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Category Archives: Interviews

Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie

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(The Interview conducted with Michael Duduit below is adapted from http://www.preaching.com/resources/articles/11565834/ – Lloyd John Ogilvie recently wrote a book on preaching [pictured above] published by Harvest House Publishers in 2014 entitled A Passionate Calling: Recapturing Preaching That Enriches the Spirit and Moves the Heart)

Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie with Michael Duduit

Lloyd John Ogilvie has served since 1995 as Chaplain of the United States Senate, a role in which he opens each Senate session in prayer and leads an active schedule of Bible studies and counseling for Senators and their staffs. He came to Washington from Hollywood, California, where he had served as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church and hosted a national television ministry. He is author of nearly 50 books and continues to be a popular speaker and preacher. He was interviewed in his Senate office this spring by Preaching editor Michael Duduit.

Preaching: As we conduct this interview, we are sitting in the U.S. Capitol building, a place that is a symbol of political power. As you have made the transition from the pastorate of a local church to chaplain of the Senate, how has it influenced your approach to ministry?

Ogilvie: It has had an influence. I’ve had to discover ways to help people who have immense secular power learn how to find the power of God for their work. The transition that must be made is to help persons realize that the river bed is the flow of God’s power, not the river — to help them be recipients of supernatural power, instead of simply the power of talents. For instance, any Senator to be elected must have talents of articulation, clear thinking, organization, a lodestar kind of leadership that attracts others. However, once in office, a person needs the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of leader the nation needs — gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophetic vision, and then empowered articulation that’s really the result of knowing God personally and yielding the role of leadership to him to receive the empowerment for the task. So our work here is around the motto, “Without God, we can’t; without us, He won’t.” And when we get that into perspective, great leaders can be born and nurtured to recognize that apart from the Lord’s power we can’t move at a supernatural level. God has so created the way He moves providentially in history that He works through people. Where He wants to be He invests a person; when He wants something to occur in a particular society, He puts His people to discover and do His will. And to get leaders to be open to that call is the important thing.

Preaching: You use your ministry of preaching and teaching not only to lead but to build leaders. How would you translate that into the local church setting for the pastor who is trying to build leaders among the laity?

Ogilvie: I think there has to be a fundamental reevaluation of the biblical idea of the meaning of the laity. To be in Christ is to be in the ministry, so every member of a congregation is a minister. The question is: what kind of a ministry does he or she have? So I think our task is to be a coach of the ministers, which puts preaching and teaching, counseling and administration in an entirely different focus:

I used to ask four basic questions in a church:

(1) What kind of people do we want to put into the world?

(2) What kind of church will make that quality of person possible?

(3) What kind of church officer will make that kind of church possible?

(4) And lastly, what kind of pastor will be an enabler of that quality of laity?

Once we make the basic decision that we don’t do ministry on behalf of the congregation but we equip them to do their ministry, then everything else falls into place. If, however, we think that we do ministry for people, and as professional clergy accomplish the work of the church, then our people are simply observers of the game we play as leaders. I like to picture a big stadium with all the seats filled, and two teams seated on both sides of the field, with blankets huddling in the cold. Then the coaches of both teams are running up and down the field, playing the game for everyone to see. That’s the picture of the contemporary church: the clergy — highly trained and honed in their skills — doing ministry on behalf of the people rather than equipping them. Once you get an understanding that our task is equipping the saints for the work of ministry, then preaching with power becomes the task of inciting enthusiasm and excitement for ministry of the laity and the adventure of following Christ in the secular realm. Then you can reevaluate the nature of the church’s program: is it accomplishing the task of putting the people into the world to accomplish that work?

Preaching: As a pastor, what kind of preaching did you find best accomplished that purpose of equipping the congregation for ministry?

Ogilvie: I think there’s a great hunger in our time for biblically-rooted, Christ-centered, Holy-Spirit empowered preaching. Great preaching comes from exposition. An understanding of the original languages is very important, so that the messenger has a message that arises out of a study of the text. Then the whole question is application to the contemporary scene — the explanation of the text, the illustration of the text, and the application of the text becomes the task of the pastor. If you live in the text eventually it will grip you to the place where it becomes like a banked fire, just waiting for the bellows of the Holy Spirit to be placed on it, to set it aflame to warm the minds and hearts of the people. If it happens to us it then can happen through us, so the text must become very real to us.Then I think we’ve got to have Richard Baxter’s rule, “I preach as a dying man to dying men, as if never to preach again.”

So every sermon ought to be preached with vigor as if we will never have another chance. That kind of enthusiasm and passion is what is needed in the church in America today — and all over the world, for that matter. I call it preaching with passion, and that kind of preaching is an understanding, an appreciation and an acceptance of the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ for us, and then an identification with the suffering of human beings, so that we really feel what is going on inside of people. We want to bring the two together in an enthusiastic, heartfelt but intellectually healthy presentation.

Preaching: You talk about living with a text. I recall that as a pastor you would live with a text for more than a year before preaching it. Tell me about that process.

Ogilvie: I would use a three-year process. I would spend a year with a portion of Scripture as a devotional exercise. If I was going to plan to preach from the book of James, I would use that book as my devotional literature for the first year. The next year I would do an in-depth expositional study, and a reading of the great minds — to study the expositors, the great preachers through the ages. In the actual year of the preaching, I would take the time in my study leave to outline the presentation for a whole period of time, a portion of the year, then prepare a manila folder for each Sunday of that series, then publish a preaching guide for that period of time. I would do 45 Sundays a year in the parish, and I would come out of my study leave with 45 outlines of sermons, 45 manila folders, ready to receive the illustrative material that would go into each of them as I read, gathering illustrative materials from everyday life, and as I talked with people. Then, as I got to the week of actually preaching a sermon, there was the devotional year’s resource, the intensive study scholarship, then the practical gathering of material. Then the actual writing of the sermon — it is very important that the writing of the sermon be fresh, not dependent on well-worn phrases and hackneyed language. After the sermon is written it takes about a day of memorization, repeating it until it becomes a part of the preacher, then preaching it with as few notes as possible.

Preaching: What was the nature of the preaching guide you published?

Ogilvie: There would be a single page for each week. I would list out the title, the text, and the development. I would actually write three clear, concise, distilled paragraphs explaining what it is that I wanted to do with that particular text. That would be sent to the director of music, and he would take that and prepare all of the music to fit with the particular theme of that Sunday. So from the beginning note of the prelude to the last note of the postlude, one central theme in all of the hymns, Scripture readings, responses — all would augment that one central theme. Often I would add another page actually outlining the sermon as I envisioned it. Once I got to the week of the preaching of that sermon, the folder would be full of illustrative material that I had gathered through the year.

Preaching: Was most of your preaching in the form of series?

Ogilvie: Yes, I would take books of the Scripture for themes. The book of James I did a series on Making Stress Work for You. I did a book on the “He is able” statements of the epistles; that became the book Lord of the Loose Ends. Then I did one on the book of Acts that was entitled The Bush is Still Burning. I did one on the “I am” statements of Christ.

Preaching: How long was a typical series for you?

Ogilvie: Usually three months, so I’d do three major series in a year. I found that brought continuity and unity to the preaching. I tried to vary them so we would cover the whole of Scripture.

Preaching: I recall sitting in your congregation and marveling that you communicated so effectively with apparently no notes at all. Many preachers struggle with that.

Ogilvie: I learned that from James Stewart, my professor at New College (in Edinburgh). His method was to outline clearly, then to memorize the outline as you worked with it, then to write the sermon from that outline. Then that outline would be clearly focused in your mind so that you could move through it without hesitation. So the outlining becomes very important. Actually the church in Hollywood had a round balcony, and I would often picture the title of the separate sections of the sermon around the balcony, and I would picture them in my mind. I often used alliteration to help me remember the development of the text. All of those things would help me to retain eye contact. However I found that in lecturing or in giving long messages, we ought to be able to use notes unashamedly. But the sermon itself is a different article.

Preaching: And you spent a full day getting it into your memory?

Ogilvie: Yes, I would speak it aloud ten times and then it would be in me and could be communicated without total dependence on notes.

Preaching: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about preaching over the years?

Ogilvie: Nothing can happen through you that hasn’t happened to you. I feel a person’s relationship with the living Lord is the most important aspect of preaching, and a growing relationship with the Lord is essential to powerful preaching. When we realize that we have been given the privilege of communicating the love, peace, power of the living Lord, then it’s very important to maintain a growing relationship with the Lord so that we have something fresh to share with the people.

Preaching: Clearly James Stewart was a great influence in your life. In what way did he influence your ministry?

Ogilvie: He was a great expositor and loved the Scriptures. He was an intense preacher — he had hurricane force. I’ve written a great deal about him and given lectures on him. To me, he was the greatest preacher of the twentieth century. The chance to study with him meant a great deal to me. He was a good friend long after I finished my theological education. I would go back in the summers and renew our friendship. We would often review what I was going to preach on in the coming year, and he would always have new insights. He was the most thorough scholar-preacher I have ever met.

Preaching: If you were starting over, is there anything you’d do differently as a preacher?

Ogilvie: I came to the commitment of a schedule that allowed for intensive study each week later in my ministry. I would start earlier allowing for two full days for study and preparation of the sermon. The commitment of one hour in the study for each minute in the pulpit is one I would apply sooner in my ministry. I think the temptation when you are starting in ministry is to say, “When I move to a larger church I’ll really concentrate on study.” I think you move to the larger church because you have concentrated on study. So the commitment of time to study and prepare is to me the most important aspect. Then the pastor’s own prayer life and commitment to an honest and growing relationship with the Lord, and his accountability to a small group is very important. I would meet with a group of elders every Sunday prior to preaching, and usually one was elected to say, “Are you ready to preach? Is there anything we can pray for?” The renewal of the church will rise or fall on the quality of its preaching, and I think it will depend on preachers who make preaching the central priority in their allocation of time and energy. To do that we will need an understanding of the officers of the church and the membership — to allow their pastor to take the time to be ready to preach is absolutely essential. It’s been a great adventure. It still is.

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Dr. Daniel L. Akin Answers The Question: Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Theology Matters
An Interview with Daniel L. Akin
President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North CarolinaThis summer, Broadman & Holman released a new textbook on theology entitled A Theology for the Church. The book was edited by Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and it has contributions from some of the best known names in Southern Baptist life in the field of theology. This is the first compendium of theological topics produced by Broadman & Holman and written by Southern Baptists in more than fifty years. What follows is an interview between SBC LIFE and Dr. Akin. SBC LIFE wanted to know why Dr. Akin and the contributors to this book believe theology is important for the church and why it is especially crucial at this particular juncture in Southern Baptist life.SBC LIFE Why do you feel it is necessary for churches to focus on theology?

Akin Theology enables God’s people to think correctly and live rightly. What we do always flows from what we believe, and a sound theology helps us think clearly, rightly, and, most importantly, biblically about God.

SBC LIFE What difference does theology really make? Is it not enough that we worship the Lord with our hearts and enjoy warm and affirming fellowship?

Akin It is important that we love God with our heart, but it is also imperative that we love the Lord with our mind as well. Most of the time, Southern Baptists do a good job of loving God with their heart. However, I am not sure that we always do a good job at loving God with our mind. Peter reminds us to set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus instructed us in Matthew 22:37, that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Theology is one means whereby we love God with our minds.

SBC LIFE How would you respond to those who suggest that studying theology tends to reduce God in the Christian life to an “ivory tower” academic exercise?

Akin Studying theology can certainly run that risk, but we do not have to fall into this trap. That is why Jesus challenges us to love the Lord both with our heart and with our mind. I am convinced that the best theology is done within the context of a passion for the Great Commission. I often tell our students that the model in this area is the Apostle Paul who was both the great missionary and the great theologian. When you wed solid theology to a commitment to the Great Commission, you will bring a balance to your theology that will be healthy and fruitful. We must remember that the best missionaries are capable theologians, and the best theologians are passionate missionaries. The two must never be separated. This is imperative for the future of our convention of churches.

SBC LIFE Many people believe that theology is a discipline best left to seminary professors and the seminary classroom. They would say that pastors and their churches are better served to be about Kingdom priorities of spreading the Gospel and not getting distracted by all of this “heady” material. How would you respond to that?

Akin The title of this book explains what we believe is the case. Theology is a discipline for the church, not just the academy. Indeed, it is primarily a task for the church. The fact of the matter is that defining the Gospel is inherently a theological task. You cannot define the Gospel without doing theology. You cannot define the Kingdom of God without doing theology. You can’t really even define the Great Commission without doing theology. In other words, we do theology whether we realize it or not. Therefore, we are either going to do theology well or we are going to do theology poorly. Pastors need to set the standard in this area by emphasizing and modeling the importance of good theology for their people.

Further, I believe pastors need to regain a renewed understanding of what it means to be a pastor/theologian and to challenge their people likewise to grow in the discipline of studying theology. Reading popular Christian works is fine and good, but it is certainly not enough. Just as a child (and adults for that matter!) needs to have a balanced diet to grow and stay healthy, we also need to take in spiritual food from various sources to ensure that we have a balanced diet. I am personally convinced, as are all the contributors of this theology, that our people are far more interested in, and capable of, thinking theologically than many of us believe. My experience has been when people are challenged to study theology, they respond in a wonderful manner. This has especially been true in what I have seen in teaching high school and college students over the last decade. Let’s raise the theological bar and see what happens! I think the response will be awesome to behold.

SBC LIFE So you believe a pastor could take this work, A Theology for the Church, and lead his people through a study of it over an extended period of time with great fruit resulting.

Akin Absolutely! I know of a Southern Baptist church in which the pastor began five years ago working through a basic systematic theology textbook with ten men. This past year there were 480 men and women who met weekly to study theology! I am convinced more than ever that there is a deep hunger in Southern Baptist churches for a steady diet of good, sound, biblical theology. I also believe that the need has never been greater. It is the prayer of all the contributors of this work that this book might bring about something of a revival and renaissance of the study of theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Given so much of the conversation and controversy recently in our Convention over the Baptist Faith and Message, I believe the need is self evident.

SBC LIFE Theologians are sometimes viewed as being out of touch with the churches. Further, sometimes they can even come across as being almost “papal,” speaking down to the common people in the pew concerning what they should believe and how they should think. How would you respond to someone who raises this concern, as well as to those who even hold that the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers would argue against the validity of theological instruction?

Akin That is a really good question. I would begin by saying that we as Southern Baptists affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers. We also believe that this doctrine is primarily one of accountability and responsibility which fits perfectly into the study of theology. We are responsible to hold one another accountable in defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

It is also the case that God raises up men in the body of Christ to be pastor/teachers to lead us and to help us in thinking biblically and theologically. Some of these men find their place of service in our seminaries and colleges. However, even these men are accountable within and to the churches.

There is no place for a Baptist pope or ecclesiastical magisterium in Southern Baptist life. There is also no place for sloppy and unbiblical thinking either. I can say this. Southern Baptist seminaries are not interested in being theological peeping-toms nor are we interested in conducting theological witch hunts. Rather, we honor all those that God raises up who have the ability to help us think well theologically, and we also recognize that every believer in the body of Christ is responsible to be a capable and competent theologian. Therefore, when a Baptist church, and for that matter a convention, is functioning as it ought, there is a wonderful and healthy accountability that exists between the academy and the local church. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries serve the churches. We are accountable to the churches. We recognize that we will do a better job because of that accountability and responsibility. It is not something that we wish to negate or run from. Rather, it is something we gladly embrace. We are partners in service to King Jesus.

SBC LIFE In looking at the list of contributors, it is clear that there is a broad spectrum of representation among the authors. Some are known for being Calvinistic in their theology, while others are not. Was that intentional and did it present any problems?

Akin You are accurate in your observation. I believe the contributors to this volume represent the best thinkers in Southern Baptist life. And it is true that the contributors are not lock step in all of their theological positions. However, and I think that this is crucially important at this particular time in our history, each of these men is a confessional Baptist committed to evangelical theology and theBaptist Faith and Message. We are in 100 percent agreement on the essentials of the faith, as well as those distinctives that mark and identify us as Baptists. There may be differing views on the number of points of Calvinism, plurality of elders versus a single pastor, or a particular perspective on eschatology. Yet, we are united in what constitutes historic orthodox Christianity, and we are united in the distinctive marks of what constitutes a Baptist. I think A Theology for the Churchmodels well what could be a consensus for Southern Baptists in terms of confessional theology. At least that is a hope that I believe the Lord has placed deep within my heart.

SBC LIFE Is there anything else you would add to our interview?

Akin I would simply want to challenge pastors to take the lead in helping their people once again become good students of theology. I would challenge them to start a study group focusing on theology. Use this book and see what God does. I think many will be pleasantly surprised. I think they will also discover that they will cultivate better listeners of their preaching as well as a cohort of fellow followers of Jesus Christ who will come along side of them to ensure that their people are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but instead they are growing up in Christ to a mature man who is capable of rightly dividing the Word of Truth and holding in trust the wonderful mysteries of the Christian faith.

Original Source: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2007/09/sla7

 

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Tim Keller on Mars Hill Preaching, Homosexuality, and Transgender Identity

Tim Keller in office image

Owen Strachan with Tim Keller

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Manhattan pastor Tim Keller for Christianity Today. The interview was about Keller’s new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton, Nov. 2013). It’s a book that would be marvelous to read whether for one’s own edification or for the purposes of discipleship or evangelism. If you’re in college ministry, and in particular ministry to thoughtful students on a secular college campus, this book will be very valuable.

In the course of my free-ranging conversation with Keller, we touched on some matters that were not directly related to the book and thus weren’t included in the CT interview. I was helped and heartened by Keller’s characteristically winsome, gracious, and convictional thoughts on these topics, and I’m glad to share them.

Keller on quoting cultural authorities in his preaching to “bring people along”:

The only reason to do so is if you’re in an Acts 17 setting. In Acts 13, Paul goes to a synagogue and expounds the Bible. But these are people who trust the Bible…so Paul does a very simple exposition. In Acts 17, Paul’s talking to people with no faith. There’s disagreement over how much he’s quoting, but he quotes poets and pagan authors and makes a more common appeal to natural reason, as it were.

What I try to do since I have people in a spectrum—people who don’t trust the Bible at all or people who trust it a lot—so what I do is expound Scripture, and then I add sources where people agree. I’m not basing my authority on Dylan Thomas, but when I’m able to bring in someone that the broader culture really trusts, it helps the people who doubt biblical authority to see how the Bible is true.

If I was speaking in a Mars Hill situation, I might give a topical talk like Paul did. So most of my preaching is somewhere in the middle. I’m supplementing my points to make it a little easier for the skeptic to accept my point. I’m trying to bring people along; I want the person to come with me. In the earlier parts of my sermon I’m trying to fortify—this psychologist says that, and so on. But at the end, I’m bringing in Jesus as the solution to the problem, and I’m not using those sources anymore.

Keller on how the church should speak to the issue of homosexuality:

You always want to speak in the most disarming way, but still be very truthful. Both disarming and truthful. I’m not sure most of us speak in that way—trying to be both. Ed Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, said this many years ago: We tend to say we preach the Bible, but you tend to preach the answers to the questions you’ve posed to the Bible. Whether you know it or not, you read the Bible with certain questions. A Korean might have a question in mind when he reads that an African wouldn’t have. Right now our culture asks certain questions and we can’t help but respond to them. We do that in the most disarming way, but to some degree we can’t ignore the culture’s questions. We need to give biblical answers to the culture’s questions. You don’t give them the answers they want, you give them the answers they need. You can’t be a responsible pastor if you don’t.

If we are going to shepherd and teach, we must give the most disarming and truthful answers.

Keller on how the church should handle the shift to transgender identity in the broader culture:

Jerome Kagan in The Atlantic has talked about how we’re all wired—there are three basic ways to deal with threats. Some run, some fight, some stop and get philosophical. You find this insight in neurochemistry—across 36 cultures, these instincts are wired into us. These are very much who we are. In only a small percentage of the threatening situations is our habitual approach the right one. The worst thing parents can do is listen to the culture when it says, “Let your child be who that child is. Don’t try to change him.” Kagan says that’s the worst thing you can do. Children need to be pulled out of their natural instincts. Parents need to intervene and not let their natures run them. Doing so is a form of child neglect.

I’ve never forgotten that with the transgender question. We’re told we can only affirm [this identity] today. The lack of wisdom in this response will become more evident over time. We’re now a radical individualistic culture. If you do anything against it, you’re sacrilegious. I think we’ll see 20 years of mistakes, and then we’ll realize it wasn’t a good idea.

Keller on the state of the complementarian movement:

The arguments are pretty well made now. At this point, complementarians need to get our own house in order and show that our families and churches are thriving places. That’s more important than anything right now….Kathy and I are very committed to saying that Christians are committed to complementarianism.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/06/tim-keller-on-mars-hill-preaching-homosexuality-and-transgender-identity/#ixzz34R1n4Myf

 

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A Passion for Preaching: An Interview with Steven J. Lawson

Steve Lawson pointing

Tabeltalk (TT): How did you become a Christian, and how were you called to ministry?

Steven J. Lawson: I grew up in a Christian home and was brought to faith as a young boy through the consistent witness of my father and mother. Specifically, it was through the reading of the Bible by my father each night that the seed of the gospel was planted, which God caused to germinate in my heart. Regarding my call to the ministry, I actually began preaching and teaching while in college in various ministries and churches. Upon graduating, I sat under the strong preaching of Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and strongly felt God summoning me into full-time ministry. His bold preaching electrified my heart and served as the catalyst that launched me to seminary, where I would be prepared for a lifetime of ministry.

TT: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during your ministry? How have you faced these challenges?

SL: In my earlier years, the greatest challenges I faced were preaching the doctrines of grace to congregations that were theologically untaught. To say the least, it was difficult and demanding to try to establish God-centered truth and a biblical philosophy of ministry where there had previously been a stronghold of man-centered thinking concerning the work of God in salvation. Though it was obviously a painful process, the only way to meet such an obstacle was head-on, unashamedly preaching the full counsel of God. This required much prayer, pastoral discretion, patience, and perseverance, which God honored. Over time, God established His truth in the minds and hearts of many, though it came at a high price personally.

TT: What advice would you give to a young man who aspires to be a pastor?

SL: First, any man aspiring to the pastorate needs to be sitting under strong expository preaching. He needs a role model who exemplifies what is in his heart to do. Second, he needs a personal ministry whereby he can use what he is learning, test his giftedness, and cultivate what has been entrusted to him. Third, he should surround himself with a small circle of spiritually mature men who can provide wise counsel in helping steer his life and ministry as important decisions arise. Fourth, he must begin to inquire of various seminaries regarding his future theological education. He needs to contact some institutions, visit their campuses, and talk to some of the faculty. Fifth, he needs to become an avid reader of important Christian books, including the spiritual biographies of noted men who have been mightily used by God.

TT: How does a pastor remain faithful to his calling over the long haul?

SL: In order to persevere in ministry, a pastor needs to be, first and foremost, deeply rooted and anchored in God’s Word. The more he studies, learns, teaches, and preaches God’s Word, the greater will be his staying power in ministry. Further, reading Christian biographies of men who have faced great adversity in their ministries provides greater drive and endurance. Reading the heroic accounts of martyrs and missionaries who have faced great persecution should be at the top of his reading list. Likewise, being surrounded by a small group of laymen who will encourage him in God’s work is a necessity. Pastors can be vulnerable to severe bouts of discouragement. Having the edifying feedback of trusted individuals helps him remain steadfast in doing God’s work.

TT: Who has most influenced your preaching?

SL: There have been multiple influences upon my preaching—Adrian Rogers,W.A. Criswell, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and S. Lewis Johnson. Each of these men has contributed something vitally important to my preaching ministry. Over many decades, John MacArthur has most shaped my approach to biblical exposition. He has influenced me in preaching through entire books of the Bible sequentially. I have learned from him the need for sound exegesis, word studies, historical background, crossreferences, theological precision, sermon outline, and manuscript writing. Moreover, Dr. MacArthur has demonstrated the need for guarding the gospel and teaching sound doctrine.

TT: Why have you focused so much of your attention to the practice of expository preaching and to helping both preachers and laypeople see its importance?

SL: I strongly believe that no church can rise any higher than its pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. The deeper the preacher takes his flock into the Word of God, the higher they will rise in worship. The stronger they are in the Scripture, the stronger they will be in the pursuit of holiness. Likewise, strong preaching leads to sacrificial service in the Lord’s work. Strong exposition kindles hearts for the work of evangelism and the cause of worldwide missions. Every great movement of God in church history has been ushered in by a renewed commitment to solid preaching of the Word. If we are to see a spiritual awakening in our day, the church must recover the primacy of preaching. I desire to be used by God to help equip a new generation of preachers and laypeople in recognizing the importance of this primary means of grace.

TT: Can you describe for us what your sermon preparation looks like?

SL: I begin each week by photocopying everything that I need to read in order to prepare my sermon. This includes study Bibles, commentaries, expository sermons, linguistic and historical tools, and the like. I first read the passage and discover its literary unit, determining what verse or verses I will preach. After writing a block diagram and reading the passage in the original language, I identify the central theme of these verses. I then read all of my photocopied information, thoroughly marking it up. I draft the beginnings of a working outline for the sermon. I will start writing the sermon—with a fountain pen, I might add—beginning with the first homiletical point. I then move systematically through the text, creating a manuscript that explains and applies each successive part of the passage. I will then add transitions, illustrations, and quotations as needed. The final step is to write the introduction and conclusion. I will compose this manuscript as though I can hear myself preaching it. At last, I will review my manuscript for length, balance, and quality, praying over its truths.

TT: What is the purpose of OnePassion Ministries and how does it seek to accomplish its goals?

SL: OnePassion Ministries was created to help bring about a new reformation in this day. It has a website in which most all of my preaching and writing resources are found (www.onepassionministries.org). We are hosting conferences both nationally and internationally in order to train preachers, teachers, prospective pastors, and interested laypeople in the art and science of expository preaching and teaching. I want to define what it is, what it is not, and show how to effectively carry out this divine calling. I desire to help take people to the next level in their skills of handling and ministering God’s Word. Also, I want to motivate those who attend our conferences to be fully committed to preaching the Word expositionally. Moreover, we want to host conferences for all people in order to introduce them to Christ and encourage them in their Christian walk. Finally, we will be hosting church history tours in which I will take people to important historical sites around the world.

TT: Why did you decide to establish the book series A Long Line of Godly Men, and what other men do you hope to profile individually in this series?

SL: The Long Line series was birthed in my teaching ministry at the church that I pastor. As I was teaching the men of my church sound doctrine from Scripture, I wanted them to see that what we believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace has been the mainline position by great men and movements down through the centuries. Out of this Friday morning teaching series has arisen these books so that these essential truths may be made available to a wider audience around the world. There is much instruction and inspiration to be drawn from this profile study. In the future, I need to write volume three of the larger books, which will move from John Knox to this present hour. In the smaller books, there are other key figures who I want to address such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and, yes, R.C. Sproul.

Steven J. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today, and former senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He has served as a pastor in Arkansas and Alabama for twenty-five years and is author of many books, including The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield and In It to Win It: Pursuing Victory in the One Race That Really Counts. He is a teaching fellow for and serves on the board of Ligonier Ministries and the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and is professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary.

Source: www.ligonier.org (June 1, 2014)

 

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Tim Keller Answers 10 Preaching Questions

Tim Keller Interview Conducted with Colin Adams

Tim Keller seated image

In great faith, I have written to a number of better-known preachers on both sides of the Atlantic. Each of them has been sent ten questions on the subject of preaching. The following is Tim Keller’s response. For those of you who don’t know, “Timothy J. Keller is an author, a speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York.”

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
It is central, but not alone at the center. Pastoral ministry is as important as preaching ministry, and lay “every-member” ministry is as crucial as ordained ministry. I wouldn’t make a hierarchy out of these things—they are interdependent. But pastoral ministry and lay ministry are not substitutes for strong preaching.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33). During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I pastor a large church and have a large staff, and so I give special prominence to preparing the sermon. I give it 15–20 hours a week. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work—that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff, I put in six to eight hours on a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?
I don’t know that I’d be so rigid as to say there has to be just one Big Idea every time. That is a good discipline for preachers in general, because it helps with clarity. Most texts have too much in them for the preacher to cover in one address. You must be selective. But sometimes a preaching-size text simply has two or three major ideas that are too good to pass up.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should combine warmth and authority/force. That is hard to do, since temperamentally we incline one way or the other. (And many, many of us show neither warmth nor force in preaching.)

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a very detailed outline, with many key phrases in each sub-point written out word for word.

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
This seems to me too big a question to tackle here. Virtually everything a preacher ought to do has a corresponding peril-to-avoid. For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g., pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
See my remarks on #3 above. It is a very great mistake to pit pastoral care and leadership against preaching preparation. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be—someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership are to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
British preachers have had a much greater impact on me than American preachers (Dick Lucas, Alec Motyer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones). And the American preachers who have been most influential (e.g., Jonathan Edwards) were essentially British anyway.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I haven’t done much on that front at all, and I’m not happy about that. Currently I meet with two other younger preachers on my staff who also preach regularly. We talk specifically about their preaching and sermon prep.

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Colin Adams is the pastor of Ballymoney Baptist Church, Northern Ireland. For six years he had the privilege of serving as an Associate Pastor with Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh. Before coming to Edinburgh he studied theology for four years at International Christian College in Glasgow.

More from Colin Adams or visit Colin at unashamedworkman.wordpress.com/

Source: http://www.churchleaders.com

 

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Kyle Strobel on Enjoying God’s Beatific Beutific Beauty

An Interview with Kyle Strobel and Tony Reinke (Interviewer)

Formed for the Glory of God Strobel

Length: 37:20 Authors on the Line podcast track: #13 Record date: September 21, 2012 Book focus: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark; Dec. 27, 2012). SOURCE: http://www.desiringgod.org/

— The following rough transcript is unedited —

“How good is God, that he has created man for this very end, to make him happy in the enjoyment of himself, the Almighty, who was happy from the days of eternity in himself, in the beholding of his own infinite beauty: the Father in the beholding and love of his Son, his perfect and most excellent image, the brightness of his own glory; and the Son in the love and enjoyment of the Father.”a

Those are the beautiful words of Jonathan Edwards. God’s beauty is central to the writings of the 18th century theologian, and for good reason. Without understanding the beauty of God, the Trinitarian nature of God himself will never make sense to us, and the Christian life and eternity in heaven will not make much sense to us either. So seems to be the case made by Jonathan Edwards in his writings, and one young Edward’s scholar making this connection is Kyle Strobel.

Strobel appeared on the very first episode of the Authors on the Line podcast, to talk about Edwards and the religious affections. He returns to the podcast to talk about his new book, Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, published by T&T Clark. His new book was an easy choice for inclusion into my list of top 12 books of 2012, and for good reason—it’s a fascinating book. And yet it’s also an academic book which means it’s not easy to read and it’s not cheap either. But many of Strobel’s most important points will be spread around in a more popular book published by IVP later this year. And these points are the centerpiece of this podcast about beauty and beatific in the theology of Jonathan Edwards.

The Father’s delight in the beauty of the Son, and the Son’s enjoyment of the Father is the ultimate Beatific Vision—the capital-b Beatific, capital-v, Vision. We look forward to the day when we see Christ with our own eyes (1 John 3:2), a blessed experience of the beatific vision, but that is only an experience that is nothing less than participation in the very experience of God right now and from all eternity. God enjoys himself, and the Christian, by grace, gets pulled up into that divine joy.

I think Strobel is right when he writes, “[Jonathan] Edwards depicts God’s life as the mutual behold- ing of infinite beauty. God created humanity that another being might partake in God’s goodness and delight. This beatific-delight … provides the theological setting for talking about Edwards’s under- standing of spiritual knowledge” (151). And this is what I also find in Scripture. The point here is that at the center of Jonathan Edwards theology, Strobel writes, is the beatific beauty of God.

I began the conversation with Strobel by asking him for a general definition of an old word, a richly loaded word, but a word we don’t use much anymore—the word beatific.

This happens every now and again, but probably not nearly as much with any other doctrine that I can think of other than beatific vision. It is, I think, Protestants have somehow… but without every actually studying it, have just assumed this is Catholic, quote, unquote. And have never really explored the fact that everyone from Hodge to Owen to Edwards made it a central part of their work. And so basically the term beatific vision… it is… Edwards actually probably comes up with the easiest way to talk about it. At one point he calls it the happifying sight. And basically what that means is it is the sight that we are told about in Scripture when we are… you know, John, 1 John 3:2 when he says, “When he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.” And then when Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “We will see him face to face,” that, you know, later in 2 Corinthians, you know, we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. You see these… it isn’t just Paul particularly makes about… that are saturated with visual imagery of light and specifically shining from the face of Christ, that somehow the image of face to face is trying to push this vision into a relational mode so it is not simply looking at an object, but it is coming to a relationship of not… a relational knowledge that is intimate, that is deep, that is face to face being not simply an image that depicts relationship at a certain kind of relational knowledge. And so the idea is that as we see God, as we are pulled into that relationship, it is happifying, it creates a situation where we are fully alive in the fullest sense of the term. And we are made… we are kind of finally stepping into how we were created to be, which is just glorying in the presence of God.

Those reformed thinkers you mentioned talk about beatific vision as our vision of Christ in heaven. But there’s a more fundamental beatific vision that goes back into God’s very nature. Explain this for us.

Well, typically for the reformed, particular the reformed high orthodox, if you were going to write a full blown systematic theology you would talk about the beatific vision in three separate places. You would talk about in your prolegomena, right up front, because the way the reformed understood knowledge was that God is the archetypal knowledge. He knows himself fully and perfectly. And that somehow forms what was called ectypal knowledge. And the way ectypal knowledge was understood it is that there were three main kinds. There was pilgrim knowledge which is the knowledge by faith. We might say that is knowledge through a glass darkly to use Paul’s imagery. That knowledge of faith is, as Scripture talks about faith is the … it is kind of necessarily of the unseen. And so typically faith was unseen to dissolve into sight in glory and that sight was the beatific vision.

And so if you take someone like John Owen, he is going to make comments like, for those people who do not contemplate the faith of God in Jesus Christ by faith here in this life, will never see him face to face in heaven. And everything that… whenever you talk about faith, then, it is kind of pressed into a visual mold, because the journey we are on is journey towards this sight. You can think of Pilgrim’s Progress very much in these same kind of themes.

And so… and then there was a third kind of ectypal union which is the knowledge of God that Jesus had which was knowledge by union.

So when you talk about what it means to know God, immediately the reformed would talk about the very beginning of theology the beatific vision as the kind of knowledge we are all oriented towards. And so our knowledge of faith, the knowledge we have here as we are theologizing, as we are seeking to be faithful to God, is always oriented by the sight we will have.

Well, then, what happened in the higher orthodox period is the reformed also started talking about God’s be- atific vision. I think the Latin there is beatitsio Dei and so basically what you have here is that God’s own knowledge of God’s self knowledge is beatific. And that … I would say Edwards ran with this more than any other thinker and it has huge implications for his theology.

And then when you finally got to heaven, in your systematic theology, that whole discussion would be ori- ented by the beatific vision. Obviously that is going to be the biggest place where you really try to develop it. So what Edwards does and what a lot of reformed figures did is that when you are talking about ectypal the- ology, you are talking about what God’s knowledge is, that pure theology is God’s theology in a sense,

God’s self knowledge. And the question then becomes: Well, how does that theology orient our fallen ver- sion of theology, our theology through a glass darkly?

And what Edwards said was, well, basically the way we come to know God’s life—and he looked at Scrip- ture of this and he makes… in his discourse on the Trinity he makes an argument for how we should under- stand the trinity that is broadly Augustinian in the sense that he uses the psychological analogies, the Son as the understanding of God, that the Spirit is the will and love of God. But the way he ties these together is with the beatific vision of God, that the Father generates the Son and the Son and Father gazing upon one another generates the Spirit as love. And so God’s life is perfect and infinite knowledge and perfect and infi- nite love. And we shouldn’t see those as two separate things. So really God’s live is religious affection and pure act. And religious affection is seeing God and that is thereby knowing God and having your heart, your affections inclined towards him.

And so God’s life is the beatific vision or, another way of putting that is God’s life is religious affection, a pure act. And this is one of the things I discovered in my study of Edwards for my dissertation is that no one had asked the question: Why does Edwards care about religious affection?

And so when I lay out my approach and then come to religious affection, what became clear is Edwards cares so much about this because there is the only way to know God is through God’s own self knowledge, that God’s archetypal knowledge, the knowledge of himself he has in his own life governs how we know him as well. And therefore you can’t have knowledge of God without having your heart inclined towards him, because all knowledge of God is affectionate knowledge. And that is true in God’s life and therefore it has to be true in our life that faith is the same kind of knowledge of God that the beatific is. It is just through a glass darkly and so it is limited and therefore our heart is, in a sense, constrained because of our sinfulness, but not only our sinfulness, our fleshliness in the sense of not only merely evilness, not merely baseness, but the dis- tance, so to speak between us and God.

In the incarnation Jesus reveals God to us. Explain for us how Christ reveals the beauty of God, and how Edwards explains this.

Well, I mean, for Edwards, then, Christ is the image of the invisible God as Paul says in Colossians, right? I mean, if what we see in Christ is God’s example, God’s picture of what he is and who he is. It is God’s per- fect revelation that all revelation itself has to be understood through Christ and the work of redemption that is taking place through Christ working in the world. And what we see, therefore, in the person of Christ—and we will talk later about beauty—but what we are going to see is the excellency of Christ, that Christ, because of the incarnation takes on a certain kind of beauty. And therefore in a real sense what salvation entails is it is coming to see, it is, as Jesus critiqued, it is… religious people have eyes to see that they can’t see. And in regeneration we are given eyes to see and we behold Christ and we behold the cross and we finally realize that this is beautiful in the sense that this is for me. This is not an extrinsic event. This is not an event even for humanity, but it is an event for me. And that moment of Edwards is what is happening in regeneration. There is illumination by the Spirit. The Spirit illumines Christ as he truly is and, you know, as … we learn in John 15 through 17 if you have seen me you have seen the Father, Jesus tells us. So what we are having there is this… this kind of first glimpse of what we will see for eternity.

And for Edwards unlike for Owen, where Owen would say eternity will look at Christ, because if we see him we see the Father, Edwards takes the step further and I think is actually closer to Calvin on this actually is that we will then, because we are united to Christ in glory we will gaze upon the Father through the eyes of the Son. And we will then share in that in an inner trinitarian gazing. It is mediated through Christ. It is not direct.

Another way of putting this would be that the sight of the Father that Christ has by nature we are gifted by grace through his life and person, his person and work. And that would be probably what Edwards is going to say when he turns to us something like 2 Peter 1:4, that we are partakers of the divine nature. It is that un- ion with Christ that allows us to partake in the life of God.

I’m thinking of 2 Corinthians 3:18, as we behold the glory of Christ by faith now, we are being trans- formed. How much of this beatific vision of faith, play a role in our present sanctification, in Christian growth now?

It plays everything. This is what makes Edwards a bit different. Edwards, unlike Owen and unlike almost anyone I have ever … I haven’t seen anyone in the reformed tradition do what Edwards does with this. Whereas typically, say, someone like Owen would say faith will dissolve into sight and so if you have this spectrum of knowledge there is a distinct category of faith and that ends and you step into a distinct new cat- egory of sight. And faith is oriented by sight and so when we talk about faith we use a lot of visual terminol- ogy, but we are not saying usually is that it is just kind of a darkened version of a beatific vision or some- thing like that. But that is exactly what Edwards said. And so for Edwards what is interesting is that if you think of these two categories, the pilgrim knowledge by faith and beatific vision by sight in glory, they both end up seeing attributes of the other one. And so heaven, for Edwards, is an impressive state. He is very simi- lar to Gregory of Nyssa on this point, is that we will eternally grow into the knowledge of God.

And the way he talks about this is we will always fully be satisfied, like, we will be full in the sense like a bucket will be full of water, but the bucket itself, our capacities are always growing in heaven, because we are learning about God, we are knowing God. Therefore, you know, we are… our capacity is becoming great- er to receive from him and enjoy him. Well, as our capacities grow, so do our… so does our enjoyment, but because we are finite and God is infinite, that will never cease.

So now heaven becomes a pilgrim state. It becomes a journey with God. It is just now an internal journey. And the opposite happens as well. Whereas the beatific vision, having seen God face to face, there is a glory we know there that that is a very clear vision. Well now the pilgrim life, the life by faith is the beatific vision just now through a glass darkly. And it is darkened by our faith as well as our sin and also it is always a darkened sight. But the life of holiness will be, for Edwards, will include at least as a key component in it this sense of clarity of vision. And this is why beauty is so important for him. It is being transfixed by the beauty and glory of God. And so Edwards, when he talks about the Christian life, always is turning to medi- tative and contemplative imagery and practices, because what we are doing when we are being confronted by Christ in Scripture is we are gazing upon God in a real sense. And this orients everything for him, even preaching. You know, when Edwards preaches, a lot of people will talk up a literary value of his preaching, Edwards kind of the poet. And there is certainly something true about that. But what I see when I see Ed- wards, I think, is actually more accurate to Edwards himself is that Edwards is kind of still visual. He is a painter in a sense. And so when he is preaching he is casting, he is using language to paint a picture of Jesus to present for his people. And so he is. He is trying to get them to gaze upon this one, this Christ that has been revealed by God. And as we do so, that is where we know holiness. That is where we know growth. That is where we know transformation is the gaze upon this God, that we will be transformed from one de- gree of glory to another as we see him.

Lets transition from beatific to beauty, it’s not a hard transition, it’s not really a transition at all. What is the connection in Jonathan Edwards’s mind between beatific and his definition of beauty?

Well, they are going to be, in one sense, identical, because what God is… God is not only good and God is not only true, but God is the beautiful God. And so Edwards will make a distinction between primary beauty and secondary beauty. Primary beauty is God’s own life. And when Edwards talks about the beauty of terms like proportion, terms like harmony—and those are all relational terms. So it makes sense that in God’s life which is invisible, to talk about beauty you are clearly not talking about something visual or physical, but you are talking about how God exists as the triune God. And so it is God’s all knowledge of God is pushed into this visual mold and, therefore, it is pushed into the mold of beauty.

And ultimately… and what I like about… There is a lot I like about this, but one of the things I really like about it is that we all recognize this. When we… when we… when we see something, physical beauty, so this, Edwards would call secondary beauty, that is something that is, you know…. like the image we… or the lan- guage we use when we talk about that is it took my breath away. And sometimes our… you know our heart races or we kind of incline towards it. We want to kind of be united with the beautiful. And what… that is exactly what religious affections are. That is exactly what Edwards says happens when we actually come to see God in Christ. It is we come to recognize that in some sense he is beautiful.

You once I tell my students is that when we come into contact with the cross, that is the distinctive moment where if you are just naturally looking at, this is horrific. And… but there is a reason why the Church came to call that day Good Friday, because when you look at it from with hindsight, post resurrection and ascen- sion, what you realize is this was for me and that this act itself was beautiful in some real way, even as it is full of depravity. It is because of sin and it is brokenness. It is torturous and it is all these things. You are rec- ognizing it as beautiful in a real sense.

And so much of the Christian life—and this is, you know, this has been true in the reformed faith. It is even true of someone like John Owen who would talk less about beauty, but because the knowledge by faith is oriented by the beatific vision, it … the knowledge we have by faith is oriented visually. And you turn to the- se passages. You know, as Paul, you know, we have looked at several passages by Paul who says this and Paul obviously is a lot more like … later on in Colossians he will make the comment that set your mind on things that are above where Christ sits at the right hand of God, you know. There is this idea of turn and ori- ent yourself to who God is as you turn and gaze upon Christ. But even, you know, in the Psalms, Psalm 17:15 says, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness. When I awake I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”

In Revelation it is that they will see his face and his name will be on their forehead. So throughout Scripture we see this visual image that God presents himself to us. And our call to repentance is a call to not only to turn, but to turn and look and be reoriented to reality as we gaze upon who God really is.

It seems like Edwards likes to use the category of holiness as God’s beauty. Holiness is to be set apart. And yet his separateness is what makes Him attractive. Explain this for us from Edwards.

Well, if… the… holiness for Edwards runs along the same trajectory as his understanding of glory. And so it is actually easier to talk about glory because it will be the exact same. They trace along the same [?] they have the exact same contours for Edwards. And so what God’s glory is for Edwards ultimately is, first it is the reality or we could even say the nature of God’s inner life. And Edwards talks about three different levels of glory. So the first level of glory would be the kind of nature of God’s inner life. The second level would be God communicating that the reality, the nature, Edwards, say, of that inner life, economically, externally to himself and the way he does this is by Son and by Spirit.

The Son and the Spirit bring God’s kind of nature, God’s life with them as they relate to us. They bring the understanding and love of God or the image of God and in the Spirit… it is the image of God in the Son and then in the Spirit the illumination of that image. And the third level of glory is as we are confronted by Son and Spirit, as we are indwelt by the Spirit and pulled into union with the Son, that also is called God’s glory and in that moment what is taking place is we are now kind of receiving who God is, which means we are participating in his self knowledge. That is one of the things people mistake with Edwards is for holiness it means not only that … it certainly doesn’t mean that you are just trying to act well. It means you are now partaking in God’s own holiness, because he has given you holiness itself, the Spirit. There is a reason why… Edwards thinks there is a reason why the Spirit is called the Holy Spirit, because in the economy, the Holy Spirit brings holiness itself. That is the Spirit’s nature. And so we receive God’s own holiness and God’s own love, God’s own understanding as he confronts us. And we are called into that. We are pulled in to par- take of that. So, again, looking at 2 Peter 1:4, partaking in the divine nature is partaking in the divine love, partaking in the divine knowledge, partaking in the divine holiness.

And the big term for Edwards in that is glory. And as we do so, we … as we kind of receive God’s self knowledge, God’s self revelation, we communicate that back to God in our lives in praise, in prayer and so on and so forth. And so the holiness is oriented by sight, again, because God’s own life is oriented by sight, because, again, going back to Edwards understanding of the trinity as God the Father gazing upon God the Son and God the Son gazing back upon God the Father and then existing infinitely in the love of the Spirit. So everything is this affectionate kind of knowledge.

And once you push affection like Edwards did center stage, and the Puritans generally did this as the re- formed have, many of the reformed have, is once affection becomes center stage and the only way to relate to God is to relate to God in an essential way that is affectionate, then you automatically begin to tap into and to recognize these aspects of Scripture that are more visual that … like you tend to start talking about beauty more and that… in the reformed tradition and many traditions that has been a very unutilized category. We like to talk about truth. We like to talk about goodness, but beauty, we just stop talking about. The reason why Edwards grabbed on to that is that the recognition of when we talk about knowledge of God and when we talk about what it means to see this image of the invisible God, that God presents himself to us in a cer- tain kind of way, beauty is really the most helpful category. It is talking about it because beauty entails truth. When you are seeing something is beautiful you are seeing it truly. And it is also always tied together with goodness. When something is truly beautiful it is good. And so for Edwards this category is more of a meta category. It incorporates all that we want to talk about as Christians into one kind of big category. And be- cause human beings are as Calvin liked to say, you know, that our hearts are idol factories, that we aren’t primarily thinking things, but we are worshipping and loving things. And what we are worshipping and what we are loving is what we think and our brokenness is beautiful. And unfortunately that turns out to be ugliness. But when we are given eyes to see and we gaze upon Christ that … I don’t…. it recalibrates our heart to who he is, the reality of who he is.

One thing you point out in Formed for the Glory of God, a book you will be publishing in June, is that beauty is fundamentally attractive and relational. You write that Edwards slips into poetry when he is writing about God. And also, Edwards wrote a poem about his to-be-wife Sarah. Beauty is a relational expression. How does this work itself out in Edwards’s theology?

Yeah, one of the interesting things about the Christian claim and I think it is. I mean, I think it is one of those things we can generally call, this is what Christians have always kind of said even if we have ignored it is that if we are going not talk about beauty, it is fundamentally to say that God is beautiful, first and foremost. Well again, that means because God is invisible, that means beauty is only {?} by God’s life which is rela- tional. It is … you known, the Father as the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is … the eternal reality is that divine life of relationship. And so it means all beauty is, again, cast into this mold. And a lot of people throughout history have recognized. I think it was Lewis. I could be wrong about that. I think Lewis made the comment somewhere about when we see something as beautiful, we want it almost in us. And we want to kind of pull ourselves within it. And it is … there is something innate about that, that seems in the human person. And with beauty both going into God as well as only to others, that is true. Beauty always seeks union. And so again what we end up with is love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Putting that in beauty, have eyes to see God the Father as beautiful. And as you view, you will recognize the beauty around you and you won’t climb towards it. You will love your neighbor as yourself, because you will finally see them for what they really are. You will no longer be captivated by what the world calls beautiful, for instance. You will no longer think that success is what beauty is. You will recognize this. The per- son is created as fundamentally beautiful. And so it is at the heart of it relational because God is relational.

Lets talk about secondary beauty. When Edwards looks at the ocean, sunset, or spiders, and creation he was seeing God reflected in these things and he enjoyed the beauty. What was going on in Edwards mind as he took in the beauty of nature?

Yeah, well, you know, I mean, one of the fascinating things, the things I find fascinating, not just about Ed- wards, but about the Bible is, you know, if you go to, I believe, that Psalm 19, 19:15, I believe, I just totally out of the top of my head and stuff. I could be wrong with that, but I think it is about that. We are told that creation declares the glory of God and that creation pours forth speech. And this is something we see in Ed- wards is that just as words are signs of something beyond the midpoint, beyond themselves, so all of created reality, all beauty we see in creation points beyond itself. It is a sign of something signified by that sign which is God and his action. And to understand Edwards, one of the key caveats and I think this is one of the most neglected areas of Edwards, actually, is you have to understand how much personhood drives his un- derstanding of things. And God…. the personal reality of God is key to that. And one of the things I argue in the Jonathan Edwards theology book is that… it is that very point, that God is personal and therefore to un- derstand who God is, God has to reveal himself. It is God’s self revelation. And this is true of any person. To know someone is to have them reveal themselves to you.

And this is important, again, for Edwards because it would be wrong to say we can’t know things about peo- ple. We can deduce things. We can, I mean, we know their physical… their temporal… you know, but we and totally realize that that is not knowing them truly. A lot of theologians throughout history have maybe made that mistake, though, thinking if I can say true things about God, that must mean I know God. And there was… no, that is case at all. To know him is to have him reveal himself to you. Primarily for Edwards that is going to be reveal himself to you in Christ Jesus and then through the holy Scriptures. But it is also going to mean through nature, because the other way we learn about people is through what they do. And so nature, because God created it is … are these words.

And in Edwards, there is a famous Edwards quote about Edwards was saying, you know, people might think I am crazy. This is a paraphrase. But, basically, you know, I realize people might think this sounds nuts, but when I look at the universe it needs a whole language full of words and if you only could learn this language, you would basically see what I do. And I think what he is saying there is what we have in Christ, when we have kind of seen who he is, it gives us eyes to see positively in a way that we couldn’t see before.

We see that as Paul tells us in Ephesians as well as Colossians that in him all things hold together and he is… the plan for the fullness of time is to unite all things in him. And what is going on there is that creation itself will recognize who this God is and proclaims it. And so in the beauty of nature, we see… we only get that secondary beauty because it rests on the primary beauty. So, in other words, secondary beauty it is only beautiful because it is relying upon primary beauty, which means it is relational. Now it doesn’t mean it is personal. You might look at something in the nature and when you say it is relational you might say the col- ors are relating in certain ways or the shapes are relating. There is proportion. There is harmony between colors and nature and images and forms and things like that. But that, what that is pointing back to is a per- sonal relational reality in the heart of God’s life.

Edwards spent 13 hours a day in his office thinking and writing and slipping into poetry about God. Few of us have that luxury. How do we translate Edwards’s vision of beauty into our busy lives that are taken up with 9-5 jobs and busy families?

Sure. Yeah, no that is a great point. I mean and Edwards’ day is… I mean it is so different from our own. And a lot of that isn’t even … I mean, it isn’t even the fact that we couldn’t tap this, that we don’t have the space for it, I don’t think. But you look at how our space differs from Edwards and our space tends to be filled with noise and with chaos. How many homes have multiple TVs going on at the same time? How many moments of your day is actually silence? And we live in a culture of just perpetual noise, perpetual business, perpetual chaos and Edwards didn’t.

And one of the things I remember hearing a story. When I studied at the Edwards Center at Yale one of … kind of a senior Edwards scholar who lived nearby would come in every Friday for lunch and just tell stories. And so we would just sit and listen to him. You know, he was fantastic. And he told a story about something he had come across in a… it was a pastor’s diary who met Edwards once, at least once. And he was telling about the occasion and he said, “You know, I was going to pastor Edwards house wherever and Edwards.” He expected to sit I his office and just chat with him a bit. And when he got there they were going to have lunch as well. And when he got there Edwards said, “I packed us a picnic lunch. Let’s go for a ride and then hike to the top of a hill.”

And that is what they did. And I think when I heard that—and this is early on in my Edwards studies—it kind of broke this conception I had of Edwards. You know, Edwards describes himself as, you know, I a not great with people. I {?}. He has a very kind of honest self description, but it … and it makes me think of someone who has become such an academic that they almost are unrelatable. That, I don’t think that is quite right with Edwards and, I mean, I think there is something true about it. I think he did recognize some true things about himself, but Edwards loved being outside. He loved taking horse rides. He would get on a horse and by horseback ride. He just enjoyed it. He loved being a part of God’s creation and I just love the image of him taking this young pastor and saying, “Let’s go for a ride. Let’s hike to the top of the hill and have a picnic lunch and just sort of be in creation.”

I mean, I think a lot of us walk through God’s creation every day and don’t notice it. Edwards might have spent more time in his office than we do, but the little… the less amount of time he spent in nature he was actually there thinking about how God is present. We are often just moving form one place to another. So I think the key isn’t… the issue isn’t even one of time as much of utilizing the time we have well. And even within that, recognizing that any kind of work we do can be sanctified, because God is present with us, that beauty is all around, at even the darkest moments. The is something inherently beautiful about God’s crea- tion and the question is not if you hear, the question is: Do you have eyes to see?

Lets close on a summary note: How central for Edwards is beauty?

It is… it would… the same… It would be the same as asking how essential is glory or how central is love, be- cause what you are saying are really different ways of talking about the same thing. You are talking about God’s own life. And I think one of the surprising aspects… and I shared this in class and one of the things I kind of… it is just curious, I notice, with my students is that even the Christian students I have, because I have got actually a very broad mix. The Christian students are still surprised when the Bible explains to them that when there is something wrong with the world, the way God solves it is by being present. That if actual- ly God is himself in his own life that is the solution.

That is why God sent Immanuel, God with us. That is one of the many reasons why it has to be God. It can- not be a messenger of God, because it is God’s very presence that is the solution to the brokenness of reality. It is why at the end of Revelation we see the new Jerusalem descending in the shape of a cube, because that cube is a symbolic representation of the holy of holies where God’s perfect presence was. And we are told in that same passage that God is now dwelling with mankind. And it is that very presence that is the solution to reality, the brokenness of reality, to the painfulness of reality, to sin itself.

And when we recognize that God is beautiful, that changes the nature of so many of our questions. And for Edwards one… I actually think the reason why Edwards is so attractive to so many is really the same reason Augustine is and the same reason that most of the great theologians understood this truth that God is beauti- ful and Christians shouldn’t have to apologize for that. And, unfortunately, for whatever reason is the Church seems to forget it and I don’t know if it is because we feel the need to apologize for it, because by claiming God is beautiful we immediately make… have to make proclamations about all the other things that we give ourselves to or {?}.

But for Edwards, because God is beautiful, then all of life needs to be oriented by that and we can enjoy the beautiful realities of the world, but only enjoy them fully once we realize that they point beyond themselves to the beauty of God.

Thank you Kyle.

To repeat the words of Jonathan Edwards, “How good is God, that he has created man for this very end, to make him happy in the enjoyment of himself, the Almighty.” Incredible thoughts.

That was Jonathan Edwards scholar Kyle Strobel from his Phoenix office at Grand Canyon University where he teaches. In this podcast we discussed his academic book, Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, released by T&T in January of 2013. Be looking for his next book where many of the- se same ideas will be shared at a more popular level in the book, Formed for the Glory of God: Learn- ing from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, due out in June from IVP.

Thank you for listening to the Authors on the Line podcast. This free podcast is supported, produced, and distributed by Desiring God in Minneapolis. You can subscribe and find a full archive of episodes by searching for Authors on the Line in iTunes, or watch for new episodes online at desiring God dot org forward-slash blog.

I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.

ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/enjoying-god-s-beatific-beauty-an-interview-with-kyle-strobel

 

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Interview with a Theological Giant: Dr. J.I. Packer

J.I. PACKER: THE LOST INTERVIEW

J.I. PACKER IN HIS VANCOUVER OFFICE 2009(J.I. Packer at his regent College Office in Vancouver, B.C., in 2009)

Q&A | From a recording that disappeared in transit five years ago, the octogenarian theologian shares how God shaped him first and foremost as a catechist.

Five years ago, WORLD founder Joel Belz suffered a journalistic disaster. He had traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, to interview octogenarian J.I. Packer, author of many terrific books on theology. Joel recorded 90 minutes of conversation and placed the recording in the side pocket of his suitcase. Somewhere on his luggage’s journey back to North Carolina, someone or something ripped off that side pocket. Joel lost his Bible and the recording.

After a long search, Joel sadly concluded the interview was not meant to be—yet last year he received a package containing the lost items, without a senders name or return address. Joel had the interview transcribed but suspected it was dated. This past week he sent me the transcript and modestly (as always) suggested, “There might be some excerpts that could be useful. I read the interview and found all of it useful. Joel asked good questions and Packer, now 87, was both wise and charming. Please read and enjoy. —Marvin Olasky

(JB) = Joel Belz and (JIP) = J.I. Packer

(JB) If you don’t take it as an insult, I would like to ask you the question that I ask newcomers to my own congregation—because I think this is something that people don’t know about J.I. Packer. When somebody comes to our congregation and says, “I want to be a member of your church,” my fellow elders and I ask them these three questions. We say, “Tell us when you first believed, and tell us what you believed then, and tell us what you believe now.” You see the point? I don’t think a lot of people have ever heard how J.I. Packer came to faith in the first place. Do you mind sharing that?

(JIP) Not in the least. At my age I have nothing to hide. And, in fact, the story of my conversion is a perfectly straightforward one, as you will note here. At age 15 at school I was a member of the chess club, and I played chess regularly with the son of a Unitarian minister. He got me thinking what is true in Christianity because he tried to sell me the Unitarian bill of goods, and that was the first occasion in my life when I asked myself what is true in Christianity. Is he right?

I had been brought up an Anglican Church attendee, but in the Anglican Church where I was nurtured, if that’s the word to use, I was never taught anything. I thought of Christianity as on a pile with King Mun’s teeth, mainly something that you regularly did, but you didn’t think about it, not even when you were doing it. But anyway, he left me with the question that this can’t be true because it’s a position that only holds together by willpower. If you are going to deny the divinity of Christ, which is so central to the New Testament, you also deny all the rest of it. If you are going to affirm that the ethic of Jesus is the best thing since fried bread, well then you ought to take seriously what the New Testament says about who He is. That got me going.

I read some C.S. Lewis, I read a good deal of the Bible, and I read a number of books of all schools of thought relating to the Christian faith. Two years on after this started, a friend of mine who had gone to university a year before I was due to go, he got suddenly converted through the Intervarsity [IV] people, and when next we met, and thereafter, he took it on himself to try and explain to me that I didn’t have faith. By then I had got to the point where I was prepared to stand up for the creed in debate—we had a 12th grade atheist; most schools do—and we used to have fairly intense arguments. I argued for truth of the creed and I took for granted that since I believed the creed, that’s what it meant to have faith as this friend of mine naturally had. Came the day when I was due to go up to Oxford and he said very quickly before he went off to the university where he was studying, “I haven’t been able to explain it to you very well, but when you get to Oxford, link up with the Intervarsity people. They will be able to make it clearer than I have been able to do.”

At Oxford the Intervarsity people were out on the hunt and we met right at the beginning of my time. They organized a periodic evangelistic preaching service at the university. The first such preaching service that I attended the sermon lasted three-quarters of an hour and was preached by an elderly gentleman who within the first 20 minutes bored me. Then he started telling at length the story of his own conversion and suddenly everything became clear. I am not a person who gets much in the way of visions or visuals, but the concept called up a picture which was there in my mind was that here I am outside of the house and looking through the window and I understand what they are doing. I recognize the games they are playing. Clearly they are enjoying themselves, but I am outside. Why am I outside? Because I have been evading the Lord Jesus and His call.

Once that had become clear my defenses fell quite rapidly, and at the end of the service we sang “Just As I Am” and by the end of the hymn I was a believer. So out of church I went, but back with the Intervarsity people from then on to catch up with the nurture that I had been missing all through these years—really to make up for lost time. And that’s the main thing, far and away the biggest thing that I was doing outside my studies for the next four years.

(JB) And what were your studies?

(JIP) I was doing the Oxford liberal arts degree. It’s Greek or Latin philosophy, language and history, along with a good deal of modern philosophy and a good deal of modern ethics, too. It’s a fine looking education, as a matter of fact. Pretty demanding, but I look back to it with gratitude, though frankly I didn’t enjoy it at the time. I should add that I was brought up Anglican as I told you, but after my new life had started I found myself very angry with the Anglican Church for not having told me the gospel all those years. I didn’t want to worship in Anglican churches, but I spent a lot of my time worshiping with Christian brethren, and in many ways that was a very good experience. After four years I was an Anglican again and I remain an Anglican until this day. That’s another story. Have I told you what you wanted to know?

(JB) That helps me, except I would like to hear you say what changes God has produced in your thinking. What year was it when you went off to Oxford?

(JIP) 1944.

(JB) In the 64 years since then, what significant changes have been brought into your mind about the faith that excited you at the end of that service that night?

(JIP) What I brought to the service was Christianity according to C.S. Lewis, mere Christianity. Under the nurture of the Intervarsity people and with a touch of God, too, I had added to Lewis a strong belief in the inerrancy of the authority of Scriptures. Lewis didn’t believe in inerrancy. He didn’t go around denying it, but he didn’t affirm it either.

The touch of God which helped me along that road took place six weeks after I converted. The Intervarsity people ran a Saturday night Bible study, and at this particular Saturday night Bible study an elderly gentleman with some eccentric views about the book of Revelation was speaking. And if I remember rightly, he was speaking about Revelation 13, which is a chapter in which it’s easy to be eccentric—where there’s a dragon and the horsemen, etc.—but I can still remember the moment, coming out of the meeting. I had gone into the meeting assuming, without argument really, nobody had argued with me about it so far, but I was assuming that though the substance of the Scripture was certainly true and we believed, I had been having a wonderful time in personal Bible study since my conversion which seemed to confirm that, particularly in terms of the Christ about whom the New Testament spoke being the living Savior and Lord who had called me into what we all call a personal relationship. But I took it for granted that educated people nowadays don’t believe every jot and tittle of the Bible.

I think it was the reverence with which this curious old gentleman had handled Revelation 13. Not what he made of it, but it’s the way that he squared up to the text—squeezing wisdom out of individual verses and phrases and studying the texts in the context and flow of the argument. I think it was that, though honestly I’m not quite sure. Anyway, something had triggered in me unawares. The Bible makes an impact on me which assures me that it is the Word of God pure. And being so it is bound to be all true and all trustworthy because God is. I think that is the way to say it—it’s what Calvin called the witness of the Holy Spirit which I’d been enjoying for those six weeks but hadn’t got around to verbalizing. When I got to verbalizing, I realized this isn’t what I used to believe. It was a bit of a joke. I’ve stayed with that ever since and, as you know, stuck my neck out in all sorts of ways through pieces of writing to vindicate that position.

(JB) Which is probably why I’m here because you are my hero in that sense and I thank you for sticking your neck out at great cost to your own self. If you were to chart the progress of belief in inerrancy of Scripture during your lifetime would you say it was very much an undeveloped doctrine when you were young in broad evangelical circles? It certainly wasn’t popular in the U.K. when you were young.

(JIP) No, it wasn’t. If I remember rightly, it was more an assumption among the Intervarsity people than a matter for argument or debate, but it was their assumption. I have a linear sort of mind, a lawyer’s mind. When I believe something, I want to articulate it, so having become aware of it, I believed that the Bible is the Word of God. Yes, I have read some stuff that would help me to articulate it but I don’t remember that anyone around me was particularly concerned to do that. Although, of course, in Intervarsity we knew that the other forms of Christianity in the university didn’t involve trust in the Scriptures just like that, but in those days I didn’t argue with them. That came later.

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.

Assocaited Press

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.

(JB) And what triggered your willingness to take it on in a more argumentative way? What prompted you to say, “This is important?”

(JIP) As with so many things in my life, the human way of saying this was that I was pushed into it, pulled into it, and the logical way of saying it was that I was brought into the providence of God. In the year of grace 1955 I was asked to reply to several months of criticism in print from English church leaders who were denouncing Billy Graham and all that he stood for, and Intervarsity along with Billy Graham, and focusing on belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, which to some critics is a belief that makes it impossible for people to do Bible study of the kind that all the rest us do today. In other words, it was a belief that anchored one in obscurantism and darkness of mind. I was asked to reply to this and I was given the title, actually it was the senior people in Intervarsity who asked me to do this. The title they gave me was “narrow mind” or “narrow way.” It was nice. And my audience was members of what then was called the gracious fellowship of Intervarsity, so I was among friends. I had a line of argument which I deployed and they liked and I was asked to write it up.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 I imagine that what the IV publisher expected was something of pamphlet length, 6,000 words perhaps. But knowing that anything you write is going to be read by enemies as well as by friends, I realized there were a lot of presuppositions that had to be filled in and defended before the particular line of argument that I had used in my address could be deployed. Otherwise, the howl would be, “Look at how much you have taken for granted. You can’t take those things for granted.” So the IV publisher had to wait for a little over a year and then they landed on his desk—not 6,000 words, but 60,000. The book was called Fundamentalism and the Word of God and it’s still in print. From that day to this I thought that it’s a good response to critical biblical study and critical theology. I believe that I was able to do something pretty good. It’s a piece of controversial writing that does stand up.

(JB) The word fundamentalism meant something a little different then than it does now. You would probably put a different title on it, or not.

(JIP) Yes, I would. Fundamentalism in the original title was the word that the critics had been using as the label for that which they were denouncing. And what I wanted to argue was that label brings no clarity about anything. It does, in fact, mislead because it implies obscurantism and, in fact, behind evangelical belief there is intellectually taught class history. That’s one of the things that the book was concerned to do. It reaches back to Luther and Calvin and the whole Reformed tradition. I’d been reading [B.B.] Warfield. That was how I became a frontline man on the inerrancy question, and because I had become a frontline man by the providence of God I’ve been asked over and over again if I would do frontline things—write some more, speak some more.

(JB) You’re the frontline man. Are you satisfied the way that front has been held in the evangelical world, or have we retreated?

(JIP) No, I don’t think we’ve retreated. I think that on balance the front has been held well and strongly. I’m thinking now of some doings over the 10-year period of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in which I was quite prominent. I believe that God helped us do a very good job, actually. We produced a couple of excellent statements, I think. One explaining inerrancy. Perhaps I should reveal that I wrote it, and then there was a statement on interpretation. I didn’t write that, but I had something to do with it. Those draftings of mine gave satisfaction round and about. It seems to me that this is the way to look at what happened after that.

In any movement that is gaining strength and recruiting able people to its own and getting stronger on its own basics as I continue to think that the evangelical movement was doing, and I would argue that still. I am thinking of all those commentaries which assume the inerrancy of Scripture. But we had nothing like that while I was young. But we’ve got three or four series now, and I think they are an index of what is actually happening. Happening where? In the seminaries. There are more seminaries and far more theological students at them than was the case when I was converted in 1944. The bright professors in the seminaries went along with the Inerrancy Council. There was, of course, a spectrum as there always is when you’ve got a lot of bright people maintaining a position that is able to feel itself pretty strong. Under those circumstances there will always be left-wingers who are out on a limb themselves in regards to some of the details. I don’t think that they are carrying the constituency with them.

Carl Trueman (left) and Wayne Grudem
Westminster Theological Seminary (Trueman) and Phoenix Seminary (Grudem)

Carl Trueman (left) and Wayne Grudem

(JB) If you were to point to two or three people who are on that front about whom you say, “Atta boy, you’re doing now what I did 50 years ago.” Whom would you cheer?

(JIP) Carl Trueman isn’t yet the heavy of heaviest, but he’s very strong in his own sophisticated fundamentalist way. And so is Wayne Grudem—he’s a strong man.

(JB) I appreciate that, and I don’t want to push in that direction. And where would you say, besides the doctrine of inerrancy being important in and of itself, that it shows itself to be most crucial on what practical issues in our times?

(JIP) When you say practical issues, do you mean moral issues?

(JB) Perhaps … the life of the church.

(JIP) In the life of the church there has been much in recent years about a gay way of life, and I think evangelicals have shown themselves solid against it in way that was biblical. Good stuff is being produced on sex and the family. They are not compromising anymore. Willie Mackenzie [of Christian Focus Publications] is a dear sweet Christian man, and his wife is a dear sweet Christian lady, and they have a real ministry, a good ministry. And although a lot of the stuff they publish is heavy, there is a degree of unction—I think is what I want to say—an unction which is a reality that I believe in. Unction, that is the touch of the Holy Spirit that makes you realize that this is God’s truth and you’ve got to take it seriously. Unction will enable people to learn even from relatively dull or somber and monochrome books.

(JB) But having said that, how do you encourage somebody to connect himself to that unction? How do you encourage someone who writes to do it with vividness, with vim, with vigor? How do you encourage someone who preaches to do it with passion instead of that dullness that you refer to?

(JIP) First of all, I try to set an example. And second, I write—I’m fairly forthright in books and articles in pinpointing what I think are shortcomings in evangelical life and ministry. And here, perhaps, I’d better say something which I’ve been saying over and over for the last five years but didn’t say before because I didn’t see it before, but better late than never. God made me, shaped me as a catechist, an adult catechist. Catechists are people who teach the truth that Christians live by.

(JB) Could I interrupt you just a quick moment? Why your emphasis on catechizing?

(JIP) We’re getting there. … Let me preempt you. I am an adult catechist, and their advantage is to teach the truth that Christians live by and to teach how to live by them. In this guild where theological professions gather, they are doing a different job, and, frankly, I keep out of the guild because it bores me. Not because I don’t think that the growing edge studies in theology are a waste of time, but because that isn’t me. What’s on my heart is the work of the catechist. Getting out the truth that Christians live by and trying to show—talking, writing, living—trying to show what it means to live by them.

The answer to your question, why this emphasis, is first of all five years ago when I came to realize that this is the deep truth about me. I am an adult catechist: It was quite a discovery. You may or may not know that Alister McGrath wrote a theology biography of me up to the age of 75—or was it 70? When he finished the biography he didn’t know quite what to say about me. This man didn’t want to call me a theologian because I didn’t move around in the world of the guild like he does. He writes excellent textbooks and he also engages on some of the frontiers, which is what he in his own mind thinks of a theologian as doing. So he didn’t want to call me a theologian and he ended up calling me a “theologizer.” But it was after that that I realized I’m a catechist.

I said five years ago—it may have been a little more than that—one of the things that may have triggered this realization is that [Pope] John Paul II said, “We need a new catechesis.” He said it to [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger, and Ratzinger troops on to the composition of another catechism of the Catholic Church. You know that big book, 800 pages of stuff. Now that catechism is actually a resource book for the clergy. That’s how it’s intended to be used, whereas we Protestants are used to catechetical documents as being documents for the direct instruction of the laity either by question and answer or by something approaching that, little hunks of instruction and then questions. As I say, that may have made the difference. In the Catholic Church it varies very much, how much is being done, but they’ve made headway in adult catechesis that puts them way in front of where we are. We take it for granted that by the time our people get into their late teens they’ll know the basics of the faith.

(JB) And they don’t at all …

(JIP) No, they don’t. But nonetheless we go ahead with a style of preaching that assumes this basic knowledge. It isn’t catechetical preaching except in a very few discerning cases. It isn’t sufficiently debated.

(JB) Would you give me a kind of concise definition of what you mean by catechetical teaching?

(JIP) Going back to my formula that a catechist teaches the truth that Christians live by and also teaches how to live by those truths, I would say that the raw material of catechisms is the doctrines of the gospel. Now, I’ve been a professor of systematic theology for quite a lot of my life, and at the start of all my theology courses I say: First of all, you’ve got to realize that theology is a compound of 10 distinct disciplines: Exegesis, biblical theology, and historical theology are the first three. They are the resources out of which systematic theology builds its wisdom. And systematic theology is, in fact, biblical theology rethought in relation to the questions and debates of the day so that it’s material ready for use by catechists and preachers and teachers of all shapes and sizes. Also, from systematic theology using its raw material, the following six disciplines are resourced: apologetics, ethics, worship or liturgy, spirituality or Christian devotion, mythology, misology, and pastor theology or practical theology—all the know-how you are able to share with one another about ministering, ministering truth in light of truth.

(JB) Do I hear you saying that systematic theology comes from the prior three and gives birth to those six?

(JIP) Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Actually as I’m expounding it, I say you’ll meet systematic theology in books of systematic theology that have already been written. But if you examine those books you will find that the raw material that’s being deployed comes from these three sources, and it’s by exegesis and biblical theology in particular that what’s in the books has to be assessed. The Bible comes first. The Bible must have the last word as well as the first word. I give them that and I say, “Now keep that scheme in mind for the rest of your life and make sure that you don’t leave seminary without a working acquaintance with all 10 disciplines, because if you are going to honor God as a communicator of the Word, you will need to have all of these dimensions of theology in your mind.”

There’s more introductory stuff that I give them, but I end up telling them this: Learn to identify evangelical theology. You identify evangelical theology first by its method and second by its content. In terms of method, there are three methods, and one of them is evangelical. The evangelical method is to draw your truth and conclusions and wisdom from Scripture and allow Scripture to pass judgment on your attempts to express what Scripture is saying. The Bible has the first word; the Bible has the last word. And contrast methods two and three, which are to appeal—as Catholicism does—to what the church says, and as liberals do to the judgment of the individual theologian. Which means, of course, that among liberals, the debate goes on indefinitely and nothing can be regarded as quite certain.

As for content, here I’m thinking of the doctrinal basis of a lot of 20th century evangelical organizations. You have first of all the authority of Scripture affirmed. Secondly, the triunity of God affirmed. Third, the fallenness of the man who was created in the image of God affirmed. Fourth, the incarnation affirmed. Fifth, the atonement affirmed. Sixth, the new birth by the Spirit through faith affirmed. Seventh, justification through faith affirmed. I believe that theologically, in light of John 3, the new birth is a work of God the Spirit out of which faith comes, rather than saying with the Arminians that faith comes, and through faith the new birth takes place. In other words, the primacy of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Eight, the church sustained by every member along with the ministry of official ministers—all animated by the Holy Spirit and all constituting Christ’s ministry to His people through His people. I wanted to say all that because you’re Presbyterian and I wanted to make sure that you hear it right. Presbyterianism actually hasn’t said anything like enough about the Holy Spirit in every member’s ministry. It’s tended to say altogether too much about the office of official ministries. There’s an imbalance there in the heritage.

(JB) I agree with you. I am impressed that both in your emphasis on catechizing and what you have just said here you are never content simply to be an academic. You are never content to be theologian.

(JIP) I’m a catechist …

(JB) … and a churchman.

(JIP) That’s right.

(JB) That is a vital part of your worldview. After your early disappointment in the Anglican Church that betrayed you by not giving the gospel to you, why do you still see the church as important? It was a parachurch organization that early nurtured you.

(JIP) But my faith comes from the Bible. In the New Testament the church is the center of the plan of redemption. We are units in the body of Christ. There is one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one church. The church is at the center of God’s promise. I said eighth is the church. Ninth is the return of Christ. Tenth is the glory of God, and both are the final goal of everything that God is doing. Put together those 10 convictions and you’ve got evangelical theology. Lose out on any single one of them and you’ve got something less than evangelical theory or you’ve got evangelical theory mental: maimed, distorted, out of truth. I give them that in the fourth class of my series before ever I get down to particular doctrines. I tell them, “You’ve looked at the forest. Once you’ve looked at the forest, it’s safe to take you in among the trees.” We then move to doctrine of revelation of the Bible, the doctrine of God, etc. That is a catechist at the podium in a seminary or a seminary-type institution.

(JB) I got catechized at my breakfast table. My dad was a country preacher, and if we did not come to the breakfast table with our catechism literally learned, we did not eat breakfast. We got sent back to our room until we learned it.

(JIP) Your dad was a wise man. We don’t do it that way nowadays, but what a heritage.

(JB) What tools, besides these that we’ve just discussed and that you’ve put into such a neat package, do young men and women moving into the work of the church for the coming generation need? Where do you see them most needy, most deficient? Where are they barking up empty trees—and they should back off and get serious developing particular tools that you think are more important?

(JIP) My desire for everyone who’s in stated ministry in the church is to be, amongst the other things they are, a catechist. I think first of the need that they have of resources that will help them to be good catechists, and for that purpose I should start by urging them to have a very good systematic theology on their shelves. I shall tell them that they should find out by experimenting whether they get benefit from Calvin’s running way of expounding doctrine in the Institutes. If they don’t, I’m sorry that they don’t, but in that case Louis Berkhof is going to do them much more good. There are a number of systematic textbooks that have appeared since Louis Berkhof wrote, but nobody, it seems to me, matches Berkhof for his skill in saying much, very straightforwardly in a small space. He goes to the heart of every truth. He says it quickly. If you are going to work with [Millard J.] Erickson, for instance, Erickson takes far more time, fills far more space, and rarely achieves the same clarity. He gives you good stuff, but what Berkhof gives you is constantly, point after point, good stuff.

I would hope that the book that I wrote on a smaller scale called Concise Theology would help as a resource for catechists. It’s subdivided into 50 or 60 different chapters. I like to think that people are going to ask themselves, “Here are 60 matters which this man Packer thought was important. Do I think it is important?” I produced a catechism book of a different sort titled Growing in Christ, published by Crossway. Once it was called I Want to Be a Christian and was published by Tyndale, but Tyndale couldn’t sell it because the title—so they assured me—misled people about what sort of book it was. It’s actually a catechism book and gives 800 words on each clause of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and each of the Ten Commandments, and general stuff about Christian obedience and on the baptismal covenant. I go over all the New Testament teachings on that standard. There are biblical passages to study and questions with which to work. It would be very straightforward for clergy to use it as a course for people who want to join the church.

(JB) And it’s still available?

(JIP) Yes, it’s still available from Crossway and it’s not sold very well, because this type of instruction doesn’t ring bells with the majority.

(JB) It’s work.

(JIP) Yes, it’s work and they’re not used to teaching the faith in this way. They assume that everyone over the age of 20 has a good general grasp of the faith so that they can hammer away a particular point and make them pictorial and vivid, but without actually bothering to go over their substance. I am just remembering it’s not so many years ago since I preached in a large evangelical congregation and I took Romans 3:24–26, Paul’s teaching on justification. I just analyzed it, and at the end of the sermon people were shaking hands with me and more than one said, “Thank you so much for that, I’ve never heard anything like that.” This was a respectable evangelical church.

(JB) What have we been doing?

(JIP) We’ve been making an assumption—the assumption is false, so there’s a disconnect. For the rest of my life this is what I shall be at, trying to promote the catechism.

(JB) May I be bold and ask this: Have you been teaching our friend Charles Colson this very thing? I talked with him last week and he used the word catechizing.

(JIP) I don’t think it is I who has given it to him, but he does read my stuff and he’s very complimentary about it.

(JB) He’s very high on the whole issue of catechizing.

(JIP) He’s been associated with me over these last few years. I’m not too surprised, because I talk about it.

(JB) And I think he’s been listening to you.

(JIP) He’s a great man, Chuck Colson.

(JB) I did my column about his new book The Faith in our current issue [Aug. 9, 2008].

(JIP) That’s a good book.

(JB) I like his chapter on truth. When half our evangelical young people aren’t sure there is any such thing as truth anymore, they need to be catechized.

(JIP) Yes they do. I don’t think there is deep-seated doubt in their minds, but it is clear that they’ve never been catechized. They have never been taught to take the truth question as the basic question of their lives. The basic question of my life was simply the cast of my own mind that led me to take it from age 15 on, and people sometimes think I’m an apologist. I’m not one really, but if anyone is going to affirm doubt about the availability of truth, I do have an arsenal which I can deploy.

(JB) Yes indeed. Even with my own children—I have five daughters and they’re all married now—I hear a tone—and I didn’t do as good a job catechizing them as my father did with me and I’m embarrassed by that—but I hear my daughters say, “Dad, I agree with what you said, but who am I to say?” That is an expression that really concerns me out of the next generation. They agree, in broad terms, but they don’t think they have the right to impose their belief on someone else. I think I use the wrong word when I say impose …

(JIP) I know what you mean. My comeback when I hear that sort of talk is to ask people straight away, “Now tell me, do you believe in a God who tells us things?” And if I get an affirmative answer, actually if I don’t, I have a supporting line question: “You don’t—who do you think Jesus Christ was?” The quick answer, of course, is God. “Did he tell us things?” You see, that should put them out of doubt. Then I say, “Then you believe in a God who tells us things?” I believe He’s telling us things all through the Bible. If God has told us things, don’t you think we’re entitled to tell other people what God has told us?

(JB) Good. I’m glad you said that. That’s what I need. That’s why we call it the gospel.

(JIP) Yes, it’s news—it’s good news—and it’s the gospel of God. He told us.

(JB) It’s gospel truth.

(JIP) That’s right.

*SOURCE: By Joel Belz – Posted on December 7, 2013 @ http://www.worldmag.com/2013/12/j_i_packer_the_lost_interview

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Interviews, J.I. Packer

 

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