Monthly Archives: August 2010

Helpful Book for Knowing and Overcoming the Enemy’s Strategy

When dealing with an enemy, victory is impossible apart from a knowledge of the enemy’s strategy and a plan that will thwart his approach.  From the first temptation (Genesis 3) and throughout the Scriptures, Satan has employed strategic means to entice people to rebel against God.  We are to be on guard against him and resist him (1 Peter 5:8-9).

To help awaken and encourage people in this effort, Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), English Puritan preacher and author (and a favorite writer of Charles H. Spurgeon), penned a book entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. I am filling in for a pastor over the next three weeks and am preparing to preach from Genesis 3, so I thought this would make some good auxiliary reading.  Watson evidences serious meditation on Scripture even in the preliminary part of the book, as I’ve already been instructed and edified by the table of contents (the Puritans had a way of making title and tables of content quite substantive).

Check out this excerpt:

II. SATAN’S DEVICES TO DRAW THE SOUL TO SIN
[12 devices and their remedies]

1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook: For remedies, consider that
1) we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait
2) sin is but a bitter sweet
3) sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses
4) sin is very deceitful and bewitching

2. By painting sin with virtue’s colors:
For remedies, consider that
1) sin is never the less vile by being so painted
2) the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is
3) we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it
4) sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus

As Watson points out, if we will think about sin as God does, see its true nature, and consider that it is the reason the Savior had to suffer, bleed, and die, it will help tremendously in our fight to keep from being deceived by the enemy.

Click here to see the entire table of contents

Click here to order the book from WTS Bookstore (only $6.30 as of this post)

Click here to view/download the first American edition of the book from Google Books (free)

Resources to Diagram a Passage by Arcing/Tracing

Arcing and tracing are great ways to analyze the flow of an argument in a passage, especially discourse (such as the epistles; it is more difficult to use for narratives).

Note: Arcing and Tracing have the same goal. Arcing uses curves (arcs) whereas tracing uses brackets (usually easier to read). One can easily translate an arc diagram into a traced one or vice versa, depending on one’s preferences. Arcing in the Piper booklet below is presented as on a horizontal plane, utilizing only verse/proposition numbers without the text. The method on the BibleArc website uses text and arcs it vertically. Tracing uses the text with brackets instead of curves. Now that I’ve confused you, be sure to check out the resources below for clarification.

• www.BibleArc.com has to be one of the most innovative and helpful websites I’ve seen. It allows you to arc a passage of Scripture, save as a .pdf, and share with others. It has all the tools for dividing the verses into propositions and labeling them with their relationships to each other. It even allows you to save your own arcs on the web at the site to go back and edit or download again. (HT: Matthew Wireman)

• For more on “arcing,” see John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Ministries, 1999), 48pp. booklet with chart. Order fromwww.desiringGod.org at <http://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Booklets/ByTopic/54/85_Biblical_Exegesis/> or download for free at <http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/booklets/BTBX.pdf> (booklet only; chart not included in online version).

Here’s a video of Piper talking about arcing:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYcsXanMlvM&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

• For more on “arcing” and “tracing,” see Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 77-126. These two chapters are available online for free from links at his faculty webpage <http://www.sbts.edu/theology/faculty/thomas-schreiner/>:

“Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis,” in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 77-96. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/book_IPE_chapter5.pdf>

Tracing the Argument,” in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 97-126. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/book_IPE_chapter6.pdf>

Here are some additional tips to make use of these methods.

1. Pray. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see Him in His Word (cf. Ps. 119:18).

2. Choose a literal translation for this step of study (it does not have to be the same translation you preach from). The New American Standard is probably the best choice for its accurate rendering of prepositions. (Other options: ESV, NKJV)

3. Choose a passage. Try to find a unit in the length of a paragraph. Start with shorter units while learning tracing.

4. Divide the verses into propositions (a proposition is an assertion or statement about something and can even be a sentence fragment).

5. Read the passage and highlight key words that will serve as indicators of the relationships between propositions.

6. Find the relationships within each verse itself first. Then find relationships with neighboring verses. Then begin to link to other verses/relationships in the text.

7. Use your findings to structure the passage (outline it).

8. Summarize the argument of the passage and identify the exegetical idea/main point.

9. Now you are ready to do further study (observing repeated/contrasted words and concepts, looking up meanings of individual words, noting the verbs, relating the passage to the rest of the book and the whole Bible, finding application, etc.).

Is a Good Grasp of Grammar Essential to Bible Study?

“An evangelical believes that God humbled himself not only in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the inspiration of the Scriptures.  The manger and the cross were not sensational.  Neither are grammar and syntax.  But that is how God chose to reveal himself. A poor Jewish peasant and a prepositional phrase have this in common, they are both human and both ordinary.  That the poor peasant was God and the prepositional phrase is the Word of God does not change this fact.  Therefore, if God humbled himself to take on human flesh and to speak human language, woe to us if we arrogantly presume to ignore the humanity of Christ and the grammar of Scripture.”

John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts, page 11 (emphasis added) (booklet available for free download by clicking here)

Philippians 1:1, Part 2

Click here to read part 1 (“Paul and Timothy”)

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1, KJV)

“The servants of Jesus Christ”

In Philippians 1:1, Paul identifies himself and Timothy not only with the names they were called by, but with the position of servant, or slave.  Paul also identifies himself as a slave in his epistle to the Romans and to Titus.  In both these instances, he also identifies himself as an apostle.  In several of his epistles, he only identifies himself as an apostle (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy).  He simply refers to himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ in the epistle to Philemon, and uses no titles or designations in the letters to the church at Thessalonica.  Only in the epistle to the Philippians does he identify himself as a slave with no other designation.  As a reading of the text will show, one’s devotion, obedience, and service to Christ are major themes in this epistle.  And Paul sets that tone from the beginning by defining himself as a slave.

The word translated “servant” in the KJV originally conveyed the idea of a slave who belonged to a master.  A slave had no rights of his own and was completely subject to his master’s authority and will, and responsible to obey whatever was asked of him.  It is interesting to note Paul’s first encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The first two responses he made to Christ acknowledged Him as “Lord,” asking “what wilt thou have me to do?” with the second response (Acts 9:5, 6).  From the very beginning of his Christian life, Paul knew that he was a slave and that Jesus was Master.  And he went on to serve just as Christ fortold in Acts 9:15-16, bearing His name before the Gentiles and suffering for His sake, just as the Philippians witnessed in Acts 16.

Notice too, that Paul and Timothy are not merely servants but “servants of Jesus Christ.”  First and foremost, they answer to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, God’s chosen Savior and King.  While they certainly served others, they were doing so as an extension of their service to the king.  They were not out to win popularity contests, but to please their Master as they obeyed him and cared for the souls of others.

How would our lives change if we defined ourselves as slaves of Christ, truly viewing ourselves as such?  Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), and if He is Lord (Master), we must be subject to His authority and will.

The next post in this series will focus on the recipients of this epistle, the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.

Intensive Homiletics Class Starting September in Kingsport

The Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply plans to offer a weekly intensive homiletics (preaching) class in Kingsport, Tennessee, starting Saturday, September 18 and going through the end of October. Generally speaking, each week would include 2 teaching sessions and at least 1 student preaching (and receiving feedback and a DVD of the message).

If you are interested, please contact us using the form below.  As we are in contact with those interested in the class, we will announce the meeting time and more specifics by the end of this month.

[contact-form to=”dougsmith@capsministry.com” show_subject=”yes” subject=”2010 Kingsport Homiletics Class”]

Book Review – The Expository Genius of John Calvin

The Expository Genius of John Calvin. By Steven J. Lawson.  (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2007), 142pp.

Steve Lawson is pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.  Known for the “Expositors’ Conferences” he holds, this man has a goal. He aims “to raise the bar for a new generation of expositors” (xiii). Lawson quotes with approval T. H. L. Parker: “Expository preaching consists in the explanation and application of a passage of Scripture. Without explanation it is not exposition; without application it is not preaching” (p. 79). This book gives us a look at the expository preaching of John Calvin as a model and gold standard for ministry. Calvin was committed to systematic exposition of the Bible, preaching each verse in the text he covered. This book is significant because people need to hear the Word of God taught and applied, not another self-help message or a man’s ideas artificially buttressed by proof-texts. Lawson wants to see a new reformation, and believes that a renewed commitment to biblical preaching is essential for it to happen.

DESCRIPTION

Lawson’s book is simple. This book is almost pocketsize and is an easy read. Eight chapters and 132 pages of prose distill Calvin’s philosophy and practice of preaching, delineating thirty-two distinct characteristics. Two appendices give examples of the textual units Calvin covered and the flow of one of his sermons. After providing the biographical and historical context of Calvin, Lawson proceeds to consider the elements of his preaching. Calvin’s presuppositions, personal devotion to Christ, and homiletical methods are surveyed.

One comes away from this book with a well-developed portrait of Calvin the preacher. Here was a man committed to the absolute supremacy of God’s Word, for himself and his congregation, knowing that “when the Bible speaks, God speaks” (p. 27). Here was a man committed “to behold the majesty of God” in the Word (p. 40) as he sought food for his own soul. Here was a man committed to discovering through diligent study the intended meaning of the text and declaring what it said and required of its hearers. He “made disciplined study a way of life, remaining in his study until the meaning was clear” (p. 41). Here was a man who approached the text with a literal (not literalistic) hermeneutic, rejecting fanciful allegorization. He said, “The true meaning . . . is the natural and obvious meaning” (p. 71). Here was a man who preached through entire books of the Bible, verse-by-verse, not skipping over controversial, difficult, or unpopular material. He viewed the role of the preacher as that of “a dispatched messenger with the divine message” (p. 26), seeing not the preacher, but God’s Word as the final authority. Here was a man committed to prayer and a living orthodoxy, since the “light of truth must yield the warmth of devotion to God” (p. 44). Here was a man committed to a rigorous schedule, often preaching ten times in a two-week period!Although plagued by opposition from enemies and health problems, he preached as often as he could. Even when an invalid, he arrived at church, carried in on a stretcher to preach (p. 48)! While Calvin did take time to visit the sick and give counsel, he saw the pulpit ministry as that which took priority. Here was a man so committed to declaring God’s truth authentically that he left behind manuscripts and notes to speak simply from an open Bible. But this was no off-the-cuff discourse; rather “an entire lifetime of learning stood behind each message” (p. 58). Here was a man who spoke plainly to people in words they could understand, while retaining biblical terminology and avoiding the watering down of truth. Here was a man who did not waste time with trivialities outside the text, but tried to orient his hearers to the text as soon as possible, using his introductions “like a freeway entrance ramp” (p. 54).Here was a man who reasoned persuasively and used vivid imagery to drive home the point. Here was a man who relentlessly pressed upon himself and his hearers the demands of God on their lives.

EVALUATION

Lawson’s book is well researched, well organized, simple, and to the point. He does an excellent job portraying a model of expository preaching. His concise quotations of primary and secondary sources and succinct summaries of the elements of Calvin’s preaching make for a quick read (I read it in one evening; my wife read it over several days, taking a chapter a night), but provide enough depth for further meditation and review.

If the book had any weakness, it might be that it held up Calvin’s example in such a positive light that caveats against a slavish imitation of his habits were lacking. For example, although Calvin, to communicate more simply, used neither manuscript nor notes, it does not follow that contemporary preaching must avoid written aids to be biblical. However, some who read this book might be tempted to avoid the use of aids although their giftedness and personality may be much different from Calvin’s. Lawson points out that Calvin did not use homiletical headings (clearly articulated “points” of a sermon), but this structure may not be something that should necessarily be abandoned, so long as it does not get in the way of communicating the message of the text and is a help to the preacher and hearers in organizing and summarizing biblical truth. Likewise, although Calvin ushered hearers into the text soon with minimal or no extra-biblical material, contemporary audiences may need a bit longer ramp into the text, particularly if they are accustomed to hearing four to eight sermons a month (instead of twenty) at the most.However, the points are well taken that preachers should communicate simply and get people into the text soon, and Lawson does suggest that styles may vary among expositors, so long as they are faithful in discovering and communicating the message of the Bible (p. 84).

Pastors and aspiring pastors ought to read this book. It provides an excellent model for pulpit ministry, giving correction to those who need it and encouragement to those who are faithfully laboring in the Word. The Expository Genius of John Calvin would be a great book to use in mentoring another man in the ministry, as the chapters are ripe with potential for helpful discussion.

Although pastors are the most likely audience for this book, church members would benefit from it as well. Although this book is about Calvin, those who are not from his particular theological tradition will also profit from it, so long as they agree that the urgent need of people is biblical preaching. It is a good book for those looking for a church home or churches looking for a pastor, as it provides an excellent gauge for the type of preaching that most glorifies God and best meets the spiritual need of people.

This book ought to make those of us who have faithful preachers more thankful. It ought to encourage congregations to set men aside full-time to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer as soon as they can, if they are not already doing so. It should cause us to pray for fruitful study in the pastor’s life that results in fresh application of the truth to the heart of himself and his congregation. And we ought to pray for men training for ministry and those training them. Let us cry out to God, that He would continue to send forth laborers to proclaim His Word with honesty, clarity, and urgency.

CONCLUSION

Steve Lawson has given us a wonderful treasury of wisdom and a model of excellence and faithfulness in this book.I was convicted, encouraged, and had my appetite whetted for more. (He plans further books in this series, including Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon). There is nothing Christians need more than to understand and obey God’s Word, and nothing preachers need to be more devoted to than understanding, obeying, and declaring the whole counsel of God through systematic expository preaching.

Lawson’s goal is worthy, and this book certainly does “raise the bar” by holding forth Calvin as a model. But the standard required is no less than what God expects of his ministers: “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). May He raise up men devoted to this task and congregations that will encourage and grow from it, to the praise of His glory.

Reviewed by Doug Smith