Monday, July 30, 2012

John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching

“The Divine Majesty of the Word: John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching” by John Piper, Senior Pastor of Ashland Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and author of several books including, Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards. From: The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume 3, Summer, 1999. Available at Accessed 07/24/2012

     The absolute foundation of John Calvin’s theology, doctrine, and homiletics is not bound up in perseverance of the saints, predestination, or particular redemption. Instead, Calvin’s highest ideal was what he referred to as a “zeal to illustrate the glory of God.”

     This phrase was first used by Calvin to refute a letter sent to Geneva by Cardinal Sadolet, attempting to bring the early Reformers back into the Catholic fold. Calvin’s response was so grand that it brought praise from Martin Luther. His push back against Catholicism was not found in transubstantiation, papal authority, or priestly indulgences, but in their lack of understanding of the supremacy of God’s Sovereignty. This shows through in Calvin’s later writings, and especially in his Homiletical style.

     Piper’s article is written to show how the Reformer’s life and theology ultimately determined his homiletical style, which was, according to Piper, expositional. This is a natural flowing from Calvin’s sense of the Scriptures as being the ultimate authority, as opposed to any human authorship--such as the papacy. Coming from the Catholic church of the day, where the Scriptures were in flux and the Pope had equivalent authority, Calvin preached the authority of God's Word alone. When the Scriptures began to be made available to the hoi polloi, it became necessary to begin the process of exegeting the meaning, and delivering them through expository sermons instead of topical homilies.

     What Piper shows in this article is Calvin’s view of the majesty of God as seen in the Scriptures. This convinced him that the Scriptures were indeed the very Word of God. Calvin wrote, “We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has proceeded from Him alone, and has nothing of man mixed with it.” From this Calvin wrote the great Institutes, many commentaries, gave lectures, and of course, preached regularly in Geneva and abroad. All of this was in expositional form.

     Calvin was so dedicated to the belief in expositional preaching that he carried it out in every sermon. In fact, one of the great stories about Calvin revolves around his dedication to verse-by-verse expositional preaching. In 1538, Calvin preached on Easter Sunday, and was banished by the church council the next day. When Calvin was allowed to return three years later in 1541, he picked up his preaching from the very next verse!

     Piper points to three things that led to Calvin’s affinity for expositional preaching. First, Calvin was convinced that the Word was given for the people, and to the people. Not for the clergy, or to the clergy. It was to be a lamp to light the people’s path and a guide to direct the people’s steps. By exposing the people to the Word, he was exposing them to God’s plan for their life.

     Second, Calvin was aghast at the thought of a preacher standing in the pulpit and proclaiming his own thoughts. Calvin believed in letting the Scriptures be the catalyst for understanding God’s will. He wrote, “When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.” It was imperative to Calvin that the preacher say what God intended to be said, and not what the preacher wanted to say. The third thing Piper brings out is that Calvin wanted so very much for the people to see the Word of God as the Word of GOD. This brings the article full circle, as Calvin wanted above all for God’s glory and sovereignty to shine from his pulpit into the people’s life

Piper’s article was brilliantly written and disseminated. He shows us the background and thought processes of one of the greatest theological minds from the Christian faith, and particularly how this history shaped his preaching.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Expositional Preaching as a Mark of a Healthy Church

“Sermon: Expositional Preaching as a Mark of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. and author of Nine Marks of A Healthy Church. From: The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume 3, Summer, 1999. Available at Accessed 07/20/2012

     What makes a good church? Mark Dever begins this article by asking the question. There is certainly no shortage of scholarly answers, cultural assertions, and man on the street speculations. Nonetheless, it is a question that all Believer’s should ask, whether or not they are in a “good” church now or not. After all, even if we consider our church to be good, healthy, and relevant, there are always those who will venture in for a first experience, and retention is based on their feelings as well.

     Dever answers his own question by telling the reader the most important mark of a health church is expositional preaching. The remaining article articulates his conclusions. Summarized, the idea is that while church growth strategist might make all sorts of suggestions, the bottom line is the respect of God’s Word among God’s people.

     For Dever, honoring God through the Scriptures is paramount, and supplants many modern ideas on church grow, such as worship style, relevance or so-called “felt needs,” and such bane and trivial things as cleanliness of the women’s bathrooms. While all of these things are certainly important, they cannot be the most important issue in the life of the church, if the church is to be seen as “good” or as “healthy”.

     Over the recent decades, the Worship Wars of style, format, and tolerability have caused many churches to decline, grow, split, or even fold. Worship is an important aspect, and one of Rick Warren’s five purposes of the church. Nevertheless, worship itself should flow from a proper understanding of God’s Word. As Dever points out, while a church that does not practice expositional preaching may have the marks of a healthy church, without the proper understanding of God’s Word, these might very well be accidental. Secure nurseries and sparkling bathrooms, contemporary worship, and wonderful service and fellowship can be a shell of mediocrity in the life changing aspect of the centrality of the Gospel message. In other words, do clean bathrooms change people for the eternal?
     Dever delineates between expositional and topical sermons, including providing a well thought out definition for both. Topical preaching, for Dever is defined as a sermon that, “begins with a particular topic on which the preacher wants to preach and then assembles truth from various texts of the Bible.” The topical sermon can be expositional, but usually is not, characterized by Bible bouncing. Dever writes of his experiences with topical preaching. “I already knew what I wanted to say when I set out to prepare this sermon, as opposed to what is usually the case when I preach expositionally. In the latter instance I may be surprised by the message of the text.”

     Expositional preaching is juxtaposed to topical preaching by Dever and he states that, “expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” In other words, the point of preaching is to find the point of the passage, then relate that to the modern church. By finding the nugget of truth in the passage itself, and not forcing of chipping away at the Bible passage to make it fit a topical point, we more faithful honor the Scripture as Authoritative for our personal lives and the life of the church. Ergo, expositional preaching is the mark of a healthy church.

     Dever ends the article with another question: “So what is it that makes a really good church?” And He answers the question as a summation of the article; “(It is) more than the parking and pews and greeting and programs and nurseries and music, and even more than the preacher, it is what is preached—the Word
of God.”

     Dever’s article was right on target. The importance of these tertiary issues cannot be down played. Parents want to feel their children are safe. Mother’s want to have a sense of cleanliness in the church building (whether or not the bathroom should be the test is debatable) and things like parking and worship style are important to the membership and visitors. Ultimately; however, the bottom line is “why do we gather?” If not for the glory of God and the life changing message of the Gospel, then all is for naught anyway.

A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching

“A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching” by Patrick J. Wilson, Pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. From: The Journal of Theological Interpretation volume 2.2 (2008) Available at EBSCOhost: Accessed 07/18/2012

     Once again the title of the article intrigued me, which should say something about titling of sermons, but that would best be reserved for another article. Wilson, a pastor in Virginia, has written many articles on preaching and ministry. In “A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching” Wilson looks at preaching from an expository style that would readily relate to the so-called market place of Christianity, the Sunday morning pew sitters.

     Wilson’s premise is that the exegete can prepare creative and imaginative sermons and preach to live and intent audiences while faithfully preaching theologically sound messages. In Wilson’s mind, it is easy for the daily grind of ministry and the three-to-thrive mentality to entice preachers to run to easy-to-preach passages. Subsequently, this has caused a great vacuum in modern homiletics.  Also, the degradation of Biblically literate congregations also frustrates the homiletician that wishes to preach from Philemon or Obadiah. Nonetheless, he stated thatwe do not have to run away from these obscure passages.

     In a wonderful insight from the demands of the “market place,” Wilson encourages the preacher to view the art of preaching in a mirrored image of the contemporary concept of sermons and congregational expectations. He writes that we tend, as pastor-theologians, to reverse the order of authority in regards to Scripture and relevance.

     Imagine what would happen if the pastor believes “that a shift can imperceptibly occur so that the stress falls on the scripture's being rendered useable for preaching, as opposed to the sermon being crafted to be useful to God's message in Scripture." In other words, the pastor, in preparing a sermon, does not beat out of Scripture a nugget of golden truth, but instead allows the truth already present escape. In this way, the theological truth becomes the usable teaching point.
     Wilson is correct in his estimate that these nuggets of truth do not come in moments of sheer inspiration. Not even will they show up in the second, or for that matter, the tenth reading of the passage. They will appear through an abiding with, and as a part of, the Scripture, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. So called “rabbit-chasing” (the act of running all over Scripture to provide a point) stops the exegetical process from unveiling the true nugget. The homiletician that stays put in a pericope has the best chance of revealing the present nugget of truth, as opposed to hacking it out for himself.

     Wilson gives a final truism in how preachers can better theologically interpret Scripture. Wilson writes that, "No preacher can ever be astonishing (in a positive sense!) unless he has first been astonished. The astonishment that funds preaching seldom happens in the blinding moment of inspiration but rather occurs with amazing regularity for those who ‘abide’ deeply and quietly with a text.” In a more Southernesque colloquialism, “You cannot truly amaze the audience, until you have been amazed by the Word!”

     Wilson ends the article by asking the question, “What is the point of theological interpretation of Scripture?” The answer to that question could be cumbersome and verbose, to say the least. Notwithstanding, however, is the simplistic assertion that the purpose of the theological interpretation of Scripture is the grand purpose of all life--giving Glory to God. All proclamation of Scripture should have that as its end goal. As Wilson points out, even the angels proclaiming the Advent did so for God’s glory.

     Wilson’s article is light-hearted and humorous (my favorite type) with-out being flippant or coming across as arrogant. His look at the scholarly theme of the theological interpretation of Scripture is brought to life with and by a pastor/preacher's heart. He readily acknowledges that his article is a look at the market place from the market place and as such he presents an article about preaching from a preacher.

Is Application Necessary in the Expository Sermon?

“Is Application Necessary in the Expository Sermon?” by Hershel York, Professor of Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and co-author of Preaching With Bold Assurance. From: The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume 3, Summer, 1999. Available at Accessed 07/24/2012

     “To apply, or not to apply?” that is the question…at least the question Dr York asks in this article on expository sermons. Should the preacher simply exegete the Scriptures or should he attempt to make an application from the text that the audience can use as a “take away” from his sermon? The debate among scholars is real, although probably less practical in the real world of day-to-day ministry. Nevertheless, the article treats the issue and its impact in the expositors preparation. The detractors of application argue  that it lessens the authority of God’s Word, while protagonists counter that application is the best method of demonstrating that very authority.

     York contends that even the great theolog Karl Barth believed that application was a neigh impossibility for any human preacher to get right, and that being faithful to the truth of the text keeps us from properly bridging the gap from the original to the current audience. York presents the argument as inferential as opposed to direct. Or, stated another way, there is no direct application, only concepts that the modern hearer can infer from the text.

York; however, holds to the belief that the text deserves to be applied by the audience. He therefore implores the exegete to provide application when preaching expository sermons. York writes; “we are convinced that expository preaching which includes direct and explicit application to the lives of the hearers is the most effective. Those who are committed to an expository model must be determined to do more than merely explain the text in its original context.”

Leading the audience to application is no less important than leading them to understand the meaning. Ergo, sermons without application are simply the expositor regurgitating the facts of the text in Homiletical form. If York is correct, then is not preaching, but oral commentary. As Jerry Vines is quoted as saying, “much of the ineffective expository preaching of our day is due to the failure to relate Bible facts to the contemporary world.” This inadequacy in proper exposition leads Stephen Olford to write about application that, “So many people hear the what of our message but never hear the how of our message.”

With so many “homiletical experts” in today’s preaching world advocating application in expository sermons, it is wise to accept that today’s audience needs and desires the application of the Word as much as (if not more than) the facts of the Word. Nevertheless, the question remains “how does the exegete get from fact to application?” York sees the answer in the perspicuity doctrine of the Reformers. The clarity of Scriptural truth is not threatened by the clear application of that truth to modern hears. But in order to get there we must bridge the gap that exists between the original audience and modern hearers. York’s illustration of this point is 1 Corinthians 11 and a modern understanding of women’s veils. How does one reconcile the Scripture and the "modern" woman's lack of covering while praying? One could also argue from an illustration of money. How does the modern hearer understand the difference between a talent and ten thousand talents unless the exegete explains the concept of a day’s wage?

York’s conclusion then, is that “application is the vital link between God’s eternal Word given in antiquity and the concerns of men and women in the present. Preachers need not discuss the option of 'needs-based preaching,' because the biblical revelation is more than adequate to touch hearers across the spectrum of humanity. The role of the expository preacher is to make biblical truth plain enough for listeners to understand its meaning and to demonstrate its relevance.”

     York's article is well received by this reviewer. Application is not just a necessary evil; it is a necessary and critical part of the sermon. Preaching is to be the elevation of simple commentary of a portion of Scripture. It is to be the highlighting aspect of the Believer’s week, the opportunity to hear God’s Word proclaimed by God’s man so that the audience might be able to apply that Word in their everyday world. York does a masterful job of explaining the need for application, presenting valid arguments from both camps, and concluding that application I an interregnal part of expository sermons.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Joel Osteen’s Rhetoric of Hope

“Victor, not Victim”: Joel Osteen’s Rhetoric of Hope by Helje Kringlebotn Sodal. Available at EBSCOhost:
Accessed 07/12/2012

     I must admit the title of the article intrigued me, if nothing else did. Sodal’s examination of the preaching at rhetoric style of Joel Osteen seemed to be an opportunity to review Osteen himself. Especially because I find his theology suspect at best, and heretical at worst, reviewing an academic take of his preaching style seemed more challenging than that of a more conservative preacher such as John MacArthur.

     Sodal’s examination of Osteen’s faith and doctrine as well as that of his church (Lakewood Church) places an emphasis on the fact that Osteen shies away from the “Health and Wealth Movement.” While he does not refer to himself as a “prosperity preacher,” Sodal places a strong association between Osteen and other “Word of Faith” preachers such as Kenneth Hagen and Oral Roberts. Osteen; however, is also heavily influenced by liberal theology and the concept of freedom. This should not be confused; however, with freedom from sin, per se, but as a freedom from mediocrity. Osteen preachs the realization of the “American Dream” of a big car, fat bank account, two-and-half kids, and a nice home. All of this dream is yours for the taking...if you remain positive, your best life can be today.

     The bulk of the article is dedicated to showing Osteen’s rhetorical style, and how that style has helped him become a leading American orator. Sodal sees Osteen’s preaching as having two main paths. One is an intense repetition of his major themes. One of these is the theme of freedom or victory. Osteen constantly uses the image of the Statue of Liberty to reinforce his ideology of Victory or Freedom through Christ. He is also a master story teller, and uses illustrations and examples as a major part of his deliberative rhetorical style. Sodal writes that, “Osteen’s examples support his relational prosperous theology. They are closely linked to an American context which is optimistic, non-pietistic, and a mobile melting-pot. Most of the examples have a happy ending and relate to a great variety of human characters and situations.”

     The second is his profound sense of positivism. This, from his theological perspective, would be called “positive confession.” Osteen carefully crafts his messages, books, speeches, and lifestyle to omit anything remotely negative. Sodal points out that Osteen weaves in his sermons the message of hope and uses many illustrations and embellishments to his great advantage. His embellishment fits in with his low key and down to earth style of his preaching. In other words, Osteen uses ordinary vernacular, but with stylistic embellishments that elicit a favorable audience response. He is known for over alliterating and a sign-song rhythmic effect. Sodal gives examples as; “dye it or buy it,” and “to live to give.” Osteen also postulates that God will compensate ‘‘double for your trouble’’ and that his audience was “made to soar; you were made to more’’ He also tells his readers that “You’re gonna fake it [success] until you make it.” Tie this in with his deliberate mannerisms and exquisite dress, that award winning smile, and Osteen becomes a master at rhetoric, and subsequently growing his congregation.

     Unfortunately, that last line is all too true. It is his congregation, not His church. Osteen has simply mastered the craft of scratching itching ears and turning them aside to fables. Yet the Christian minister can abscond with a few of Osteen’s better points and use them for the proliferation of the true Gospel. All in all; however, it would seem evident that the true Gospel, true preaching and Christian Rhetoric remain foolishness to the world.

     Sodal’s takes Osteen to task for his shortcomings and gives him well deserved praise for his stylistic choices and audience connectivity. Having said that, any student of preaching and rhetoric could benefit from reading this article. If for no other reason than to understand what exposition, Christ honoring preaching is not.

Preaching the Old Testament

“Preaching the Old Testament from a Christian Pulpit” by
S. D. (Fanie) Snyman; Professor of Old Testament Studies at The University of the Free State; Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Calvin Theological Journal45 no 2 N 2010, p 304-316: from the EBSCO Luther Rice Library. Available at

     The referenced article is written as support for using the Old Testament in New Testament preaching. The author, a professor of Old Testament Studies, argues that the Old Testament is and should be just as relevant to New Testament Believers as it would be to those following Judaism. While the article is not a treatise against Marcionism, it certainly has the feel of anti-Marcionite work. The fact that as early as the mid-First Century New Testament Christians were dismissing the Old Testament as non Scripture and non-authoritative to the church shows that the dismissal of the Old Testament is not a new problem. In fact, many congregations today hear relatively few sermons from the Old Testament.
     This problem is brought out by Dr. Snyman. He postulates that the reason may be a lack of understanding of the connection between the two Covenants. Perhaps in South Africa there is a lack of understanding that the God of the Old Testament was/is the “Father” that Jesus Christ prays to in the New Testament. That does not seem to be a problem in the Bible-Belt portion of the United States; nevertheless, it is still a manifestation of liberal theology. The so-called “Two Gods theory” of the Bible, which suggests a stern faced, cosmic killjoy God in the Old Testament who is ready with switch in hand to discipline His children, is juxtaposed with a gracious, doting grandfatherly type of God ready, willing, and able to look past all sin in the New Testament.

     Obviously, this dichotomy is false and its aspersions greatly exaggerated. While the God of the Old Testament is a just God ready to hand out harsh punishments for law breakers, so is the God represented in the New Testament. As gracious as the New Testament God seems, He is just enough to kill church members who lie to the Spirit, while we see the angry God of the Old Testament passing out grace by the bucket-full. So in this we see that the Old and New Testaments are equally important to understanding the whole of the redemptive story of mankind.

     With this in mind, Snyman wonders how does the New Testament preacher find a place for the Old Testament in his preaching schedule? Also, should it be treated the same as New Testament texts for teaching, reproof, and doctrine? The answer is a resounding "Yes."

     Snyman gives an understanding of the proper way to preach the Old Testament. By understanding the Old Testament as a work of the Holy Spirit that reveals God’s working in history, we can be freed from forcing Christological explanations into every Old Testament text. At times, the text is simply a revelation of God dealing with a particular preacher. We are not forced, as Luther said, “To find Christ behind every rock.” Sometimes the text is simply about Abram chasing after his nephew’s captors. We are then free from pulling Christological implications in from the text that are not placed there by the Holy Spirit.

     This becomes very freeing indeed, but we must also be cautioned not to go to the other extreme and never see the plain references to Christ when they are present. As an example, seeing Christ walking in the flames of King Nebuchadnezzar’s oven most likely stems from a horrific mistranslation of the Authorized Version. Whereas, not readily seeing Christ in Isaiah 53 as the Suffering Servant is to miss the Messianic connection completely.

     The article itself was wearisome and in all honesty, a bit boring. The connections; however, would be beneficial to share with those who are modern day Marcionites, whether by choice or simply practical Marcionites, de facto, by never preaching from the Old Testament. The article concluded with a very practical look at how preaching the Old Testament can help a ministry by aiding in pastoral care, doctrinal teaching, witnessing to the world, and liturgy. Snyman concludes his article with the admonishment that the church needs to preach the Old Testament as the whole counsel of the Word of God. To that I give a healthy “amen.”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Fallen Condition Focus

“The Fallen Condition Focus And The Purpose Of The Sermon” by Bryan Chapell; Chancellor and Professor of Preaching at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. From; the online publication of Preaching magazine. Available at

     Dr Chapell’s article focuses on what he refers to as the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) in preaching. In short; Chapell believes what the sermon is to focus on is what the text of Scripture is saying to the original recipients, and how that original context is now applicable to a modern hearer.
     Chapell begins by asking the questions of where, to whom, and why was the original manuscripts written. By answering these questions at the outset, one can exegete the passage in such a way as to help focus on the ramification to the original audience, and allow Holy Spirit guided direction to make a connection with his own flock in today’s culture.

     Until the preacher is aware of why the passage was written, he will fail to connect to the true content of the original author’s message. It is very interesting that Chapell chooses to use the word “guess” in his article. To borrow a phrase from Tony Guthrie, Professor of Preaching at Luther Rice Seminary, we do not have to use “guessegeses” in our study. God has made His purposes clear in the text, if we will use the Fallen Condition Focus as a methodology for determining that purpose. Chapell defines the concept of a Fallen Condition Focus as, “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory in his people.” In other words, no text of Scripture was written solely for the purposes of the past hearers, but for the needs and sanctification of any listener in any age. Or, put another way, the Fallen Condition Focus is the intention of the Holy Spirit to provide inspired and authoritative Scripture for each age of the church.

     Therefore, Chapell argues that if we do not find the Fallen Condition Focus of the passage, we will not have a true understanding of the passage, even if we can diagram the Greek, or parse the Hebrew, or know many interesting facts about the jewels on the High Priest’s breastplate. These linguistic skills and interesting facts will become secondary when we deliver the Holy Spirit's true intention for inspiring the autographs and His true intention for the modern audience to hear the message He intended.

     As Chapell puts it, a sermon on “prayerless patterns in society” is much less interesting than a sermon on "why we struggle to pray when family stresses make prayer most necessary”—a sermon that this reviewer would love to hear. The generic, bland message gives the audience little reason to tune in. However; specificity tends to breed interest in the subject matter. Chapell lists the following three questions as foundational in determining the Fallen Condition Focus:

1. What does the text say?
2. What concern(s) did the text address (in its context)?
3. What do listeners spiritually share in common with those for (or about) whom it was written or the one by whom it was written?

Answering these three questions will guide the preacher to answer the most important question of the Fallen Condition Focus: “So what?” If the audience sits with crossed arms and scowling faces asking at the end of the message, “So what?” then the preacher has failed to convey the message of the Scripture. They might be able to recite the treasures that Achan stole from Jericho; but “so what?” Does that knowledge affect their Monday reality of a doctor’s appointment? Most likely it does not.

     The article itself was well written in every way. As stated previously, it was very similar to the Homiletical Bridge concept. It was written with just a touch of humor that helped keep it attentive, and was very practice in both application and approach. While not as academic it certainly was helpful in gathering an understanding of preaching from the standpoint of a Christocentric rather than anthropocentric view. Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus is a wonderful tool that should be readily added to myany pastoral toolbox.