What is Preaching?

When you listen to a sermon at church, what do you hear? In his book Transforming Conversion, Gordon T. Smith has some very important words for all Christians to keep at the forefront of their minds:

Preaching is not about urging hearers to work harder, try harder, and do more so that they are more faithful. They cannot do so; the depth of the human predicament makes this impossible and thus futile and (rightly) results in much cynicism about the Christian life—better put, it is cynicism about a false conception of the Christian life. Rather, preaching is about drawing the people of God into the grand accomplishment of Christ in the cross and the resurrection so that they can participate in this life, rest in the wonder of the gospel, and know the transformation that comes through the ministry of the Spirit. Yet in this [the people of God] are not passive! Rather, they need to be involved in active response comparable to one who attends to the subtle yet sure movements of a lead dancer (93).

If you do not leave a sermon in awe of Christ’s grand accomplishment in the gospel and assured of the grace of God at work in you through the Spirit, but rather leave wondering how in the world you will do what the preacher just told you to do, then you did not hear a Christian sermon. You may have heard positive thinking, good advice, or straight-up law; but you did not hear gospel preaching. And lest anyone think that this produces an anti-obedience or anti-effort Christianity, remember Smith’s final words: true Christian sermons aim at active, faith-fueled response, just like a good lead dancer’s initiative.

Let’s respond by praying for our pastors to proclaim Christ, not just talk about Christ. And let us also pray that we respond to Christ’s gospel and the Spirit’s work in us with grace-driven and faith-fueled effort to the glory of God.

Life Theology

Jay Cutler, Colin Cowherd, and the Anonymous Commentator

Every now and then I tune into Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. Most of the time, Cowherd annoys me. Some days, like today, he hits it right on the nose.

Today Cowherd was talking about Jay Culter. If you didn’t know, Jay Cutler, the Bear’s quarterback, did not finish this Sunday’s NFC Championship against the Packers because of a knee injury. People attacked Cutler immediately and questioned his determination and toughness — including many current and former players who Tweeted their opinion.

Current and former football players are one thing (though it is quite hypocritical because they hate when the media assumes things before they can be confirmed). People posting anonymously on message boards are another thing. Cowherd spoke about this and I couldn’t agree with him more.

I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said, “It’s so easy to hide anonymously on a message board. It’s easy to be tough when you call into a radio show. How many of you would be posting on message boards or calling into my show if you had to tell us your phone number and address? The answer is zero.”

Technology is wonderful for so many reasons. But it also creates cyber soldiers who battle in the shadows, and would never dare step into the light of day for a fair fight.


Christ-centered, Others-oriented

Next Wednesday, I’m teaching our high school students at our church on being others-centered. As I am starting to prepare for this message, I can’t help restructure my thinking to look like this:

We must be Christ-centered, not others-centered. We must be others-oriented, not self-oriented.

The problem with being others-centered is that this can lead to idolatry of people. If we center our thoughts, actions, and words around a person, we will inevitably do things simply to please them or to earn their praise. The world does this every minute of the day. If we become people-centered people, we will seek to (even unknowingly) glorify them.

On the other hand, if we are Christ-centered, we will do everything for his glory — and not to please people or be praised by them. When Christ is the blazing center of our lives we will be able to orient our efforts, resources, attitudes, actions, and thoughts toward others because we will want them to know him.

If Christ is our center and foundation, we will be able to do what the Apostle Paul called us to do: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And the ultimate goal of this humility is God’s glory: “Therefore God has highly exalted [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:3, 9-11).


The Church as the Ultimate Barrier Breaker

I often find myself forgetting that I am one individual member of an absolutely enormous body called the Church. Still more, I forget this Church is a Body that is incredibly diverse.  Spending 2009 in South Africa helped me in this, but I’m still learning to think outside of my own little kingdom.  This Body isn’t diverse just because it has hands and feet and ears.  It’s diverse because the hands are African and the ears are Latino and the feet are Asian, along with a thousand other races, people groups, and languages.

Wayne Grudem reminded me of this today in his Systematic Theology:

When Paul preaches the gospel both to Jews and to Gentiles, and they become unified in the one body of Christ (Eph. 3:6), the incredible “mystery” that was “hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph. 3:9) is plain for all to see, namely, that in Christ such totally diverse people become unified…If the Christian church is faithful to God’s wise plan, it will be always in the forefront in breaking down racial and social barriers in societies around the world, and will thus be a visible manifestation of God’s amazingly wise plan to bring great unity out of great diversity and thereby to cause all creation to honor him (emphasis added).

God is more glorified in redeeming a diverse people and bringing them to unity.  Yet God spares us from uniformity, unlike other religions.  That’s the great thing about the Church: oneness in the midst of difference.  And what is our unity centered upon?  None other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

I want to be more diligent in praying that the Church would be at the forefront of race reconciliation and social justice.  The world really is watching.

Related Post


The Book of Eli

This weekend Carly and I went to see The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington. Eli is filled with bloody fight scenes, engaging cinematography, and intense mystery.  I won’t tell you too much; I don’t want to be a spoiler.  But here’s a quick premise.

In post-apocalyptic, wasteland America,  Washington plays Eli, a sunglass-wearing, nomadic warrior who has a good heart but isn’t afraid to finish a fight. He’s been walking across the country for the past 30 years, since the ‘last war.’  The war caused a rip in the ozone layer, bringing about a bright flash from the sun which incinerated most of the world. There are no more amenities or grocery stores or booming metropolises. Clean water is hard to find and bartering everyday items is the new currency.

Eli travels with nothing more than a backpack, a water canteen, a machete, a sawed-off shot gun, and a thick leather-bound Bible.  Gary Oldman co-stars as Carnegie, a power hungry man who covets Eli’s book, the only one that survived the “flash”.  Washington is on a mission to find the place where it will be read, respected, and treasured.

What I want to comment on is the role the Bible plays in this film.  I don’t know what the directors mean to do, but the Bible is the central focus — more so than Washington’s character, in my opinion.  How gutsy of the directors to make a movie where the Bible is the only book wanted and needed in America!  This movie made me want to read my Bible more and know it better.  It won’t take long the viewer long to find out that most of the people Eli’s age died in the war or passed soon thereafter.  Since the Bible he owns is the only one left, most of these young people have never heard of God or learned how to pray.  Imagine a world where no one knows John 3:16.  Imagine a world where no one takes the Lord’s name in vain because they haven’t even heard his name.  This is Eli’s world.  Everyone is in survival mode, and murdering for a cup of water or a battery is all in a day’s business.  Society has fallen apart.  Chaos has taken over, and there will be no restoration until God’s word has been spread.  What a concept.

Carnegie wants Eli’s Book, not for spiritual growth, but to control the people of the towns he is rebuilding across the country.  His plan is to use it for selfish gain and prosperity.  Viewing the movie through theological lenses, Carnegie plays the role of a greedy prosperity pastor.  Just like Carnegie, pastors who espouse the prosperity gospel peddle God’s word for selfish gain.  They don’t want the Bible to be read, respected, and treasured in order to taste and see the glory of Jesus Christ.  They want to use and manipulate the Bible for their sinful desires.

Whether it’s money or power or possessions or fame, the desire for anything other than Jesus will only lead to destructionThe Book of Eli beautifully paints this reality.  Whether the directors meant to or not.