Sunday, June 26, 2016

excellent preaching

It is not every day that an entire book is read on a drive to the airport. Three realities conspired together to make it possible. The book was 73 pages. The airport was on the other side of Bangkok. I am an introvert and after eight days of lots of people, it was good to lose myself in a book for a couple of hours...

While on the subject of airports, this relates to the central metaphor of Craig Bartholomew's Excellent Preaching (Lexham, 2015). The book is about 'landing the plane' in preaching, working hard at application, contextualisation and worldview.
How do we listen to Scripture so that we can preach the Bible for all its worth in today's world? ... How do we land the plane whose cargo is the living Word of God so that it is present and received as such by our congregations? (6).
The metaphor extends easily to the captain of the plane (the Spirit, not the preacher), a destination, and 'a view from arrivals':
... When we gather around Christ, he stands with his face to the world! The view at arrivals is centred on God, but precisely because this is its center it takes in the vista of the whole of creation (20). 
Preach the Bible well and it takes you into the world because 'the Bible tells the true story of the whole world' (21), not just the church. It goes to work at the level of worldview - 'the deep, orientational level' (34) of our lives. This is not easy because 'it is exceedingly hard to get a critical grip on one's own culture' (56) as it is what is normal for us, like water for the fish. But preaching is about finding - and living in - a new 'normal'. And so for Bartholomew, in preaching, 'we land the plane successfully when we preach the message shaped by the intersection of two trajectories: the intersection of the telos, or message of the text, and the context in which and to which we are preaching' (38).

This did my heart good! Seeing this emphasis on what I have tended to refer to as 'preaching worldviewishly' - and it is pleasing to have this imagery from Bartholomew to utilise. You know, some authors are seminal, while others are more synthetic. Seminal authors are the ones who come up with something original, eventually finding their way into the footnotes of the synthetic authors. I'm not sure there are enough hours in the day to give too much time to authors gifted with the synthesis of other peoples' ideas. Bartholomew is in the seminal camp. For example, have you seen his commentary on Ecclesiastes? An amazing piece of scholarship at the intersection of text and context.
In my view the church is the primary place where God's Word is to be received, so that the brief message quickly prepared, and barely noticeable amid the rest of the service, is an aberration of the high calling of the preacher ...
In my view, we biblical scholars are like those behind the scenes while preachers are at the front lines. Both roles are indispensable for the great work to which we are called, and we need a healthy partnership between the two. Nowadays, alas, it is unusual for scholars to take preaching seriously, and it is too often unusual for preachers to take scholarship seriously. The result is that both settle for mediocrity, whereas together we need to strive for excellence (53).
Very helpfully, Bartholomew gives some examples of 'landing the plane' (using specific biblical texts: Galatians 1.10-2.21; Genesis 1.16; Exodus 20.3; and Ephesians 6.10-20) before closing the book with six 'practical ways forward':

1. Begin with repentance. 'Preachers too easily become familiar with the holy act of preaching, and we need to repent and commit ourselves to preaching the Bible for all it is - and we are - worth' (66).

2. Prioritize preaching in pastoral ministry. 'It will never be the only thing we do, but space must be carved out to prioritize it. We need to vow to avoid mediocrity and to commit to using all the tools at our disposal to work hard and prayerfully ...' (67)

3. Get all the help we can in 'understanding our world and our particular congregation so we can repeatedly land the plane in our particular context' (67).

4. Alert our congregations repeatedly that 'reception of the Word is a communal task' (67). The ministries of the church must be evaluated for their contribution to advancing biblical literacy.

5. Recognise the task is bigger than any one of us. 'What is advocated in this book - excellent preaching - will involve costly preaching ... Biblical preaching will nurture God's people, but it will also meet with resistance, especially as we bring the idols of our day into focus' (68).

6. Immerse our preaching in prayer and a profound dependence on the Spirit. 'The work of preaching is the work of the Spirit, a work he delights to engage in' (68).

nice chatting

Paul

PS: Don't forget Appendix B: An Expanded Apostles' Creed (70-71) in which he adds, substantially, to the original Creed in order to convey better the fullness of the biblical storyline. Very clever - and helpful.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

beyond resourcing

I settled into my seat. Some sleep on the overnight plane meant that some sleep on the midday bus was not going to happen. So I leaned back and zoned-out before the upcoming conference captured me. But gradually three conversations, from further back in the bus, began to come into focus.

I listened. In each conversation, an American accent was present. Having been around Americans all my life, it was as I expected. The voices were kind and warm and animated - but on this occasion, in each conversation, they were doing 90% of the talking, as they shared about their ministry. When we reached the venue and entered into the rhythm of sessions and meals, something similar happened. The room was ringed with tables for organisations, mostly from America (there were very few Europeans present), manned by generous and servant-hearted people committed to resourcing the (majority world) passer-by. Over meal times, I watched a repeating pattern. A few pleasantries initiated by the resourcer. 'Tell me about your family'. 'What is the ministry in which you are involved?' ... politely, as you'd expect, the same questions were returned to them by the (majority world) person. Then, as if by some signal, the 'play button' is pressed, and out flows a prolonged explanation of the resource they are offering the world, accompanied by a fair amount of promotion.

Servant-hearted, generosity-inspired resourcing packaged in a warm, kind, animated, verbose(!) person.

Who could ever be critical of that combo? I will certainly stop short of doing so. But is that it? Is that what characterizes global missional interactions in the 21st century? It disturbed me that I could not hear other voices on that bus. It disturbed me that at the organisational tables and around the meal tables, while the interest in the 'other' was genuine, it was a bit token - and it seemed to be the means by which to reach a greater end. Maybe that is unkind. My apologies. But it meant that for the eight days of the conference I was asking myself, 'Is servant-hearted, generosity-inspired resourcing enough?'

My conclusion? I don't think it is.

The premise behind what I saw and heard seemed to be that there are some of us who have something to give and there are others among us who have something to receive. Really?! That is flawed. That feels like a softer colonialism to me. My renewed call to global mission in my late-40s was built around 1 Corinthians 12 being writ globally, not just locally. It changed my life. It is about valuing the peoples of the world with the dignity, the equality and the interdependency which seeps into that passage. Everyone has something to give. Everyone has something to receive. Everyone is indispensable. Everyone who has been dishonoured is shown a 'special honour'. Yes, there is a need to move beyond a mere resourcing mentality and on towards genuine partnership together.

We all need to be careful - and on this occasion, particularly the Americans who featured so much at this conference. As a senior leader in Asia expressed to me, 'Americans always seem to have the answer'. And oftentimes the answer is of a scale which those at the 'grassroots' in the majority world can find difficult to engage. Like the guy who finished his talk with a sequence of photos of multi-million dollar church buildings he had built as a mark of his effective ministry. Really? This stuff ends up being (possibly) inspirational, without having that more significant aspirational quality. This is the quality that will make it feel accessible. This is the quality that will have people say, 'Ahh, maybe God could do this in me and through me?! Yes, he can.' As I say to our facilitators who preach in our training seminars, 'Don't wow people with your most impressive sermon; rather, wow them with your most accessible sermon'. Inspiration is over-rated. Feeding aspiration is the key. We want people to go away saying. 'I could preach that sermon' - not 'I could never preach that sermon'.

Sometimes the answers are a lot closer to home than America, or somewhere else in the West. Sometimes partnership will mean receiving 'the answers' from elsewhere in the majority world. I love being part of seminars and forums and consultations that enable this West-less interchange to take place among our trainers and coordinators - like these photos suggest:

Samoeurn (Cambodia) with Alex (Peru)
Dil (Guyana) with Richard (South Sudan)
At this conference I was disappointed that effective indigenous, grassroots ministries in the majority world did not live more in the limelight. For example, take the two in the photo below: Devender, with the School of Biblical Teaching in North India, and Qaiser, with the Open Theological Seminary in Pakistan. Remarkable stories - but also accessible, aspirational stories that would have assisted the multitude of people, at the conference, living and working in similar settings with similar challenges.

With Devender (India) and Qaiser (Pakistan)
So it is about moving beyond one-way resourcing to partnership where things flow both ways and where we feed each other's aspirations by keeping the currency being exchanged in the partnership accessible. The way to get started? Maybe it begins not so much with the generous desire to give resources, but with the humble desire to share friendship. Maybe there needs to be friendship before resourcing just as there needs to be partnership beyond resourcing...

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, June 19, 2016

icons past and present

I don't know my icons - but I am willing to learn from my friends.

So when Riad finished his devotion (on living with Habakkuk amidst the Syrian crisis) with an old Coptic/Egyptian icon, I leaned forward in my chair. A painting on wood. From Egypt in the 5th century. Jesus is standing alongside Abbot Menas, the leader of a local monastery. In the Louvre, where it lives now, it is known as Christ and His Friend (Christ et son ami).


Riad's observation is that Menas looks pale and exhausted, but with the arm of his friend around him, he is strengthened to face the world again and his calling to bless others. I've kept looking at the icon ever since. In Jesus I see a gentle love and a calm authority. One arm is around his friend and the other arm is around the Bible. A picture of the comprehensive caring ministry. Jesus is not facing towards Menas, lost in Menas' woes - but instead he is an 'alongsider', standing with him in his troubles, as they face a troubled world together.
I no longer call you servants ... instead, I have called you friends (John 15.15).
The day before Riad introduced me to this icon, Mark showed me another one.

It was in the Church of St Nicholas in Demre (Turkey). Once again, about the 5th century. Known as the burial place of St Nicholas. In the peak season it is visited by 60 bus loads of Russian tourists each day, coming to pay respects to a father of their Orthodox church. St Nicholas' life went on to gather worldwide fame, across timezones and centuries, as Santa Claus. That story didn't interest me one whit. The exquisite, but partial, murals and mosaics and frescoes interested me far more ... but as I exited the church, Mark asked me, 'Did you see the icon out the back?'. He showed it to me on his camera. I rushed back in to find it. This is what interested me the most.

This icon may be found in a 5th century church, but it is far from ancient. It is a few scratches on some relatively new concrete out the back. None of the tourist guidebooks mention it. And yet it speaks, as much as that icon in the Louvre, to those who linger to look and listen.

Psst - hey, tourist - we are still here. These years may not be the glory years when we were the celebrated cradle for the faith that bears Christ's name. Those people may have tried to exterminate us more than once. But we are still here, out the back, scratching out a witness to Jesus Christ, God's Son and Saviour - and Our Friend.
nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, June 12, 2016

mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, conversion

In trying hard to include everything, a point can be reached where it becomes hard to exclude anything. Put a handful of topics on the table for discussion - mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, conversion - and it won't be long before many of the older liberals (in the 1980s) and the younger postmoderns (in the 2010s), wanting to be authentic Christians, are experiencing authentic anxiety.

Not so long ago I was staying at a Christian ecumenical centre. A beautiful campus dotted with all sorts of signs, from the weird to the wonderful ... and with those signs, the bad ol' days battling the more liberal brand of ecumenicity as a young Baptist pastor came flooding back to me.






What was all that about?

One of my issues with that ecumenicity (in the 1980s) - together with some of the younger, cooler postmoderns (in the 2010s) - is that they go to the Gospels looking for love, but lose sight of some of the truth along the way. For example, they are big fans of the Jesus who said that love is the greatest commandment, but when it comes to Jesus saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" - they run and hide, lest they be considered exclusive. For them, nothing could be worse than being exclusive. They are big fans of hammering the church in Ephesus (and today) for losing its first love and not being inclusive enough - but, keep going, folks. There are six more churches in Revelation 2 & 3. What happened to hammering the church in Thyatira (and today) for not being exclusive enough? This ain't no buffet-line where you pick and choose the bits you like - and leave the bits you don't like.

This is why I've tended to see evangelicalism to be the true ecumenism because it is transparently committed to finding the biblical tension in inclusion and exclusion, in loving what Jesus loves and hating what Jesus hates ... that is, until a few misguided Americans changed the meaning of the word 'evangelical' by over-politicizing it and right-wingifying it. What a sadness this has been. Now the word is damaged goods...

But the words on the table do not change.

Mission. Evangelism. Dialogue. Salvation. Conversion.
Every generation needs to engage them - biblically.

In the 1970s, John Stott did so in his little Christian Mission in the Modern World. Now, in the 2010s, in a publishing masterstroke, the same book has been 'updated and expanded' - and doubled, effectively - by having Chris Wright contribute chapters on the very same topics. The invitation was 'to relieve the (earlier) book of some of its more dated material and to add some reflections of my own on each of the chapters' (12). It works well.

I was reading this book while I was reading those signs at the ecumenical centre. It provided quite the conversation in my head! Sure, sometimes the book can feel like the Lausanne Covenant (with John Stott, as its chief architect) is playing ping-pong with the Cape Town Commitment (with Chris Wright, as its chief architect) - but there is no denying its usefulness (or, the usefulness of these two creed-like documents). It remains a book for close study - personally, in home groups, in classrooms - by those who wish to have God's call to their vocation be marked by a gracious and courageous biblical faithfulness.

My generation needed that book by Stott so desperately. It fed us. It settled us. It focused us. It emboldened us within the ecumenical milieu. Now my children's generation desperately needs 'the updated and expanded' version - but do they realise it? That is the question. It would feed them. It would settle them. It would focus them. It would embolden them within the postmodern milieu.

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, June 05, 2016

langham logic 1.0

The Langham Logic, as it was articulated by John Stott, was too compelling for me to ignore. I first heard it expressed in 2008, as the rationale for the ministry of Langham Partnership:
God wants His church to grow up;
God's church grows up through God's word;
God's word comes, primarily, through preaching.
And so the question to ask is 'how can we raise the standards of biblical preaching?
I am a believer. Under God's hand - and at His direction - I am quite content to give my life for this cause. But that must be Langham Logic 2.0 because yesterday I encountered a longer, fuller and earlier version in Ian Shaw's chapter, 'John Stott and the Langham Scholarship Programme' (in this volume, 314-5).
God wants his church to grow into maturity in Christ.
Nothing leads people into this Christian maturity like the Word of God.
The Word of God reaches people mainly through faithful biblical preaching.
Biblical preaching/teaching are the primary God-appointed responsibility of pastors.
Pastors catch (or lose) their vision for preaching in the seminary (theological college).
The seminary exerts its influence on students primarily through its teaching staff.
Seminary teachers need to combine academic excellence with personal godliness. 
Later, 'We long to see the world's seminaries staffed by godly evangelical scholars,               so that the world's pulpits may be occupied by faithful preachers of the Word of God'              (John Stott, in 1998; see also here).
Biblical preaching and theological education. Pastors and scholars.
In their most consecrated form, they are ever so strategic.

It is a great chapter by Shaw, as he tells the history of the Langham Scholars programme. I never knew, for example, that until 1998 all USA-based Langham Scholars studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) - where I studied in the early 1980s and where I heard John Stott give his classic message on the call to pastoral ministry from 1 Corinthians 4 (listen to it here on the All Souls' website).

Shaw quotes Stott quoting HCG Moule: 'Beware of an untheological devotion and of an undevotional theology' ... before including a Stottian warning to scholars returning home 'an academic success but a spiritual failure, a 'doctor' (qualified to teach) but no longer a 'disciple', possessed by no new vision, power, or holiness' (319).

With Chris Wright and John Stott - in Sydney, in 2002 - on Stott's final visit to Australia.
[NB: This photo was taken at Sydney Missionary & Bible College where Stott was just about to preach to their community. He preached the very same message on 1 Corinthians 4 which I heard at TEDS exactly twenty years earlier and I remembered large chunks of it. Then he moved into a Q&A session with the students where the 'growth without depth' story, which I have re-told in so many places (and in a post just last month) and which became so instrumental in my call into Langham, took place].

nice chatting

Paul 

Friday, May 27, 2016

the psalms

A gracious little conspiracy has drawn me back to the Psalms...

It started with a comment in an email from a friend battling cancer. She testified to the way a line from Peterson's The Message was strengthening her: 'I've pitched my tent in the land of hope'. Isn't that beautiful? I tracked it down. It is not in the Psalms itself - but in a quotation from the Psalms used in Acts 2.

Then it was the conversation between Eugene Peterson and Bono on the Psalms. Arriving through social media one morning, it couldn't be more anti-social media. A slowness. A softness. A stillness. A sadness. A seriousness. It warranted multiple viewings and that is exactly what it has received.

In replenishing my copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, I soon realised that I had received two books for the price of one. Included in the single cover was his Prayerbook of the Bible in which Bonhoeffer 'desired to retrieve the Psalms as the prayerbook of Jesus ... like children learning to speak the language of their parents, the Psalms are God's way of enabling people to speak in the language of Jesus' (144-145). This sliver of a book has the makings of a sermon series in his classification of the Psalms: creation, law, the history of salvation, the Messiah, the church, life, suffering, guilt, enemies, and the end.

But the sermon series can wait, as I headed back to The Message myself. I decided to read through the Psalms, slowly and prayerfully, collecting phrases and verses for specific friends and putting them on bookmarks for them (with Barby, the laminator, to assist me).


This is not my first foray into the writings of Eugene PetersonThe Message, or the Psalms (and Bono, for that matter) - but here I want simply to gather my favourite phrases from this exercise (in no particular order):


Blessed are the people who know the passwords of praise (Psalm 89).

His love is the wonder of the world (Psalm 31).

We're watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy (Psalm 123).

His love never runs out (Psalm 107).

How blessed are those whose lives become roads you travel (Psalm 84).

I'm striding in the presence of God, alive in the land of the living (Psalm 116).

Your blessing clothes your people (Psalm 3).

God puts the fallen on their feet again (Psalm 147).

In his largeness, nothing gets lost (Psalm 36).

You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me (Psalm 73).

And now, God, do it again - bring rain to our drought-stricken lives (Psalm 126).


nice chatting

Paul

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

one church in izmir

The first essay I ever wrote at theological college was on Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir).

Do you know the story?

Born in 69 AD, Polycarp is understood to have been a disciple of the Apostle John himself. It was this same John who ordained him as Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp is famous for being an early Christian martyr, committed to burn at the stake in a Roman amphitheatre.
As the flames were lit, he lifted his eyes to heaven and uttering a sublime prayer confessed his faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 
(But) flames, bending like the sails of a ship, swelled by winds wrapped up the body of the martyr without doing him harm and when the pagans saw it, they ordered an executioner to get near him and to sink a dagger into his heart.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered that our hotel in Smyrna/Izmir (a city of 3 million people) was just a 10 minute walk from the church set aside to remember Polycarp's life and death. We showed up at 3.30pm to find that it was only open from 3.00-5.00pm each day. Thank-you, Lord. AS with churches in Turkey today, it is a bit of a fortress with high walls surrounding the property and careful security checks on entrance.





Upon entering St Polycarp Church, it did not take long to find a fresco on the ceiling commemorating Polycarp's martyrdom (NB: see how both flames and dagger are at work) - with the words mentioned above as part of the description of the event.



But what stopped me in my tracks was something else inside the lavishly decorated church. It was the pulpit, with this rather odd structure coming out the side of it (see below). I am not sure what it means - but my immediate thought was of a companion to Paul's phrase to the Philippians - 'holding forth the word of life' ... but here, more something like 'holding forth Christ crucified', recalling 1 Corinthians 2.2. How true is that for the preacher, even today?! It becomes a variation on the theme of the words inscribed in some pulpits today, advising the preacher: 'we wish to see Jesus'.



My journey with St Polycarp Church did not stop there. Our flight the next morning was a 50 minute 'hop' to Istanbul and so I asked for a window seat, in order to be able to take some photos. They gave me the row just behind the wing and so it was not a great view. But I did my best to recognise places with my limited knowledge of the city. Thinking this was roughly the area where we stayed, I clicked this shot:


On zooming in ...

... and zooming in again - to my utter amazement it was where we stayed. In the photo above, the Hilton Hotel forms a backdrop to the church - and here it is, with St Polycarp Church being the collection of oddly-shaped orange roofs directly below the sharp corner of the Hilton.


nice chatting

Paul

PS: Don't forget that there have been more martyrs for Christ in the most recent century than in all the other twenty centuries (since Polycarp) combined

Sunday, May 22, 2016

seven churches in revelation

Looking at endless photos of other peoples' rocks and ruins trends towards total boredom for me. They put me to sleep as quickly as the arrival of the evening hour following a nap-less afternoon.

After meetings in Antalya (Turkey), Barby and I were blessed to be able to visit the Seven Churches of Revelation with our friends, Pieter and Elria. I will limit myself to two photos from each site/city...

Ephesus (near Selcuk)
Enjoying the Roman ruins of Ephesus involves a wandering walk of almost 2 kilometres. Impressive. The Library of Celsus will remain with me (and with the bride having her photos taken), as will the roadside glimpse of the goddess Nike among the poppies.



Laodecia (near Denizli)
The white stone against the blue sky, with a few clouds fluffing around, made for photos to remember - as did the hilltop views, looking past the unrestored amphitheatre across the verdant Lycus Valley to the Roman ruins of Hierapolis and the limestone cliffs of Pamukkale. I could retire in this area...



Philadelphia (near Alasehir)
This is one of the ruins without much to see. But the testimony of a cross is something always to savour in this country, as was the fine work of the baker across the road.



Sardis (near Salihli)
Sardis is spectacular. The size and scope and setting of the ruins. Wow. Then there is the little Byzantine church snuggled next to the grand Temple of Artemis (the worship of whom was subverted and undone by communities like this one). The gospel in the public world for all to see. And what about a wash basin with a couple of crosses on it, reminding all who pass by that Jesus is Lord of all?



Thyatira (near Akhisar)
Well, actually in Akhisar. The map was vague. We spent more than an hour wandering through the hills looking for the ruins - only to find them, eventually, in the heart of this city. Again, not very impressive - but special to me. There were seven in my family. My father assigned to each of us one of the churches in Revelation (as you do!). I was 'the church in Thyatira' - and so a special memory of my Dad with this visit.



Pergamum (now, Bergama)
Each of these sites is so different. With this one, the focus shifts to a Roman acropolis on a hill with sweeping 360 degree views. Again, the white on blue is so beautiful - and the steepness of the incline in the amphitheatre brought back memories of the upper decks of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We enjoyed the faltering visibility of the elderly in the comings and goings of public life.




Smyrna (Izmir)
It was a single church that caught my eye in Izmir - but that will be the subject of my next post :).

nice chatting

Paul

BTW - we enjoyed other places along the way...
The traditional site for the writing of the fourth gospel - and of the Apostle John's death.


The site of Phillip's martyrdom above the Roman ruins of Hierapolis, looking back across the Lycus Valley to Laodecia.


The limestone cliffs of Pamukkale, below Hierapolis. How are these are not a 'wonder of the world'?!



What about Turkey's 'green and pleasant land'?


Saturday, May 07, 2016

purple patches with the pastor-theologian

"It wouldn't take much to draw me back into being a pastor again".

As a student, I heard Dr DA Carson make this comment. I've heard him say it a few more times in the subsequent decades. It impacts me. Still does. Why would an academic of this quality make such a statement? I daren't speak for him (!) - but I suspect the answer lies somewhere in his love for the local church, his recognition of the centrality of the local church, and his determination that the 'academy' be a servant of the local church.

I feel these things deeply as well. When I was involved in making faculty appointments in the 'academy', finding people who kept feeling this pull to the pastorate was high on the list of criteria. And now, twenty-six years since I left pastoral ministry, reading Vanhoozer & Strachan's The Pastor as Public Theologian has played its part in keeping that gravitational force alive in me. It is likely to be one of the books of 2016 for me...

The authors wade into the contemporary confusion surrounding the imagery used to describe the pastor - 'the pictures that hold us captive' (7) - looking to 'reclaim a lost vision' as they do so. You know them as well as I do. CEO. Therapist. Manager. Coach. Etc. Pastor and church and seminary must all bear some of the blame for the confusion. 'The way forward is for pastors and theologians to bear one another's burdens, responding together both to the ecclesial amnesia of the academy and to the theological anemia in the church' (7).

Chapter One places the pastor-theologian within a biblical framework. Chapter Two is historical in its focus, while Chapter Three and Four capture the perspectives of systematic theology and practical theology. After each chapter, people offer short 'pastoral perspectives'. Then, after all the chapters, there are fifty five 'summary theses' (183-188) which capture the essence of the book.

So, for me, where are the purple patches in the book?

1. My default setting with the biblical imagery of the pastor has always settled with 5xSs (shepherd, servant, steward, seer, sage) and 1xP (parent). In addition to this, there are deep convictions about good governance being about prophet-priest-king. Here, in this 'biblical theology of the pastorate' (OS, 37-60), we are called again to the 'prophet-priest-king' triumvirate - first in the OT, then in Jesus, and finally in the pastor: 'ministering grace (priest), ministering wisdom (king), ministering truth (prophet)'.
To a people besieged by Satan and pulled away from God by sinful temptation, the pastor acts as priest, calling them to freshly partake of God's grace, which overcomes sin and creates a new way of life, salvation life. To a people who desperately need wisdom in a world order built on powerful lies, the pastor acts as king, training the people's eyes on the humility and meekness of Jesus Christ, who by his death overcame the enemy and destroyed the forces of darkness, a victory veiled from the natural man but gloriously visible to the eyes of faith. To a people who crave reliable words in a culture of unstable images, the pastor acts as prophet, delving into all the Scripture to exposit Christ and call the people to fresh repentance and reinvigorated faith ... Today, as in ancient times, pastors act as theologians of the church, shining into yearning hearts 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' (2 Cor 4.6). (OS, 59-60, emphasis mine).
2. I've never thought before about the 'many moods of theology' (KV, 104). Society has its moods, be it an anxiety, a despair, or an acedia, 'a kind of existential listlessness, torpor, or stupor' (106). But theology also has its moods, which the pastor-theologian needs to embody. Vanhoozer mentions three, in particular:
+ Interrogative: 'is the window open?' - expressing 'a lack of certainty about a state of affairs' (108).
+ Imperative: 'shut the window' - expressing 'a desire to have the world conform to one's language' (108).
+ Indicative: 'the window is open' - expressing 'one's belief that the world is a certain way' (108).

'The gospel is in the indicative' (108) ... and the pastor-theologian is 'a minister of this reality ... (in order) to indicate what is in Christ' (109). But this 'gospel indicative contains a tacit imperative, a demand actively to conform to what is and joyfully participate in what is.' (KV, 120)
What are theologians for? What is the distinct service of the pastor-theologian? ... The real work of theology is public: growing persons, cultivating a people. It is about helping individuals and communities to grow into the fullness of Christ. In sum: the real work of theology is the work of getting real - conforming people's speech, thoughts, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, the source and standard of all truth, goodness and beauty (KV, 125).
3. It is fascinating to consider Stottian 'double listening' from a different perspective: biblical literacy and cultural literacy (KV, 112-120). 'A theologian is a minister of understanding ... (helping) people make connections' (112) between these two 'literacies'. In terms of biblical literacy, (noting that the same base Greek word is behind Acts 6.2 and Acts 6.4),

it is surely significant that Luke uses the same term for serving tables as he does for serving God's word. Theologians wait tables, serving the Word to others so that they can more easily digest it (KV, 113).



With cultural literacy, we are recognising culture to be 'a society's software, a program for cultivating humanity and shaping its freedom' (116). It 'refers to what Christians need to know about their everyday culture in order to be effective cultural agents for Christ's kingdom' (117).
The most important task of the pastor-theologian is to ensure that the congregation wakes up and stays awake, becoming aware of culture and what it is trying to cultivate in our hearts and minds (KV, 117).
He uses the example of moralistic therapeutic deism (the MTD virus, or what Vanhoozer refers to as a 'socially-transmitted disease' (116)). Vanhoozer also adds the importance of 'human literacy' by which he means growing in knowledge and understanding of people, by being among them - but he also makes a case for achieving this by reading the best fiction.

4. Another 'purple patch' for me is where Vanhoozer asks, 'What are seminaries for?' (KV, 125-129). He writes about the need to transcend the 'theological apartheid' that separates biblical studies, systematic theology, and practical theology.

All those years ago, I graduated from TEDS (Deerfield, Ill) with a compartmentalised mind. I was grateful to God for eight years teaching at the Bible College of New Zealand (now, Laidlaw College) during which I taught in every department and at every level (diploma, degree, masters). This helped break down the 'theological apartheid' and helped make me a generalist. Then when I went across to Carey Baptist College, we developed a Thematic Integrative Seminar as the capstone of the degree - specifically designed to subvert this 'apartheid' (following a similar approach to Vanhoozer's Everyday Theology - but, I might add - developed before he published his book!), as we sought to enable students to think in an integrative, generalised and missional manner.

The seminary needs to feel this pressure. Finding what it is that 'integrates the seminary or, more pointedly, what (it is that) gives the seminary integrity' (128) is critical. It needs to produce 'the kind of generalist who thinks about everything in life in relation to its summation in Christ (Eph 1.9-10)' (128).
The point of seminary curricular integration should therefore be pastoral wisdom, which demands literacy, competency, and excellence alike. By literacy, I mean everything pastors need to know in order to carry out their vocation of becoming a shepherd like Christ. By competence, I mean capacities a pastor must acquire in order to do ministry effectively and put literacy to good use; pastor-theologians must be generalists not only as pertains to knowledge but also to skills. By excellence, I mean all the personal qualities a pastor needs to have in order to be one who rightly ministers Christ - the way, the truth, the life - to others. (KV, 129).

5. I am always keen for some new imagery of the church that captures a fresh perspective on biblical truth. How about 'an eschatological embassy' (KV, 141)? Love it. Afterall, an embassy is 'an institution that represents one nation [ie the kingdom of God] inside another nation' (141, quoting Leeman).



6. One final 'purple patch' with insights into the ministry of preaching (KV, 156-161).
What sets Christian preaching apart from every other form of human communication is its participation in what is ultimately a triune activity: preaching is distinguished by its authoritative source (Scripture, the Word of God), unique content (gospel, what is Christ), and unique persuasive power (illumination, the work of the Spirit) (157).
Vanhoozer gives four reasons why 'the sermon is the cutting edge of public theology'.
a. 'Preaching fosters biblical literacy, biblical-theological competence, and canon sense' (157).
b. 'Preaching fosters theological literacy, the ability to read and critique our world - our history, our culture - in the light of God's presence and activity' (157).
Here is where we are warned, yet again, of becoming too obsessive about wanting to appear to be relevant as we preach, lest we bend over so far that we fall in.
In expositing God's word, pastor-theologians give their congregations a powerful means to discern, and then cast down, the idols of our time ... pastors are never more prophetic than when they call people to stop pursuing false idols (e.g., fame, wealth, physical beauty, social status, popularity, career, self-actualization, etc.) and return to serving the living God (158).
c. 'Preaching wakes up the local church, here and now, to the bracing reality of Jesus Christ, who is always and everywhere at hand and yet beyond our grasp' (159).
The sermon is thus a word full of grace and truth that takes subevangelical thought captive, exposing the emptiness of other narratives and false gospels that seek to colonize our imaginations ... the sermon is the gospel's Western Front, as it were, the cutting edge of the word's forward progress as it conquers new territory, one heart at a time (159).
d. 'Preaching draws the local church, here and now, into relationship with the bracing reality of Jesus Christ, directing disciples to adopt beliefs, values, and practices that correspond to what is in Christ in order to get real' (160).
Preaching inscribes the gospel on listening hearts and inserts listeners into the story ... through preaching God's Word, (preachers) minister reality to people, helping people to act in ways that correspond to what is in Christ, and hence to get real (160, 161).
"Well, when you describe it like this, Drs Vanhooser & Strachan, it wouldn't take much for me to join Dr Carson and feel that sense of being drawn back into pastoral ministry."

nice chatting

Paul