Lessons I Learned From Preaching About Head Coverings

It was inevitable. I am currently preaching through 1 Corinthians and it was just a matter of time before reaching chapter 11 and the subject of head coverings. Yikes!

Jesus didn’t come back in time.

So, here’s what I learned. Maybe this will help when you preach a variety of difficult texts:

  • “I will disappoint many of you. Thank you for loving me anyway.” I said that more than once preaching about head coverings in chapter 11 and spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. I said it to prepare parishioners for what was coming and not coming during the teaching times.
  • If ever there is a time to model hermeneutical humility, it is while preaching such multiple-ways-to-understand texts!
  • I had to fight against the fear of losing some congregants because of my approach. It took more courage than normal to say to a non-hat-wearing faith-family: “We need to give this instruction a fair reading regardless of our current practice.”
  • I needed to remember that, for some listeners, their past experience in churches will keep them from hearing this teaching. So I needed to try to show why what God is saying may not be equal to what “turned them off.”
  • I trusted my leadership to hear the Word that Sunday and respond appropriately. I do that every Sunday, but it seemed more important due to the controversial subject matter. We agreed that no head covering “policy” was needed but that everyone should take seriously the need to maintain God-created gender distinctions in church.
  • That last sentence was important theologically. Paul wrote about head covering in order to address a more foundational issue (cf. 11:3; look for that with other difficult concepts). That issue of responsibility within a relationship was key. And in a culture that is blurring many lines, God’s Word needs a fresh hearing in the Church.
  • Finally, I learned that nothing beats some measure of pastoral longevity when having to preach difficult texts. One of God’s good gifts is the opportunity to be a part of a faith-family that will love me and think hard about difficult truths in the Word of God.

For what it’s worth…

Preach well–preach difficult texts well–for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Four Ways To Exegete Your Text: Following Jonathan Edwards’ Practices

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A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Douglas A. Sweeney’s, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford).

One of the take aways from this book for those of us who preach or teach the Bible is the four different ways Edwards regularly approached studying the Bible. The four ways are Canonical, Christological, Redemptive-Historical, and Pedagogical exegesis. Think of them as supplements you take to boost your daily nutrient intake. Do you take any or any combination of them each week during sermon preparation?

These four approaches supplement what we normally think of as exegesis: historical-grammatical-literary. Edwards helps us remember why we need to move beyond the realms of word, historical, and literary studies. Here’s what we gain and how our congregation profits from the results of the following four exegetical practices:

Canonical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion fits with other Scriptures. Look for times when other Scripture provide vital additional information for the interpretation of your preaching portion.  Your congregants will appreciate seeing how God’s revelation works together to create meaning.I don’t recommend the common practice of showing listeners other Scripture that say the same thing as your preaching portion.

Christological Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion functions for the Church because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and dispatching His Spirit on those who believe. Your listeners will appreciate learning how all Scripture points to the grace of God in Christ. This will keep all sanctification efforts faith-based and help avoid the dreaded moralistic, self-help sermon application. And remember that when you remind the saints about the Gospel, any non-Christians in attendance get to hear the Good News too.

Redemptive-Historical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion is part of the meta-narrative flowing throughout Scripture. Your parishioners will profit from the times when you locate your passage in the Story of Redemption (creation, un-creation, recreation, new creation). They will begin to appreciate that salvation is something much larger than the personal, saved-to-go-to-heaven variety.
Pedagogical Exegesis: showing how Scripture guides faith and the Christian life; here we gain precepts for living life as a Christian. One of the great quotes from the book came from this section. It reminded me of my primary responsibility as a soul-watcher. Sweeney writes of Edwards:
“At the end of the day, however, he was a clergyman and teacher paid to unpack the text in a pedagogical way, with the formation of disciples at the forefront of his mind.” (p. 188)

Before Sunday I hope you will supplement your normal exegesis with one or more of these four approaches, all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching The Sensitive Gender Issue

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Have you ever wondered how churches and pastors who believe in the authority of the Bible land the way they do on the same-sex issue? How can we read the same Bible and interpret it so differently?
I just finished reading Christopher R. Seitz’s heavy book, The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible. One unexpected benefit of reading the book was Seitz’s choice of the same-sex crisis in the American Episcopal Church (TEC) as his concrete example of what happens when people move away from the rule of faith (or fails to recognize that the OT functions theologically for the Church).
Seitz reports that both sides of the same-sex issue acknowledge that this boils down to “disagreement…over the interpretation of Scripture and the question of whether the Bible has something like a plain sense, in the case of same-sex behavior and in other areas” (p. 176). Seitz has followed the discussion over the exegesis of Scripture and homosexuality for over two decades and lists three phases that have occurred in that timeframe:
Phase One. It was believed that the Bible could be reevaluated and understood to be saying something that no one had thought it said up to that point. “Sodom was about inhospitality, not homosexuality; chapter 1 of Romans was about specific, exotic kinds of homosexual misconduct [as opposed to two people of the same gender entering into a loving commitment to each other]” (p. 176).
Phase Two. It was admitted that the Bible really did say what it was always understood to say [that homosexual activity was a sin]. But what the Bible was giving us “was a kind of rough guide on how to make decisions. Biblical people had to exercise judgment, and they went about this with certain flexible systems that allowed them to negotiate religious principles with changing times” (pp. 176-177). An example would be Acts 15 the decisions of the Jerusalem Council. Therefore, we have the opportunity with changing times to change our minds about what is biblical or the kind of morality God expects of His citizens.
Phase Three. The Bible does not speak to the issue of our modern-day same-sex attitudes and actions because our version of this was unknown in the times when the Bible was written. If we don’t have a word from God on the issue, then we’re left with listening to how the Spirit of God would have us respond today.
Ultimately, then, “there is sufficient confusion about what any text means, [therefore]…the only thing we can be sure of is what people report to be true in their present experience….The Bible looks like us. That is our interpretive conclusion” (p. 178).
So, I step back, take a look at that three-phase development, and ask: What keeps me from that position? I am reminded of what Barth described as “the strange new world of the Bible.” Without becoming too simplistic, go back to the very first part of the first phase. The reevaluation of the Bible was due to a clash between Scripture and cultural experience. I should expect the two views to clash. And I should preach God’s view with confidence and invite His people to inhabit His strange new world. I should not allow the presence of confusion about the meaning of God’s Word to move me to rely on present human experience to determine reality.

Preach well, including finding the balance of being careful and courageous about moving from the Bible to theology for the Church and all so God can receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching Gideon Vs. Midian As A Paradigm For Salvation

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If and when you preach through Judges, you will discover that God spent a lot of biblical real estate on the Gideon narrative. God gives tons of detail on Gideon versus Midian, probably because that contest functions as a paradigm for our salvation. Gideon is a highly unlikely military leader; his victory over the Midianites was a highly unlikely victory. That’s the point.

You’re familiar with how unsure Gideon was about God’s plan and how he asked God more than once to confirm the plan with a miracle (“the fleece”). Where’s his faith anyway?! It’s comforting to see how God did not chastise Gideon for his doubts. No lecturing; just confirming. Of course, Gideon’s example is not instruction for us to “go and do likewise.”

But the key to the narrative and its theology is God’s instruction to Gideon to whittle down his army, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'” (cf. Judges 7:2). This is one of those examples of how the narrative provides a huge clue to meaning.

And be careful how you explain the Lord’s way of decreasing the size of Gideon’s army. God doesn’t tell us why the “lappers” are chosen, but not the “kneelers.” Whatever God’s reason, His intention was to take away any cause for Israel to boast in their strength. So contrary to many preachers’ explanations, the 300 who are selected are a sign of weakness, not strength. Plus, note that they take “trumpets” (v. 8, 22), not spears or bows. The soldiers were turned into fierce instrumentalists!

But God gives His people the victory over the Midianites. And it’s a great reminder of the fact that our salvation is all of God and none of us. We have a strong Savior who continually delivers us from overpowering forces that threaten to undue us. He graciously saves and sanctifies us. He does it all by Himself so we can only boast in the cross of Christ.

Preach well for sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

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If you’re afternoon is free, there are still 5 seats available for tomorrow afternoon’s preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, PA campus). The title is: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes! We’ll discuss this topic while working through the infamous narrative of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11.

Date: April 26, 2016
Time: 01:00-04:00 p.m.
Event: Spring Preaching Workshop
Topic: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes!
Sponsor: Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School
Venue: Charles Frey Academic Center
Public: Public

Preach the Plot (part 3 of preaching through books of the Bible)

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If you ever try preaching through a long, Old Testament book of the Bible, I hope this series of posts will help. So far we’ve discussed

(1) selecting a theme to carry continuity throughout the sermon series;

(2) being prepared to go easy on the details so you can cover large portions of material.

In this post I want to remind you of how important the storyline is in a book like Judges (my current series). If you decide to preach through an  OT book that’s mostly narrative, it’s important to identify how the plot develops early on in the book. Because of the way stories work, the plot development most likely begins early in the book and is completed near the end of the book. All preaching portions in the middle somehow connect to this storyline.

For instance, the book of Judges opens with a command to go to war. Theological interpretation–how Judges functions for the Church–hinges on understanding our current battle to prevent the “Canaanization” of the Church (we could say, the Americanization of the Church: Christians adopting the thinking and practices of our culture).

God’s people have the stubborn tendency to worship idols. Someone has said that our hearts are an idol factory. I tend to think of our hearts as a worship factory–we will worship something.

However, seven times in chapter 1 we read, “…did not drive out…” Even though we learn that Israel “grew strong…” Davis described them as “a people clearly successful though certainly disobedient. Pragmatic success and spiritual failure.”

The sermon series will relate to this action of God’s people making sure they remain separate from the world (in a true, biblical sense of separation). Story after story show God’s people failing and God graciously intervening to keep them from becoming destroyed. He remains faithful to His covenant for the sake of His reputation.

So, be prepared to communicate the theology that runs through the storyline of your narrative for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. Before Sunday, if you are planning on preaching a narrative text, check to be sure you have traced the storyline.

P.P.S. The image above is a slide that shows how the big idea is found in narratives. If you want more detail on finding the big ideas in narratives and other genres, check out my book, Preaching With Accuracy.

Preaching Through Daniel (part 5): Let the Rising Action Carry the Story that Carries the Theology

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Earlier I pointed out that in narratives, such as the opening chapters of Daniel, the story carries the theology. Let’s add to that: the plot or rising action carries the story that carries the theology. Here’s an example from Daniel chapter 2.

The theology is carried by a king’s dilemma: he doesn’t understand his dreams. He has limited wisdom and so do his so-called wise men (2:14, 18). Daniel, however, is confident that he is able to interpret the king’s dream because Daniel’s God possesses wisdom (v. 20), He also “gives wisdom to the wise” (v. 21), including Daniel (v. 23).

That’s all historical data provided in the narrative. But a sermon is created when we understand that Daniel represents all God’s people. Through faith in Christ–more on that in another post–all God’s people obtain wisdom. Daniel closes with: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above…” These wise men and women will be the ones who inhabit God’s “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” (v. 44).

This explains how the plot fits in with Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream (vv. 31-45). Without this move, the content of the king’s dream is disconnected from the plot. Throughout history God gives kingdoms to rulers, but one day, He will give His eternal kingdom to all the wise. Before then, however, the wise in the book of Daniel are the ones God uses to represent Him in a kingdom ruled by the ungodly. That’s us in our world.

But all of this starts by allowing the rising action of the plot to carry the story that carries the theology. Lots of sermons are created apart from the storyline. That happens when major points and/or principles are disconnected from the plot. In other words, preachers are tempted to focus on isolated data within the story rather than the story itself.

Before Sunday, if you’re preaching a narrative Text, see if the subject of your sermon matches the subject of the rising action within the plot.

May our Lord receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching Through Daniel (Part 2): Story First, Then Visions

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If you have read Daniel recently, you may recall that the book begins as a narrative or story. In my previous post I pointed out that Daniel gives us its purpose at the beginning and end of the book (the description of Daniel and his friends and also the description of all God’s people as they enter eternity).

In Daniel, the story comes first and then the visions follow. That means that the story forms the foundation for the meaning of the visions. Or, you could say it this way: the visions mean something in relationship to the story. The two sections are connected. And while the visions may be difficult to understand concerning their details, they function by urging God’s people to remain godly in an ungodly world.

There is no need to shy away from preaching the visionary chapters (7-12). And yet, as you can imagine, preachers are far more prone to preach chapters 1-6 (story) than to preach through the last six chapters (visions). That may be because we tend to separate the two sections.

Lord willing, in weeks to come I will move through the book of Daniel and show how these first two characteristics work:

1. The beginning and ending contain Daniel’s purpose (the same with Revelation)

2. The genre (type of literature) at the beginning of Daniel (narrative) provides the foundation for meaning for the visions. (In Revelation, the opening chapters containing the letters to the seven churches provide the foundation for meaning for the visions that follow.)

I hope this helps you if you are ever thinking about preaching through some of the apocalyptic books in the Bible.

Preach a good sermon, will ya?! And let’s do so so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching Through The Book of Daniel (What Was I Thinking?!)

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I began preaching through the book of Daniel on the first Sunday in June, 2015. I was hoping Jesus would return before then, but He didn’t.

For the next several posts, I will be sharing some of the things I learned from preaching through a largely apocalyptic book. The posts may help if you’re planning to teach or preach through Daniel some day. They will also help if your teaching and preaching plan includes preaching any apocalyptic material. Apocalyptic books seem to share characteristics, like this first one:

Pay attention to the way Daniel begins and ends.

The focus and purpose of Daniel is found at the beginning and end of the book. This is important because all of the incredibly difficult-to-understand visions in the final six chapters find their meaning in connection with the focus/purpose found at the edges.

So, in Daniel 1:4 the “youths” are described as “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning…” Then, in Daniel 12:3 God’s people who will be delivered in the end are described as “those who are wise…”

Daniel is structured to signal all professing Christians to make sure that this description fits them. Those that remain godly in an ungodly world are the wise. These are genuine Believers. They understand what God is doing in the world and what He expects of them. These are the ones that know how to navigate a world where the ungodly are in power (more on that in another post). These are the ones that know what to do with information about the coming age of final salvation and final judgment.

Usually, I would end with a, “Before Sunday…,” assignment, but that will be a little more difficult with these posts. Unless, of course you’re teaching/preaching apocalyptic material. If so, check to see where your theme and purpose for the book comes from. Often the beginning and end will supply this critical information for biblical preaching so that God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach a good sermon, will ya?!

Randal

P.S. A Christ-centered interpretation will show how Christ is “made unto us wisdom…”