Knowing, Toleration, Mythology and the Disturbance of Christian Faith

ideology‘Knowledge of God in the sense of the New Testament message, the knowledge of the triune God as contrasted with the whole world of religions in the first centuries, signified, and still signifies, the most radical “twilight of the gods,” the very thing which Schiller so movingly deplored as the de-divinisation of the “lovely world.” It was no mere fabrication when the Early Church was accused by the world around it of atheism, and it would have been wiser for its apologists not to have defended themselves so keenly against this charge. There is a real basis for the feeling, current to this day, that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion, its life and richness and peace. It is bound to be so. Olympus and Valhalla decrease in population when the message of the God who is the one and only God is really known and believed. The figures of every religious culture are necessarily secularised and recede. They can keep themselves alive only as ideas, symbols, and ghosts, and finally as comic figures. And in the end even in this form they sink into oblivion. No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like Him. All the permanencies of the world draw their life from ideologies and mythologies, from open or disguised religions, and to this extent from all possible forms of deity and divinity. It was on the truth of the sentence that God is One that the “Third Reich” of Adolf Hitler made shipwreck. Let this sentence be uttered in such a way that it is heard and grasped, and at once 450 prophets of Baal are always in fear of their lives. There is no more room now for what the recent past called toleration. Beside God there are only His creatures or false gods, and beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1 (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance; trans. T.H.L. Parker, et al.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 444.

The [best] poet is the true prophet

‘It has often been said that the teachers of the age’s religion are to be sought rather among its poets than its preachers. But it seems as if we must look for our noblest theology also to our poets, rather than to our clerical schools … The age is deeply theological, and does not know it. It is like the man who was amazed to find that all his life he had been talking prose without being aware of it. We are theological, and don’t know it. Hence part of our unhappiness. It is like the sorrow of some young Werther who bears in his bosom the ferment of a genius not yet apprehended, and the germ of a revolution not yet realised. Our atheology belies our true deep selves, and our great poets are in this but prophets. They steal upon our less aggressive hours, and reveal our soul and future to ourselves. They fore-shadow our destiny, and they tell us that, in spite of all the savants say about the impossibility of a theology, it is the passion for a theology which is at the root of our mind’s unrest, and the possession of a theology which alone can lay our mind’s anarchy’. – PT Forsyth, ‘The Argument for Immortality Drawn from the Nature of Love: A Lecture on Lord Tennyson’s “Vastness”’. Christian World Pulpit, 2 December 1885, 360.

[Image: John Everett Millais, Alfred Tennyson 1881. Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery. Lent by National Museums Liverpool, Lady Lever Art Gallery]

Sermons are killing the Gospel

‘It is not sermons we need, but a Gospel, which sermons are killing … What we require is not a race of more powerful preachers, but that which makes their capital – a new Gospel which is yet the old, the old moralised, and replaced in the conscience, and in the public conscience, from which it has been removed. We need that the Gospel we offer be moralised at the centre from the Cross, and not rationalised at the surface by thin science. We need that more people should be asking “What must I do to be saved?” rather than “What should I rationally believe?”’ – P.T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments (London: Independent Press, 1947 [1917]), 20.

Good advice or Good News?

In his essay, ‘Beware Tuneless Preaching‘ , Michael J. Quicke writes: ‘Inevitably, if there is no conviction that God enables worship to happen through participation in relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, preachers are likely to opt out of trinitarian language and exhort hearers “to do their thing.” In some contemporary churches preaching does seem to offer moralizing sermons that concentrate on individual needs – giving good advice instead of Good News. “Evangelical preaching is so obsessed with the need to apply everything that we are shifting into just another moral religion”’.

[The final sentence is a citation from Kevin Navarro, The Complete Worship Service – Creating a Taste of Heaven on Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 144.]

It all reminds me of two words that Forsyth offered concerning pragmatism. The first, from The Soul of Prayer, is that at the end of the day that which is truly the most practical is that which contributes to the end for which creation and humanity were made. (p. 33) The second thought, from The Principle of Authority is where Forsyth speaks of ‘the appetite for success, for numbers, for effect, grows as it feeds upon the democratic philosophy of Pragmatism, with its note of American business and efficient bustle. A harder time than ever would seem to be awaiting the conscientious preacher in a popular body as the Pragmatist definition of truth comes to prevail, that it is what “works.” Our truth does work, no doubt, but in very large orbits; and not always in time, within one life, to let us make up our minds about its results with that certainty which alone enables it to “work.” The vice of Pragmatism, so understood, is that, where absolute truth, or any faith, is concerned, we must begin with a belief in the absoluteness of it before we can set it to work with its native might. We must begin working with that conviction of its absoluteness which its working is supposed to provide. We must begin producing with the product in our hands. We cannot make an absolute truth work in which we do not yet believe. The world can only be converted by a Church which believes that in Christ the world has already been won’. (pp. 341-2)

Two kinds of preachers

There are many kinds of preachers, just as there are many kinds of theologians or fishermen … or sausages, for that matter. While it may or may not be helpful to try and distinguish between them, I want to suggest that there are basically two kinds of Christian preachers . There are those who preach the gospel as a thing done, and there are those who preach about the gospel as a thing still to be finished, usually by way of human response other than that offered vicariously by the last Adam. [Of course there are others – many in fact – who preach neither a thing done, nor a thing to do. While some of these may be preaching Christians, they are not Christian preachers in any sense of the word! Some of these even try to hide behind the rhetoric of doing ‘expository’ preaching. Of course, all preaching worthy of the name is expository, but I have in mind here those who think that the preaching task is finished when one has explained what the text means].

Among the former, that is among those who preach the gospel as a thing done, are people like James Denney. I’ve been reading Denney today, and have been struck afresh at just how different his word is to so much of what passes for evangelical preaching today. Here’s a wee passage that struck a good chord:

The work of reconciliation, in the sense of the New Testament, is a work which is finished, and which we must conceive to be finished, before the gospel is preached. It is the good tidings of the Gospel, with which the evangelists go forth, that God has wrought in Christ a work of reconciliation which avails for no less than the world, and of which the whole world may have the benefit. The summons of the evangelist is – ‘Receive the reconciliation; consent that it become effective in your case.’ The work of reconciliation is not a work wrought upon the souls of men, though it is a work wrought in their interests, and bearing so directly upon them that we can say God has reconciled the world to Himself; it is a work – as Cromwell said of the covenant – outside of us, in which God so deals in Christ with the sin of the world, that it shall no longer be a barrier between Himself and men … Reconciliation is not something which is doing; it is something which is done. No doubt there is a work of Christ which is in process, but it has as its basis a finished work of Christ; it is in virtue of something already consummated on His cross that Christ is able to make the appeal to us which He does, and to win the response in which we receive the reconciliation. A finished work of Christ and an objective atonement – a katallagh. – in the New Testament sense – are synonymous terms; the one means exactly the same as the other; and it seems to me self-evident, as I think it did to St. Paul, that unless we can preach a finished work of Christ in relation to sin, a katallagh. or reconciliation or peace which has been achieved independently of us, at an infinite cost, and to which we are called in a word or ministry of reconciliation, we have no real gospel for sinful men at all’. – James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), 144–5, 146.

To be sure, there is an appropriation that must take place – by both reconciled parties – but it is an appropriation of a finished work, the entering into what is already de facto a reconciled situation, a new creation. God’s reconciliation in Christ was not ‘a tentative, preliminary affair’ (Forsyth) but a finished one. ‘Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines use to call a finished work’ (Forsyth). We live in a reconciled world.

Blessed are those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to proclaim …

Encouragement for preachers …

For those called to bear witness to the Word of God, and/or who might be preparing sermons for this Sunday, and/or who just haven’t happened to get around to visiting the Musée du Louvre lately, here’s some encouragement from the left panel of the Braque triptych by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464):
‘John the Baptist’, oil on panel (41×34 cm) — ca. 1450
The words read ‘Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi.’ (Behold the Lamb of God that will take away the sins of the world.) If you’re curious, centre panel and right panel here.

Baudrillard-Jones on Forsyth

Gareth Baudrillard-Jones writes on Forsyth:

Wandering in a second-hand bookshop the other day (won’t say it was in a state of ancient disrepair, but the graffiti in the rest room read, variously, ‘Squeaky Fromme is Innocent’, `Rousas Rushdoony is my Homeboy’ and `Tex Ritter Taught Me to Yodel’) I caught sight of an old classic: P T Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind. This is nearly a hundred years old but a classic of its kind (one of the things the pupils of Ritschl did well was write on preaching…). Any pastor out there who has lost sight of the romance and power of the preached word should sell all his has to get a copy of this … Don’t forget – it was reading PTF’s The Cruciality of the Cross which changed Martyn Lloyd Jones from a preacher of regeneration to a preacher of Christ.

HT: Reformation 21

PT Forsyth: Preaching the Centrality of the Cross

Mark Johnson has written a delightful piece on PT Forsyth: Preaching the Centrality of the Cross. It is an adaptation from his PhD Dissertation, ‘Christological Preaching for the Post-Modern Era’ (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994). Because of a focus on this blog regarding Forsyth and his work, I reproduce it here:

Peter Taylor Forsyth was born May 12, 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland. The son of a postal worker and a maid, he was raised as a member of the Black-friars Street Congregational Church. His family was devout, if not affluent. In spite of his family’s modest means, he was able to attend the university where he achieved an enviable reputation as a student.

In young adulthood, Forsyth was greatly influenced by the thought and writings of both F. D. Maurice and Albrecht Ritschl.[1] He would have opportunity to study under Ritschl for a term at Gottingen. In his early ministry, he gained notoriety for his liberal theological views and his “‘loud’ dress and unpredictable pulpit utterances.”[2]After serving in several pastorates, he was named principal of Hackney College in London in 1901, a position that allowed time for extensive writing. At least part of the reason for this move was the belief that the academic lifestyle would place less strenuous demands on his frail health than the pastorate.

I first became acquainted with Forsyth reviewing Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind during my first semester in Ph.D. studies. I delved deeper into Forsyth’s thought when writing a dissertation dealing with preaching Christ in the Postmodern era. The one contribution that sticks out above all others is his insistence that one remains relevant to his times by keeping his focus on the unchanging Christ. He urged preachers to “preach to their age without preaching their age.”In Christology he sides neither with those who quested after a historical Jesus nor with the idealists who heavily emphasized the divinity of Christ. Neither adequately expressed Christ’s dual nature as both God and Man.[3] In Forsyth’s earlier writings, he placed Christ at the center of his theology. In his later development, he sees Christ’s ministry on the cross as the central focus for theology.[4]

Perhaps it is this focus on the person and work of Christ that causes him to write with a warmth of devotion and piety, causing one writer to say in appreciation of his writings, “To read these lines is to be challenged to think theologically, but it is also to be brought into a reflective and devotional mood.”[5] That devotional style, as well as some insight into Forsyth’s reaction to modernity, can be seen in the following words of testimony:

There was a time when I was interested in the first degree with purely scientific criticism …. It also pleased God by the revelation of His holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace. And so, whereas I first thought that what the Churches needed was enlightened instruction and liberal theology, I came to be sure that what they needed was evangelization.[6]

Forsyth wrote sixteen books, five of which deal explicitly with Christ or christology – The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, The Cruciality of the Cross, Christ on Parnassus, The Holy Father and the Living Christ and The Work of Christ.[7]

His 1907 Beecher lectures at Yale University have been preserved in book form as Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind. He speaks of finding his true and magnetic north in Christ and dedicates the book, “Unto him who loved me and gave himself for me.” Like most of his other works, Positive Preaching was a series of lectures which were compiled into book form. Subsequently, Forsyth lays out no major systematization of his thought. Part of this lacking is attributed to Forsyth’s reluctance to over-simplify the complex. Similarly, his writing is often difficult to understand. This is perhaps by design so as not to state the complex too simply.[8]

On Preaching
Forsyth’s most significant contribution to the field of homiletics came in 1907 with his Beecher lectures at Yale. In them, he coined many phrases which are still quoted in homiletics classrooms and in preaching conferences today. He defined preaching as the “organized hallelujah of the believing community,” and he maintained, “With preaching Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of a gospel…. It is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself.”[9] Maintaining that the Bible is the “greatest sermon in the world,” he urged preachers to preach expository sermons using long passages of Scripture.

Forsyth’s theological understanding of the preaching event centers in his understanding of kerygma as the Spirit of the risen Christ revealing the meaning of His death and resurrection to the apostles whose writings are then understood as revelation.[10] Such an understanding runs counter to the liberal schools of thought of his day which maintained that the apostles perverted the simple message of Jesus into a system of doctrines which he never intended.[11] According to Forsyth, the Bible should not be reduced to a casebook of sterile doctrines and regulations. Instead, one should listen for the voice of Christ Himself preaching through scripture.

As Christ’s work of redemption is the center of faith, the center of the kerygma is the cross. Such an understanding of revelation means that the preacher stands more in the tradition of the Hebrew prophet bringing a revelation from God, than that of the Greek orator bringing inspiration. If one hears the voice of Christ speaking through scripture, it stands to reason that in the preaching act, it is Christ’s voice which should ultimately be heard as well.[12]

The point of Forsyth’s kerygmatic emphasis on biblical preaching is that a distinction should be made between the gospel and the Bible. He asserts “Biblical preaching preaches the gospel and uses the Bible, it does not preach the Bible and use the Gospel.”[13] He argues that the Bible itself is the preaching of Christ. He says:

The New Testament (the Gospels even), is a direct transcript, not of Christ, but of the preaching about Christ, or the effect produced by Christ on the first generation, a transcript of the faith that worshipped Him. It is a direct record not of Christ’s biography but of Christ’s Gospel, that is to say of Christ neither as delineated, nor as reconstructed, nor as analyzed but as preached…. The stories told are but a trifling selection, not chosen to cast light on the motives of a deep and complex character, but selected entirely from a single point of view– that of the crucified, risen, exalted, preached Saviour.[14]

Robert McAfee Brown paraphrases Forsyth by saying,” Christ did not “preach the Gospel”; he became a gospel to preach. (emphasis Brown’s)[15]

Forsyth believed that preachers should preach to their age without merely preaching the age. Preaching can keep its contemporariness by centering on God’s eternal act on the cross. In keeping the cross central, Christ works through the preacher to develop the faith of those who are already Christian. Forsyth lamented that there are many preachers who “scheme how to cover and capture the world’s mind rather than to develop that of the Church; how to commend Christ to those who are not Christian [more] than how to enrich Him for those that are.”[16]

If Forsyth views the cross of Christ as the final seat of authority, and uses the cross as the hermeneutical norm for his theology, that authority ought to be manifest through both the person and the proclamation of the preacher.[17] It is Forsyth’s contention that, “It is authority that the world chiefly needs and the preaching of the hour lacks – an authoritative Gospel in a humble personality.”[18] He decries the sentimentality with which the modern mindset tended to view the Bible and religion. He blames much of this sentimentality upon “The loss of a real positive authority, the loss of an objective grasp of the world’s moral crisis in the Christian Centre of the Cross.”[19] In sentimentalizing the cross, the Bible, and the atonement, the focus has shifted from God to humanity.

At the same time the church was sentimentalizing its religion, according to Forsyth, it ceded its authority to science. He says:

When a modern mind asks us for help to a footing we still turn to men of science, to men often who evidently never in their lives read a theological classic or an authority on moral philosophy, who indeed might scout the idea, and we ask them to assure the inquirer, with a certainty beyond ours, that things promise well for a soul…. Is it not a nervous and pusillanimous Christianity, devoid of self-respect? How can we hope to regain the influence the pulpit has lost until we come with the surest Word in all the world to the guesses of science, the maxims of ethic, and the instincts of art.[20]

One uses the Bible to preach the gospel rather than using the gospel to preach the Bible. “We do not treat the Bible aright, we do not treat it with the respect it asks for itself, when we treat it as a theologian, but only when we treat it as … the preacher in the perpetual pulpit of the church,”[21] asserts Forsyth. Neither do preachers treat the Bible with the respect it deserves when they sentimentally pay homage only to its beauty and its precepts. Instead, Forsyth encourages preachers to concentrate on the content of the Biblical message.[22]

In preaching long expository passages, Forsyth maintains, “one get(s) real preaching in the sense of preaching from the real situation of the Bible to the real situation of the time. It is thus you make history preach to history, the past to the present, and not merely a text to a soul.”[23]

He recognizes that the vital question for preaching in his context is the question of authority. He asserted, in his day, that criticism no longer allowed the Bible to hold that place. “Yet,” he says, “the gospel of the future must come with the note of authority.”[24] The Gospel itself carries this needed authority. After denying that authority comes through creeds or theology, he states, “The preacher does not call one to believe statements, but the Gospel of an urgent God.”[25] Forsyth maintained that the “one great preacher in history is the church,… And the first business of the individual preacher is to enable the church to preach.”[26] Indeed, Forsyth provides a model of one who, by focusing upon the centrality of Christ and the cross preached to his times without preaching his times.

[1] While most scholars writing about Forsyth note the influence of F. D. Maurice, W. L. Bradley indicates that the influence of Maurice upon Forsyth is probably overestimated. See William L. Bradley, P. T. Forsyth: The Man and His Work (London: Independent Press, 1952).
[2] Samuel J. Mikolaski, “The Theology of P. T. Forsyth,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 36 (1964), 27. The use of the term “liberal” in this article is not done pejoratively but as an attempt to define a historic theological position.
[3] John H. Rodgers, The Theology of P. T. Forsyth (London: Independent Press, 1965), p. 77; see also Gwilym O. Griffith, The Theology of P. T. Forsyth (London: Lutterworth, 1948), pp. 36-60.
[4] See William Lee Bradley, The Man and His Work (London: Independent Press, 1952), p. 82. Such a shift is evidenced by such titles as “The Cross as the Final Seat of Authority” and “The Cruciality of the Cross.”
[5] John E. Steely, “Introduction,” in P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross (Wake Forest, North Carolina: Chanticleer Press, 1983), p. 5. Forsyth first published these lectures in 1909.
[6] P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), pp. 282, 283.
[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1909); The Work of Christ, (London: Independent Press), 1st edition 1910; The Cruciality of the Cross (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910); Christ on Parnassus (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911); The Holy Father and the Living Christ (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898).
[8] See Bradley, The Man and His Work, p. 66.
[9] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 5.
[10] See P. T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments (London: Independent Press, 1949).
[11] The liberals based their belief on their perception that the Jesus painted in the Synoptic gospels did not give much explanation to the meaning of the cross. Forsyth argued that this was because the risen Christ explained it to his apostles after the fact.
[12] Rodgers, The Theology of P. T. Forsyth, pp. 103-131.
[13] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 37.
[14] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 13.
[15] Robert McAfee Brown, P. T. Forsyth: Prophet for Today (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952), p. 71.
[16] P. T. Forsyth, “The Soul of Christ and the Cross of Christ,” London Quarterly Review, 116 (1911), 195-196.
[17] See William Ray Rosser, “The Cross as the Hermeneutical Norm for Scriptural Interpretation in the Theology of Peter Taylor Forsyth” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1990).
[18] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 200.
[19] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 178.
[20] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 184.
[21] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 15.
[22] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 146.
[23] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 166.
[24] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 41.
[25] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 44.
[26] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p. 79.

Zinzendorf on Preaching Christ

Our method to proclaim salvation is this: to point out to every heart the loving Lamb (das herzliche Lamm) which died for us, and although he was the Son of God, offered himself for our sins, as his God, his Mediator between God and man, his preacher of the law, his Confessor, his Comforter, his Saviour, his throne of grace, his example, his brother, in short his all and in all, by the preaching of his blood, and of his love unto death, even the death on the cross; never, either in the discourse or in argument, to digress even for a quarter of an hour from the loving Lamb; to name no virtue, except in Him and from Him and on His account; to preach no commandment except faith in him; no other justification but that he atoned for us; no other sanctification but the privilege to sin no more; no other happiness, but to be around him, to think of him and do his pleasure; no other self-denial, but to be deprived of him and his blessings; no other calamity, but to displease him; no other life, but in him’. – Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, in ‘Home Missionary Operations of the Brethren in the United States, 17421752: Home Mission Sermon preached by Br. Levin T. Reichel’, in The Moravian Church Miscellany (Bethlehem: The Church of the United Brethren, 1852), 2345.

Blogging around

Kevin has a nice post on Barth’s ongoing legacy, including a quote from Neuhaus in which he recalls Jarislav Pelikan’s identification of ‘the most influential theological mind of the past two hundred years’ as John Henry Newman. Why? ‘Newman’s thought has been received into the tradition of the Catholic Church, whereas Schleiermacher and Harnack, brilliant though they were, wrote against the tradition, and Barth was, as he claimed to be, a “church theologian” but a church theologian without a church capable of bearing his contribution through successive generations. Pelikan understood, as Wilken said at Yale, that it is orthodoxy that is the most consequential, the most adaptable, the most enduring.”‘ Read the full post here.

Byron notes some great words from C.S. Lewis on forgiveness.

Travis generously shares with us his notes from Eberhard Busch’s fascinating lecture at Princeton entitled, ‘A Swiss Voice: The Campaign of the Swiss Government Against the Voice of Karl Barth During the Second World War’. In the lecture, Busch introduces us to some largely ignored documentation from the Swiss and German governments during WWII. He writes,

‘The Swiss government slowly began tightening its grip on critical publication, classifying some of Barth’s lectures as political instigation. Organs of the Swiss government even described Barth as a ‘theologian of hate,’ and he was accused of political agitation against Germany under the cover of religion. The two kingdoms doctrine was even marshaled against Barth, and he was told that he could say whatever he wanted about theology but that he couldn’t give political lectures under the guise of ecclesial style. The publication of certain of Barth’s published lectures and booklets was forbidden. Barth contested these things, arguing that the theologians of the Reformed church in the tradition of Calvin and Zwingli have not only the right but the duty to speak politically. When his appeal failed, Barth was unable to publish or lecture on the political situation in Switzerland. Barth’s phone was tapped, and his correspondence was monitored and censured. In one instance, one of Barth’s letters, including a picture of him in his military uniform bearing the caption ‘Resist the evil with all means,’ was confiscated’.

After spending an afternoon sifting through an ‘impressive pile’ of his old sermons (30 worth worth!), Jim asks ‘When is a sermon past its use by date?‘ After reminding us that his hero James Denney claimed to have burned all his sermons when he left Broughty Ferry in 1897 (‘but fortunately there’s still a few hundred of them so he must only have burned the ones he thought unpreachable elsewhere’), Jim invites us to reflect on two fair questions: 1. What criteria should be used to decide if a sermon preached in the past is worth keeping now? And 2. Should an old sermon ever be re-cycled?

Employing Barth’s help, Michael encourages us to see things differently.

Scott announces the start of a mini-series on the Trinitarian thought of Henry of Ghent. He asks, somewhat provocatively, ‘We know there are three persons, and one ‘substance’/’ousia’ from Scripture and our orthodox Creeds, but is there anything that we could say that might account for why there are three, and not say five divine persons? Or even, why not say there is a potential infinity of divine persons (on some contestable account of the deification of believers)? You get my point. Why three divine persons and what makes it that there are three, no more and no less?’

The ABC’s ‘Religion Report’ makes available via podcast a recent discussion on the Australian Christian Lobby’s invitation to election candidates to justify why they are ‘worthy of the “so-called” Christian vote’.

While on podcasts, there’s a download available here of ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ by Ludwig Wittgenstein, and this one on ‘The Emptiness of Existence’ by Arthur Schopenhauer.

Expository Preaching: A Wee Note

Eugene Peterson, in Eat This Book, reminds us that Scripture is for feeding on. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolised into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. It is for this reason (though not this reason alone) that we ought to be committed to expository preaching. It is the faithful exposition of Scripture – week by week, year by year – that is the God-ordained means of feeding the Father’s family. Of course, preaching does not automatically metabolise us into acts of love, but as the proper exposition of Scripture repeatedly points to the Bible’s own source, end and exegete – Jesus Christ – we are given every reason for why the truth must come home to us and others in acts of love, missions, healing, evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name.

This is part of the reason that PT Forsyth, who could never be accused of not preaching Jesus Christ as the centre of all things, once urged a group of budding preachers to restrain themselves in the ‘fanciful use of texts at the cost of the historic revelation which the whole context gives’. These practices, he contended, have a show of honouring the Bible, but they really treat it with the disrespect that is always there when we presume people to mean another thing than they say. If we feel, on a particular occasion, that we must treat a text differently than the context allows, we ought to make it clear that we are taking a liberty in doing so. ‘Preach more expository sermons’, Forsyth said. ‘Take long passages for texts. Perhaps you have no idea how eager people are to have the Bible expounded, and how much they prefer you to unriddle what the Bible says, with its large utterance, than to confuse them with what you can make it say by some ingenuity. It is thus you will get real preaching in the sense of preaching from the real situation of the Bible to the real situation of the time. It is thus you make history preach to history, the past to the present, and not merely a text to a soul’.

Peter Adam offers us a helpful list of 15 arguments for Expository Preaching (read the full article here):

(1) Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

(2) Expository Preaching reflects God’s respect for human authors. One of the most beautiful features of the Bible is the way in which God causes his truth to be written and yet does not over-ride the individual writer, but respects their place in history, their vocabulary, their spoken and literary style. If God is so careful to respect the human authors of the Scriptures we should endeavour to do the same by reading, studying, preaching and teaching their books in the order in the way in they wrote them.

(3) Expository Preaching respects the historical context of each part of the Bible. The Bible is not a set of timeless truths removed from historical context, but each book of the Bible is firmly rooted in history, and the perspective of its human author. We do most justice to this historical context when we preach texts in their context, that is in the writing in which they occur.

(4) Expository Preaching respects the context of salvation history. The unfolding drama of salvation is brought to us within salvation history; and each text, verse, chapter and book has its place within that salvation history. The best way to preach these books is to link them to their place in salvation history, not to extract from them trans-historical, theological, pastoral or devotional themes.

(5) Expository Preaching should help us to unfold the deep Biblical Theology of the Bible, the content and message of God’s unfolding revelation, and seeing every part of the Bible in the light of the gospel of Christ, and the message of the whole Bible.

(6) Expository Preaching preserves Biblical shape and balance. It gives the same focus and concentration that God gives in the Bible. Other people’s topical preaching inevitably misses this balance. It is more difficult to see the same imbalance in our own topical preaching!

(7) Expository Preaching ensures that we preach on difficult topics, verses and books. I would not choose to preach from the text ‘I hate divorce’ unless forced to do so by a sermon series on Malachi. I would not choose to preach on Romans 9-11, but preaching my way right through Romans forces me to do so. Lectionaries are no help, because modern lectionaries seem to go out of their way to avoid difficult topics, even cutting poems and stories in half to avoid embarrassment. Expository Preaching will at least make us preach on the difficult parts of the Bible.

(8) Expository Preaching saves time in preparation and presentation. Preachers need to do a lot of work in preparing their sermons and finding the historical context, and need to convey the context of verses in which they preach in the sermon as well. If we move from text to text as we move from sermon to sermon, or if we move from text to text within sermons, we will be less and less inclined to give the context of those texts and more and more inclined to take them out of context. [Of course ‘the text’ is actually the whole book: only preachers think of ’the text’ as a short extract!]

(9) Expository Preaching provides a good model of exegesis. We ought to preach and teach the Bible in a way in which we hope people will read it. People should pick up good models of using the Scripture from us. We do not want to encourage people to flip through the Bible, picking out verses that look encouraging or inviting. If we want people to read the Bible as it is written, that’s the way we should preach it.

(10) In Expository Preaching each sermon forms part of a divine sequence. The sequence is that of the writer of the book of the Bible. Following this sequence means that our teaching and their learning is cumulative as each sermon prepares the way for the next, and each sermon summarises the message of the last and shows its sequence in biblical thought.

(11) Expository Preaching makes sense! Even the most convinced post-modernists among us still read books from beginning to end. This is because it’s a remarkably sensible way of reading a book. Why would we adopt a different model in our reading and teaching of the Scriptures?

(12) Expository Preaching teaches people the Bible. Its assumption is that the Bible is relevant and effective as it comes from the mouth of God. It assumes that the information in the Bible is important for us; that these things were ‘written for our learning’.

(13) Expository Preaching provides an accessible, useable and safe model of Bible teaching and preaching. If one of our tasks is to encourage lay people in ministry, then the best thing to do is to provide them with a model of teaching which they can use at any level. It is not good to encourage people to flip through the Bible, taking their favourite verses out of context. It is a good work to show the people a model of Bible teaching that they can use to their benefit and the benefit of those who learn from them.

(14) Expository Preaching helps people to avoid repeating their ten favourite themes. Every preacher has ten sermons. The difficulty comes for the preacher and the congregation when they are repeated for the tenth time. Of course, no method can stop the determined preacher from mounting a hobby horse and riding it to death!

(15) Expository Preaching follows God’s syllabus for us. One helpful way of viewing the Bible is to see it as God’s syllabus. In it God lays out the way of salvation and what human beings need to learn in order to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. The Bible is the syllabus that God has provided – why would we replace it with another of our own invention?

Developing a Reading List – 5

This is the last of a wee series of posts (here, here, here and here) that have been written in an effort to put together some sort of a reading list for various areas of systematic and pastoral theology. The fact that it is listed here does not mean that I endorse any or all of the theology expressed by the various individuals.

This post is concerned with books on Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Theology and the Arts (BEWARE: a long list), and Eschatology.

Remember, the kind of thing I have in mind is developing a reading list and resource for English-speaking undergraduate theology students – a kind of answer to the ‘where should I start?’ question. What books have you found helpful as either a teacher or a student that ought to be on such suggested a reading list?

Many thanks to those who have made suggestions.

Reading List: 17. Pastoral Ministry:

Christian D Kettler and Todd H. Speidell (eds.), Incarnational Ministry: The Presence of Christ in Church, Society, and Family: Essays in Honor of Ray S. Anderson

Eduard Thurneysen, A Theology of Pastoral Care

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness

Eugene H. Peterson, Working The Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Creative Ministry

Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Ray S. Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry With Theological Praxis

Ray S. Anderson, The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People

Ray S. Anderson (ed.), Theological Foundations for Ministry

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology

Walter C. Wright, Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service

Reading List: 18. Preaching:

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon

Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

Deane Meatheringham, Gospel Incandescent

Dietrich Ritschl, A Theology of Proclamation

Geoffrey C. Bingham, The Preacher and the Parrot

Geoffrey C. Bingham, True Preaching: the Agony and the Ecstasy

Gerhard O. Forde, Theology is for Proclamation

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

Gustaf Wingren, The Living Word

Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again

Helmut Thielicke, What’s Wrong with the Church?

James Denney, ‘Preaching Christ’, in Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (ed. J. Hastings), 393-403.

John Stott, I Believe in Preaching

Karl Barth, Homiletics

Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching

Peter T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind

Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text

Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method

Thomas F. Torrance, Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking

Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

Reading List: 19. Theology and the Arts

Aidan Nichols, The Art of God Incarnate, Theology and Symbol from Genesis to the 20th Century

Bridget Nichols. Literature in Christian Perspective: Becoming Faithful Readers

Calvin Seerveld, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves

Calvin Seerveld, Rainbows for a Fallen World

Calvin Seerveld, Voicing God’s Psalms

Christopher Deacy, Screen Christologies: Redemption and the Medium of Film

David Bailey Harned, Theology and the Arts

David Thistlethwaite, The Art of God and the Religions of Art

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael and the perception of landscape

Edward Farley, Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic

Flannery O’Connor, Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works

Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste

Frank Burch Brown, Religious Aesthetics: A Theological Study of Making and Meaning

Gabriele Finaldi, The Image of Christ

Gaye W. Oritz and Clive Marsh (eds.), Explorations in Theology and Film

Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture

Gene Edward Veith, Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature

Georg W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art

George Pattison, Art, Modernity and Faith

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation

George Steiner, Real Presences

Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, Theological Aesthetics: A Reader

Hans R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture

Hans Rookmaaker, The Creative Gift

Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Hilary Brand & Adrienne Chaplin, Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts

Jaroslav Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians

Jeremy Begbie, ‘Christ and the Cultures: Christianity and the Arts,’ in Companion to Christian Doctrine, ed. Colin Gunton

Jeremy Begbie, ‘The Gospel, the Arts and Our Culture,’ in The Gospel and Contemporary Culture, ed. Hugh Montefiore, 1992, 58–83.

Jeremy S. Begbie (ed.), Beholding the Glory: Incarnation through the Arts

Jeremy S. Begbie, Theology, Music and Time

Jeremy S. Begbie, Voicing Creations Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts

John De Gruchy, Christianity, Art and Social Transformation: Theological Aesthetics in the Struggle for Justice

John Dillenberger, A Theology of Artistic Sensibilities

John Drury, Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meaning

John Newport, Christianity and Contemporary Art Forms

Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Kathleen Powers Erickson, At Eternity’s Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh

Larry J Kreitzer, Pauline Images in Fiction and Film

Larry J Kreitzer, The New Testament in Fiction and Film

Larry J Kreitzer, The Old Testament in Fiction and Film

Leland Ryken, Culture in Christian Perspective: A Door to Understanding and Enjoying the Arts

Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Critically about the Arts

Leonid Ouspensky & Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icon

Margaret Miles, Image as Insight

Ned Bustard, It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God

Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Art in Action: Towards a Christian Aesthetic

Nigel Forde, The Lantern and the Looking-Glass: Literature and Christian Belief

Patrick Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological Aesthetics

Paul Corby Finney, Seeing Beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition

Paul Corby Finney, The Invisible God

Paul Fiddes (ed.), The Novel, Spirituality and Modern Culture

Paul Fiddes, Freedom and Limit: A Dialogue between Literature and Christian Doctrine

Paul S. Fiddes, The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature

Peter Fuller, Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace

Peter T. Forsyth, Christ on Parnassus: Lectures on Art, Ethic, and Theology

Peter T. Forsyth, Religion in Recent Art: Expository Lectures on Rossetti, Burne Jones Watts, Holman Hunt and Wagner

Richard Harries, Art and the Beauty of God: A Christian Understandin

Richard Harries, The Passion in Art

Richard Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art

Robert Jewett, Saint Paul at the Movies: The Apostle’s Dialogue with American Culture

Robert Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue

Roger Lundin, The Culture of Interpretation

Roland Delattre, Beauty and Sensibility in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards: An essay in aesthetics and theological ethics

Rowan Williams, Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love

Roy Kinnard & Tim Davis, Divine Images: A History of Jesus on the Screen

Simon Jenkins, Windows into Heaven

St John of Damascus, On the Divine Images

Stanley Porter et al, eds., Images of Christ, Ancient and Modern

Stephen May, Stardust and Ashes: Science Fiction in Christian Perspective

Steve Scott, Like a House on Fire: Renewal of the Arts in a Postmodern Culture

T. R Wright, Theology and Literature

Trevor A. Hart and Steven R. Guthrie (eds.), Faithful Performances

Trevor A. Hart, A Poetics of Redemption Volume 1: Creation, Creatureliness and Artistry (forthcoming)

Trevor A. Hart, A Poetics of Redemption Volume 2: Incarnation, Embodiment, and Art (forthcoming)

Trevor A. Hart, A Poetics of Redemption Volume 3: Holy Spirit, Imagination and the Salvation of Humanity (forthcoming)

William Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards

William Dyrness, Rouault: A Vision of Suffering and Salvatio

William Dyrness, The Earth is God’s: A Theology of American Culture

William Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue

Reading List: 20. Eschatology:

Adrio König, The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach

Anthony Hoekema, Bible and the Future,

Alister McGrath, A Brief History of Heaven

Ben Witherington III, Jesus, Paul & the End of the World

David Powys, ‘Hell’: A Hard Look at a Hard Question

Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory

Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: The Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality

Geerhardus Vos, Pauline Eschatology

Geerhardus Vos, Eschatology of the Old Testament

Hans Schwarz, ‘Eschatology’, in Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (eds.), Christian Dogmatics, Volume 2

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. 5

Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, Volume 3: The Holy Spirit, the Church, Eschatology

Herman Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom

James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Doctrine: Systematic Theology, Vol. 2

John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes, and Clark H. Pinnock, Four Views on Hell

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology

Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope

Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope

John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World

Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama

Peter T. Forsyth, This Life and the Next

Richard Bauckham, God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann

Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment

Wayne Martindale, Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell

William H. Katerberg and Miroslav Volf (eds.), The Future of Hope: Christian Tradition amid Modernity and Postmodernity

Improving preaching

“Given the importance of the Word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved … Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided.” — Pope Benedict XVI, in Sacramentum Caritatis, a 130-plus-page apostolic exhortation on liturgy released in March. (Source:

What is Benedict really calling for here?

Ulrich on preaching

One of the highlights of the recent SST Conference was Hans Ulrich‘s paper on preaching. Here’s how he started:

Preaching is one of the significant and constitutive practices of the Christian Church. Where there is preaching, there is the church, and vice versa. Otherwise there would be no church at all. This is the key to ecclesiology as we find it in the theologies of the Reformation, at least in its Lutheran shape. It is an ecclesiology which is related to the political character of God’s economy, to God’s cosmic, global and particular regimen as it is always related to His word. To think about preaching is therefore finally not to think about the church or (in a different perspective) about Christianity and its place or conditions in this world, rather it is to think about God’s very own way of being and becoming present for us human beings. The church and Christian practices are not what we have to reflect upon; rather, we have to reflect upon what happens with the Church, why these practices are given – and this is a theo-logical question, a question about God. To talk about God means to talk about a God who has decided to communicate with somebody, with his Son, the Spirit and – included in this communication – with us human beings, his creatures. He is the God who therefore has to be encountered, not imagined; he is the God who has to be heard and listened to.’

Good Friday homily

For the first time in as many years as I’ve got toes, I didn’t preach this Good Friday. I did however engage in worship of the ‘combined service’ type. Why do churches just do at C & E times? Anyway, for those who want a homily worth reading, I found Peter Leithart’s word great. Here’s a snippert: ‘The cross is the crux, the crossroads, the twisted knot at the center of reality, to which all previous history led and from which all subsequent history flows. By it we know all reality is cruciform – the love of God, the shape of creation, the labyrinth of human history.’ For the rest, click here.

And after you’ve read that, check out his latest input on paedocommunion here. I really enjoyed this later piece. Chatting to a pastor mate about it, he said ‘What perplexes me more is whether there’s an age I should stop offering it to them, and then only re-start after baptism’. Now there’s an interesting thought. On what basis such a decision could be made however, could invite a shift in the goal posts.