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Preaching
Speak up preacher
Brian Croft calls God’s heralds to be just that.

Flattery can kill
How does a preacher tell the difference the encourager and the flatterer? And what to do about the latter.

A forgotten text? Why is that, I wonder?
This is the article I wanted to write. And it’s a text that needs serious consideration and widespread preaching.

Family
An open letter to Christian wives with unbelieving husbands
Some encouraging words for an oft-neglected group

Social Media
The blessings and curses of 2011 – The year “social” went mainstream
If you have any desire to use technology to communicate the Gospel you should regularly visit Nathan Bingham’s blog. This article should demonstrate why.

The Perils of Digital Technology
Mike Wittmer listened to MIT Professor Sherry Turkle’s lecture at Calvin College today and summarizes for us.

Concerning dogs and their ears
Jeremy Walker warns about the danger of using the Internet to become wolf-hunters while neglecting the sheep God has committed to our care.

Captivated: The Movie
Got my copy of this a few weeks ago and just managed to see the whole thing a few days ago. Highly recommended for families and churches.

“Captivated” Official Trailer from Media Talk 101 on Vimeo.


Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching: Narratives

Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this book. The result of a 2009 Academic Study Conference in Cambridge, I wasn’t expecting too much, to be honest; but it’s far exceeded my expectations. Most of the writers have made a really good attempt at making their writing accessible and practical for preachers. I’ve just noticed that it also won the 2011 Preaching Today Magazine book award.

I’m going to post some summaries and comments on the best chapters over the next few weeks, which hopefully will motivate you to buy, read, and use.

The first chapter is by Lawrence Turner and covers the popular topic of preaching Old Testament narrative, with a specific focus on plot.

Avoid these two errors
1. Retelling the biblical account blow by blow and then appending a general moral obligation
2. Picking one point from the narrative and impaling it on the frame of Aristotelian logic

Don’t be averse to literary “criticism” (fancy word for scholarly studies)
1. Just because liberals have focused on narrative studies, doesn’t mean evangelicals should avoid them
2. Understanding the dynamics of narrative leads to theological and spiritual gains

A classic plot has a fivefold structure
1. Initial situation
2. Complication
3. Transforming action
4. Dénouement (or resolution)
5. Final situation

Look for how narratives vary
1. Consider what the narrator omits or includes
2. There can be any number of transforming actions before resolution and final situation
3. Resolutions can be full, partial, or open-ended
4. The difference between narrative time (how long a period the events take) and narration time (how much Scripture is devoted to the events) tells us what to focus on

Always connect the micro-narratives with the macro-narrative
1. How does this narrative relate to the rest of the book?
2. How does this narrative relate to redemptive history?

Use different ways to present narratives in sermons
1. Try to avoid imposing three-point sermons on narratives (I’ll come back to this)
2. Follow the five-part narrative structure (see above)
3. If following the five-part structure, connect each element of the plot with the world of the congregation (e.g move from the initial situation of the plot to the situation of the congregation, etc), resulting in two stories presented in parallel
4. Preach in the first person adopting the persona of one of the characters (please don’t do this!)
5. Identify the “big idea” in the resolution and relate it to the other parts of the plot
6. Individual micro-narratives should be preached as part of a macro-narrative series, resulting sometimes in unresolved plots in some sermons (which are also closer to reality)

Connect the plot to the overarching plot of the Bible
1. The whole message of the Bible matches the five-part narrative plot structure
2. OT narratives lead to the NT, are often resolved by the NT, and shed light on the NT
3. OT narratives should not ignore NT reflections on the OT story
4. To make a narrative sermon live, you need an understanding of other narrative elements (e.g. character – in the next chapter) and biblical theology

Comments
This chapter provides lots of practical help for preachers wanting to become better at communicating OT narratives. If I pick up one good tip from a book on preaching, I’m usually quite content. However, this one chapter alone has given me three or four things to try out in my preaching.

I agree with Lawrence, that we have much to gain from literary studies. Richard Pratt, Leland Ryken, and David Dorsey’s work in this area have greatly enhanced my appreciation for the literary characteristics of OT narrative. However, it can all get a bit over-complicated at times and the insights are often difficult to convey in a sermon, unless the congregation have some handout to follow along with.

While I understand Lawrence’s criticism of “story+moral” and “three points” approaches, he is over harsh on these older methods of preaching narratives. Although they have often been done badly, there are many excellent examples of such preaching styles in the past and the present. While we welcome new insights to freshen up our preaching, surely we don’t want to throw out all the old methods. One of the problems with the newer narrative-style approach to preaching narratives is that while it’s quite compelling at the time, it’s often difficult to remember a day or two after. Structure is so important to understanding and retention.

The fivefold structure insight is extremely helpful in working our way through the exegesis of a plot, but it shouldn’t become the regular structure of our sermons. We just become so predictable again.

I liked Lawrence’s idea of connecting the micro-narrative with the bigger OT and NT story line. But I also liked his idea that if the particular plot we are working on that week does not result in a total resolution, sometimes we should just leave it that way, because that’s what life is so often like. It’s more like people’s experience.

I would strongly advise to avoid the first-person persona idea. I know it’s novel and trendy, but as far as I can see it’s not a pattern we find in Scripture. It results in too much focus on the preacher, and virtually turns him from a herald into an actor.

I’d give the chapter 8 or 9 out of 10. A good start!


Check out

Singing
Improving congregational singing
Barry York has 8 great tips (and not a handclap anywhere!).

Guidance
inDecision App 
Can an iPhone App help you to discern God’s will?

Family
Shaping the culture of your home
You’ll never buy furniture the same way after this.

Tim Challies gives the Kellers’ book on marriage a “must buy,” but says save your money when it comes to the Driscolls’ book on the same subject.

Politics
This house sold on Goldwater
A good read for the many who are going to be disappointed by the nation’s political choices over the next year.

Christian Principles for Realistic Politics
Kevin DeYoung gives us a biblical foundation to political practice.

Work
Monday Morning Motivation
Returning to work after the holidays can be tough. Here’s a great discussion between Collin Hansen and Matt Perman about Gospel Motivation and work. Looking forward to Matt’s book named as his blog: What’s Best Next – How the Gospel Changes the Way You Get Things Done.

Monday Morning Motivation from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


Should we answer the questions people are asking?

Ed Stetzer’s most recent research found a significant change in the kinds of spiritual questions people are asking.

Very few are asking questions about heaven:

  • Just 8% say they wonder about heaven every day (down from 20% just five years ago)
  • While 46% say they never do

More are asking about meaning and purpose:

  • 18% say they wonder about meaning and purpose every day
  • Only 28% say they never do

Ed’s Conclusions
1. Christianity has the answer to the questions people are asking. Through Jesus Christ, people can have both meaning on earth and eternal life in heaven

2. As People are now more concerned about how to get happiness in this life than in the afterlife, the church should start at this point in evangelism.
As Ed says, “Knowing people’s questions and the gospel answer is a key part of clear evangelistic communication.”

My Question
While I appreciate Ed’s research, and I think the church should heed it and learn from it, I do wonder if unbelievers are really the best judges of the questions they should be asking? (I certainly wasn’t) Is it not a bit like asking an Inuit (an “Eskimo” for the non-politically correct) if they have any questions about gardening in the Sahara?

I’m not saying we should ignore the questions of unbelievers. As Ed says, they can be a starting point. But having answered them, perhaps we should go on to say, “Now these are important questions you’ve asked, and I’ve tried to give you serious answers. But there are even more important question you should be asking, like, “How can I get my sins forgiven? How can I get right with God? How can I be changed from within? How can I be born-again?” If an unbeliever isn’t interested in these questions, he/she has not begun to understand the seriousness of their state.

When the rich young ruler came with questions about the lack in his life and about how to gain eternal life, Jesus did not answer him directly. Instead, He started asking him about the commandments. It’s almost as if he was saying, “Wrong questions! Here, let me supply the ones you should be concerned about.”

Again with Nicodemus, Jesus interrupted Nicodemus’s introduction with a question that Nicodemus had clearly never even thought of before.

Sometimes we have to destroy the unbelievers’ bridges to nowhere, and start boring tunnels into their deepest problems.


Check out

2012 Predictions
John Mark Reynolds and CNN venture their guesses.

Family
Mentoring your grandchildren
Superb article by Clare DeGraaf, author of the Ten Second Rule

Danish attempt to eliminate Down Syndrome
As the writer points out, before we all jump on our high horses, the USA and the UK are already 90% of the way there.

Health
With depression, helping others may in turn help you 
Need help to get your emotions on an upward spiral? Help someone else.

Single best thing you can do for your health is take a 30 minute daily walk. Best of all, it’s free. And as a bonus, it also helps you sleep better.