Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to Become a Preacher -- Advice for Students and Other Aspiring Preachers

I have thought a lot about how to become a preacher and how to grow as a preacher. Since a student-friend of mine just asked me this very question, and since my answer to him came at a time of particular clarity about my own thinking in this regard, I thought I'd share what I wrote to him on this sorely neglected blog of mine. So, here is my best advice on how to become a preacher who has a practical edge:

- Think about normal, non-academics at church and ask them to go out for coffee. And listen. Get to know them. Become friends. I mean people who are older and who you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards. These are the people who will be on your heart and mind when you are doing exegesis for sermon prep in the future. And you will quickly learn that none of them will come to church wondering who wrote Ecclesiastes and when. They will come to church wanting hope. The authorship and date of Ecclesiastes’ composition may come into play in your preaching, but it will be a passing comment or the foundation of the real work of exposition and application you will do.

- In time, ask these people if you can share with them what you are learning at school. Then, in your own words and without prep, explain to them  a passage you wrote an essay on — not the content of the essay, but what the passage means and how it applies to you two personally. If they give you a blank stare, apologize and listen. A preacher’s job is to hold the interest of his people and to always be so urgent and loving and interesting that the people want to listen.

- Choose your essay topics wisely. Don’t write essays on minutiae but on texts and topics of utmost importance. Write on Exodus 1, 2, 14, 19, 20; Deut 17:14-20; a prophet like Moses, etc. Do real exegesis and theological wrestling.

- When you write an essay, wrestle and do a ton of notes on the text on your own before reading commentaries. Don’t let commentaries set the agenda for how you approach a passage. Commentaries should be supplemental, but when used this way, they are very helpful. If you don’t know the original language, use the ESV as your base text, but also compare the NIV and the NLT and likely also the NET (reading the NET notes as well). And write a ton of your own reflections on the passage. A ton. I wrote 100 pages of exegetical notes from the Hebrew text of Isaiah before beginning reading secondary sources on this book in prep for my last comprehensive exam.

- Read conservative scholars who are very academic. And also read broadly.

- After you do all of the exegetical work and after your write your essay (and maybe even take someone from church out to explain the passage to them), listen to a variety of sermons on that same passage. The most ideal people I know of for this purpose are Mark Dever, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson and John Mahaffey, but there are certainly others I could mention and still others I haven’t heard much. These preachers are expository, they preach on large chunks of text, they are extremely evangelistic and illustrative and theological and practical and they build a hearer’s ability to read the Word of God. Since you have done the depth-work on the text at hand already, it will be helpful to hear how some seasoned preachers have approached your same text. Soak this in. Don’t listen to only one preacher. Let a variety of approaches soak in. If you only listen to one you will not find your own voice; you will become a lesser mini-replica who doesn’t do nearly as well as the master.

- Continue to be mentored in the context of your local church and let the preaching at church shape who you are and who you are becoming!

- Take Greek and Hebrew and focus here in your studies. Do as much of this as you can and live in the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible.

- As your local church gives you opportunities to use your emerging Word-gifts, take them and serve people. You learn by doing more than by practicing without real people on your heart and mind and in your prayers!

- Focus also on Biblical Theology. Read lots of it. See how the Bible fits together and begin to develop an instinct to read every passage in light of the whole and with Christ as the focal point of salvation-history.

- Do your own personal devotions in a variety of places in the Bible. I currently have five bookmarks in my Bible and I read one chapter from each place per day if at all possible. Currently I’m in Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms, Matthew, and James. When you do this you will see connections every day that you would not have seen otherwise. After you read, praise God for the various expressions of his character you see in each of the chapters, before you move to pray for other things — yourself and others. Other alternatives to my more freestyle method are the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan or, even better, Grant Horner’s method. I like my approach because it allows me to cluster things if I want to (e.g. two books of Torah right now), and because it is manageable — I may even cut it down to four chapters so I can read more reflectively; we’ll see.

- So some foundational work in systematic theology — read especially Grudem (as an intro) and Calvin’s Institutes and others. Take classes in systematic and historical theology (especially Calvin) if at all possible.

- Listen to John Piper’s biographies from the desiringgod.org web site. Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Edwards, and Piper are especially good, but they are all really helpful. Let these be introductions that lead you into reading the works of these pastor-scholars.

So those are some random thoughts, my two cents. I hope they are helpful!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Music Video for Dads: You'll Find Your Way

I'm glad that JT and Challies both posted the following video. I cuddled up with my seven year old and four year old and watched this afternoon...and it was powerful to do so!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Free Lectures on Romans by Douglas Moo

Douglas Moo's commentary on Romans ranks up there in my mind as one of the best commentaries I've ever read cover-to-cover (along with Bruce Waltke on Genesis). It combines simple presentation with scholarly interaction, Christian conviction with wide scholarly engagement, exegetical rigour with practical application, all the while letting Paul's letter lead him rather than touting a particular party-line. When I worked through the book of Romans a few years ago on my own, it was a delight to devour Moo's commentary cover-to-cover when I was done my own work. So I was thrilled to see on Justin Taylor's Blog, that Moo's lectures on Romans are free on biblicaltraining.org. That site also boasts some other excellent lectures that are well worth listening to (especially Miles Van Pelt on OT Biblical Theology!!). Create a free account and download free lectures here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tim Keller on Reading Calvin's Institutes in a Year

When Challies linked to Keller's reflections I was interested to read. A few years back, in honour of Calvin's 500th birthday, I read through a similar plan as Keller, and evidently, had similar appreciations. Read Keller's thoughts here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dane Ortland on The Psychology of Resentment

I really appreciated this article by Dane Ortland. It begins this way:
You need not experience extraordinary suffering or be wronged in an unusually grievous way to feel the strong, seemingly unstoppable pull toward resentment. All you need to do is live a little in this fallen world. Before long you're given a good solid reason to resent someone. Often someone quite close to you. Family member, spouse, parent, long-time friend, etc. It feels impossible to love that person.
What causes such bitterness? Why are our hearts so immovably deadened toward that person? 
Well, they wronged you, so you resent them. They hurt you. They did what they should never have done. Or didn’t do what they should have done. And you bear the wounds. 
Yes—but what’s the reason beneath the reason? 
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

All People are Worshippers!!!

‎"Exalting is part of existence. It is so much a part of it, that when one has ceased to exalt God, something else must be exalted. Then God can be displaced by a man, an institution, an idea. Exalting remains a function of existence...Not everywhere where God is no longer truly praised will men of necessity fall into the extremity of the deification of man. But they must surely exalt, admire, honor something. There is no real, full existence that does not in some way honor, admire, look up to something...If the praise of God, as the Psalms express it, belongs to existence, then the directing of this praise to a man, an idea, or an institution must disturb and finally destroy life itself. The Psalms say that only where God is praised is there life" (Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 160-161).

As I read Westermann's book today, that quote stuck out to me. I've been reading a ton of academic commentary on the Psalms lately, and it struck me that along with a few of those commentators, Westermann knew the God he wrote about. Then I read this by Brueggemann: "Westermann developed his ideas on the lament psalms while he was a prisoner of war in a Russian camp where he had no books except the Bible. I take it as important that he was able to see, precisely while he was in prison, that the psalms of lament move from what he calls plea (lament or petition) to praise. The lament psalms characteristically culminate in joy, praise, well-being, and an offering. For Westermann, this was not a literary matter but a profoundly theological matter in which the world of the speaker is decisively changed" (quoted from 'The Friday Voice of Faith,' 13). That explains it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stephen G. Dempster: The Narrative Structure of the Book of Psalms

Does the structure of the Book of Psalms tell a story? Is there a narrative that can be uncovered? Over the course of the past few hundred years the study of individual Psalms has dominated Psalm scholarship. However, since the 1985 publication Gerald Wilson's pioneering dissertation entitled, 'The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter,' many have begun to see an intentionality in the shaping of the Psalter.  I find the following string of quotes (mixed with a few of my own comments in all caps) from Stephen Dempster's Dominion and Dynasty helpful and convincing. As you read, remember that the Psalms are divided into five books (Book 1 = Psalms 1-42, etc)...

"The first two psalms, 'the doorway into the Psalter,' stress that the blessed person, who meditates on the Torah day and night, will be like a tree of life planted by the rivers of water (1:3). There are allusions to the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10-14), and to the eschatological trees of life planted by the river of life flowing from the new temple in Ezekiel (Ezek. 47:1-12). The second psalm stresses the importance of the Davidic king's meditating on Nathan's oracle to David, which now has universal scope. All nations will one day bow before Yahweh's Messiah...Canonically, it is impossible to miss the allusions: a Davidic king (genealogy) will rule over the entire earth (geography)" (194-195).

PSALMS 1-2 - "These texts provide perspective on the storyline of Scripture. The Psalter keeps hope alive by indicating that Israel is still expecting an all-conquering hero who will be anointed by Yahweh to rule the world. The second psalm shows the resistance to this rule, the Lord's sovereign decision to affirm this rule based on Nathan's oracle, the implications of this kingship (universal dominion), the obliteration of all resistance, and the need for submission to the rule" (195)


SUPERSCRIPTIONS - "The psalm titles draw attention to the Davidic king as the one who prays for and represents Israel. It is clearly David who is emerging as the focus of the Bible. Somehow the hopes of the Israelite nation are placed on his shoulders" (195).

SEAMS - "Other psalms, placed strategically at the seams of the Psalter, develop this kingship theme (G. Wilson 1985). The first division consists largely of laments (Pss. 3-41), and the first and last psalms of this division (Pss 3; 41) show that, despite treachery towards the divine king, whether that of his own son (3) or of his closest friend (41), God gives the king triumph over his enemies. After a series of initial laments emphasizing the exile of David (Pss. 3-7), a creation psalms reminds not only the king but all of humanity of its regal destiny (Ps. 8)" (196).

BOOK 2 - "In the second book, closure is achieved with Psalm 72. There are many lament psalms in this collection, but this particular psalm reveals the light at the end of the tunnel: the day when the Davidic king will rule the earth. He will bring an end to injustice, and justice will flower in the land. All nature will be renewed. The extent of his reign is described with an almost exact quote from the Twelve: 'he will reign from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth' (Ps. 72:8; cf. Zech. 9:10b). Echoing Isaiah, his enemies will lick the dust and all kings will worship him, bringing their treasures (72:10-11; cf. Is. 60:1-22). The last line of the psalm proper reaches a thematic climax with the statement that the Abrahamic promise of blessing on the earth is realized in him: 'All nations will be blessed in him and they will bless him' (72:17). The concluding doxology states the consequence: the whole earth is filled with his glory (cf. Is. 6:3; 11:9). And, as is noted in this section, this marks the end of the Davidic psalms of David the son of Jesse (72:20)" (196).

BOOK 3 - "The next grouping of psalms (73-89) points to disaster for the nation. Within the scope of Israelite history it is tempting to understand these psalms as reflecting the judgment leading up to the exile. The call is to hae faith, despite the current bleak circumstances. This is the message of the wisdom psalm (73) that opens this division of the Psalter. The triumph of the wicked is apparent, not real, and this truth can be seen only from the perspective of the sanctuary (73:17). Significantly, this collection of psalms concludes with a poem (Ps. 89) that poignantly contrasts the stark reality of the present situation - exile, judgment and the absence of a Davidic monarch - with the promise of the enduring throne of David (2 Sam 7)" (196-197).

BOOK 4 - "The next Psalter division (Pss. 90-106), like the previous one, begins with a wisdom psalm, whose unique Mosaic title points back to the wilderness experience of the Israelites as a time when Israel was consumed by God's wrath and judgment for their sin. Why? To suggest that, just as the previous exile ended, so will this one. The community is directed to view things from a divine perspective where a human millennium is but a day (Ps. 90:4)" (199).

BOOK 5 - "The dramitic thanksgiving psalm that begins the final book of the Psalter (Ps. 107) celebrates a return from exile from the four corners of the earth. It is a dramatic answer to the plea at the end of Psalm 106 (cf. 106:45-47; 107:1-3). Yahweh's mercy (hesed) is not temporary but lasts for ever. It will gather (qabatz) the people from the nations! Psalm 107 concludes by stating, 'Whoever is wise and regards these things will understand the mercies of the LORD' (43). These words link up with the first half of Psalm 89 and dramatically affirm the reason for the return to exile: the mercies of the Lord are the reason, particularly as expressed in the covenant to David (Ps. 89:1-3) and in the coming Davidide (Is. 55:3)" (200).

"In their own way the next few psalms speak of the hope of the Davidic monarch. Judah is regarded as God's sceptre in Ps. 108 (cf. Gen 49), which will hold sway over the surrounding nations. Psalm 110 depicts the installation of a new ruler with his enemies under his feet and he smites them on the head, a resounding echo of the reclaimed dominion of humanity (cf. Gen. 1:26-28; 3:15). But it also combined royal and priestly motifs: the new king will virtually transcend not only David but also the Israelite priesthood (Ps. 110:6). From this point on there is a group of praise songs (Pss. 111-118) that follow this theme of God's kingship. These songs are continued in Psalms 135-137, which conclude on the bitter note of exile again. But inserted among them are a gigantic psalm of the Torah (Ps. 119) and a group of fifteen Songs of Ascent (Pss. 120-134), celebrating the pilgrimage to Zion. These pilgrimage songs are probably placed here to show that the reason for return from exile is to go up to Mount Zion to hear the Torah in all its wonder and to worship the Lord (cf. is. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-5). Israel's ascent can thus point the way to the nations (Zech. 8:23). When such an ascent begins, the ways of war are abandoned" (200).

END OF BOOK 5 - "Psalms 135-137 are probably a coda to the ascent psalms. They return the theme to the praise songs of 111-118, but this section ends with the bitter lament of exiles in Psalm 137, who, in their pain, wish for the destruction of the last vestige of their captors. This almost suggests that exile has the final word in the Psalter. However, a final flurry of Davidic psalms (138-144) provides an answer to this lament, concluding with an acrostic psalm of priase in which David calls for all flesh to praise the holy name of Yahweh (145:21). The answer to the problem of exile is David. The last five psalms (146-150) are not only a fitting conclusion to the five books of the Psalter but also a specific answer to David's call (G. Wilson 1985:193). the key note is 'Hallelujah!' here at last is the goal of creation: all of created reality being directed in praise by choirmaster, King David; or, as Gregory of Nyssa states: 'All creatures, after the disunion and disorder caused by sin have been removed, are harmoniously united for one choral dance.' the canonical structure of the Psalms thus clearly develops the prophetic theme of a renewed earth under a Davidic leader" (201-202)