David Bebbington is author of Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s and Professor of History at the University of Stirling. In a recent interview with Nick Tucker at Oak Hill College he offers the following perspective on the vital need to have a good grasp of Church History;
I don’t think that people should be blinkered by one point in time – the present. I think it is an enormous diminution of human stature only to be aware of the present. To have a sense of how things have come to be as they are seems to me to be extraordinarily important and only so can one understand anything about the human condition. The dimension of time is part of being human and therefore we must all be historians. The better historians we are the better for humanity.
We might go on to suggest that pastors must be historians for the sake of our congregations and community! Whilst theological training can be undertaken in a growing number of ways whatever training we receive Bebbington’s words are a reminder that we cannot afford to underestimate the need for a grasp not only of the Bible, culture, systematics, but the history of God’s work, witness and wisdom through his church. As Bebbington goes on to note Church History is a reservoir of good ideas which we ignore at our peril. Just one reason why we must train those we ask to lead God’s people well.
A while ago I stumbled across an extract from a CH Spurgeon sermon in which he urges his congregation to pray for his preaching. Without it, he said, his preaching was useless.
Here’s a great post from Joe Thorn giving you 4 different things you could be praying for your pastor this weekend.
Jake Eggertsen has put together a great post having collected wisdom from a number of ministers on the books they read and believe all preachers should read.
Here are my answers to his three questions (at least my answers for today):
His notes on Bill Hybel’s talk Leading Yourself are essential reading for all church leaders.
GK Chesterton on why without constant attention the very things we want to preserve will be lost;
All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white fence post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly,if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.
The church is to change nothing of its message. Our goal is to keep an old white post — the unchanging truth about Christ. But to keep it we cannot afford to leave things alone. A great deal of work needs to go in to finding new and effective ways of communicating the same old message. To quote Chesterton we ‘must be always painting it again.’
On tuesday I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye. For those unfamiliar with this beautiful Welsh town it is the second-hand book capital of the world. One sleepy village with 38 second-hand book shops! Pride of purchase for the day was Henry Wace’s Bampton Lectures of 1879. Buying books is the easy bit but making time to read is a constant struggle. Yesterday in a post entitled ‘Pastors: Fight for the time to read’ Justin Taylor posted the following extract from CH Spurgeon reflecting on Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4:13 to bring Paul’s books to him in prison. Stirring stuff!
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.
Even an apostle must read.
Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!
How rebuked they are by the apostle!
He is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!
He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).
The man who never reads will never be read.
He who never quotes will never be quoted.
He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.
Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers and expositions of the Bible.
In a recent blog post my very good friend John Stevens made some comments about the presence of non-Christians in church services. So for example he writes: We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it.
I think to a man we would all a big amen to that. No church can afford to limit its evangelism to a ‘they have to come to us’ rather than a ‘we go to them’ model.
But John goes further than the strategic question of how best to gain the gospel a hearing to state a theological conviction that ‘inviting to church’ is not how we should look, primarily, to do our evangelism. He writes:
This doesn’t seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT, church” is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church
I want to push a little further so for what it’s worth here is the first of two posts on Why church services need to be the primary focus for our evangelism. I want to make the case that church ought to be the primary place for our evangelism both for the sake of the non-Christian AND for the sake of the Christian. Today I’ll focus on the non-Christian.
For the sake of the non-Christian
Although there are lots of ways in which a non-Christian can here the gospel preached through personal evangelism, enquirer courses, social or evangelistic events, the non-Christian needs to hear the gospel preached to the Christian and for that they need to be in a predominantly Christian environment.
Why do I say that? The same gospel of justification is God’s means of both conversion and transformation. It changes the lives of non-Christians and Christians and the non-Christian is greatly helped towards faith in Christ when they hear something of why and how the gospel is God’s power to not only save but to transform. They grasp how the gospel sets you free from idols of self (money, sex or power) they learn how forgiveness towards another human is possible because the resources for forgiveness are there in the gospel, they grasp how the gospel enables and strengthens marriage as the Christian is challenged from the Bible to love their wives as Christ has loved the church.
No-one has modelled preaching the gospel to Christian and non-Christian at the same time in recent years than Tim Keller. He has demonstrated that an attractional model can work in an extremely secular, hostile environment. It takes a great deal of skill and almost a whole new method of preaching to do this well but it works. New Frontiers, perhaps the fastest growing Reformed church-movement in the UK works almost entirely on this model too and God has greatly blessed their work.
As we teach non-Christians how the gospel of grace saves (justification) so they know exactly what response is required of them but then as we teach Christians how the gospel of grace continues to save (working out salvation in sanctification) so non-Christians grasp the life-changing, transformative power that is in the gospel.
In my experience non-Christians are thinking ‘what difference does the gospel make’, ‘how does it work’, ‘what impact would it have on my life’, as they listen in to preaching aimed at the Christian so they learn in real time and through real experience the answer to their questions.
Secondly, as Francis Schaeffer once said the greatest apologetic is love. Only as a non-Christian enters the Christian community can they see, taste and experience both how Christians love one another and also how loved and welcome they are amongst God’s people. How many non-Christians upon conversion talk of how this dynamic of love and acceptance has struck them as unique to the church?The market-place, or the office water-cooler for that matter, is simply not a place where this dynamic can be experienced.
Thirdly, the unity in diversity of God’s new community is unlike anything we can experience anywhere else. A church full of all sorts of people, across all cultural divides and age and race barriers is a phenomena that is humanly inexplicable. Here is the gospel in glorious technicolour! We need to invite non-Christians to see it for themselves.
I could go on with at least three more reasons but I think this is enough for now.
I’m not surprised that more people are converted at City Church by coming along to our church Sunday by Sunday than by attending A Passion for Life (not that I am anything but an enthusiastic supporter of such initiatives!).
What does this mean for City Church Birmingham?
We expect non-Christians to be present in our services.
We speak as if non-Christians are present
We work very hard in our sermons to speak to both Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
We encourage Christians to simply bring their friends and they do!
One final reflection: I think the attractional model works well amongst younger people in urban contexts than some other settings. I agree with John that it is harder to get people into churches than a generation ago but in a city like Birmingham where 37% of our population is 25 or under, church remains my primary focus for evangelism.
I was converted when a friend had the courage to invite me to go with him to a normal Sunday service and I thank God that he did.
Carl Trueman unearths nuggets of pure gold from Jim Packer.
Dave Harvey has a new book Am I Called: The summons to pastoral ministry. Jim Packer writes ‘This is the fullest, most realistic, down-to-earth, and genuinely spiritual exploration of God’s call to pastoral ministry that I know. I recommend it most highly.”
This interview on BetweenTwoWorlds with Dave is a very helpful introduction to the book and to the questions we need to ask ourselves as we consider full-time ministry.
To read Matt Chandler’s foreword and the first chapter of the book go here.
Tim Keller spoke at the City to City conference this week in New York on the difference between ‘inner power’ that which flows out of our relationship with the Lord and ‘external power’ that which comes from position, status or prestige. Focusing on ‘external power’ is deadly, but ‘inner power’ brings life and vitality to you and your ministry.
Here are his 5 things we have to work at, plan for, be disciplined at if to have independent, inner, source of power
- Private devotions – regular, consistent; morning (40 mins), lunch-time (5 mins – recap), evening (40 mins), bed-time (pray with Kathy)
- Spiritual friendship – Christian brothers & sisters who hold you accountable. Intimate friendship. Hebrews 3.16. Who have you given the right to do that?
- Right kind of pastoral counselling – Regular evangelism, discipleship, helping others. Some form of serving.
- Study & reading – you’ve got to read your head off!
- Corporate worship – do you really worship in your services or are you merely the producer and director?
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