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Posts tagged "Preaching"

"He Reads Well"

“He Reads Well”

I was both thrilled and intimidated when my church asked me — then a 29 year old college minister — to become their interim pastor. While I loved to preach, I was nervous about having to prepare practically every Sunday. I treated those sermon manuscripts like so many of the doctoral seminar papers I was producing during that crazed period of life — composed on an Apple Macintosh and printed out on a dot-matrix printer mere minutes before the sermon was “due.” I would step gingerly toward the pulpit with my Bible and still-warm sheaf of 8.5 x 11 pages,…

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Robert Jenson (1930-2017) on the Proclamation of the Gospel

Scott Jones has already posted an article worth your time on Robert Jenson who died last week. He is, as Scott also pointed out, likely the most brilliant American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. My seminary professor, Piotr Małysz, lent me his Systematic Theology, Volume 1 while I was still in school, and I could tell immediately that I was reading one of the greats. If you have yet to read him, start with “How the World Lost Its Story” or with his latest book, A Theology in Outline. Here is an early writing from Jenson on the mind-blowingly profound, yet simple, Gospel that tells me about Jesus’ future and thus about my future as well:

The word of proclamation narrates what happened with Jesus and asserts that what happened with Jesus will happen to you as your death-certain destiny, that the achievement of love-out-of-death which he enacted will fulfill your lives also. The word of proclamation is the assertion that you go to meet him, and will therefore conclude your lives by total involvement in his. It is the assertion that you have a destiny and that he is it, that his story tells of it.

In the word of proclamation, the story of the past Jesus is addressed to me as my future, as my possibility. If then it occurs that as an event in my life I enact this story as and when it is so proclaimed, then what happened with Jesus is not only the past which my action recalls, it is also the future in which my action will eventuate. Then this enacting is the event of my being destined to this destiny. In the context of the proclamation and not otherwise, our speaking and acting-out of the gospel story is, precisely as an enacting which is an occurrence in our lives like any other, our choosing and being chosen to this destiny which is real to us as the story of Jesus. It is, therefore, the event of our having Jesus’ story as our story.

In the context of this proclamation, worship is the effective hearing of the proclamation, by which I am given love-out-of-death as my chosen future. As such it is the being done to me of what Jesus suffered himself and did to his followers. It is when Jesus’ story is enacted as not only past but also future that the enactment and not merely the enacting is a present event in our lives—and it is the word of proclamation that the past can be future.

A Religion Against Itself

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

Call it a nerd’s dream-come-true. A few months before I attended their three week summer seminar called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching,” Calvin College mailed me a rather large box filled with all manner of books — novels, poetry, short stories, journalism, biography, and children’s literature. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was bunking next to Gilead, which was sleeping atop a Robert Frost anthology of poems. I did my best to read as many of the books as I could before my family and I trekked to Grand Rapids for a sabbatical. My fellow seminar participants and I then spent…

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Another Week Ends: Dylan, Cash and O'Connor, Gospel Guitar, Cathartic Indignation, Black Mirrors, and Impossible Fun Runs

Another Week Ends: Dylan, Cash and O’Connor, Gospel Guitar, Cathartic Indignation, Black Mirrors, and Impossible Fun Runs

1. Awesome, awesome story about a funky gospel music guitarist in the Atlanta area named Don Schanche, who also happens to be white. The Bitter Southerner published Don’s story, which gives a beautiful picture of racial reconciliation happening not on some abstract or systemic level, but interpersonally, on-the-ground, as a fruit of the gospel. The message which reconciled Don to his own faith is the same message of welcome and acceptance that he received from those within these little, nowhere churches where he played.

I learned how to find the key when a singer jumps into a song without warning, how…

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Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel: A Brief Guide

This handy guide comes from the first appendix to our newest book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), coauthored by Will McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl. Hope you enjoy:

The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom
–Martin Luther

Mbird LAW AND GOSPEL Cover options4A strong belief of Luther, and those who follow in his footsteps, is that people should not be enticed to church by the Gospel and then, after believing, turn toward self-improvement. The Law always kills, and the Spirit always gives life. This death and resurrection of the believer is not a one-time event, but must be repeated continually: It is the shape of the Christian life. On Sundays, therefore, some form of the Law is ideally preached to kill, and the Gospel to vivify—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). But in many situations, the Law is mistakenly preached to give life, on the assumption that the believer, unlike the new Christian, has the moral strength to follow the guidelines. This leads to burnout, often producing agnostics or converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Words like ‘accountability’ or ‘intentionality,’ for example, are sure signs that the letter, rather than the Spirit, is being looked to for life. To help distinguish this form of misguided Law from the Gospel, here’s a handy guide:

1. Listen for a distortion of the commandment: Anytime a hard commandment is softened, such as “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48) to “just do your best,” we’re looking to the Law, not the Gospel, for life.

2. Discern the balance of agency: If you’re in charge of making it happen, it’s misguided Law. If God’s in charge, it’s Gospel. If it’s a mixture, it’s Law.

3. Look for honesty: If you or others either seem ‘A-okay’ or ‘struggling, but…,’ then likely it’s because the Old Adam is alive and well (there will also be a horrible scandal in the next three months). If people are open and honest about their problems, such freedom shows the Gospel is at work.

4. Watch for exhaustion: If the yoke is hard and the burden heavy week after week, then the letter’s probably overpowering the Spirit.

5. Examine the language: If you hear ‘If… then,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice…,’ ‘We should all…,’ or anything else that smacks of the imperative voice, it’s implicit works-salvation. If you hear the indicative voice—‘God is…,’ ‘We are…,’ or ‘God will…’—then it’s probably Gospel.

6. Watch for the view of human nature, or anthropology: If human willpower, strength, or effort are being lauded or appealed to, it’s Law. High anthropology means low Christology, and vice-versa.

7. Finally, keep an eye out for the ‘Galatians effect,’ summarized by St. Paul:

Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5)

If how you’re approaching or being told to approach Christianity now feels different from “believing what you heard,” we’re in Galatians territory. Christianity is Good News, and it never ceases to be Good News.

Grab your copy of L&G today!

Moral Children and the Parents Who Praise Them

Moral Children and the Parents Who Praise Them

The New Yorker may have published the definitive word on parenting think-pieces a few weeks ago, but apparently the memo didn’t make it across town to The Times. Which is fortunate, since there’s quite a bit to be gleaned from Adam Grant’s recent “Raising a Moral Child”. If most parenting articles tend to focus on things like anxiety and self-image and work ethic, Grant gives us a helpful survey of current social science on how/where kids develop conscience and compassion and kindness. He begins by telling us that “when people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles…

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Telling Truth from the Underside

Telling Truth from the Underside

Despite a few recent Mbird nods, as of three weeks ago I had no idea who Nadia Bolz-Weber was. But she has come up in conversation, in text messages, and in my Facebook feed about a dozen times since then. So I decided to pay attention and buy her new book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Because I’m always on the lookout for how the humorous dimension links up with the theological, I was pleasantly surprised to read that Bolz-Weber is a former comedian with some thoughts on how standup comedy is an attempt at telling the…

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"I Too Am Irritated": Some Insights from Jerry Seinfeld and His New Show

“I Too Am Irritated”: Some Insights from Jerry Seinfeld and His New Show

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Jerry Seinfeld wrote an insightful piece on his new award-winning online talk show—Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. If you’re not familiar with the show, I’m not too surprised. As Seinfeld says in EW, “Our initial philosophy was to counter-promote [the show] when it came out. We didn’t even tell anybody about the first 10 [episodes].” Comedians premiered its first season on Crackle last summer, and its second season started a couple of weeks ago. Basically, in each episode (about 10-minutes long), Seinfeld hangs out with a fellow comedian or two in some interesting or vintage car,…

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It's Funny 'Cause It's True: Tig Notaro Has Breast Cancer

It’s Funny ‘Cause It’s True: Tig Notaro Has Breast Cancer

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we can learn from stand-up comedians. I recently came across an amazing, tragic, deeply personal, and therefore hilarious stand-up set by Tig Notaro, which aired on This American Life last October (you really should listen to it here). I am approaching this from my perspective as a preacher and teacher, but I believe anyone trying to get a message across, especially in some public forum, could learn so much from stand-up. For example, read what I wrote on comedian Jim Gaffigan’s work here. I will focus on Notaro and her set that was featured on…

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Previously on Parenthood: Max Braverman Breaks the Fourth Wall

Previously on Parenthood: Max Braverman Breaks the Fourth Wall

The past few weeks I have been highlighting some theological insights to be gained from Parenthood, which is now in its fourth season. As I said in the post on Kristina and the other on Julia, there has been much suffering in the Braverman clan lately, but today I wish to highlight a reason for rejoicing in the life of Max Braverman, Kristina and Adam’s teenage son with Asperger Syndrome who is played by Max Burkholder. I also wish to connect this line of thinking on Parenthood with some other discussions I have had recently as well on communication such as…

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The Mighty Church of TED?

The Mighty Church of TED?

We’ve spoken more than once on here about Alain de Botton, the Swiss thinker who’s been pushing the not entirely unsympathetic idea that there’s a thing or two worth salvaging from religion in a world that’s largely “moved on.” As far as books of its kind go, De Botton’s Religion for Atheists is less of a mixed proposition than most, going far beyond the baby-and-bathwater attitude that characterizes much of the intellectual establishment’s view of Christianity these days (esp in an election year…). De Botton, however, is probably most well-known for the talk he gave at the TEDglobal conference last…

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Gardner Taylor: Preaching to the Alienated Ones

Gardner Taylor: Preaching to the Alienated Ones

When I’m 94, I hope I’m half as wise and cut-to-the-bone honest as the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor, known as “the dean of American preaching.” In a 2011 interview on “Preaching When Parched,” Dr. Taylor was asked how one can preach and minister during the “arid” times in life. His answer comes across with the bracing honesty we at Mockingbird try to encourage, the gut-level truth-telling which was a focus of our recent too-hot-to-handle-too-cold-to-hold (Vanilla Ice) NYC conference. (He also echoes some of PZ’s past thoughts on Kerouac and the task of preaching). Listen up, preachers:

Q: How do you preach from aridity without betraying…

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