Archive for category preaching
In conversations with preachers, I often mention my conviction that we must infuse our preaching with apologetics. In J.I. Packer’s recent book, Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, he defines spiritual doubt as:
A state of of divided mind — ‘double-mindedness” is James’s concept (James 1:6-8) — and it is found within faith and without it. In the former case, it is faith infected, sick, and out of sorts; in the latter, it belongs to a struggle either toward faith or away from a God felt to be invading and making claims one does not want to meet.
As our expositional sermons are infused with apologetic content, preachers help true saints, whose faith is to some degree “infected,” work through their own difficulties and questions while simultaneously equipping these same believers to be sent out on gospel-proclaiming mission in and to a world that is hostile to Christ. In infusing expositional preaching with apologetics, we model for the saints what it looks like to wield the “sword of the Spirit,” the “living and powerful Word of God,” the spiritual “weapons of our warfare” in the face of the wisdom of this world. Paul wrote, “We destroy arguments and qevery lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Packer goes on and explains how we can help doubters; he lists the following three ways:
- “By explaining the problem area” (often doubts arise from misunderstandings or from exposure to caricatures).
- “By exhibiting the reasonableness of Christian belief at that point, and the grounds for embracing it (for Christian beliefs, though above reason, are not against it)”
- “By exploring what prompts the doubts (for doubts are never rationally compelling, and hesitations about Christianity usually have more to do with likes and dislikes, hurt feelings, and social, intellectual, and cultural snobbery than the doubters are aware)”
This Sunday, I am preaching on Peter’s restoration from John 21. Since it’s my endeavor to speak on the main point of the passage, i.e. loving Jesus and thus feeding his flock, I will try to abstain from spending too much time droning on and on about the Greek verbs agapao and phileo in the passage. I’ll do a bit of that here instead.
We’ve all heard the well-intentioned sermons that have presented agapao as a sort of ultimate love, while phileo is presented as representing a lower sort of love. Quite frankly, I can’t go along with that distinction, and I don’t think you should either.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Someone just read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and now he has to share!” Granted, Carson certainly nails it in Exegetical Fallacies, advances the argument again in the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, and then sums it up nicely in his commentary on John’s Gospel from the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. However, I want to point out that rejecting a sharp distinction between the two words isn’t really breaking new exegetical ground. In other words, one does not need to rely on D.A. Carson’s works (albeit incredibly valuable) to come to the conclusion that drawing a significant contrast between the two words is exegetically unwise.
If one does a simple study in the Gospel of John alone, we come to realize that both agapao and phileo are used interchangeably when speaking of the Father’s love for the Son (compare John 10:17; 15:9 in which agapao is used to speak of the Father’s love for the Son with John 5:20 where phileo is used to signify the Father’s love for the Son). In the same Gospel account, John typically referred to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Again, what’s interesting is that he is content to use both agapao and phileo as though they can often be used as synonyms.
Further, the go-to lexicon in Greek studies, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), presents this for John 21 and the use of agape and phileo:
[Agapao and phileo] seem to be used interchangeably here; cf. the freq. interchange of synonyms elsewhere in the same chapter [boskein – poimanein, arnia – probatia, elkuein – surein].
Louw and Nida agree,
Though some persons have tried to assign certain significant differences of meaning between [agapao and phileo], it does not seem possible to insist upon a contrast of meaning in any and all contexts. For example, the usage in Jn, 21:15-17 seems to reflect simply a rhetorical alternation designed to avoid undue repetition.
It’s my contention that when preaching a sermon on John 21, our congregations would be better served by our preaching the main point of the passage, i.e. the connection between Peter’s love for Jesus and his ministry to Jesus’ flock, than by our coming to the text with unfounded notions (that really have been imposed upon the text) about the Greek words for love and then challenging our audience to muster up some sort of super-charged-super-spiritual love.
Over the last past two years, I’ve read three books on the third parable in Luke 15, often called the “Prodigal Son.” While the works I list below have been helpful to my understanding, my interest in this parable was actually awakened my sophomore year in college as Dr. Preston Mayes was teaching through the Luke’s Gospel. While I am sure that I heard it preached this way before, for the first time in my life it came through my thick skull that the parable is more directed toward the older brother and people like him than it was toward with the younger brother at all (see Luke 15:1-3; 25-31, noting the abrupt and seemingly unresolved conclusion).
Sunday, I paused our church’s paragraph by paragraph journey through John’s Gospel in order to look at The Lost Sons from Luke 15. If you are interested, you can listen or download here.
I’d recommend reading these three books* with discernment; they each present some very helpful content.
- The Tale of Two Sons, by John MacArthur
- The Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey
- Prodigal God by Tim Keller
*Please understand that in pointing the reader to these resources, I am simply pointing out that there is valuable information to be gleaned. This is obviously not an endorsement of the entire corpus or theology of these men.
Here’s a section from this morning’s sermon on John 8: and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
Christ, having paid our penalty on the cross, has swung open the door of our prison cell, has loosed our chains, has released us from the power of sin, has freed us from the authority of the devil, and has lead us triumphantly out of the prison of sin and death into a new domain of freedom and righteousness in Christ. In light of this truth, why do we travel back up that familiar pathway, stained with the stench of our former sins, all the way back to the prison cell where we once wallowed in servitude without view of the light of Christ? Why do we swing the door back open and return once again to our former chains of bondage, preferring the shackles of sin and the brutal master that compels us to do that which destroys us, over the freedom that the Savior has purchased for us? We’ve been freed from the power of sin by the Son Himself; the rest of our Christian existence is learning to live as a freedman.
After visiting a church-plant here in Wisconsin, sadly, my wife and I left thinking, “where was the preaching?” What the pastor did could really only be called, “sharing.”
I’m working through Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry. My wife handed me this in the bookstore the other day and said, “You should get this.” I hadn’t even shared with her that my mind had been drawn to 1 Corinthians 1-2 for last several weeks as I meditated before preaching, desiring that the my efforts would be in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that the faith of the hearers would not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Today I stumbled upon this quote in regards to the foolishness of the cross in church ministry:
Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how “vision” consists in clearly articulated “ministry goals,” how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements – but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.