It gives me great joy to announce the engagement of my brother-in-law, Nathanael Boone Phillips, to Miss Naomi Sleadd. Congratulations!
“Houses and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 22:14).
I’m delighted to be able to welcome Rich Bledsoe to the world of blogging. Rich is the former pastor of Tree of Life Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve known Rich, first online and then in person, for a few years and have always found his thinking stimulating and profitable. I’m glad to have it in this format. Welcome, Rich!
The latest issue of the Biblical Horizons newsletter is out, and it’s already online. Jim Jordan has two essays in it: “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind,” in particular, is well worth reading, especially to remind people of how things used to be in the Reformed camp.
Here, to whet your appetite, is the opening line:
Once upon a time there was such a thing as Calvinistic thought. It existed when I was younger, but seems to have largely disappeared in recent years.
I’ve enjoyed U2’s music since about 1986, when I first heard it playing on Bruce Agla’s stereo in the gym at Peace River Bible Institute. I recall that I borrowed a friend’s copy of October and listened to it repeatedly, and I remember the thrill of buying The Joshua Tree when it first came out and taking it home to listen to with some friends.
I didn’t listen to U2 much after Achtung Baby. At the time, their music didn’t appeal to me anymore. Probably I wanted them to keep playing The Joshua Tree over and over again. It’s likely that I found their antics subsequent to Achtung over the top and more than a little strange. But finally, after hearing a few songs from All That You Can’t Leave Behind I succumbed, bought that CD, as well as the two previous ones, and found I enjoyed them.
On a whim a few weeks back, I picked up a copy of Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas from the library and read it. Rock star interviews aren’t part of my usual reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed these ones. Reading them is like getting to know Bono as a friend, and now that I’ve finished the book I have to say that my respect for Bono has grown immensely. It would be great to sit in a pub, drink stout, and chat with him.
On a mailing list I’m on, someone cited Charles Bridges on the pastoral ministry:
…so that sermons (like letters put into the post-office without a direction) are addressed to no one. No one owns them. No one feels any personal interest in their contents. Thus a minister under this deteriorating influence chiefly deals in general truths devoid of particular application – more in what is pleasing that what is direct and useful.
and asked for our reflections on this comment. Here are mine:
It seems to me that it’s possible to preach passages of Scripture as if our goal is to explain certain doctrines instead of to administer that passage to the congregation sitting in front of us.
An example: Suppose our text for Sunday includes 2 Thess. 2:13 (“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth….”).
It’s tempting to make that sermon a series of mini doctrinal lessons. First, we could talk about the obligation of thanksgiving. Then we could talk about the doctrine of God’s love (“beloved by the Lord”) .Then we could talk about the doctrine of election (“God … chose you”) â€”Â possibly making a swipe or two at the Arminians along the way â€”Â and the doctrine of sanctification (“through sanctification by the Spirit”) and the doctrine of faith (“belief in the truth”) and so forth.
Now what we might say in those doctrinal lessons might be orthodox and fully biblical. But I submit that in preaching that way we are doing what Brown warns against. More that that, I would say that instead of preaching this text, we’re simply trying to show how this text teaches certain doctrines. And the crucial matter here is that we’ve left out part of the text.
What part? The pronouns and the address. Paul doesn’t say, “Let me tell you now about the ethical duty of gratitude and the doctrines of God’s love, God’s election, sanctification, and faith.” Rather, he addresses a particular congregation and says certain things to them.
And that is our calling as pastors, it seems to me: not simply to work out doctrines and to show how this passage contributes to our theologies (as if our goal in preaching is to help the congregation develop a comprehensive systematic theology) but rather to tell the congregation what Paul tells the Thessalonians.
That means that as pastors we ought to be saying to our congregations (i.e., to the real people sitting in front of us as we preach): “I am bound to thank God for you always, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth….”
We may not simply present doctrinal statements. We must rather tell the congregation that they are “brothers beloved by the Lord.” We need to tell them, “God chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”
Our goal as pastors must be that every member of the congregation knows that we, as pastors, are thankful for them, that they are brothers, that God loves them, that God chose them for salvation (instead of destruction: see the context of 2 Thess. 2:13), that God has sanctified them by the Spirit, and so forth â€”Â and that they therefore live with the kind of confidence and assurance that Paul wants the Thessalonians to have in the face of all the opposition that surrounds them.
I would add that preaching sermons with an address on them (to use Bridges’ metaphor) would also include preaching to the particular congregation we’re addressing in its particular circumstances, so that a particular sermon may not be immediately and directly transferable to another congregation (with its different circumstances) or even to another time. It’s not bad if our sermons, read some years later, sound a bit dated.