Monday, September 17, 2012

Preaching the Gospel

So the new buzzword among Evangelicals lately is "gospel." I have no fewer than 10 books written in the past year with the title "gospel" in the title. Everything is "gospel-driven" and we hear a lot about "preaching the gospel." While I think that a lot of the stuff is just trying to capitalize off of the newest (old?) buzzword, I like a great deal of what has come out lately and have tried to apply a lot of it to my own ministry.

In particular, I have been attempting for the past few years to integrate preaching the gospel into my sermons in a non-forced way (altar call-esque) way. I have experimented with different ways of integrating the gospel into my sermon but I finally found out a fairly effective method.
I want to especially focus on the stage of application in preaching. Truthfully, this is where a lot of preachers struggle. We can expound the text and its nuances like champs but when it comes to connecting it to life, we falter. I know that I personally have wrestled with this issue for a long time. However, what I am sharing here has helped me a lot.

Defining the Gospel

There is a general consensus among most recent literature on the gospel that there are four main elements to it. Though the words change, the four main elements are: creation, the Fall, redemption, and restoration.

Creation reminds us that God created man in his image for his glory as vice-regents to rule his world.

The Fall reminds us that because of Adam's sin we are born with a sin-nature that rebels against God's good purposes in our lives and orients us towards destruction. We are at animosity between God, the land and each other and deserve punishment because of this.

Redemption reminds us that Jesus Christ died on the cross because of our sin. He rose from the dead as the inaugurated king and secured our redemption.

Restoration reminds us that one day God will bring about complete and total restoration and we will live in the New Heavens and New Earth with God and others forever. Things will be perfected.

I have chosen for simplicity sake (and as a helpful mnemonic device) four c-words to sum up the Gospel: creation, crash, cross and consummation (but truthfully, the vocabulary matters little).

Integrating the Gospel in Preaching

Essentially every sermon needs to cover all four of these areas. This might sound limiting but actually, the scope and meaning in each of these words is vast--so vast you could explore them for eternity and not exhaust the ramifications of each element. In theory (and in truth), you should have endless applications at your disposal.

Each area (creation, crash, cross, consummation) asks a particular question and should help you think about your text in different ways.

Creation asks, "What was God's original intention for us?" This question orients us to our past and what could have and should have (and one day will be) our hope.

Crash asks, "What has sin does to God's original intention?" This builds a bridge with your congregation because, truthfully, this is where you are. You are battling your sin nature and you are sinful. So this question orients us to our present.

Cross asks, "What has Christ's death accomplished to reverse the crash?" This question actually also is our present. This is where we can begin glorying in the truly good news.

I want to pause here and reflect how absolutely vast this question is. As a preacher you need to be aware of the many theories of the atonement and appropriate various ones in your preaching. For instance, the Christus Victor model of redemption is an absolutely beautiful picture of how Christ has broken Satan's power over us. Penal substitution is similarly vital in letting people know their sin is truly reprehensible to God. Christus exemplar is a good model as well (provided you don't go into legalism) to remind people how they ought to respond in light of God's redemption for them.

asks "How does God want the story to end?" The ending is healing, judgment of the wicked, and perfection. This is a future oriented question that helps us lift our eyes off of the present and see things in light of eternity.

So How Do I Preach This?

I have found it helpful to a) work through my text and then b) write out all four stages of the gospel to help me think through the ramifications of what is written. For instance, this Wednesday I am preaching on "Who I am not" in our series on I-Denitity. I am using a curriculum that I find a bit too moralistic for my taste but they give me a good structure from which to preach.

However, I revamped a bit of the sermon. The three points are:
1) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Other's Opinion [Gal. 1:10]
2) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Ourselves [James 4:1-2]
3) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Appearances [1 Sam. 16:7].

Notice a few things. First, this a topic driven sermon and not a full-blown expository sermon. While originally I used to be against this type of sermon and used to think "exegete the hound out of one text" I have shifted my thinking a bit after working with youth. I am still all about exegeting the text but I think it is important to adopt a "systematic theology" approach to preaching too. In other words, it is useful to show people the scope of what God's Word says. Also, it was a technique used by the early church (tying multiple texts together) so I don't think it is inherently wrong.

The key to doing it well though, is tying it all back to the Gospel. For instance, I have a worksheet that I have gone through in preparation for this sermon. It looks like this:

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Other’s Opinions (Galatians 1:10)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Ourselves (James 4:1-2)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Appearances (1 Sam. 16:7)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

Working my way through each element of this worksheet keeps my thoughts directed on what is truly important and allows me to direct the text back to Christ. It helps give me a clear direction in application and it helps me tie it together well.

Hopefully this helps.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is Preaching Identity Forming A Man-Centered Theology?

I will be teaching for the next three weeks on identity at ROCK127. The past few weeks have provided a wonderful time for me to focus on who I am in God. I have absolutely delighted in hearing God's loving voice to me say, "You are my beloved."

However, I have also wrestled with some theological hang-ups. Some would say that preaching on your identity in Christ is inherently man-centered. Instead, we should focus on who Christ is and from there we will realize our place.

I used to be a huge proponent of this line of thinking. In fact, probably a year or two ago I never would have preached a sermon series like this. But I have come to a realization that is so vital and I think is key to Paul's thinking:

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

When you look at what your identity is in the Bible it is always firmly rooted in who God is. Let me give you a few biblical examples of what I am talking about.

In John 1:12 we are told that we are God's child. Now we certainly can delight in the fact that we are children. But the larger picture is that God is gracious enough to adopt those who are sinners (see John 1:10-11). This birth comes from God. So to preach your identity in Christ is really to preach the attribute of God--he is a loving Father.

Again, take a look at Romans 8:1. When I preach to my youth "You are not condemned" I am not simply preaching a reality that is theirs to claim, but I am preaching an attribute of God--he does not condemn those he has justified. Further, by simple logic, I am inferring that God is a judge. He would be just to condemn us for our sin. The miraculous and beautiful thing is that we are not judged.

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

They are two sides of the same coin. This is not an either/or. This is a both/and.

I realize that in today's churches we see a constant flow of unbiblical, unsound preaching that simply seeks to tickle the ears of men. However, I have noticed a trend (at least in my own heart) to elevate God's majesty and transcendence and forget God's personal affection for us. The danger in this is that we, unconsciously, begin sounding like Neo-Orthodox theologians--highlighting God's transcendence at the expense of his immanence. However, let us not forget:

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Eternal Generation of the Son" Book Review

There aren't many times that as I am reading a book I think to myself, "You know, this book might be one of the best books I've read this year." I certainly didn't think that as I was reading The Eternal Generation of the Son by Kevin Giles. In fact, I thought to myself as I picked up the book, "Really? We need an entire book defending this?"

Well, as it turns out, it IS one of the best books I've read this year and I am more convinced than ever that a full-scale treatment of the eternal generation of the Son was and is necessary. Thankfully, Kevin Giles is such an extremely clear, thorough, efficient and engaging author that reading a book that is fairly technical in subject matter, was enjoyable.

Without going into too much detail, most major Evangelical theologians deny the eternal generation of the Son. Authors such as Grudem, Driscoll and others blatantly reject the doctrine as old-fashioned and something that causes more confusion that benefit. However, as Giles demonstrates so well, the eternal generation of the Son prevents theologians from falling into sloppy thinking concerning the Trinity and helps keep our theology clear.

Biblical warrant for the doctrine aside, Giles does a profoundly amazing job of tracing the historical development behind the doctrine. By the time I was done, I was completely convinced that this was a doctrine that Evangelicals had to adopt and quickly. There are few books that so thoroughly convince me on a topic and yet Giles has done it.

This is a book pastors and professors need to read. Although it is, admittedly, a somewhat nuanced and technical read, it is extremely beneficial and will certainly help clarify your own thinking on the Trinity. Pick it up today!

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this work in exchanged for an unbiased book review.*

Deuteronomy by Edward J. Woods Review

The Pros: Excellent exegesis and Woods does a great job as showing the overarching structure of the book of Deuteronomy. He doesn't get boiled down into the minutia of the text while at the same time the reader never feels short changed. He brings into account a decent amount of Hebrew (always transliterated) and yet never is overly technical. I was also surprised by how thorough his introduction to the book of Deuteronomy was. He obviously adopts a very conservative stance concerning the authorship and dating of the book which was also a plus. The structure of the commentary in general is very lucid, moving from context to the commentary to the meaning. The application is solid (though not spectacular) throughout.

The Cons: The commentary is painfully dry. As I mentioned above, the application is nothing to write home about. In fact, it really plays a secondary role to the commentary itself. That is fine, but pastors should be forewarned before thinking they will get an application section like the NIVAC series provides.

Summary: Woods does a great service to pastors by bringing a very accessible (albeit dry) commentary on Deuteronomy. You can find this commentary pretty cheap online and, in my opinion, it is worth every penny you spend on it. Pick it up.

*According to FTC regulation, I was provided a copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair review from IVP Academic*

"Matthew" by Craig Keener Review

Craig Keener offers up a good, practical, non-technical commentary on Matthew in volume one of the IVP New Testament Commentary Series. The commentary itself is a modest 402 pages which means that Keener doesn't cover as much as he could, or as much as the reader would like.

Keener is known for his extensive knowledge of primary sources and he again draws liberally from them in formulating some of his interpretations. This is obviously good for more technical commentaries but for a practical commentary like this, Keener gives more details than necessary and seems like he goes fairly light on exegesis at times. That said, the commentary is extremely practical and insightful.

If you need a good, pastoral, non-technical commentary that still delivers quite a punch, go ahead, do yourself a favor, and pick up Matthew by Craig Keener (part of the IVP series...not his massive Socio-Rhetorical commentary from Eerdmans).

*According to FTC regulations, I would like to thank IVP for providing me with a free review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*

Monday, September 3, 2012

"The Gospel According to Isaiah 53" Book Review

Isaiah 53 (or more technically Isaiah 52:13-53:12) has long been held up by Christians as the clearest picture of the suffering and penal atonement of Jesus Christ. However, this interpretation of Isaiah 53 has long been rejected by Jewish scholars and, more recently, modern-critical scholarship. In defense of the traditional Christian view of Isaiah 53, Kregel Academic has published a collection of essays from prominent Evangelical scholars and has entitled this collection The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. While not quite flawless, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is the best recent articulation of what Christians believe concerning Isaiah 53.

The introduction by Mitch Glaser orients the reader about the recent discussion of Isaiah 53. Glaser makes plain that this book, "...was written to help readers to utilize the truths of this magnificent chapter in bringing the Good News to those who do not yet know Jesus. It is designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people." [21]. This chapter is helpful in getting the reader up-to-date on the current discussion.

Richard Averbeck writes chapter one which deals with "Christian Interpretation of Isaiah 53". Averbeck notes the shift from the other "Servant Songs": in Isaiah 53, the prophet, who previously identified himself as the servant in 49:1-13 and 50:4-11, now includes himself with the people (the "we, us, our"). Averbeck argues that the prophet and the people are recipients of Suffering Servant's ministry and offering.

In chapter two, Michael L. Brown deals with "Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53". After outlining many Jewish interpreters who clearly did see the Messiah as a sufferer, he notes that there is a clear shift away from such an interpretation later, in light of Christian testimony. He notes that the common interpretation among the Jewish people now is that the Suffering Servant is Israel. Israel suffered through exile and mistreatment and Isaiah 53 deals specifically with that. However, as Brown clearly notes, "...Israel's sufferings in exile did not bring healing to the nations, while, conversely, it is impossible to read the text fairly while eliminating the concept of effectual, vicarious suffering." [77]. Thus, despite those who seek to reinterpret the text, Brown sees that the traditional Christian reading is the most fair to the actual meaning of Isaiah 53.

Chapter three, authored by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., seeks to identify the "The Identity and Mission of 'Servant of the Lord'". Kaiser argues that the clearest identification of the Servant is found in Isaiah 53 and that the success of the mission of the Servant was never in doubt--Yeshua would succeed in rescuing the lost of Israel AND subsequently, bring rescue the nations from their transgressions.

Michael J. Wilkins tackles "Isaiah 53 and The Message of Salvation in the Gospels" in chapter four. Wilkins helpfully traces various echoes and outright quotations of Isaiah 53 in the Gospels. He argues (against critical scholarship) that Jesus was self-aware of his mission and that the early church simply taught what Jesus himself knew. In this way, the early church did not foist Jesus' death upon Isaiah 53 but rather, Jesus himself handed such a teaching down to the disciples.

In chapter five, Darrell Bock deals specifically with Isaiah 53's use in Acts 8. Bock's summary is worth quoting: "Our text is significant because it highlights a point Luke loves to make about Jesus. Not only is Jesus a figure described and predicted centuries in advance, but even the seeming incongruity of his death is
a part of of that description. Juxtaposing Jesus' humiliation in an unjust crucifixion with God's vindication of Jesus in resurrection shows where God's vote lies in disputes about who Jesus is." [143]. Thus Bock argues that Isaiah 53 is Gospel driven and evangelistically centered, as can be seen in Acts 8.

"Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews and John" is the topic of chapter six and is taken up by scholar Craig A. Evans. Evans chapter is particularly helpful because he includes in his chapter an entire listing of echoes and outright quotations of Isaiah 53 in all of the epistles and John's Gospel. Evans concludes, after a lengthy discussion of the usage of Isaiah 53 in letters outside of the Gospels, "The suffering and death of Jesus do not prove that he was not the Messiah; they in fact prove it, for they fulfill the Scriptures, including the Scripture that spoke of the Suffering Servant Messiah." [170]. He believes that Isaiah 53 "makes a significant contribution to the theologies of Peter, Paul, Hebrews and John." Further, it "is especially intriguing [that] the famous Suffering Servant hymn apparently lay at the heart of an evangelism and apologetic primarily intended for the synagogue." [170]

Chapter seven, written by David L. Allen, focuses on "Substitutionary Atonement and Cultic terminology in Isaiah 53." Allen goes back to Leviticus to show how the NT authors are at pains to show how the old Levitical system was inadequate to deal with sins. However, by using Isaiah 53, the NT displays that a greater sacrifice has arrived.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., handles "Forgiveness and Salvation in Isaiah 53" in chapter eight. He opens by stating to the reader that, "Isaiah's fourth so-called Servant Song is a rags-to-riches-story." [191] Chisholm outlines what exactly this means and concludes four things. First, those who benefit from the Servant's suffering are those who wittnessed the Servant's suffering--the nations and Israel. Second, the illness and pain listed in Isaiah 53 are the consequences of sin. Third, the reason for the consequences was a breach of covenant. Fourth, the Servant accomplishes a) release from exile and restoration to the Promised Land b) opens up the possibility of covenant renewal and c) bears the sins of the nation and so allows the nations to enter into a covenant with God.

The book then turns its attention from biblical theology to practical theology. In chapter nine, John S. Feinberg deals with "Postmodern Themes from Isaiah 53." Feinberg finds many themes that will resound with today's postmodern culture--a love for story, the possibility for open dialogue between Jews and Christians, a Creator who cares about genuine relationship. These themes can all be found in Isaiah 53, argues Feinberg, before drawing his very thoughtful chapter to a close.

Chapter ten, penned by Mitch Glaser, approaches how to use Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism. This immensely practical chapter serves, not only as a primer for Jewish evangelism, but as a primer for evangelism in general. Essentially, Glaser boils down the entire discussion of the exegesis of Isaiah 53 into talking points. His essential point is clear--Isaiah 53 MUST be used in Jewish evangelism.

Finally, chapter eleven, written by Donald R. Sunukjian, applies Isaiah 53 to the realm of preaching. His chapter essentially asks, "How are you going to preach Isaiah 53?" He then provides another exegesis of Isaiah 53 as well as a structural breakdown of the passage and some practical tips on how to present the material. He also adds to appendices to the book which are two different sermons he personally preached on Isaiah 53.

Darrell Bock offers a summary of the book and reminds the reader, again, of the important of Isaiah 53.

The question remains: is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 worth the hefty-almost-$20-pricetag. A few things would lead me to shy away from this book. First, as with almost any compilation of essays, you get some good ones and you get some bad ones. Most of the biblical theology chapters are good. Feinberg's chapter was pretty weak, however. Consider that you are paying about $2 per chapter and then consider if each essay is worth that. I will say, however, that Robert Chisholm's chapter was great--not just good. That, to me, might influence the purchase of this work.

Second, despite what the original purpose of the book states (to train pastors and informed laypersons), this book is technical. Seriously technical. I am talking that you need to know Greek and Hebrew (seldom is it transliterated) and the grammar of both languages to really appreciate this work. Having taken both languages, it was still tough to keep up. The entire time I thought to myself, "I can't think of too many churches where this would be on the docket for reading." This is not bedside reading. This is intense, ground-and-pound exegesis. It is good--just tough to wade through.

Third, because of the nature of the book (composed of essays), you get repetition. Further, since you are dealing with such a narrow slice of Scripture, you get A LOT of repetition. I think the point was made at least four times that Israel is NOT the Suffering Servant. While that is a helpful reminder, each chapter felt like it was rehashing the same basic thing after awhile. I almost wanted to scream when I saw that there would be yet another exegesis of the text in chapter eleven (on preaching Isaiah 53). Don't get me wrong, the essays are good, but you get essentially seven to eight expositions of the same text. I will say this to every pastor and teacher--if you can't exegete and interpret Isaiah 53 by the time you finish The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, you need to find a new profession.

So is it a buy, check-out, or pass? It is definitely not a pass. There are a handful of essays in here that are worth reading (such as almost everything in the biblical theology section). For pastors on a budget, the price of the book is steep for what you get so I think that that makes it a check-out. If you are insistent on buying, I would recommend waiting till you find a good used copy. Overall, though, it is a solid work and I think it is one that you will go back to again and again for help in exegeting the text.

*Following FTC guidlines, I received this copy from Kregel Academics in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.*