But in other cases, the answer will be no: the removal of the pulpit will be the natural architectural adjustment, given the prior demise of the preached Word in a certain congregation.
  • I think the communion table should be central too, as any good Reformed person would!:  “…where the Word is truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered!”
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Vanishing Pulpits

June 15, 2009

Alistair Begg tells a story about one of his first conference engagements overseas. During the conference, he shared the platform with an older gentlemen who evidently didn’t like pulpits. Whenever this veteran pastor would begin his sermon, the first thing he would do was remove the pulpit from the platform, so that he could ‘engage’  more fully with his audience. But when Alistair followed on in the next session, the young Scot would re-install the pulpit at center stage, emphasizing the primacy of the bible and the preacher’s dependence on it. On and on the dual went.  The older man would remove the pulpit, Begg would reinstall it. Remove, re-install. Remove, reinstall.

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Well, some years on since Begg’s battle, it seems as though the ‘removalists’ are winning the war! The phenomenon of downsizing, or even disposing of the pulpit, is growing in the USA (see “O Pulpit, Where Art Thou?”) , and by my observation, building momentum here too.

Of course, pulpits aren’t necessarily mandated by the bible (though Ezra had a pretty good one!).  Nonetheless, I do have a few questions that evidence ‘uneasy-feeling’ at the pulpit’s swift demise:

  • if the pulpit is disposed of, what will be the new focal point of the church meeting room, and what will it convey about what we now prioritize in terms of worship? (eg. a sizable space for the worship band = music)
  • unless physically holding his bible, how will the preacher preach from one?
  • …and what will it convey to the congregation if, to all appearances, the preacher no longer needs one?
  • will the bible remain central if the pulpit isn’t?
  • and why are some Christians so evidently eager to ‘be rid’ of pulpits anyway?

By the way, the church I’m going to pastor has a pulpit…

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Evangelism – 8 Common Problems

June 12, 2009

1. Church members cannot articulate the gospel clearly.

Response: The pastor should articulate the gospel with clarity from the pulpit on a regular basis. Presenting the gospel clearly on a regular basis will help fellow-Christians present it more clearly too. If necessary, church members should work through a study like 2 ways to live

2. Church members have few non-Christian friends.

Response: Cut down on the number of church activities during the week to allow some room for relationships to be built with non-Christians. Leaders must model a lifestyle of witness. Sow ideas about new ways to connect with people. Ask: where do the people of our community hang out, and how can we reach them?

3. A lack of evangelistic motivation.

Response: Preach on the clear call in Scripture to evangelise. With God’s help, lead people to Christ. There is nothing more encouraging to evangelism than to see people coming to know Jesus! Talk often about the terrors of God’s judgement upon the lost. Start with the leaders: are they doing evangelism? If so, there will be a trickle down effect.

4. Members are unable to answer friends questions.

Response: Do apologetical sidebars in sermons, raising would be objections from non-Christian friends. Recommend books like Every Thought Captive. It may be beneficial to do some practical work in this area, a course which mixes theory and practice.

5. Lifestyles of members do not commend the gospel.

Response: Repentance! There must be a willingness to apply God’s Word to every area of our lives, not just to Sunday’s. Church discipline might factor in here too.

6. Outsiders see the church as judgemental and lacking compassion.

Response: Confound expectations by being involved in public acts of care and concern in the community.

7.  Only professionals evangelise.

Response: Show people from the Scriptures that this is untrue. Ask people constantly about where they are doing evangelism, and who we can pray for in their circles. Frequently bring people up the front – ordinary people – to talk about their witness and how we can pray for them.

8. Don’t know what to do once someone is interested.

Response: Emphasise the importance of prayer. Only God can bring about true conversion! Now is probably also the time to bring them along to Christianity Explored, and eventually to church services. If they’re truly interested, they’ll come.

(ps. This is a little meditation I did recently. I thought I’d share it and see if there’s anything others might add).

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Ministering For Money?

June 12, 2009

1 Timothy 6:5 speaks of certain men who thought that godliness was “a means to financial gain.” I’ve just penned the following lines for my preaching on it this Sunday:

The problem was these men were “in it for the money.” See, while its true  that those who serve well in Christian ministry are worthy of the honour of financial remuneration (1 Tim 5: 17), the remuneration itself should not be the motive for ministry.  

God help the pastor who accepts or rejects speaking invitations -nevermind the call to a church - on the crass, blunt basis of monetary considerations!

In his own inimitable way, Charles Spurgeon reflects upon this in his  book Lectures to my Students: 

“How strange it would be to hear a man say, ‘I am a servant of the Most High God, and I will go wherever I can get the most salary. I am called to labour for the glory of Jesus only, and I will go nowhere unless the church is of the most respectable standing. For me to live is Christ, but I cannot do it under £500 per annum.” 

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