Archive for August, 2011
I have just heard of the death of Geoffrey Grogan this afternoon and wanted to pay immediate tribute to a mighty man of God. This very afternoon, at about 3.30pm, I was sharing with two of my colleagues at the College where I now have the privilege to serve as Principal, paying tribute to my former Principal, only to discover this evening that at about that very time he had, as they say, been promoted to glory.
Dr Grogan was my College Principal at BTI (Bible Training Institute) in Glasgow, when I studied there between 1978 and 1981. The ‘Gentle Giant’ as he was affectionately and respectfully known by the students was 6′ 6″ of sheer grace and had a profound influence on all of the many students who studied under him and and are now serving in Christian ministries across the world. It will be for others to recount his teaching, preaching and writing ministry but I wanted to pay a personal tribute to someone who faithfully followed my ministry over the years since leaving College, preached for me, prayed faithfully for me, my family and my ministry and gave welcome and wise advice when asked.
Geoff instilled in me, and no doubt in many others, a deep love and reverence for God’s Word and the occasions at College when he preached were very special.
My most recent personal encounter with Geoff was about 2 years ago when he came and spoke at a preachers’ serminar I was organising in Glasgow. He was stooped and not able to stand unsupported for long. One of the men who was present and who did not know Geoff or his reputation told me afterwards that he was somewhat negative in his expectations when he saw him walk in the room. Geoff began to speak, resting one hand on the desk, but as he gained momentum grew again in stature and confidence and ‘wowed’ all who were present – including my sceptical friend.
I am currently immersed in Geoff’s Prayer, Praise and Prophecy which I will be using as a text book for a series of lectures on the Psalms starting next month. Right to the end he had a desire to pass on to others his love for the Scriptures. With the help of his son he had recently set up an online Bible study programme Getting more deeply into your Bible.
On hearing of this great man’s death, the verse that came instinctively to mind was, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel.” (2 Samuel 3:38)
Sproul’s contribution is, in his own words, “the distilled essence” of “One of the great gifts to the church…a large book titled What Luther Says” (Ewald M. Plass St. Louis: Concordia, 1959) “The corpus of Luther’s Works consists of fifty-five thick volumes, so I utilize this anthology to survey Luther’s writings topically. In this book, one can find collected statements from the various works of Luther regarding the preacher and preaching.”
Sproul goes on to list 10 aspects of the role of the Teaching Preacher:
1. Apt to teach – the fundamental, biblical qualification (1 Timothy 3:1-7). “This concept is all but lost in the church today. When we call ministers to our churches, we frequently demand that they be administrators, skilled at fund-raising and project management. We also hope that they might know a little bit of theology and a little bit of the Bible, and we expect them to preach interesting and often entertaining sermons. But we often don’t make it a priority that pastors be equipped to teach the congregation the things of God.” Sproul makes a correct distinction between preaching and teaching, admitting that in the classroom he sometimes obscures that disctinction. “The students in my seminary classes will testify that sometimes, in the middle of my lectures, when I’m trying to communicate certain doctrines and information about theology, I’ll start preaching, because I’m not interested in the mere transfer of information. I want that information not only to get in their heads but in their bloodstreams. In fact, I warn them at the beginning of each course: “Don’t think that I’m in this classroom as a professor in a state of neutrality. I’m after your mind and your heart. I hope not only to instruct you, but to persuade you. I want to move you to grasp not only the truth of this content, but also the importance and the sweetness of it, so that you will take it with you for the rest of your lives. It is not my goal simply to transfer information from my brain to your notebook, because learning doesn’t take place until it gets in your head and into your life.”
2. The content of teaching – “The Bible. The content of Scripture…So many seminary courses are designed to answer academic questions of background, of authorship, and technical problems that we never get around to the English Bible. Our future ministers are coming out of seminaries not fully conversant
with the content of the Bible…The people of God need to say to their pastors, or to their prospective pastors, “Feed us the Word of God.” Congregations must be careful to choose pastors who will open up the Scriptures to them.”
3. A sound understanding of Scripture – Preachers need to be sound in their understanding of the truths of God’s Word and manifest a certitude that …comes from the text of Scripture itself. That, says Sproul, is almost counter-cultural in today’s church.
4. Guard against false teaching – The preacher’s task is to protect the sheep from false teaching and defend the honour of God and Christ. “Luther said that the false teacher is the worst of all possible criminals, because he spreads a poison that has everlasting consequences. The pastor must protect his sheep from such spiritually criminal behavior.”
5. The centrality of Christ in preaching – The central theme of preaching is Christ, but “Luther saw that the task of the preacher is to preach both law and gospel. Never would he allow the possibility of merely preaching the gospel without ever preaching the law. If a pastor preaches nothing except the “good news” and never preaches the “bad news,” the good news becomes “no news.” It loses its significance for people.”
6. Avoiding novelties in preaching – “What God expects from a minister of the gospel is the sober, accurate presentation of His Word. We get no style points for novelty from God. In fact, to be novel with the Word of God is to create something that is not a part of the Word of God; it is to add to the Word that which does not belong to it. At that point, we place ourselves dangerously close to the wrath of God.”
7. Helping people get to heaven – “Luther declared that every person’s most acute need in life is to be prepared for what happens at the end of that life when he or she dies. The preacher of the Word of God is to prepare every person for making that transition from this world into heaven. As pastors, we are entrusted with the souls of people—their eternal destinies. We live in a day when people don’t even believe that we have souls, but the doctrine of the personal continuity of our existence after death is essential to the Christian faith. People need to be prepared for that, and that is the task of the preacher.”
8. Understanding the Gospel – “Our first task as preachers is to make sure we know the gospel ourselves so that we can proclaim it accurately and boldly.” “Luther…said: “Your task, O preacher, is to make sure that you are faithful to the text, that you are faithful to the proclamation of that gospel, that you are faithful to set forth the whole counsel of God, and then step back and let it happen. I don’t have to try to cajole and persuade people with my techniques to get them to respond. I preach the law, I preach the gospel, and the Holy Ghost attends the ministry of that word to bring forth the fruit.”
9. The value of preaching – “Luther…pointed out that even a mediocre preacher is bringing the pearl of great price to the people. Since the minister is handling that which is of eternal, inestimable value, the people ought not to despise his labor.”
10. Aiming for the heart through the mind – “a sermon is addressed to the mind, but it’s not just a communication of information—there is also admonition and exhortation…we want to get to the heart, but we know that the way to the heart is through the mind…That which makes the deepest and most lasting impression on people is the concrete illustration. For Luther, the three most important principles of public communication were illustrate, illustrate, and illustrate. He encouraged preachers to use concrete images and narratives.”
(I recently had the opportunity to read The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business as part of a book blog tour organised by the publishers, Christian Focus)
On the scale of dangerous jobs, I doubt if most people would rank the theologian or student of theology very highly. However, the process of studying theology is fraught with dangers that need to be faced and navigated. I seem to recall someone once saying that Bible College can be an experience that ‘freezes the soul rather than fires the heart’ and I personally know more than one theological student who ‘lost the plot’ as a result of their studies.
This book is primarily aimed at those engaged in theological studies but has a wider relevance to preachers and teachers and all who are serious about God and the truths of his word. The aim of the writers is to remind us that “the task of theology is to know the unknowable and to describe the unknowable” and to warn of the danger of “substituting intellectual stimulation for genuine spiritual experience”.
The format of the book is ‘inspired’. Part One is devoted to selections from the writings of six “Voices Past”, namely Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. In Part Two we hear from five “Voices Present”, namely Woodhouse, Carson, Trueman, Bray and Hollinger. I actually read the book by alternating between past and present voices, rather than from cover to cover and was left with the impression that I would have liked more of the older, to be honest.
The focus of the voices from the past is more general than those from the present and maybe that’s why I found them more helpful. I especially found Augustine’s dread at entering the ordained ministry, aware as he is of his own shortcomings, perhaps the best chapter of the whole book, closely followed by Spurgeon on Frailty and the Grace of God. The contemporary voices were each designated a specific area of theology, such as systematics, ethics or church history. However, John Woodhouse’s chapter on The Trials of Theological College should be read and considered by all students and staff at the start of each new College year.
For some inexplicable reason I began with the closing Afterword which is mistakenly titled the Foreword. It stressed that “the goal of our theological study is not to figure out God, but rather, to arrive at awestruck incredulity and joyful confidence in God. It is to be blown away in wide-eyed, transfixed adoration.” As Spurgeon once said, “Ignorance of God is the great weakness of the Church.” That is partly the result of bad theology and partly due to theology badly taught and studied. Let’s pray that this valuable book will help remedy that.
For the purpose of review, I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.
The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business
Edited by Andrew J B Cameron and Brian S Rosner
Christian Focus Publishing 250 Pages ISBN: 9781845504670
“The doctrine of Scripture’s absolute and unchallengeable authority is, in the end, a christological issue. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Am I willing to hold to a different view of Scripture than the one Jesus held to?” (Derek Thomas)
“If half the strength spent in attacking or defending the Bible would be devoted to knowing and living the Scriptures, how many more would fall under the sway of their transforming power.” (Joel Beeke and Ray Lanning)
Those are just some of the strong statements made by some of the strong contributors to Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible. More than just a defence of the authority of Scripture, the writers demolish the contra-arguments of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a thorough treatment of the subject and based on extensive knowledge and reading of the opposing positions. And when you feel your mind has been stretched by the detailed arguments, the final chapter on the transforming power of Scripture is exactly the right way to conclude.
You can read my full review here.
Hot on the heels of the recent news that the Ligonier 2009 Ministry Leadership Conference was now available to watch online free (see my post here), Ligonier have now made three of R C Sproul’s teaching series free to watch online.
What more can I say, except ENJOY!
- The Cripplegate identifies four aspects of the call to a teaching ministry in the local church
- I recently discovered The Wanderer which has an excellent review of books on pastoral theology
- Chris Larson at Ligonier lists 5 Principles for Evangelical Leadership
- John Henry Jowett on the secrets of effective preaching
- Head, Heart and Hand identifies the pros and cons of consecutive expository preaching
- From Monergism: Some criteria for evaluating preachers and preaching
- From Expository Thoughts: Luther on sermon length
- From Reformation 21: A call to add church history to a healthy spiritual diet
- Finally, John Piper on where he learned to preach:
I’m a little late with this, but l want in this post to identify what I see as the Main Theme (MTh) of Genesis. In the last post, we looked at the structure of the book and saw that it is built around a series of generation or genealogical accounts.
As mentioned in the first post in this series, I take as the MTh of the Bible as a whole, King and Kingdom, and I want to show each book of the Bible contributes to and is a component part of that one big motif. Remember, the Bible is not 66 books, so much as one book in 66 sections.
I want to assert that the MTh of Genesis is The Foundations of the Kingdom. The reason I do so is that, as we have seen, it is built around the records of the beginnings of all the human families that pave the way for all God’s dealing with mankind in the rest of the biblical narrative; but also because we have in Genesis the foundation stones for almost every biblical truth and doctrine.
Here we have the origins of everything we know and are familiar with – the universe, life, death, sin, marriage, families, covenants, languages, nations, cities, cultures, religions and even redemption itself.
1. The foundation of Theology: the science of God – Genesis reveals God as Creator, King and determined Redeemer.
- atheism (no God) – assumes existence of God; doesn’t seek to prove or define God
- polytheism (many Gods) – God = ‘elohim’, a plural noun followed by singular verb; the polytheist finds himself in a terrifying world since he doesn’t believe in just one god but many, doesn’t know who to turn to for what and is bewildered because of the possibility of gods in conflict.
- pantheism (God and universe are one, world is a body of which God is the soul) – God always existed, the world didn’t; they are utterly distinct.
2. The foundation of Cosmogony: the science of the universe – Genesis teaches that the whole universe has come into being by the will and act of God.
- It denies evolution (infinite becoming), materialism (eternity of matter), fatalism (chance).
3. The foundation of Anthropology: the science of humankind – Genesis establishes the nature of humans as being made of the dust of the earth and given life by the breath of God; made in the image of God and distinct from the rest of the created order.
4. The foundation of Sociology: the science of society – Genesis teaches that society is based on the family unit, established through marriage between a nan and a woman
5. The foundation of hamartiology: the science of sin – Genesis reveals that sin is rebellion against the loving authority of God and that it affects the whole of the human race.
6. The foundation of Ethnology: the science of the races – Genesis shows how the human race was broken up and divided by God because of its corporate act of godlessness
7. The foundation of Soteriology: the science of salvation – Genesis teaches that salvation must come from God; having sinned, man’s only hope is in God who takes the iniative as Redeemer with the first blood sacrifice of atonement implicitly referred to before the end of chapter 3.
8. The foundation of Election – Genesis places a great stress on election, God’s choosing. God chooses those through whom he will work out his redemptive plans. Out of the world he chooses Noah and his family; out of the new world he chooses Abraham and his family; out of Isaac’s sons he chooses Jacob and not Esau etc, etc. He often goes aganist the normal pattern, choosing other than the firstborn
9. The foundation of Covenant – Three of the great covenants which regulate human life on earth and pave the way for the saving work of the cross in the New Testament
- Adamic: Genesis 3v15: the promise of redemption through the seed (singular) of the woman
- Noahic: Genesis 9vv1-7: the promise of the continuity of the seasons and no more universal floods
- Abrahamic: Genesis 12vv1-7: the promises of personal blessing ( a great name), territorial blessing (a great land), national blessing (a great nation) and spiritual blessing (grace to all nations through his descendants)
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of Genesis as the foundation for the rest of the Bible. The Bible without Genesis would be, in the words of one writer, “like a building without a ground floor or a bridge with no support.” Genesis is, in some ways, the most important single book ever written and without it so much of the rest of the Bible would be unintelligible. Genesis is quoted from over 200 times in the New Testament. In fact chapters 1-11 are quoted more than 100 times in the New Testament. It’s not just mentioned but you’ll find it being quoted word for word over 165 times in the New Testament.
Starting from a belief in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, as taught in 2 Timothy 3:16, we must accept the literal veracity of everything we find in these pages of God’s Word. Genesis 1:1 and all that follows is as much part of “all scripture” as any other part of the Bible. The book of Genesis does not tell us all we need to know but what we are told here is totally and completely true and accurate. If you don’t believe what Genesis says, why should you believe any other part of the Bible?
Next week: Route 66: Stop 2. What is the structure of the book of Exodus? How would you divide it up for an overview or for a series of messages? I would love to hear your suggestions either via the comments or by email to john(at)thebrands.org.uk
Thanks to Reformation Theology for linking to what must surely be the bargain and blessing of the week!
Ligonier have made available videos of all the sessions at their 2009 Ministry Leadership Conference, “Pillars of the Christian Faith,”, completely FREE to watch online. With this line up of speakers: Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, and R.C. Sproul, you’d have to be daft, to be honest, not to make the most of this available resource. Did I mention that it’s FREE? In the interests of fairness I ought to point out that you can, if you wish, download all the recordings for $19.20
Ligonier described the conference in these words, “While always initiated and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit, history tells us that the most powerful periods of church renewal and reformation follow the efforts of Christian leaders to teach the Word of God accurately. These gifted teachers held in common a solid grounding in the essential truths of the prophetic and apostolic writings, the foundation upon which Christ builds His church. Christian leaders today must likewise be established in these biblical truths if the church would enjoy a new reformation.”
The 12 sessions were:
1. Creation and Providence (Sproul)
2. Our Sovereign God (Lawson)
3. Thy Word is Truth (Ferguson)
4. Questions and Answers
5. The Word became Flesh (Duncan)
6. The Holy Spirit (Ferguson)
7. Created in God’s Image (Duncan)
8. Cosmic Treason (Sproul)
9. Saved by Grace (Lawson)
10. Vespers Service – The Gospel of Reconciliation (Ferguson)
11. The Church and Sacraments (Duncan)
12. The Last Things (Ferguson)
The link is here. Did I mention that it’s FREE!
The historicity of Adam and Eve seems to be more and more under debate at the moment. Along with the correct interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis, what most, if not all, true evangelical believers held as a true and accurate record of what happened is now questioned openly, even by many taking to themselves the label of evangelical. Al Mohler has just blogged an excellent article on this.
Now, I do not believe that a literal interpretation of these passages of Scripture is necessary for saving faith, but I do wonder why genuine believers feel the need to doubt the biblical record. I don’t think they realise how their view of this part of the Bible impacts on their view of so much of the rest of the Bible.
Let me state clearly where I stand.
- I believe that the opening chapters of Genesis, as written, are an historical narrative record of precisely what happened.
- I believe the original author – Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – intended it to be read as narrative, not poetry, parable or allegory
- I believe that creation took place in six literal, i.e. 24 hour periods, days – to believe otherwise is to make nonsense of the whole Sabbath rest principle and is to abuse the language of the passage where the natural and usual meaning of word ‘yôm’ is a 24 hour period of time, not an indefinite period, and which, when accompanied by a number, such as 1st or 2nd, always means a 24 hour period
- I believe that Adam and Eve were real people, the first two of all people who inhabited planet earth and the only two in existence until the birth of their children; that from this one man and woman all other humans descend – to believe otherwise is to make nonsense, for example, of so many of Paul’s arguments about the first and second Adam. As Mohler says, “The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel. If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”
At the heart and root of this issue is the question of the authority of Scripture. To question the accuracy of this, or any other, portion of the Bible is to undermine the inspiration, inerrancy and reliability of Scripture. The implications are immense. If Genesis 1-3 is not true, how do I know any other part of the Bible can be relied on? If Genesis 1-3 is not meant to be taken literally, then why should I take the Gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ as literally true? And who is going to decide what is true and what is not?
Using all the acceptable principles of biblical interpretation, there is no other legitimate way to read this section of Scripture. To interpret it in any other way reflects a fear of man and so-called intellectual credibility.
In tomorrow’s post, as we get back on Route 66, we’ll look at some other foundational truths from Genesis.
I am not one of those many who have been hugely influenced by John Stott. I have appreciated the few of his writings that I have read, with his measured, precise turns of phrase and his ability to clearly explain and apply biblical truth. However, with his recent death, I decided to read this, his last written work, and confess to having been surprised by it on three fronts.
First, I was surprised by the eight characteristics of Christian discipleship that Stott chose as those “which are often neglected and yet deserve to be taken seriously.” Such a selection is always going to be subjective and personal, but I found it fascinating. Stott chooses Non-conformity, Christlikeness, Maturity, Creation-care, Simplicity, Balance, Dependence and Death. It made me wonder what my eight would have been and I must give some thought to it and perhaps return to it here on the blog at some point in the future.
Secondly, I was surprised by the way in which Stott weighted his chosen topics. I am not sure whether I ought to read too much into this but I was struck by the fact that while the average page count for the eight subjects was 12 pages, the chapter on simplicity took 20 pages, and came straight after 12 pages on Creation-care.
Thirdly, I was surprised that these eight characteristics were thought of as being the marks of radical discipleship. Stott says that his concern “is that we who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus will not provoke him to say again: ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?’ (Luke 6:46) For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship” He includes two telling quotes, one from a Hindu professor, who, identifying one of his students as a Christian, said, “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow”, and the other from a former Arab Muslim who said, “If all Christians were Christians there would be no more Islam today.” Challenging stuff.
But what struck me about the choice of these eight characteristics as being marks of radical discipleship was that I thought to myself that these (or, in my opinion, most of them at least) weren’t radical, just intrinsic to being a disciple. I think the fact that Stott highlights them as being marks of radical, “deep rooted” discipleship, shows up the poor state of the Church today and the poor spiritual condition of the ‘average’ believer. That is not a criticism of Stott; it is a comment on Christians, certainly in the west. If I discussed this list with my Sudanese brothers, or if we were able to do so with first century believers, I doubt they would see them as being radical – just normal.