A Great Book for the Burned-Out Pastor

The author of this book is a pastor in the same Presbytery where I labor. He is the chairman of the shepherding committee in the Presbytery, and this book certainly helps explain why. Clay is a warm, pastoral man with a heart for hurting people. I heartily recommend this book to any pastors who are discouraged and beaten down with the routine or with crises in the ministry. This book is also a good antidote to the almost universal naivete afflicting good-hearted young men as they come out of seminary ready to fix all the world’s problems (if only the stupid world would listen to them!). Heck, I would even recommend it to pastors who are doing just fine, so that they stay that way!

Clay is certainly honest about his own journey, which makes the book all that much more interesting and compelling. The first five chapters are diagnosis, and the last five are solution. The diagnosis section is painful but healing to read. Chapter 3 comes to mind. Here are a few things that zapped me: “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Clay, let my people go!'” (p. 51). “Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now” (44). “Constant conflict made me seek comfort anywhere I could find it, especially in a quiet office with a closed door in the safety of reading books” (60). “Resurrection power may heal the hurt, or it may simply give us the strength to endure. Either way, resurrection power meets us in our weakness” (85). “[T]he love inside of our hearts can be padlocked, whereas our anger often has a hair trigger” (89). The book is well-designed to make a pastor feel really, really guilty, and then really, really forgiven in Christ.

I don’t have any quibbles with what he says. There are a few things that I would like to see in, say, a second edition of the book, or a “revised and expanded” edition (or a second book!). Of course, one can’t say everything in one book, and this is Clay’s first book. One question that nagged at me throughout the book was this: how do we pastors get this grace, when we are the ones “dishing it out”? I don’t mean that we are the source of grace, of course. But how do we get the benefit, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper and of the sermon, when we are the ones presenting those things to the congregation? This goes along with a parallel concern: I would like to have seen more emphasis on the means of grace, and how those factor in to relieve the burdened pastor. A second thing I would like to see addressed is the day off. How do we see our roles on Sunday? As work, or as our part in the worship services? And then, what do we do for a day off during the rest of the week? A third thing is coordinated with the last chapter. He has an admirable and biblical emphasis on pursuing unity (unity achieved is a great stress reliever!). What I would like to see is how that relates to the pursuit of truth and purity of the gospel. How do we avoid burnout, for instance, when we are fighting wolves in sheep’s clothing? What about the temptation to avoid conflict about gospel issues for the sake of our own comfort and avoiding burnout? What is the difference between pursuing our own comfort versus avoiding burnout? I would love to see these questions answered, if not by Clay, then by someone building on what Clay has done here.

This is a great little book. It doesn’t take long to read (and it is, by and large, well-written). It lays a great foundation for thinking about the ministry in a grace-driven way. It deserves a very wide readership by pastors of all stripes. Tolle lege.

Anthropocentric Moralizing?

Our Sunday School is going through the book of Daniel, with the ruling elders doing a fine job of teaching the text. I preached through Daniel while I was in North Dakota, but I wanted to freshen up and sharpen up my understanding of the book, so I got two newer commentaries to read through as we went through the book. One of them is by Sidney Greidanus, and it is entitled Preaching Christ From Daniel. Now, I have benefited greatly from Greidanus’ careful and nuanced approach to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. The various ways in which a reader can do that are very helpfully spelled out by him in all his books. However, there can sometimes be a hesitancy to apply the text. It can be so much about Jesus that it is not about us much at all. This is a bit of an over-generalization, I realize, but I am merely pointing out what I see as a trend.

For my prime example, I will point out that he does not seem to like Iain Duguid’s commentary on Daniel much. Now, when I was preaching through Daniel, I found Duguid the most helpful commentary of any that has been written. I haven’t finished Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary yet (that’s the other one I got to read through), and it is outstanding as well. However, when I was preaching through Daniel, I found the most help in Duguid. Duguid is well-known for a Vossian progressive-revelation approach to Scripture that sees Jesus Christ as the climax of the story, and the main point of the Bible. However, Duguid, unlike Greidanus seemingly, also believes that the text can be about us precisely because it is about Jesus. In other words, if we are in Christ Jesus, then the text will always apply to us precisely because it applies to Jesus first. Greidanus, however, accuses Duguid of nudging “preachers toward anthropocentric moralizing” (84). After a quote from Duguid, Greidanus says, “This be true enough, but it is not the point of the passage.” If there were anyone out there less deserving of this censure of “anthopocentric moralizing,” that person is surely Iain Duguid. Furthermore, Greidanus is guilty of reading Duguid uncharitably and out of context. Duguid was not making his point the main point of the passage. It was an application of the text. I have not found much in the way of application in Greidanus. He gets to Jesus responsibly and well, but what to do after that or because of that, he does not seem to make clear.

The question really boils down to this: can we apply the text to our own lives even if we do not explicitly mention Jesus every time we make an application of the text? On one question at least, there would surely be agreement: the main point of the Bible is Jesus. Greidanus and Duguid would both whole-heartedly agree with that. The disagreement surfaces when we ask the question of whether the Bible also talks about us. Surely it does, since God did not just give the text to the people to whom the writing was originally given. The Bible was given to the entire church of all ages. Yes, historical context is important. But so is the fact that God gave the whole Bible to the whole church. Greidanus is rightly reacting against a mentality that bypasses Christ entirely, since this means there is no exegetical control over the application, and the application is usually wrong when we yank a text out of its progressive salvation-historical place. However, if we place the text correctly in its time and place, and correctly and carefully get to Christ, there still remains application, which flows from that whole understanding. If we cannot do this, then preaching is hamstrung. Greidanus seems to me to be throwing out the correct-application baby with the moralizing bathwater.

Jon Payne on John Owen and the Means of Grace

Word, sacraments and prayer are the means of grace. Owen is needed, because our churches are losing their Reformed moorings because of an over-emphasis on urban culture, and a substitute of our own means of grace for God’s means of grace.

Owen was raised by a non-conformist father. His time at Oxford was long and fulsome. He went to hear Edmund Calamy, but, in God’s providence, Calamy was not there. Yet the Lord used the substitute’s message to work powerfully in Owen’s life. Married Mary Rook. Had 11 children, only 1 of whom lived to adulthood. Owen was an ecclesiastical statesman, as being chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.

Public worship and liturgy was a hugely controversial subject at the time, and figured large in Owen’s work. As Mohler would say, if you want to know what a church is really like, go worship with them and listen to the preaching. You will learn who they are by looking at their worship. Lex credendi, lex orandi: the law of belief is the law of worship. If there is such a thing as acceptable worship, then there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. The persons of the worshipers need to be accepted first. Secondly, worship can only be of God’s own appointment. Evangelical graces need to be exercised in worship. Getting worship outwardly correct is not enough. There needs to be a subjectively active and pious attendance on worship.

God’s means of grace are efficacious: they work! In our modern age where people no longer believe this, we hear from the Word that the means of grace work as efficacious for salvation. Owen didn’t write anything on preaching. The sermons we have are parliament sermons, not his normal week to week sermons. Owen’s sermons on the Lord’s Supper are rich sacramental theology (and are in volume 9).

Jon Payne on Charles Simeon

The overall topic of the pre-conference is “Recovering a Reformed Ministry.”

God rests too inconsequentially on ministers and on ministry. He means this, of course, in the sense that we are not aware enough of God, not that God is at fault in any way.

Simeon’s life and ministry are a good corrective to problems in ministry today. He preached for over 54 years. For decades, Simeon was the object of scorn and derision by students at Cambridge. And yet, he persevered in preaching the true gospel. Born in 1759. Eton at that time was completely devoid of true piety. Simeon entered into Cambridge, which was no different. Simeon thought, upon being required to attend communion, that Satan was just as qualified to attend communion as him. He read William Law’s book on what was required of man, a very moralistic book. Then he read a different book that set out the substitutionary atonement, which converted him.

Simeon faced enormous difficulty in his church at Cambridge, where the people completely rejected him, and found many ways to make his life extremely difficult for many years. The students once threw eggs in his face. Simeon knew that the ministry would not be easy. So many stood against him. But Simeon knew he was on the Lord’s side. He was first and foremost a preacher.

Simeon preached the gospel, but did not forget the imperatives of the Bible. Our anemic preaching of the third use of the law is highly detrimental to the Lord God.

We need to preach when it is convenient and when it is not. Consistently cultivate personal, biblical piety. Cultivate humility. Simeon believed that downward was upward. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ, not disciples of us. We should not neglect the global task of the gospel just because of the local church ministry. Invest in the next generation of ministers. Never negotiate the primacy of preaching.

Live-Blogging PCRT

I will be live-blogging PCRT today through Sunday. The overall topic is the historical Adam. The pre-conference is starting with Rick Phillips doing a devotional on John 6:1-13, the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus is training the disciples (looking at verses 5-6). It is a primer in ministry. There are four points.

1. The motive for ministry- Note the contrast between the great compassion that Jesus found in the people versus the disciples’ lack of compassion. The disciples in Luke say “send them away.” This is an attitude that many people have towards needy people. We need to be discerning in this. The social gospel has often replaced the real gospel. He takes direct aim at the bad versions of “redeem the culture.” Obviously, we need to have two premises (via John Piper). We need to have the greatest compassion on the those with the greatest need, and we need to focus on the greatest length of need. And the greatest need in both categories is the gospel of salvation by faith. The only true motive for the pastoral ministry is the compassion of Christ for the lost and for the sheep. Being able to pontificate on matters of every subject when people have no choice but to listen to you should not be the motive (ouch! LK). Our motive should not be the joy of digging into the Bible, as beautiful a thing as that is, or the reading of learned books (again, ouch! LK).

2. Our calling in ministry- Note that Bethsaida was the hometown of 3 of the disciples, and so they must have known the resources of that town, and they therefore despaired of providing the food for these people. Then Andrew brings someone to Jesus (which is something that he always does). Our calling is to take what we have and faithfully give it to Jesus- put it in His hands. The little boy gives what he has to Jesus. How much should we give? Everything! As soon as he gives it to Jesus, Jesus starts working. As Pink says, Jesus does not scorn the loaves because they are small and few.

3. God’s provision for us in ministry- We have a divine provision for our ministries in this life. Jesus will go on to say in John 6 that He is the bread of life. The disciples are looking down: where is the food, the money, the resources? Jesus looks upward to God, and thus accesses the infinite riches of God Almighty. George Müller’s example is wonderful in this regard. He did not look down, but always looked up in prayer. We do not have because we do not ask.

4. The boldness of faith we are to exercise in ministry. Verses 11-13 show the disciples beginning to act in faith. The Lord didn’t multiply the loaves and fishes before they started to ministry, but during the time when they were serving. We have no idea of the magnitude of what God will do through us.

 

Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

OT Israel & NT Church: A History-of-Homiletics Question

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a research question that might interest some readers.

I am trying to trace the history of a certain approach to the application of OT texts to the church, in which promises or commands spoken to historical Israel are understood to have a secondary and continued relevance for the “New Israel.” There may be something of an allegorical quality to such applications, as the concrete details of the OT setting are translated into the spiritual realities of the New (e.g., “land” and “temple” become the people of God themselves) – but as a hermeneutical approach it differs from pure allegory in that it doesn’t completely disregard the original historical context of a passage. It just doesn’t locate the significance of the text in that historical context, but finds the main pastoral value of the passage in its application to the church, whether spiritual or practical.

A simple example:

Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (2 Chr. 7:15f.)

Application: Because the church is God’s new temple, we can be reassured by these verses that he has consecrated us, and that he will hear our prayers and dwell among us.

I would be interested to know if what I am describing rings any bells for anyone, and if you can identify for me any voices from past eras in Christian history who tended to write and preach in this way when working with OT texts. I am curious to know the roots of this approach, since it seems to differ in emphasis from a primarily redemptive-historical hermeneutic.

Comments on the pastoral value of this approach to preaching would also be interesting.

(Please note that what I am describing is a much “lighter” approach to OT application than theonomy, so let’s not make this another theonomy thread.)

Preachers To Whom I Listen

I thought this might be a helpful post telling people about some good preachers, and where to find their sermons. These are listed in alphabetical order by last name. Now, I’m sure that there are many great Reformed and Presbyterian preachers that I don’t have listed here. If there are names that are not listed here that you think should be, list them in the comments. I am only looking for Reformed confessional preachers, or Reformed Baptist confessional (as in, London Baptist Confession) preachers. It would be great to have a relatively complete listing, along with the link to where you can find their sermons. It is my goal to listen to one or two sermons from every one of these men through the course of the next year.

Logan Almy, Thabiti Anyabwile, Andrew Barnes, Nick Batzig, Joel Beeke, Alistair Begg, Michael Brown, Iain Campbell, Brian Carpenter, Kevin Carr, Stafford Carson, Jim Cassidy, Andrew Compton, Iain Duguid, Reed DePace, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Ron Gleason, Liam Goligher, Fred Greco, Martin Hedman, Michael Horton, Chris Hutchinson, Danny Hyde, Gary Johnson, Lee Johnson, Matthew Judd, Daniel Kok, Steven Lawson, Sean Lucas, Ryan McGraw, Joe Morecraft, Danny Patterson, Jon Payne, Rick Phillips, Tim Phillips, Ken Pierce, John Piper, Guy Richard, Kim Riddlebarger, Art Sartorius, R.C. Sproul, Jason Stellman, Derek Thomas, John Tweeddale, Andy Webb, Wes White

Seventeen Points of Denominational Renewal, part 1

Rev. Jon Payne’s motion, which became the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s motion, which was adopted at our 38th General Assembly, has seventeen points related to true denominational renewal. This resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. I’d like to post a few thoughts on these excellent points. Our denomination has passed it, and therefore we should give it due weight.

The first five points relate to the worship of God. They are preaching, sacraments, Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and private, family, and corporate worship of God. Let’s take them one at a time.

Preaching is God’s ordained way of getting the Word to people. The Reformed dictum was that the preached Word of God is the Word of God. This generalization is understood to be qualified, of course, by the caution that the preaching must be accurate to what the text says in order to be the Word of God. Nevertheless, this qualification does not take the teeth out of the equation. This preaching, as Payne notes, must be “exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching.” Notice that this is first in position, as taking pride of place, as it should. Recovery of this will result in the recovery of all the other points. For the rest of the points constitutes a great deal of the whole counsel of God, which is indeed what should be preached.

Sacraments are efficacious. Notice the presence of the word “efficacious” in the second paragraph. While we will not go Federal Vision on this issue, nevertheless, we need to remember that the Sacraments are ordinary means of grace. What kind of grace is conveyed to worthy recipients is a discussion for another time (it’s been discussed ad nauseum on this blog!). The point is that the signs are not empty signs. In other words, we do need a high view of the efficacy of the Sacraments. We need to use them as God has ordained. It is very easy to forget them, and it is also very easy to use them improperly. The Larger Catechism has a great deal to say about how we should use the Sacraments. We would do well to remind ourselves of these truths.

The Sabbath is becoming much neglected these days. I can hardly count the number of young men coming out of seminaries these days who take exception to the Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. They usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day. Now, some of these men have actually done all the research into why and how the Westminster divines wrote what they wrote on the subject of the Sabbath. However, most of the time, they take an exception there only because it is fashionable to do so, and they haven’t a clue as to why the divines wrote what they did. They have done no exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14. Therefore, they often have no clue as to why the “no recreation” clause is in the Larger Catechism.

The Regulative Principle is also coming under attack. Our Reformed forefathers would be incredulous, to tell you the truth, at some of the attacks on this doctrine that have come up within supposedly Reformed circles. Outright denial of this doctrine, or complete redefinition, is commonplace nowadays. The Regulative Principle is quite simply this: if the Bible has not commanded us to do a certain thing in worship, then we may not do it. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, then it’s forbidden. While this is stated negatively here, it actually has an extremely positive meaning: we are not bound in our conscience to do anything in worship invented by man. Humanity has no right to bind the conscience. Only the Word of God binds our conscience. Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification receive so much of the limelight that we forget that the RPW can really be described as the third great principle of the Reformation alongside the other two of Scripture and justification. Probably the reason why it is not viewed that way is because the Lutherans do not accept this principle.

Fifthly, private, family, and public worship of God is what we were made to do. This is our highest purpose in life. It is more important than work, play, entertainment, eating, drinking, sports, arts, education, or even evangelism. John Piper understands this, which is why he said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. Evangelism exists for the purpose of our being God’s instruments to create worshipers of God. That’s the goal of evangelism. And we need to worship God on all these levels (private, family, and public) because each of these levels defines who we are in relation to God. God’s Word speaks to us on these three levels, and so also must we speak back to God on these three levels.

Isaiah As Preacher

I didn’t find this section of Old’s book quite as helpful as some other sections. However, that is probably because I have already done a fair bit of work on Isaiah, and thus found him saying fewer good insights that I hadn’t already found in other commentators. Nevertheless, there are still good things here, and for those who haven’t spent much time in Isaiah studies, there will probably be many helpful things. I will be treating here both his section on “Isaiah,” and his section on “Deutero-Isaiah,” since I do not regard the two sections of the book as having been written by different authors.

Old notes that Isaiah may well have been both priest and preacher (p. 61). He makes a very important point when he argues that “the prophet is not merely the mouthpiece of God, who in some sort of trance utters the words or God quite apart from his own intelligence. The prophet understands the oracle; he is a witness to its truth and an advocate of its application” (p. 63). Of course, this statement needs qualification. Not all prophets understood everything about which they spoke. Peter tells us that the prophets longed to look into these things, what manner or time the Spirit in them was indicating when the Spirit told them about Jesus. However, Old’s point has more to do with the fact that the prophets were not just mindless automatons, copying down God’s words like a machine. The theory of concursus comes into play here: God worked through the individual authors’ experiences, personalities, eccentricities, in short everything that made up that person. Thus Paul does not sound like John. Yet each were inspired to write what God told them to write, and to do so in a way that is without error.

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