Can TED talks teach us how to preach?

Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own way.

Having started listening to the audiobook of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingI not only answer “Yes, we can,” to that question, but “Yes, we must.”

I’ve only listened to the first two hours of the seven-hour book, but I’ve already learned some valuable lessons that I hope to incorporate into future sermons, lectures, and addresses.

Given the unparalleled success of this format for the verbal communication of ideas, it’s not surprising that there’s much to profit from for anyone whose calling is focused on the spoken word.

On every page, Chris Anderson, the author and founder of the modern-day TED Talks, shares what he has learned from watching many epic TED talks; and also some epic fails.

One of the main points he makes in his introduction is: “There is no one way to give a great talk.” That’s so encouraging for preachers and teachers everywhere. Sometimes we think we have to copy a certain successful speaker, or preaching style, but, as Anderson warns, “Any attempt to apply a single set formula is likely to backfire. Audiences see through it in an instant and feel manipulated.” Yep, been there.

As the key part of any great talk is freshness, Anderson encourages readers to see the book as offering a set of tools designed to encourage variety. “Your only real job in giving a talk,” he says, “is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way.

As Christian preachers and teachers, we certainly have the former. But, in the Reformed world, we often lack the latter. There’s almost a fear of being oneself, of being authentic, of letting one’s character or personality shine through or shape the message in any way. Such Reformed Robots rust out pretty quickly for the hearers.

I’ve seen men full of lively and lovely personality become bore of the year in the pulpit. A lot of that is fear of man and the desire to conform to a certain “type” or “image” of what a preacher should be. But it’s deadly to effective communication of our message.

I was talking to a student about this recently and he shared that what had helped him in this area was Tim Keller’s little book The Freedom of Self ForgetfulnessThat’s the key to this. It’s not about acting; it’s the very opposite. It’s about stopping acting. It’s about closing the Reformed clone factory. It’s about being yourself, your unique self, which only happens when you forget yourself.

Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own unique way.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

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Have we Christians made Marriage too Complicated?
Here’s a thought-provoking post.  It jives with much of my own experience.

Can Leadership Be Learned?
Ed Stetzer says yes.

“There is an old phrase, “Leaders are learners.” I think that is true, but would add you can learn your way into leadership. Most pastors I know have had the same experience over and over. They’ve not learning, but just repeating the experience of the last year or years. So, get some books. Do some reading. Get a mentor. Leadership can be learned if we will be learners.”

Descriptions and Prescriptions
An interview with Mike Emlet about his landmark new book.

When it comes to issues of psychiatric diagnoses and medications it is too easy for Christians to go to one extreme or the other. That is, to either grant too much authority to psychiatric classifications and solutions for people’s problems as though Scripture is irrelevant for issues of mental distress. Or to dismiss them altogether as though medical science is irrelevant for issues of mental suffering in Christians. I wrote this book to present a nuanced “third way” between those two extremes that is grounded in Scripture, does justice to human beings as embodied souls, respects the role of scientific inquiry, and suggests compassionate and wise ways to minister to those who are struggling with mental illness in our churches.

Bigger Thoughts
Jared challenges us to expand our thoughts and words.

“The challenge is clear: to train our minds and hearts to think bigger and better thoughts about God. To read authors who take us to new heights of theological devotion. To be around Christians who are smarter and wiser than we are. To preach sermons that strive for both simplicity and profundity. To be churches where young Christians are comfortable but mature Christians frequently challenged as well. Which is all to say that we need to be people of the Word of God because only the Bible manages such a feat.”

Truth I’m Trying to Hold Onto
Mike’s list of therapeutic truths would be good for everyone to print out and keep in front of them.

“I’m going through a rather dark season of the soul. At times it’s just my depression talking and kind words are being filtered through a wickedly unhelpful lens. And at times it’s just that I’m enduring criticism on a daily basis for something or another. And I’m usually right there in the crowd yelling, “crucify him”. And so when my feelings are all jacked up I try my best to meditate upon things that I know to be true. “

Hell Is Not Separation From God
Contrary to what you may have heard, and even said:

“Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present.”

Kindle Books

Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft $1.99.

Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour $2.99.

Developing A Healthy Prayer Life by James Beeke $2.99.


What is depression?
Here’s a TedEd video with some good background info on depression. Most staggering fact: “According to the National Institute for Mental Health, it takes the average person suffering with a mental illness over ten years to ask for help.”

New Books in the PRTS Library

One of the privileges of working at PRTS is the weekly arrival of new books to supplement our library of 70,000+ books. Here are some of the new selections this week.

Note: Inclusion in the library does not necessarily mean endorsement of contents. We often have to buy books to help students with specialist theses and also to train students to think critically. Also, a book new to the library does not necessarily mean a new book on the market.

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.


Religion in Enlightenment England: An Anthology of Primary Sources by Jayne Elizabeth Lewis

Religion in Enlightenment England introduces its readers to a rich array of British Christian texts published between 1660 and 1750. The anthology documents the arc of Christian writings from the reestablishment of the Church of England to the rise of the Methodist movement in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment era witnessed the explosion of mass print culture and the unprecedented expansion of literacy across society. These changes transformed many inherited Christian genres―such as the sermon and the devotional manual―while also generating new ones, from the modern church hymn to spiritual autobiography.”

Evangelical Free Will: Phillipp Melanchthon’s Doctrinal Journey on the Origins of Faith by Gregory Graybill

“The debate over the relation between election and free will has a central place in the study of Reformation theology. Phillipp Melanchthon’s reputation as the intellectual founder of Lutheranism has tended to obscure the differences between the mature doctrinal positions of Melanchthon and Martin Luther on this key issue. Gregory Graybill charts the progression of Melanchthon’s position on free will and divine predestination as he shifts from agreement to an important innovation upon Luther’s thought.”

Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today by Robert L. Gallagher and John Mark Terry

“Two leading missionary scholars and experienced professors help readers understand how missions began, how missions developed, and where missions is going. The authors cover all of missions history and provide practical application of history’s lessons.”

Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua W. Jipp

“Too few Christians today, says Joshua Jipp, understand hospitality to strangers and the marginalized as an essential part of the church’s identity. In this book Jipp argues that God’s relationship to his people is fundamentally an act of hospitality to strangers, and that divine and human hospitality together are thus at the very heart of Christian faith.”

Wrestling with Isaiah: The Exegetical Methodology of Campegius Vitringa by Charles Telfer

“Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722) of Franeker University was a biblical scholar of considerable influence for the first half of the 18th century. Similar to that of Calvin, his exegetical methodology attempts to walk a via media between the historicism of Grotius (1583-1645) and the Christocentrism of Cocceius (1603-1669). His magnum opus was a widely-acclaimed commentary on Isaiah (1720). Vitringa scholars have charted his influence along a historical-critical trajectory (including Schultens, Venema, Alberti, Manger, Delitzsch, and Gesenius) and along a Pietistic trajectory (including Franke, Lange, and Bengel, leading toward Lessing, Herder and German Idealism). The book includes the first biography in English and compares his hermeneneutical theoria with his praxis. It analyzes Vitringa’s exegetical presuppositions, his remarkably high view of the Bible, and his canones hermeneuticos (highly valued by J.J. Rambach [1693-1735]). It shows Vitringa’s contextual sensitivity at every level of exegesis, commitment to New Testament normativity in the reading of Isaiah (in which redemptive history is the ultimate hermeneutical horizon), nuanced views on the historical fulfillment of prophecy, and concern for pastoral application.”

Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan

“Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In “Credo”, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, worship and service; and how they help to explain the major divisions of the Christian church and of Christian history.”

T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology by David M. Whitford

“This volume introduces the main theological topics of Reformation theology in a language that is clear and concise. Theology in the Reformation era can be complicated and contentious. This volume aims to cut through the theological jargon and explain what people believed and why.”

Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought by Joshua A. Berman

“In Created Equal, Joshua Berman engages the text of the Hebrew Bible from a novel perspective, considering it as a document of social and political thought. He proposes that the Pentateuch can be read as the earliest prescription on record for the establishment of an egalitarian polity. What emerges is the blueprint for a society that would stand in stark contrast to the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East — Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and the Hittite Empire – in which the hierarchical structure of the polity was centered on the figure of the king and his retinue. Berman shows that an egalitarian ideal is articulated in comprehensive fashion in the Pentateuch and is expressed in its theology, politics, economics, use of technologies of communication, and in its narrative literature.”

John Calvin And the Grounding of Interpretation: Calvin’s First Commentaries by R. Ward Holder

“This book considers John Calvin’s interpretation of the Pauline epistles, discussing his interpretive method and the link between biblical interpretation and correct doctrine. It introduces a division between doctrinal hermeneutics and textual exegetical rules clarifying Calvin’s relationship to the antecedent and subsequent traditions. The book portrays Calvin as a theologian for whom the doctrinal and exegetical tasks cohered, especially in the context of the Church in the Reformations.”

Trinity and Organism: Towards a New Reading of Herman Bavinck’s Organic Motif by James Eglinton

This book explores the organic motif found throughout the writings of the Dutch Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). Noting that Bavinck uses this motif at key points in the most important loci of theology; Christology, general and special revelation, ecclesiology and so forth; it seems that one cannot read him carefully without particular attention to his motif of choice: the organic. By examining the sense in which Bavinck views all of reality as a beautiful balance of unity-in-diversity, James Eglinton draws the reader to Bavinck’s constant concern for the doctrine of God as Trinity. If God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Bavinck argues, the creation must be more akin to an organism than a machine. Trinity and organism are thus closely linked concepts.

God and Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith by Eric L. Johnson

“In God and Soul Care―a companion to Foundations for Soul Care―Eric L. Johnson explores the riches of Christian theology, from the heights of the Trinity to the mysteries of eschatology. Each chapter not only serves as an overview of a key doctrine, but also highlights the therapeutic implications of this doctrine for Christian counseling and psychology. A groundbreaking achievement in the synthesis of theology and psychology, God and Soul Care is an indispensable resource for students, scholars, pastors, and clinicians.”

Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity by Curtis W. Freeman

Undomesticated Dissent provides a sweeping intellectual history of the public virtue of religiously motivated dissent from the seventeenth century to the present, by carefully comparing, contrasting, and then weighing the various types of dissent―evangelical and spiritual dissent (Bunyan), economic and social dissent (Defoe), radical and apocalyptic dissent (Blake).”

Trinitarian Theology beyond Participation: Augustine’s De Trinitate and Contemporary Theolog by Maarten Wisse

“Maarten Wisse develops a critique of dominant trends in contemporary theology through a re-reading of Augustine’s De Trinitate. Theological topics covered include the thinking about the relationship of between God and World as participation of the finite in the infinite, Christology as a manifestation of this ontology of participation, Trinity as a model for our relational mode of being and deification (theosis) as the purpose of salvation.”

Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal by Mark C. Mattes

“Many contemporary theologians seek to retrieve the concept of beauty as a way for people to encounter God. This groundbreaking book argues that while Martin Luther’s view of beauty has often been ignored or underappreciated, it has much to contribute to that quest. Mark Mattes, one of today’s leading Lutheran theologians, analyzes Luther’s theological aesthetics and discusses its implications for music, art, and the contemplative life. Mattes shows that for Luther, the cross is the lens through which the beauty of God is refracted into the world.”

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison

“This book offers hope for both the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized, pointing us all to the grace of Jesus Christ, who mercifully intervenes each moment in our lifelong journey toward renewal. Author David Powlison casts a vision for the key to deep transformation, better than anything the world has to offer—not just fresh resolve, not just flimsy forgiveness, not just simple formulas, but true, lasting mercy from God, who is making all things new.”

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When the job you love hurts you: exploring burnout in the workplace
“According to Merv Gilbert, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, workplace burnout has three components. “You’re just wiped out. You don’t have any energy. The second thing is de-personalization or detachment. You just feel disconnected from what you’re doing. “The third thing is a sense of failure. You’re really not getting a sense of achievement or accomplishment from what you’re doing anymore,” he said. While Gilbert said it’s unclear whether burnout is becoming more prevalent, people are beginning to open up about their experiences. ”

Life Is Short
“Numbering our days is not an excuse for irresponsibility. It’s an invitation to think more seriously about eternity. It’s a call to work for the things that will keep working when we can’t.”

Dear Extended Families of Expats
Yesterday we said goodbye to my 79-year-old father and my 75-year-old mother who were visiting us from Scotland, probably for the last time.

“If you’re a close friend or family of someone who has moved far away to serve the Lord, you may feel saddened by their absence, or even abandoned. I want to tell you, on behalf of all of us expatriates (“expats”), that we love you. We really do. Whether we’ve moved away to serve as occupational missionaries or follow God’s leading to start a business, work in education, or study at a school, we miss you. Hopefully this letter will explain our situation and encourage you. ”

Introducing ‘Exploring the Bible’
“Reading the Bible is like taking a trip through God’s story, setting out to explore and experience the beautiful views found within. But without a map, it’s easy to get lost. Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids leads children ages 6–12 through the Bible one day at a time over the course of a year. Designed for use alongside any Bible, this workbook will help kids see the overarching story of Scripture and lay the foundation for a lifetime of discovering truths about God, humanity, and the gospel.”

Six Ways to Inspire Confident, Contagious Faith in Your Kids
“How do we help children and teens contend with the big questions? An apologist offers her take.”

Only Love Prevents Adultery
“Dear Friend, Although we haven’t met, I know at least one thing about you. I know you didn’t enter your marriage thinking, “How can I ruin this? How can I bring pain to this man, and our families, and our friends?” You began your marriage hoping it would become a life-long love story, filled with deep joy and satisfaction. And yet here you are today, thinking about things you never thought possible.”

The Half-Way Covenant & Whole-Hearted Youth Ministry
“Baptists and Presbyterians can agree regarding one application of child baptism in church history. What was known as the Half-way Covenant was a bad idea. Yet from it we can gain a valuable lesson regarding the church’s gospel duty to young people.” 

Godliness is not your Personality

Why do we take our individual, personality, character, gifts, or calling and make that the sum total of godliness for everyone else?

The introvert equates godliness with quietness.

The extrovert equates godliness with activity.

The generous person equates godliness with giving.

The social person equates godliness with hospitality.

The workaholic equates godliness with hard-work.

The pastor equates godliness with preaching gifts.

The counselor equates godliness with discipling gifts.

The home-educator equates godliness with home-schooling.

The missionary equates godliness with mission support.

The evangelist equates godliness with outreach.

The reader equates godliness with a large library.

The happy person equates godliness with cheerfulness.

The melancholy person equates godliness with guilt.

The courageous person equates godliness with public witness.

The political person equates godliness with social action.

The practical person equates godliness with doing.

The intellectual person equates godliness with thinking.

The emotional person equates godliness with feelings.

The friendly person equates godliness with having lots of friends.

The artsy person equated godliness with “cultural engagement.”

Godliness should be measured not so much by what comes easiest to us but by the progress we’re making in areas we’re weakest in.

Two Mistakes in Parenting Teens

In The Disciple-Making ParentChap Betis says that “the years of twelve to twenty-one are absolutely crucial years in our children’s walk with the Lord.” Up to age 12, they have learned the faith of their parents, but about age 12 or 13 onwards they begin the process of either making that faith their own or of walking away from it.

It’s in the early teen years that they often start asking more challenging questions, they compare what they’ve been taught with what they see in the lives of Christians, and temptation grows more frequent and powerful.

At this point Chap Betis has seen parents fall into one of two extremes: disengagement or tighten control.

Disengagement: “One group of parents backs off. They throw up their hands, looking for the youth leader to keep their kids in the kingdom.”


Tighten Control: “They still seek to make the smaller decisions for their young person just like when their child was five or six. Rather than asking questions to understand the thoughts their child is having, they’re still inclined to lecture. They do not recognize the changes that have occurred in their children.”

How then do we engage our children without controlling them? Betis answers:

Rather than employing command and control, we must become a persuading and inquiring coach. While obedience is still required, we must influence with our words, giving the reasons for what we say. This is the season of life when our emphasis should move to principles. As parents, this role change means that we are simultaneously an authority and a fellow disciple, an instructor and a fellow learner…The goal in discipleship is to move from command to persuasion, from discipline to discernment, from external controls to internal controls, and from parent control to Spirit control (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11-12).