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.

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