Monday, November 23, 2015

corinthian corners

Yesterday I handed in my marks for the MTh module that I teach here at SAIACS in Bangalore. Then it dawned on me ... I had just finished my twenty-fifth consecutive year of teaching preaching in the classroom. Even when I have been on sabbatical, a course, or two, has been squeezed in, here and there. There have been students from all the different academic levels: Certificate, Diploma, Degree, Masters, and Doctoral. When I teach preaching, I feel God's pleasure. Always have (apart from the occasional blip).

Early on in those years, I started devising my own model of teaching preaching. Philips Brooks' 'truth through personality' was no longer sufficient. A four corner model emerged - and keeps evolving, eventually becoming the five corner model I used in this recent module (see below).

But a few months ago Tim Keller's new book fired my imagination for a new and necessary horizon: is there a biblical basis for these five corners? Keller opens up with 1 Corinthians 1.18 - 2.5 and as I read and re-read the passage, I became more and more convinced that the model was embedded in Paul's philosophy. I hatched a plan. I made it an assignment for this eager bunch of 30 MTh students at SAIACS. Some A+ quality work was returned (including one from a young man from Myanmar) and I am now convinced of the legitimacy of the links. All five corners are there in the Pauline approach to preaching...

So - drum roll, please ... I can announce that the Corinthian Columns of the first century have now morphed into the Corinthian Corners of the twenty-first century! :) HaHa.

After putting students into groups in each of the four corners of the classroom, enabling them first to come up with their own ideas on what might occupy each of the four corners, this image is showed to them. This is followed by a description of the process in which every word outside the box is included in a short narrative (and the subsequent course is then about visiting each one of those words more fully). Here is the latest version of this description:

A model for effective biblical preaching…
"Anchored by a secure theology, particularly about the Word of God, effective preaching commences with an openness of the Bible and an openness to the Spirit as time is taken to observe what the text is actually saying. It then draws on the best commentaries to ensure the most accurate exegesis of the text and it commits to clarity of design, believing it to be a key ingredient in building the momentum of the sermon as well as gaining and maintaining the attention of listeners.

With this in place virtually anything is permissible in the pursuit of rapport with a congregation. There just must be connection. A variation in all aspects of the presentation will help, as will being natural in all aspects of delivery. But the key is developing a specific application which keeps in mind a congregation’s diversity, capped-off by a capacity to start:stop in a creative and compelling manner.

With this preaching, the assumption is that there are people who are not yet Christians who are listening. And so the sermon is infused with a freshness and vibrancy, as people hear the preacher speaking their language and utilising illustrations (both image and story) from their world. As this is done, there is a both a probing for the worldviews at work in the world, as well as a lingering, wherever possible, with the logic of induction in order to respect this listener more fully.

With all this simmering away in the preparation, effective preaching never loses sight of the preacher’s own participation in the process. There is an authenticity which seeps into every aspect of life and ministry and this is then fused with both a warmth in the face and eyes, as well as a passion in the voice and manner. Furthermore, in a world overwhelmed by many words, the words of this preacher stand out as different because they include words which bear witness to the truth being proclaimed from the testimony of their own lives.

So effective preaching is about taking the stories of the listeners, the world, and the preacher and weaving them around the biblical story, which is based in the written Word and focused on the Living Word. It is about bringing to the exegesis of the listener, the world, and the preacher the very same skills of exegesis which we bring to the biblical text. It is pursued in overt and vocal dependence upon the Spirit of God who can be relied upon to superintend the entire process because it acknowledges his inspiring, illuminating, authenticating, and anointing work – as he leads people to Jesus.” 

nice chatting


Sunday, November 15, 2015

a wilderness of mirrors

Saying thanks. Building trust. The first principles of leadership. Study them deeply and then do them creatively and repetitively and you will be well on your way in leadership roles, large or small.

Take trust, for example. How do you build it? Well, it operates like a bank account. The deposits are made early - like listening attentively, keeping promises, affirming continuities, sharing information, shirking (displays of) power, suffering with people, speaking with the accent of 'we' ... even extending credit to others, believing in them before they've fully earned it. On and on it goes. These are the deposits that must be made. Because when the time for withdrawals comes - in the midst of change, growth, and conflict - the account can empty so quickly and leave leadership in the red.

But here is the issue: trust is in trouble.

This is where Mark Meynell's A Wilderness of Mirrors enters the picture. As always, we linger with the sub-title: 'trusting again in a cynical world'. Meynell's approach is so unlike the paragraph above. This is no depository for handy hints on building trust. No! This is the necessary complement: a theoretical analysis of the roots of cynicism, which is met then by a theological response. There is more than a hint of Stottian 'double listening' here. World & Word - even Problem & Solution and, for me, as the sadness in the early pages sinks in, Garbage & Gospel.

Here is the way the book flows:
1. Fracturing Trust: The Legacy of Our Age (with a focus on political leadership, the media, and professional care-givers)

2. Mourning Trust: Life After Losing It (with feelings of suspicion, alienation, fragmentation, betrayal, paranoia - and fury)

3. Rebuilding Trust: Hope for Our Age (with the freedom of a fresh encounter with self, Jesus, church and the biblical story)

Yes, this flow makes for some dense, even depressing, early chapters. It just does. But the reader must persevere because, later on, the book sprouts wings. Here is a taste. I read this one aloud to Barby. It is beautiful. There is lots more like it.
Because we share both in bearing God's image and in enjoying Christ's rescue, the value of even the most vulnerable, broken, and despised is absolute. The church should be the safest place in the world. Because we all sin, we should have nothing to hide; but because Jesus died, we should have nothing to prove (168).
If you are familiar with Mark Meynell's blog (recently relaunched within a new website), or a friend of his on Facebook, or follow his Twitter feed, then this book is more of Mark. His mouse seems to hover over a thousand fascinations. The breadth of his reading and the depth of his thought mingle with a creativity and a vulnerability to produce stuff that is always worth engaging.

Other highlights for me:
Every page seems to carry a fresh quotation. Given this breadth of his reading, you are unlikely to find them anywhere else. Teachers and preachers will love this aspect of the book. And don't miss the author's own quotable-quote-worthiness, as demonstrated above.

In his blog, Mark Meynell has helped many by being so transparent and reflective about his own battle with depression. This book includes 'a personal coda' (67-71) which sources some of this battle to his experiences befriending Congolese refugees in Uganda. He writes about his own rage and fury, betrayal and doubt ... and a growing inability to trust others, especially those in authority.

Each chapter concludes with a simple little summary, accompanied by pictures. Very useful.

The book is written in a way that invites unbelievers to participate. There is empathy. There is honesty. But there is also apologetic ... and at the core of this apologetic is a re-imagination of sin with the acronym, LiGWaiM  - 'living in God's world as if (it was) mine' (121).

The journey through the chapters on humanity, to Jesus, and then onto the church and its leadership (109-180) is my favourite part. This section concludes with a useful engagement with worldview by developing a framework - origins:problem:solution:goal:outcome - and then applying it to the premodern, modern, postmodern and biblical stories.

nice chatting


NB: Mark is a colleague in the work of Langham Preaching and a former pastoral staff member at All Soul's, Langham Place in London. In this role he had the privilege of getting to know John Stott, then in his latter years. Mark's website contains the best single Stott resource of which I am aware - the John Stott Archive. One of Mark's current projects is gathering all John Stott's illustrations into a single resource.