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?