Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

On Sunday, we had a go at tacking the issue of how to handle the parts of Scripture that are least comfortable!

We showed a clip from the West Wing, which has Jed Bartlett challenging a Republican broadcaster on a bunch of Old Testament laws that call for the death penalty. And then read Deut 21, which has the same thing. Here’s how I approached it – any thoughts?

  • it seems to me that there are 3 things that we have so say about this:
    • The first thing is that there is a profound concern for what Moses calls the reality of the evil in your midst, an evil that needs to be purged. We find it very difficult to have any sense of evil except in so far as we suffer; we know that the earthquake in Haiti is a form of evil, natural evil, in the sense that we have a deep gut sense that things ought to be different, the earth should not shake and destroy us like that. But, as a culture we find it almost impossible to articulate evil in moral categories which requires that something be done about it. And in this, we are morally poorer and weaker than these Scriptures. What Deuteronomy’s fierce and violent laws teach us is that evil is real and it is deadly. It is real because the holiness of God is real, an objective supreme standard against which our actions are to be measured; and it is deadly in that evil is depicted as releasing the powers of death in the midst of the community, a power that can only be kept at bay by an equal power, that is by an equal death. The one thing you know when you deal with Deuteronomy is that disobedience to God is not something to be laughed off, not even something to integrated into your life as a mistake, not something merely to be regretted but moved on from. It is an objective reality, a transgression against the law and holiness of God, and it stands against you as the power of death released into your life, and can only be purged, cleansed, dealt with effectively, by an equivalent power. And this is something that we must never give up on. The only alternative is the moral relativism of Dawkins and his crew – they deny the deadly objective reality of evil, and instead redefine it as the subjective product cultural standards, fluid and flexible and ultimately without consequence, except perhaps evolutionary consequence. What’s interesting about that is the glorious contradiction of a position which on the one hand denies objective moral reality, and on the other hand, criticises Biblical faith with moral outrage, suddenly not nearly as interested in the cultural standards of the Bible as it should be. No, the first thing to say about these laws is that they teach us that disobedience to God is a deadly reality. It’s the first, but as we’ll see in a moment, it’s not the last.
    • Second, and although a smaller point, also challenging, one of the things we see here is the the communal nature of this community. Personal matters, even matters that are as intimate as marriage and family, are not just personal and are certainly not private, but are included in the life of the community. That’s why personal actions provoke community response, especially personal evil actions which release the power of death in the life of the community. We drink the milk of an ideology of individualism, where the possibility of seeing the community implications of personal decisions and actions is almost impossible, let alone the setting to one side of the personal for the sake of the community. And one of the challenges for us here is to question that ideology of individualism. What Deuteronomy says is that your actions and decisions, your time, your money, your gifts and abilities, your capacities, your problems – they are not merely your own; they belong to all of us, the way that they do in a well functioning family. And if anything, the new covenant only strengthens this conviction as we are sisters and brothers to one another because we are children together of our Heavenly Father.
    • Third, and most importantly, Jesus fulfills this law – what does this mean? It’s a very slippery word, ‘fulfill’, and can be used to cover a whole multitude of confusions. What it means here is this – what Moses could not see was that the evil would never be purged from Israel’s midst. There might be sacrifices of atonement from day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year, but they would never actually do the job in a transformative way. It was only Jesus, the Son of God, Messiah, who could do that; God himself bearing his own wrath, God himself purging our sin, God himself under our curse. He went where not even the worst criminal was to go, v. 22:

22 When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession.

  • God demands that sin be purged, God demands atonement, and God provide atonement, his own Son, who redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. What Deut demands is not watered down, not explained away, it is fulfilled, fulfilled to the absolute limit. When God came to his world, he came not to mete out the judgment on human evil, but to bear it. You think Deut is bad – brutal, violent, intense? It’s nothing compared to the cross – an utterly innocent man, though of course that’s far too thin, the Son of God, God the Son, the one through whom the worlds were created, the one through whom that Roman soldier who nailed him to the cross was created, utterly sinless, the only one who ever lived from whom no sin ever needed to be purged, the Beloved of the Father – that one went to the cross. And it makes no sense whatsoever unless you get the spiritual reality which underlies Deut’s commandments to purge the evil from your midst. You’ll never understand the cross, you’ll never cling to the cross, you’ll never love the God of the cross, unless you see the reality which Deuteronomy reflects.

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This pilgrim’s podcast

Just spent a fun and interesting hour with The Pilgrim’s Podcast crew – Steve Gardner and Mark Earngey (a pair of slightly institutionally irreverent Moore College students who do a weekly interview) – ranging over topics including the thinking behind the CCIW Five Dock plant and preaching with application that doesn’t bash people.

It will be available on Monday next week. You can check it (and previous podcasts) out here and here.

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I have just realised the biggest gaping hole in my theological education, which has been dogging my preaching since.

The goal of preaching is information, inspiration and transformation (1 Tim 1.5). Leave one out, and the thing falls over. Transformation is another way of speaking about sanctification, so that a doctrine of sanctification is one of the most shaping elements in a preacher’s toolkit.

And right there is the problem. I guess we looked at that doctrine, but mostly what I remember was what sanctification was not – not justification, not complete, not perfection, etc – which is all true, but it leaves out the big issue.

In particular, we never got a grip on the the question of how sanctification takes place (not so much the technique, but the spiritual dynamic behind the technique) and I never heard the phrase which has completely captivated my imagination, sanctification by faith.

The thing is, without a really explicit understanding that sanctification is by faith, we naturally revert to either of two things (which turn out to be common in Sydney Anglican preaching I think)

  • almost no emphasis on sanctification (since we don’t know what to say). This is the constant complaint of so many church members – “light on application”.
  • or worse, sanctification by just trying more, working harder, taking it more seriously etc. The irony of this is it effectively becomes ‘justification by grace, sanctification by effort’!

So, here’s the challenge – think back to last week’s sermon (or take note of this Sunday’s) – recall how the sermon was applied to life, and see what spiritual dynamic was expressed that would lead to that change. Was it in terms of faith, or was it more a Nike application – just do it?

The next post will look at how faith not only justifies, but sanctifies.

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Here’s how Keller runs it.

from flickr by blakophoto

from flickr by blakophoto

Quoting Luther’s Treatise on Good Works, Keller says that any breach of the last 9 commandments – that is, any sin – is really at the same time a breach of the first commandment. How? Because any sin is done either out of pride or fear, which is the having of another god before the Lord. In the case of pride, that god is oneself; in the case of of fear, that god is some other created thing. Either way, it is breaching the first commandment.

Of course, for Luther, the first commandment is all about faith. To have no other gods before the Lord is an entrusting of oneself to the living and true God in faith. And so sanctification is by faith in this sense: as I enact the reality that I no longer live out my life in any area in either fear or pride (which are the two forms of idolatry) – that is, as I have only one God, and trust him – so I will sin less and less.

Repentance, therefore, is first and foremost about re-directing trust to where it belongs, and so sanctification is by faith.

Keller gives some fabulous examples of how to preach this, which I’ll listen to today. But for now, has anyone adopted this kind of thing as a method of approaching the question of application in preaching?

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