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Posts tagged "Preaching"

The Necessary Execution: Preaching, Losing, and LeBron James

The Necessary Execution: Preaching, Losing, and LeBron James

I thought that the conventional wisdom was that sons turned into their mothers. It seems that, on the other hand, I’m turning into my mother-in-law.

We’re different in profound ways, of course—though we both love her daughter—but I’m discovering that when it comes to watching sporting events in which we’re heavily invested, I’m picking up her mannerisms.

It used to be that I was the only person I knew who could happily watch a sporting event on my DVR. I’d record the game, stay off social media, and watch it later, skipping through the commercials. I’ve heard, time and again, that live…

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Pithy Preachers Proclaiming Perplexing Epigrams: On Preaching, the Pulpit, & Thomas Guthrie's Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints

Pithy Preachers Proclaiming Perplexing Epigrams: On Preaching, the Pulpit, & Thomas Guthrie’s Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints

This piece was written by Brad J. Gray.

It’s a turn of phrase that I’ve seen around the Internet and various other places in the past, but only recently has it been actually uttered to my face. I wouldn’t have thought much of it but it was said twice in a few short days and it got me to thinking about how prevalent the sentiment is despite its inherent falsehood and treachery. I am, of course, referring to the oft-quoted statement, “God helps those who help themselves.” No doubt you’ve heard this expression before, more than likely from a well-meaning person….

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"He Reads Well"

“He Reads Well”

I was both thrilled and intimidated when my church asked me — then a 29 year old college minister — to become their interim pastor. While I loved to preach, I was nervous about having to prepare practically every Sunday. I treated those sermon manuscripts like so many of the doctoral seminar papers I was producing during that crazed period of life — composed on an Apple Macintosh and printed out on a dot-matrix printer mere minutes before the sermon was “due.” I would step gingerly toward the pulpit with my Bible and still-warm sheaf of 8.5 x 11 pages,…

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Robert Jenson (1930-2017) on the Proclamation of the Gospel

Scott Jones has already posted an article worth your time on Robert Jenson who died last week. He is, as Scott also pointed out, likely the most brilliant American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. My seminary professor, Piotr Małysz, lent me his Systematic Theology, Volume 1 while I was still in school, and I could tell immediately that I was reading one of the greats. If you have yet to read him, start with “How the World Lost Its Story” or with his latest book, A Theology in Outline. Here is an early writing from Jenson on the mind-blowingly profound, yet simple, Gospel that tells me about Jesus’ future and thus about my future as well:

The word of proclamation narrates what happened with Jesus and asserts that what happened with Jesus will happen to you as your death-certain destiny, that the achievement of love-out-of-death which he enacted will fulfill your lives also. The word of proclamation is the assertion that you go to meet him, and will therefore conclude your lives by total involvement in his. It is the assertion that you have a destiny and that he is it, that his story tells of it.

In the word of proclamation, the story of the past Jesus is addressed to me as my future, as my possibility. If then it occurs that as an event in my life I enact this story as and when it is so proclaimed, then what happened with Jesus is not only the past which my action recalls, it is also the future in which my action will eventuate. Then this enacting is the event of my being destined to this destiny. In the context of the proclamation and not otherwise, our speaking and acting-out of the gospel story is, precisely as an enacting which is an occurrence in our lives like any other, our choosing and being chosen to this destiny which is real to us as the story of Jesus. It is, therefore, the event of our having Jesus’ story as our story.

In the context of this proclamation, worship is the effective hearing of the proclamation, by which I am given love-out-of-death as my chosen future. As such it is the being done to me of what Jesus suffered himself and did to his followers. It is when Jesus’ story is enacted as not only past but also future that the enactment and not merely the enacting is a present event in our lives—and it is the word of proclamation that the past can be future.

A Religion Against Itself

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

Call it a nerd’s dream-come-true. A few months before I attended their three week summer seminar called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching,” Calvin College mailed me a rather large box filled with all manner of books — novels, poetry, short stories, journalism, biography, and children’s literature. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was bunking next to Gilead, which was sleeping atop a Robert Frost anthology of poems. I did my best to read as many of the books as I could before my family and I trekked to Grand Rapids for a sabbatical. My fellow seminar participants and I then spent…

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Another Week Ends: Dylan, Cash and O'Connor, Gospel Guitar, Cathartic Indignation, Black Mirrors, and Impossible Fun Runs

Another Week Ends: Dylan, Cash and O’Connor, Gospel Guitar, Cathartic Indignation, Black Mirrors, and Impossible Fun Runs

1. Awesome, awesome story about a funky gospel music guitarist in the Atlanta area named Don Schanche, who also happens to be white. The Bitter Southerner published Don’s story, which gives a beautiful picture of racial reconciliation happening not on some abstract or systemic level, but interpersonally, on-the-ground, as a fruit of the gospel. The message which reconciled Don to his own faith is the same message of welcome and acceptance that he received from those within these little, nowhere churches where he played.

I learned how to find the key when a singer jumps into a song without warning, how…

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In Praise of Huge, Honking Guilt Trips

A bit tardy perhaps, but hold on to your hats cause this week Scott and co produced a special, plus-sized episode of The Mockingcast, all about the recent Church Issue of The Mockingbird. The episode features a fresh interview with author (and NY Times columnist) Molly Worthen, a discussion with editor-in-chief Ethan Richardson about the publication itself, as well as a recording of the ecclesiologically-themed panel Scott moderated at the Missio conference last month in Philadelphia. Click here to listen, and if you haven’t ordered a copy of the issue yet, just think: today could be the day you rectify that oversight.

I can’t pass up the opportunity to post a nugget from one of the essays in the issue that’s garnered a particularly enthusiastic response, Paul Walker’s survey of the art and task of preaching, “A Splendid Failure” (worth the price of admission alone!):

preachingThere is not a single person who has come through the red doors of a church who is not hoping beyond hope for a salve to be applied to his bleeding wound. This hope is often buried below bravado, barely recognizable, but it beats in the heart of every human, because everybody hurts…

For anyone to have half a chance to walk out of those red church doors and into his actual life, he must know that he is forgiven, not just for what he’s done, but for who he is. It is the preacher’s job to let him know. She must talk about what has been done for him, rather than what he must do. It’s her most important job, the job that looms so much larger than all her other ministerial concerns. It is this message alone that makes her feet beautiful.

In other words, every sermon must be a huge, honking guilt trip. Um, what? I don’t mean the tired claptrap dished (often unwittingly) out by sermonizing guilt-invokers. Things like, “You know, you are the only hands and feet that Jesus has in the world. You know, you are the only Bible some people will ever read.”… I’m not talking about those kinds of guilt trips.

The “guilt trip” that every sermon must be is the transfer of guilt, from the rightly condemned sin junkie onto the wrongly condemned Christ Jesus. The sermon must be a beast of burden, carrying the hearer’s red-handed guilt straight into the speared side of Christ on the cross, plunged into the fountain of water and blood, which bleaches away all evidence of our criminality.

P.S. A reminder that all monthly supporters of Mockingbird ($5 or more) automatically receive a complimentary subscription to the journal. Click here to sign up. We can’t do this without you!

PZ's Podcast: Glamour Boy

PZ’s Podcast: Glamour Boy

Episode 213: Glamour Boy

Communication, I mean, real, person-to-person communication, is the name of the game in just about every relationship. It is also the name of the game in that Game of Love (1965, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders) which is preaching.

So this podcast is for politicians; for all who aspire to love another person — like Jean Valjean; and for everyone who undertakes to preach the Word of God.

You’ve got to “blow deep” — Jack Kerouac was never wrong about this — and thereby connect with the subterranean part of every potential listener or reader. That means blowing deep…

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The Outsider Gets Radical: Notes on Blaming the Victim and Loving the Alien

The Outsider Gets Radical: Notes on Blaming the Victim and Loving the Alien

Must have been almost fifteen years ago. I was sitting down with the chaplain of a prestigious New England prep school, and although he was being incredibly polite about it, he was sussing me out. You see, I was a stranger on campus, brought there on behalf of the para-church organization for which I worked, at the invitation of the school’s Christian fellowship group. He had every right to know where I was coming from before signing off on my presence/involvement, a responsibility to parents and administrators to ensure that students would be spared any high-pressure proselytizing while away from…

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How Do You Preach to the Donald? (Or, Thoughts on the Afflicted and the Comfortable)

How Do You Preach to the Donald? (Or, Thoughts on the Afflicted and the Comfortable)

Donald Trump went to church last Sunday. Lots of people did. My guess is he doesn’t do that on the regular. Nor do most people who at one time or another have been religiously observant but for some some reason have been on a kind of hiatus. But you run for president and go back to church and people take notice.

I suppose it’s the job of the press to take note of such things. I don’t begrudge them. There is a curious bi-product of this kind of reporting though. It poses a kind of religiously voyeuristic Twilight Zone question: what…

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The Strange Kingship of Epiphany

The Strange Kingship of Epiphany

How better to mark the first day of Epiphany than with a contribution from the esteemed Wesley Hill, who was kind enough to send us the text of the homily he is preaching today on Matthew 2:1-12.

One of the reassuring things about the new Star Wars movie—which I confess I’ve only seen twice—is how predictable it is. Some of my friends have complained that it’s ridiculously derivative, virtually a remake of the first Star Wars from 1977, but most of us, I think, are very happy with how comforting the sameness feels. We have some of the same beloved characters…

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Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel: A Brief Guide

This handy guide comes from the first appendix to our newest book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), coauthored by Will McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl. Hope you enjoy:

The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom
–Martin Luther

Mbird LAW AND GOSPEL Cover options4A strong belief of Luther, and those who follow in his footsteps, is that people should not be enticed to church by the Gospel and then, after believing, turn toward self-improvement. The Law always kills, and the Spirit always gives life. This death and resurrection of the believer is not a one-time event, but must be repeated continually: It is the shape of the Christian life. On Sundays, therefore, some form of the Law is ideally preached to kill, and the Gospel to vivify—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). But in many situations, the Law is mistakenly preached to give life, on the assumption that the believer, unlike the new Christian, has the moral strength to follow the guidelines. This leads to burnout, often producing agnostics or converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Words like ‘accountability’ or ‘intentionality,’ for example, are sure signs that the letter, rather than the Spirit, is being looked to for life. To help distinguish this form of misguided Law from the Gospel, here’s a handy guide:

1. Listen for a distortion of the commandment: Anytime a hard commandment is softened, such as “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48) to “just do your best,” we’re looking to the Law, not the Gospel, for life.

2. Discern the balance of agency: If you’re in charge of making it happen, it’s misguided Law. If God’s in charge, it’s Gospel. If it’s a mixture, it’s Law.

3. Look for honesty: If you or others either seem ‘A-okay’ or ‘struggling, but…,’ then likely it’s because the Old Adam is alive and well (there will also be a horrible scandal in the next three months). If people are open and honest about their problems, such freedom shows the Gospel is at work.

4. Watch for exhaustion: If the yoke is hard and the burden heavy week after week, then the letter’s probably overpowering the Spirit.

5. Examine the language: If you hear ‘If… then,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice…,’ ‘We should all…,’ or anything else that smacks of the imperative voice, it’s implicit works-salvation. If you hear the indicative voice—‘God is…,’ ‘We are…,’ or ‘God will…’—then it’s probably Gospel.

6. Watch for the view of human nature, or anthropology: If human willpower, strength, or effort are being lauded or appealed to, it’s Law. High anthropology means low Christology, and vice-versa.

7. Finally, keep an eye out for the ‘Galatians effect,’ summarized by St. Paul:

Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5)

If how you’re approaching or being told to approach Christianity now feels different from “believing what you heard,” we’re in Galatians territory. Christianity is Good News, and it never ceases to be Good News.

Grab your copy of L&G today!