Thursday, October 23, 2014

Should We Preach Harmonies?

After more than two hundred sermons, I have finally completed preaching through the entire Gospel of Matthew. Even then it feels as if there is still much to say. Nevertheless, each week during this process I turned to some of the same resources to aid my exegesis. John MacArthur is, without a doubt, at the top of that list. I utilized all of his sermons, four-volume commentaries, and numerous books.

Throughout the process, I noticed a trend in his preaching that is consistent throughout all of his sermons of the four Gospels. MacArthur has a tendency to harmonize the Gospels in his preaching and he is not the only preacher.

This tendency is most prevalent in his handling of the passion of Christ. Though there is a general flow of the Gospels, at times one Evangelist will include a detail that the others leave out. Matthew includes the strange account of bodies being raised from the dead, Luke includes Jesus condemning Israel while carrying his cross, and John is perhaps the most unique. The tendency was to pause his exegesis of one Evangelist in order to "fill in the gaps" provided by the others.

Here is my question? Should an expositor adopt this practice?

After having preached through entire Gospel I want to propose that though there might be times with "filling in the gaps" or harmonizing the Gospels might be necessary, the preacher should avoid this approach to preaching the Gospels.

My reasoning is simple. Expository preaching has as its primary objective to proclaim to the congregation the author/Spirit's original intent. Therefore, isolating one's interpretation and presentation of the text to the author allows the expositor to proclaim that message. Matthew is unique from the other Evangelists. Each bring to the table a unique perspective of the same story. By isolating each Evangelists, the preacher can better handle the text.

Perhaps a few examples will suffice. A certain points throughout Matthew's Gospel, the Evangelists interrupts the narrative with a short vignette. In chapter 26, for example, the conspiracy against Christ is interrupted with the story of a woman (unnamed in Matthew's account) pouring an expensive perfume on Jesus. The purpose ought to be obvious to the reader: Judas and the scribes are conspiring to Jesus' death while an unnamed, humbled woman is in worship preparing Jesus for his burial.

Similarly, in Matthew 27, the narrative of Jesus before Pilate is interrupted with the vignette of Judas' suicide (found only in Matthew's Gospel). It seems to me that Matthew's purpose is theological. By interrupting the flow of the narrative, Matthew is juxtaposing a number of things including two acts of repentance (Peter and Judas) and two deaths upon a tree (Jesus and Judas).

This unique style of storytelling is lost when we spend as much time harmonizing the Gospels as opposed to allowing Matthew be Matthew. The Gospels are deeply theological and it is important to allow the theology of each Gospel to speak. Though we might turn to the other Evangelists for help occasionally, we must not let them draun out the voice of the author before us. If an Evangelist leaves out a detail or adds a detail, let the interpreter make note because it is (not) there on purpose.

This is why I prefer to isolate a book and author and allow them to speak. Each biblical writer are competent theologians in their own right - a lesson I learned from exegeting Matthew.

So preacher, preach the text, not the harmonies.

All Around the Web - October 23, 2014

Albert Mohler - Sermons Are “Fair Game” in Houston — The Real Warning in the Subpoena Scandal

Doug Wilson - Houston, We Have a Problem

Russell Moore - Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over?
Eric Metaxas -  Hand Over Your Sermon, Or Else 

Trevin Wax - The Mars Hill Postmortem

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Worship Wednesday: "It is You" by Newsboys

From Lewis's Pen: On Conversion

From Mere Christianity:

I think this is the right moment to consider a question which is often asked: If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? What lies behind that question is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man's outward actions - if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before - then I think we must suspect that his `conversion' was largely imaginary and after one's original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in an illness `feeling better' is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world. The wartime posters told us that Careless Talk costs Lives. It is equally true that Careless Lives cost Talk. Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we give them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity itself. (207)

All Around the Web - October 22, 2014

Eric Metaxas - Running Toward the Plague

Thom Rainer - Eight Causes of Pastoral Ministry Slump

Timothy Paul Jones - Apologetics: Reza Aslan and “The Jesus of History”

Christianity Today - Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation

Prince on Preaching - How Should Pastors Deal with Politics in the Pulpit?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 2

One major myth regarding the political economy I believe Christians should reject whole-heartedly is the well-intentioned myth that the state is a benevolent instrument of social justice. Typically this myth is promoted by more progressive thinkers. Men like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Brian McLaren come immediately to mind. But they certainly are not lone wolves.

All of us want to alleviate poverty. All of us want to contribute to a just health system. All of us want to live on a clean, healthy planet. To suggest that one's hesitancy in entrusting government with the responsibilities is somehow anti-poor, anti-environment, racism, sexist, etc. is nonsense.

The reason why the state is not an instrument of social justice authors Chad Brand and Tom Pratt write in their book Seeking the City:
The myth of the state as an instrument of social justice dies hard. The literature providing the massive failures of governmental economic maneuvering and the welfare state in the United States go back thirty to forty years. (718)
They then provide the following evidence (taken from pages 718-719, emphasis original):
  • Government "scandal is almost always found to be about currying favor with economic interests." 
  • The "government itself through its bureaucracies in the primary recipient of welfare dollars through taxation is undeniable."
  • Minimum wage doesn't actually help those it is intended to help and actually makes "them less employable at a higher wage."
  • Affordable housing "legislation leads to ghettoization in the short run followed by gentrification of blighted areas and skyrocketing land values.
  • Governmental "licensing procedures, such as that for taxicabs in New York City, create markets that cannot be entered by anyone but the wealthy."
The authors then state:
The fact that all this is widely known and documented, without resulting in changes of policy or advocacy of more workable and less oppressive actions, tends to make the case that another agenda is at work - an agenda motivated by lust for power and control over people's lives, and perhaps the long-standing disdain of intellectuals for businessmen in general. If the welfare sate is the answer, exactly what was the question? (719)
Exactly. But as the authors conclude, such myth-believing leads to another danger. They write:
A clear corollary to this statist preference is that personal and nongovernmental charity becomes superfluous in the minds of many and noxious to others. After all, "charity" is demeaning and implies lack of just desert on the part of the recipient. This means that the biblical idea of communal and individual care and charity must be subsumed into political activism. Righteous or "good" deeds now become political deeds. Hence Jim Wallis and others can argue that governmental budgets are moral documents in state capitals around the country and in Washington, DC. Given his premise, not a biblical one, it is not hard to see how he could come to such conclusion. We need a corrective. (720)
I appreciate what the authors state here and I agree with their basic conclusion. Although I disagree with Wallis on most things, I do believe that public policy, including governments, do reflect the morality and theological presuppositions of the community. It is for this reason, among many others, that I am deeply concerned with the overspending of the federal government. I do not think the authors would disagree with me here, but such clarity is needed.

The point is, however, that the marriage of social justice (a problematic term in of itself) and government is one made in hell. We should not question the intentions of such progressive thinkers (we all share them). However, the damage government regulation does over individuals and the community is indisputable.

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 2 

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther

All Around the Web - October 21, 2014

Hershael York - Four Reasons Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don’t

Inerrant Word - Did Early Christians Disagree Widely on Which Books Made it into the Canon? 

The Gospel Coalition - Advice to Young Pastors from David Powlison, Danny Akin, Tim Keller

Chuck Lawless - Seven Reasons Why Church Leaders Should Practice Fasting

Church Tech - 5 Essentials for an Effective Church Media Ministry