‘Contextualization is not – as is often argued – ‘giving people what they want to hear.’ Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.’
Tim Keller, Center Church, chapter 7 Intentional Contextualization
So far in this series we’ve considered how preaching needs to be both biblical and gospel-centred. A sermon is biblical if the big idea of the passage being preached is the main application of the text. A sermon is gospel-driven if the preacher shows how the big idea of the passage is fulfilled in Christ and points to him as saviour and Lord. We turn now to consider gospel-driven preaching.
What is gospel-driven preaching?
A gospel-driven sermon is one that not merely shows how the passage is fulfilled in the gospel but then builds further to show how the gospel enables both our justification and sanctification. The gospel enables the Christian life from beginning to end and thus drives our lives.
Whether or not we have grasped how the gospel enables our obedience of faith will shape the way we preach. Bryan Chapell has said Ultimately, the issue all preachers must confront is what they believe to be the relationship between people’s conduct and God’s acceptance.
How does gospel-driven preaching work?
1. The goal of gospel-driven sermons is to make real to everyone who hears them, both Christian and non-Christian, that they need Jesus more today than yesterday. In particular the Christian increasingly grasps the sense in which he needs to continually trust in Christ and look to him in order to live the life he wants to live.
2. In application, gospel-driven sermons celebrate that the Christian life from beginning to end is a work of grace and a work of God. Our justification is a free gift of God and our sanctification flows from our justification as the spirit-enabled work of God in our lives.
Typically, as we consider Christ, we ask that by his Spirit he might stir up godly-affections, renew our minds and motivate our wills to live for him. But importantly we give the necessary time and consideration to ask just how the gospel, rightly appropriated, can enable the life of faith.
Reading through Ephesians 4:17 to 6:9 we see, time and again that Paul uses gospel indicatives to drive gospel imperatives. Perhaps the most developed example in this passage is Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives. He gives us gospel reasons and incentives to obey: we love our wives because Christ loves the church. But through-out the section we find micro-examples eg. don’t get drunk on wine but be filled with the Spirit.
5:1-2 summarises the principle when Paul says Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Good preaching won’t just tell you to do it but will i) move you to obedience and ii) show you what that obedience looks like.
3. Gospel-driven sermon must avoid both legalism and moralism
Tim Keller has helped me, more than any other, to realise that the non-Christian listening to your sermon thinks your message, unless you correct him, is one of legalism. He thinks that religion amounts to ‘obey to be accepted.’ The gospel of justification is the message of free grace. It says ‘because you are accepted, obey!’ Romans 6, Romans 12:1-2, Titus 2:11-14.
The Christian listening to your sermon thinks the message of the gospel is moralism where Christianity amounts to ‘because Jesus has done this for you, you now do this for him.’ Moralistic preaching has terrible consequences for both the individial believer and the church.
The basic problem, is that even Christians do not ordinarily live as if the gospel is true. We don’t really believe the gospel deep down. We are living as if we save ourselves. – Tim Keller
4. Gospel-driven application works hard to make the connection between
- The message of the text as understood by its original hearers
- How it is fulfilled in Christ
- How it leads to gospel change in the lives of Christians and non-Christians
5. Gospel sermons recreate what Tim Keller calls the gospel-renewal dynamic.
At the heart of gospel-driven preaching is the fundamental conviction that the Christian life we are called to live is one we cannot live but Christ can live in us.
[Gospel] preaching assures God’s people that their relationship with him is secure by virtue of God’s provision [and] nourishes the faith that becomes the motivation and enablement of true holiness. God’s people serve God out of love for him and with confidence of his provision. – Bryan Chapell.
6. The result of all of this is that gospel sermons preach the gospel to Christians and non-Christians at one and the same time.
As Keller has often said we need to preach the gospel to the Christian because she needs it for sanctification and the non-Christian who needs it for sanctification.
Some questions to ask of our sermon:
• How do I know that I have preached a gospel sermon over against a moralistic one?
• Have I just told people to obey, to ‘just do it’?
• Have they left thinking that the life the gospel calls on them to try harder?
• Is the heart of my application that the Christian life is a life we cannot live, that Jesus has lived for us and now in him we can begin to live.
Over this past week I’ve taken part in this year’s City to City Europe conference in Prague. Over 200 church-planters from over 60 cities throughout Europe attended and I was asked to speak at a break-out session on the theme of gospel-driven, biblical preaching.
Here are the first part of my notes on what makes for biblical preaching.
A. Biblical Preaching
1. What is biblical preaching?
Biblical preaching is not preaching that beings with a passage being read. As Hadden Robinson has said the Bible doesn’t function like the national anthem before an international sports match. We don’t use it to introduce the fact that a sermon is on the way but then close the bible for the duration of the sermon.
Biblical preaching is not preaching that uses the Bible. Many sermons mention the passage but that does not make a sermon biblical.
Biblical preaching is preaching where the meaning of the passage is the main application of the sermon.
2. Why biblical preaching?
The preacher does not decide what the church needs to hear. Our authority is in the text and our commission is to preach the word.
A faithful preacher should serve the text – Bryan Chapell.
3. Paul’s warning and instruction to Timothy
- There will be those in the church who preach false gospels. Superficially attractive, but without power – 2 Timothy. 3:1-6
- Our role as gospel ministers is to preach the word – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
- Our role is to be a workman who correctly handles the word of God – 2 Timothy 2:15
4. Why might planters be resistant to biblical preaching?
a. To invest considerable time and energy each week in preparing and the preaching Biblical sermons is costly. Time spent doing other things may have to be sacrificed.
b. To put our confidence in a ministry that appears weak, foolish and ineffective is a battle for planters who are seeking quick results.
• Modern trends in preaching deny the authority of the Word in the name of intellectual sophistication – Chappell
• We could add to that a desire for contemporary relevance
• We could add to that a quest for popularity
c. We find it easier to try and do the work of God in our own way
When our goal is to grow a church our temptation is to find easier ways.
For our preaching, the sermon takes on even greater importance as you must be well prepared every week. In general, our experience at Redeemer is that writing sermons takes twice as long as other places. This is because of the need to be clear, concise, logical, winsome, intellectually challenging and personable – all while being accurate. – Tim Keller
5. A definition of biblical preaching
Biblical preaching expounds (explains) the text and applies it.
a. An expository sermon may be defined as a message
i) whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text,
ii) that covers the scope of the text,
iii) and that explains the features and context of the text
iv) in order to disclose the enduring principles of faithful thinking. Bryan Chapell in Christ-centered biblical preaching
b. Expository preaching points preachers to the biblical text with the instruction begin here…the text itself is the source of the truths we ultimately present. Chapell.
c. Expository preaching sticks closely to the text through-out the sermon showing the hearer why and how we have arrived at a conclusion.
B. Consecutive Biblical preaching
1. A strong case can be made for expository preaching that works through books of the Bible rather than individual passages.
a. The Bible was written in books and the big idea of the book is developed through a series of sermons.
• Sometimes the idea of the book is explicitly stated eg. 1 John 5:13, 1 Peter 5:12,
• Sometimes the idea of the book is there waiting to be discovered eg Col. 2:6-7,
b. Consecutive preaching models how we sit under the Bible as a congregation. Not picking our favourite verses or passages but working through the whole Bible.
c. Consecutive preaching exposes our blind-spots as we preach through passages and explore ideas that we might wish weren’t there but that the text sets before us.
2. Expository preaching, once practised, liberates us from the fear of running out of ideas. We no longer have to think ‘what shall I preach on this week’ because the passage set before us determines our big ideas.
3. Consecutive expository preaching requires even more work (!). For example not just showing the relationship between ideas in the passage for an individual sermon but by having to demonstrate the flow of themes and ideas through a book.
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.
Bruce Milne in an address entitled ‘Preaching Hell‘ said ‘We preach hell because we have no choice.’ Not least because Jesus did:
As to his teaching, we should make as clear as we can that Jesus Christ believed in the reality of hell and warned his hearers regularly concerning it. The one sinless mind in all history, he who had his being in eternity in the bosom of the Father, who told what he had seen in his Father’s presence, spoke and taught repeatedly concerning hell. In the words of C.H. Spurgeon:
You must confess, my dear hearers, that Jesus Christ was the most tender-hearted of men. Never was there one with so sympathetic a disposition. But for all that, not all the prophets put together, though some of them be stern as Elijah, can equal in thundershot the sound of that still voice of him, who albeit he did not cry or lift up his voice in the streets, spoke more of hell and the wrath to come than any that preceded him.
Shall I give you yet another reason why you should pray? I have preached my very heart out. I could not say any more than I have said. Will not your prayers accomplish that which my preaching fails to do? Is it not likely that the Church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? Oh dear friends! Let us agonize in prayer.
Listen in to part 1 at around the 15 minute mark for a fascinating perspective on preaching.
Essentially in evaluating a talk we’re looking at three things;
1. Matter: What was said?
2. Method: How was the content communicated?
3. Manner: Was it said well?
Matter: What was said? Issues of exegesis and hermeneutics
– What was the main thing or big idea that the speaker was trying to get across? (then ask the speaker what was the main thing they were trying to get across) Did they match?
– Was the main point of the talk the main point of the passage?
– Was the main point of the talk what they said it would be? (i.e. did it match their theme/aim sentence)
– Was the sermon in some sense about God? Is God the hero of the text expounded? Would the passage lead the hearer to think great thoughts about God?
– Did they so obviously skip anything that you think they were ducking the issue?
– Did anything need to be put in biblical context? How well did they do it?
– If it was an Old Testament passage did we get to Jesus as its fulfilment? Did we get to see how the OT pointed us to him in a faithful way?
– Were there additional theological points made in the talk that were NOT from the passage, or a necessary consequence of the passage? Were they justified?
– If cross-references were used were they necessary, were they helpful?
– Was there anything in the talk about the passage that you couldn’t understand?
– Did the speaker, in your judgement, misunderstand anything in the passage?
– Did they anticipate possible objections or difficulties with what the passage taught? Did they deal with those objections fairly, sympathetically and clearly?
– Did the applications follow from the main point and the text?
– Was there enough application?
– Was it too vague? Too narrow?
– Was it applied to ourselves? (and not simply to people out-there!)
– Did the talk misapply the passage?
– Was application (principle) accompanied by ‘Action’ (practical examples)?
– Did the talk address our own reluctance to apply the Bible to ourselves, how did it urge us to apply?
– Were the motivations for application the motivations of the passage?
Method: How was the content communicated
– Was it clear from the talk what the points/headings were?
– Were the main points straightforward and reasonably memorable or verbose and instantly forgettable?
– Did they show where in the text the points came from?
– Was there an obvious flow through the talk so that it was clear how the points related?
– Was there a good balance of explanation-illustration-application or did it feel too ‘light’ or ‘heavy’
– Did the illustrations actually illustrate the points being made? Extra marks for capturing the texture as well?
– Did the illustrations ‘drown out’ the talk?’ i.e. were they ‘too good’ and therefore distracting?
– Did the introduction serve the purpose of the talk?
– Was it too long, too short?
Did the introduction make you want to listen to the rest of the talk?
– Was there a conclusion? Did you know when the talk was ending?
– Did the conclusion function as a conclusion i.e. recapping or was new material introduced in the conclusion? (should not do this!)
– Was there any unnecessary jargon or unexplained terms?
– Did the talk work well for its particular audience? (e.g. Christian/non-Christian or youth group, kids talk, etc.)
– Was there any particularly helpful use of rhetorical devices:
- Posing questions to the listeners
- Testimony from own life or example of others
- Coming full-circle (finishing a talk where it started)
- Repetition of words, main points, etc.
Should women teach in the church?
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)
Let’s just get straight to the point. Some of you are pretty offended by these words. They sound outrageous to modern ears. For many they simply reveal the most shameful gender discrimination from someone who can only be described as a misogynist.
But as with any Bible verse it has a context and it certainly won’t help us if we take this verse out of context of the bigger story of the Bible.
We know that these verses, to be consistent with what we read elsewhere, cannot be declaring women to be second-class citizens or in any way less than men.
We know that God created men and women in his image. In Genesis chapter 1 we read;
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
So whatever Paul is saying in the controversial verses of 1 Timothy, Genesis 1 along with some of Paul’s own words eg 1 Cor. 11:11, Gal.3:28 demonstrate that there is something much more sophisticated than a slur on women or a desire to suppress women and relegate their role and place in the church and society.
Women are to learn
It’s remarkably easy for us to gloss over the fact that Paul says in v.11 that women are to learn at all. In many cultures, then and now, women are given little if any opportunity to learn.
Commentators point out that in orthodox Judaism of Paul’s day there was little or no place for women learning and some strands of Islam, by their refusal to offer education to girls alongside boys, demonstrate a same degradation of women even to this day.
Women are to learn but Paul does want them to lean but in quietness. The context is most likely that of a Christian meeting where the congregation is learning together. The word quietness in this context means ‘listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching..ie not speaking out of turn and thereby interrupting the lesson.’ It is the language of respect.
We don’t know exactly what was going on in Ephesus, the church context into which Paul is writing. Was it simply that the women were distracted, or had a divided attention, or maybe they didn’t have a particularly teachable spirit? We don’t know. But it suggests a situation in which the teaching of the word was up against distraction or interruption.
There is maybe something to be learned from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Martha is distracted from listening to Jesus whilst Mary demonstrates the very thing that is pleasing to him, adopting the position of a disciple by humbly listening to his word.
But what about the ‘s’ word!
Whatever else Paul may be saying some of us we can’t get beyond the ‘s’ word submission.
Women according to v.12 are not to teach or have authority over men.
To call upon women to submit seems exploitative and dangerous and contrary to good sense. Does it not rob women of their dignity and value?
Well, firstly, this is not a call for all women to submit to all men. This is rather a call for the women of this church to join the majority of the men in submitting to the leadership of the church.
But even then should women submit to anybody?
The Bible’s answer is that submission is a good thing for at least two reasons.
1) All Christians submit. And every Christian by virtue of their submission to God submits to others as an expression of their commitment to God. A Christian is by definition then someone who submits. We all submit to God, we submit to the ruling authorities, whilst we are children we submit to our parents, we are to submit to our boss at work, and so on.
For different people in different stages of life and in different situations we submit in different ways.
God’s ordering in the church and the family includes the principle of submission. The relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5 and the relationship between the women of the church and male leadership (see also 1 Cor. 14:33-34) is one in which God calls for an ordering of relationships.
2) Jesus submitted. Submission is a good thing only if you think you might want to be like Jesus. For as one commentator as put it ‘he knew the beauty of submission’.
God the Father and God the Son fully God are both fully God. They are fully equal in status and yet throughout the Bible we find the Son submitting to the Father and never the Father to the Son. So even in the God-head we find the principle of order amongst equals.
We shouldn’t therefore regard it as an insult to submit to our equal if we find Jesus willing to do the very same.
Prince William and Prince Harry
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul says that male leadership is rooted in creation ‘for Adam was formed first, then Eve.’ It is not that Adam is better than Eve but perhaps jsut as the Son comes from teh Father so the woman came from teh man and they are to live out at church and in the family that ordering of relationship.
We know that Prince William will one day be King and not Prince Harry. Is it because William is better? More intelligent? More deserving? No. Just that he came first. And so it is within the church.
So should women ever teach?
Again the broader context of the Bible clearly suggests that women can and will teach as they play a full role in church life.
In Titus 2:3-5 we find that they are to teach younger women and children.
We know from Acts 2:17-18 ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy’ and 1 Cor. 11:4-5 that women prayed in the gathered church and prophesied.
We know that women were deacons in the local church from Romans 16v1.
We also find in the book of Acts that Priscilla (a woman) and Aquilla (her husband) taught Apollos together, Acts 18:26.
There were many prominent women in Jesus’ own ministry. They were his disciples and we’re told that ‘these women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
In God’s plan the first to witness the resurrection and to meet the risen Lord Jesus were women.
Peter and the other apostles took their wives with them in ministry, 1 Cor. 9:5.
But there is no evidence at all for women in either the Old Testament or the New Testament holding a teaching office.
Jesus chose to appoint men and only men to the role of Apostles and nowhere do we find Paul or the other apostles appointing women to overall leadership in the local church.
Women are not to lead the church through the preaching of God’s word and nor are most of the men.
Paul isn’t saying that all men are to teach all women, nor that all women are to submit to all men.
No all women and the vast majority of men are to submit to the (male) eldership of the church.
The kind of teaching that Paul limits to a few men here is a teaching with authority
Philip Graham Ryken writes ‘Women and men may teach on a wide variety of biblical historical, and practical subjects.’
Women can write great blogs and books. They can write Bible commentaries and teach at Bible Colleges.
But where teaching is an expression of leadership ie where it is an indicator of authority it is there that God’s order within the church is to be recognised.
How does that work out at my own church
Women exercise a teaching role that stops short of a preaching with authority role.
So women regularly teach on a variety of issues eg parenting, marriage enrichment and so on.
They teach practical seminars, lead services, administer the Lord’s supper.
The Bible does not sit comfortably in any community in the world. At some point sooner or later the bible will critique the culture in which we live. In our western world the role of women is one of those clash of culture points. It is at times like this that we need to continue to humbly listen to scripture and be ready to face the challenge of the world as we witness to the God of the Bible.
May the very situations in which we submit for the sake of God to his word and his will point us all to the Christ who chose to submit even to death and death on a cross.
I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment called The Big Idea by Dave Ferguson. The big idea that gives the book its name is that as church leaders we don’t always help our congregation grow in love and obedience to Christ because ‘people’s heads are swimming with too many ideas, far more than they can ever apply.’
Think about the way our services and meetings are structured, suggests Ferguson and then think about the sheer number of different meetings we attend and you might well see that it is the sheer multiplication of ideas that lead to a lack of action.
Just add up the little ideas dropped into just one Christian meeting. From the clever message on a church sign, to the blurb on the notice sheet, the song that is playing as you come in, maybe the message on the powerpoint, the welcome from the leader, the opening prayer, the theme of the first song, add at least three different little ideas in the sermon, prayers, other songs, notices and Ferguson reckons that might be up to Christians are ineffective in discipleship 20 competing ideas in one church meeting. And then factor in that the children have all been in different groups looking at different topics or bible stories and we’re all full of ‘competing little ideas’.
His conclusion is that more information makes for less clarity and so no wonder therefore we find it so hard to answer the question ‘what did you learn at church this morning?’ If we think that more teaching must lead to Christian growth it is certainly a sobering thought that more information might in fact lead to less action because each bit of information is competing for my attention, reflection, prayers and application.
Is there something in the way we organise church meetings that leaves congregations full of nice thoughts but no big idea to take into the week. Ferguson’s big idea is to have one Big Idea for all the church family worked through in one week.
Every week, we give all of our people of every age and at every location one Big Idea and ask them to put it into action. The challenge is simple and clear – but never easy. That’s the Big Idea.
Just think what that might look like if your Sunday service and your homegroup/cell groups all followed one big idea.
Five benefits the big idea brings to small groups
1. The Big Idea Increase the Likelihood of Application and Transformation
The few minutes we might have at the end of a service or even chatting over a coffee very rarely gives sufficient opportunity to think, pray, reflect and discuss the talk – especially if there are children to take care of! But
Small groups by nature are experiential and discussion oriented and , as a result, more likely to foster life change.
In my experience homegroup evenings where we meet to think through and pray in the big applications of the preach the previous Sunday help ensure that God’s word really does begin to do its work in us as we challenge and encourage each other to change.
2. The Big Idea Diminishes People’s Fears of Leading a Small Group
Ferguson also notes that leading a discussion of the Big Idea from Sunday is much less intimidating than preparing a Bible-study from scratch with limited help or experience.
We have found that the most common fears among potential small group leaders are the following:
“I don’t know enough about the Bible”
“I don’t have enough time to be a good leader.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as a leader.”
Many of those fears are overcome when the role of the leader is less to teach and more to facilitate good reflection on what the teacher has brought the previous week.
3. The Big Idea Eliminates the Question, ‘What Do We Study Next?’
Small groups tend to become overly focused on the topic of their discussion, often at the expense of developing relationships and experiencing genuine biblical community.
Sticking to the Big Idea minimizes this challenge and offers small groups an easy plan to follow when it comes to subject matter.
4. The Big Idea Provides Another Avenue to Communicate Vision
The purpose of a Sunday service is not just to feed Christians but to build the body of the church and to prepare the church to fulfil it’s purpose of reaching out to the society and beyond to the world. Small groups studying their own material rarely contain any corporate application that extends as far as vision ie ‘what does it mean for us to be ‘X’ church and how are we seeking to fulfil that vision?’ Even where material is prepared by one of the Ministers small group leaders will be reluctant to teach that vision. It is much easier to discuss the vision element set out in the service the Sunday before.
5. The Big Idea Increases the Quality of Small Group Experiences
‘Small groups are a risk’ Ferguson argues because ‘they are a low-control venture and by nature are a decentralized way to pastor and care for people.’
‘We have found the Big Idea to be very effective in helping our small groups to become places of real life change and transformation, not simply places where people can gather more and more information.’
Why we do we prefer a dozen competing ideas?
Perhaps one of the reasons we are tempted to enjoy information overload is that it can be a way of avoiding life-change. When you’re moving from one idea to the next you rarely have a moment to reflect or respond to what you’ve heard before the next idea takes over. Surely there is a case for saying more is less because more makes for a less challenging Christian life. The real danger is that we can actually convince ourselves that we really are changing when what we really mean is that we really are learning lots of new ideas!
Maybe the problem is less the hearts of the people than it is the heart of the pastor. Are we too eager to preach clever sermons in order to show off our learning? Are we willing to teach in a way that leaves much learning in the study to enable all to understand and obey and the church to move forward together. Maybe our sermons are full of competing little ideas simply because we are underprepared. It might look simple to preach a sermon that has one big idea but in my experience is actually much harder to say just one thing and to say it well. Much preaching is confusing because it’s confused. The hard work in to ensure that we have understood the passage enough to have settled on the big idea and that we have given enough time for penetrating and incisive application.
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