Monday, June 29, 2009


My journalist son Simon says he enjoys deadlines because they let you know exactly what you are up against! Well, I have just completed two writing projects before deadline (and I didn't enjoy the pressure!) My article on "Preaching in the Baptist Tradition" has gone to The Preacher - a journal of The College of Preachers in the UK. At the end of my article I asked readers to post comments on my when the article is eventually published maybe there will be some fresh views. Perhaps not.

My major 7000 word project "Exploring the Architecture of Community Formation" has also been sent off to the Evangelical Homiletics Society for their Annual Fall Meeting in Fort Worth, Texas. It will go online early August. I originally intended blogging much more about this as I was writing, but time raced by. Again, I am hoping that once it is online there will be healthy feedback.

And now, I face prosaic deadlines of preparing for travel commitments ahead. I know what my son means about know exactly what you are up against. But there's plenty of pressure. Many of you will know exactly what I mean.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Which church do you belong to?

At the end of one of yesterday's services one man came up to me. He told me that he is often asked by people what church he belongs to. "Oh, they expect me to say, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist...something like that. But I always tell them: I belong to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). That really changes the emphasis! I belong with the saints in heaven." His face lit up as he pointed out the verse in his Bible.

That is a pretty good reply isn't it, when people want labels!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pain in the head

I was preaching this morning (among other things) on Matthew 16:16 when Simon Peter answers Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." I mentioned that I was at a supper party this week when a Christian leader lamented how often Christians seem to describe Jesus beginning with their feelings:"I feel close to Jesus" or "I don't feel close to Jesus" etc. with touchy-feely language. When Peter gives his inspired answer (and it really is inspired) he begins with who Jesus is and dares to make a doctrinal statement. Believing that there is one God, he claims Jesus is His Son. One God, yet both Father and Son, (and Holy Spirit). Now Peter is at beginnings of bewildering possibilities we call The Trinity!
I recalled what Studdert Kennedy is supposed to have said: Christianity brings peace to the heart and pain in the mind." What we declare about Jesus Christ is always going to take us deeper. As someone else commented: If God were small enough to be understood, he would not be big enough to be worshiped." Of course touchy-feely is OK, but how important it is to say deeper truths, doctrinal truths about who Jesus is. That really sets him uniquely apart.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Baptist Preaching (6)

This posting identifies four more characteristics of preaching in the Baptist tradition:

4) Preaching has social impact. This emphasis is a major part within the black Baptist tradition, but also emerges elsewhere (as seen in Rick Warren’s ministry). However, in general, white Baptist preaching has tended to stress evangelism rather than social action.[i]

5) Preaching is community forming. All the above characteristics belong within Baptist convictions about the local church – communities comprising those who have been baptized or who are on the way to baptism. Preaching has a pivotal role in creating this community. Indeed, “preaching and community are reciprocal realities.” [ii] Baptist churches will vary in how they practice the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:9). Some will exercise non-authoritarian congregational polity, while others have developed more hierarchical structures. But, at its best, Baptist preaching builds relationships as the body of Christ and, especially in contexts like the black church, may have huge impact on surrounding community. And recently, Baptist leaders have challenged congregations to express how “depth in worship comes more readily when we determine to be thoroughly Trinitarian in our approach to preaching.”[iii]

6) Preaching reveals spiritual qualities. Spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study remain important for Baptist preachers, and help explain an emphasis on ethos as a vital component to leadership. While a quality such as “warmth” sounds vague, it can often be applied to Baptist preachers because their role and relationships within community need devotional transparency.

7) Preaching involves pragmatics. While this word can be used negatively, Baptist preaching is always concerned about outcomes, of making church “work” better to Christ’s glory. Whether using the latest technical opportunities for evangelism, or seeking new forms of attracting people to worship services, Baptist preaching often operates on an entrepreneurial edge. Of course, great dangers lurk of accommodating to society’s consumerism and individualism, but intentional preaching that “makes a difference” often marks Baptist preaching.

To each of these statements there are many exceptions and, as hinted, there are many potential negatives. However, together they represent something of preaching in the Baptist tradition. I know others will have different views and perhaps they will share agreements and disagreements!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Giving thanks for difficult people

I was intrigued today to read a comment about how God can use all kinds of people to mature my character. The Jews of Jeremiah's day were told "Serve the king of Baylon, and you will live"( Jer. 27:17). Instead of their own (good) king Hezekiah curing the people of idolatry, the people were placed under pagan king Nebuchadnezzar to be taught a lesson! And W. Glyn Evans comments:

The lesson for me is, my touchy neighbor may do me more good than my godly pastor. My atheistic foreman at the factory may purge me from my impatience faster and better than my Bible class teacher.......that means I must change my attitude toward the "unspiritual" and "worldly minded" people who make up my environment. Without them I can never become what God intends for me to be. So I am going to start praising God for them!

Easier said than done - but quite a challenge!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Baptist Preaching (5)

You will see from comments to my last posting how controversial defining "true Baptists" may be! But I must hasten on from these sketches, and ask whether certain characteristics emerge that speak of preaching in the Baptist tradition? Recognizing that many of these are distinctive of other Protestant groups, perhaps their combination reveals something that is distinctly Baptist? Let me list seven, beginning with these three:

1) Scripture is authoritative. Baptist preaching has a high view of Scripture’s authority. Throughout its history, including “seeker sensitive” preaching, the Scripture text remains foundational for Baptists. Early Baptist emphases on learning and theology remain important in the many Baptist seminaries, with homiletical concern for solid exegesis and faithful application.

2) Preaching is dominant within worship services and leadership. The dominance of the Baptist pulpit has its roots in New Testament understanding of the church as gathered believers under the word. Often, the prime place given to preaching relegates the rest of the liturgy – singing, prayer, the Lord’s Supper and even baptism – to a less prominent place. A person’s preaching call and gift is also the main consideration when appointing a minister. “Preaching with a view” remains the normal approach to settling a Baptist pastorate –gifting in the pulpit is seen as essential.

3) Preaching is often evangelistic. Preaching for faith-response remains a powerful Baptist emphasis, though other forms of evangelism are also encouraged. Because the church comprises believers, their initial faith response is all-important for the local church’s very existence. For some Baptists this is a weekly emphasis.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Baptist Preaching (4)

As Baptists have grown and diversified it makes defining common characteristics more difficult. Perhaps, three well-known Baptists in current memory will help to demonstrate something of this preaching diversity, yet point to some continuing characteristics of Baptist preaching. Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rick Warren each represent important aspects of Baptist life and witness.

Undeniably, Billy Graham represents “evangelistic preaching” in remarkable ways. In his History of Preaching O.C. Edwards repeats the claim that “Billy Graham has probably preached to more people than any spokesman for the faith in all Christian history” – around twenty million people of whom one million have made “decisions for Christ.”[i] Graham’s emphasis on preaching personal salvation, literally holding up the Bible to demonstrate its authority, has challenged with clarity and passion. Further, his willingness to use developing technology testifies to resourceful pragmatism that sought to take advantage of every evangelistic means. Edward concludes that the most important reason explaining the power of his attraction lies in Graham’s trust in the authority of the Bible: “he has transparent conviction of his message’s utter truth. His most persuasive argument is ethos, the trustworthiness of the speaker, rather than the logos, reason, or pathos, the capacity to stir emotion.”[ii]

Graham’s evangelistic emphasis is particularly evident in the Southern Baptist denomination which forms the largest part of the Baptist world family (and has impacted many others through its missionary programmes). A survey of Southern Baptist preaching identified fifty preachers "with content as varied as the preachers themselves"[iii] but commonly, whatever the biblical message, an appeal to “walk the aisle” concludes the act of preaching. Evangelistic intentionality remains strong. However, Southern Baptists have also developed a broader homiletic tradition, bringing together informed interpretation of Scripture with concern for sermon structure, particularly through the influence of John Broadus (1827-1895) whose textbook on preaching became standard through the early part of the twentieth century. Interestingly, Broadus was not only concerned with content but with the role of imagination. When asked to sum up the key qualities of preaching he said: “Sympathy, sympathy, and sympathy” – a typical Baptist insight.

In contrast, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed a dimension of preaching with strong political emphasis that also greatly impacted society. Educated in a white, more liberal intellectual tradition (with influential white preachers!), he also studied examples of great African American preachers like Gardner Taylor (another Baptist). In his call to lead the civil rights movement, “his principle was to combine militancy with nonviolence, and his method was to use oratory that combined intellectual content with the power of classical African American preaching.”[iv] His expressive voice and tone deployed rhetorical devices such as repetition and assonance, achieving rhythm and musicality to his powerful preaching within the call-and-response interactions of black congregations. He demonstrated classic homiletic of the African American church by preaching in churches, masse meetings and other public gatherings that brought black preaching to the attention of the world.

His impact on black preaching, and especially black Baptist preaching continues to be hugely significant today, emphasizing God’s provision for his people, with prophetic challenge to systemic issues and holistic engagement with community. Because the majority perspective on preaching practice has been dominated by white males, only recently has the rich history of black preaching and its inextricable connection with culture been published. So, for example, paralleling C.H. Spurgeon (1836-1897), we now learn of Charles T. Walker who was called “the black Spurgeon,” born into slavery yet a prominent New York preacher.[v]

Rick Warren is probably the best known Baptist preacher today, through his ministry in Saddleback Church, California, and books such as “The Purpose Driven Church.” Regarded as a new breed of Baptist leader, savvy about communicating to a changing culture, his preaching is aimed at the “unchurched.” Aware of high levels of biblical illiteracy, his preaching begins with “needs” in the congregation and then connects with teaching in Scripture. Together with other mega church leaders, his “seeker sensitive” preaching has been widely influential though not without critics. However, Warren has also been heavily engaged with the gospel’s social repercussions, involving many in programmes to relieve poverty and disease. With intentionality and practical skills he represents preaching that builds local communities in order to serve others.

[i] O.C. Edwards, 775.
[ii] Ibid, 778.
[iii] R Earl Allen and Joel Gregory, Southern Baptist Preaching Today Nashville: Broadman, 1987, 3.
[iv] Edwards,
[v] Ibid, 532-535.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Miracle Mountain

Today I finished teaching a Doctor of Ministry intensive week (which is well-named!) Doctoral students (all pastors) travel in for a week-long seminar, working each day and some evenings. This week's course has been on "Leadership Through Preaching." It's been a great time of mutual learning and koinonia, including a dinner for students and families at our home last night, and a concluding communion service today.

Perhaps the biggest thrill was listening to these pastors preach and relate to their own contexts. Some are from white churches, others from African American churches, and one from Ethiopia. What differences!

The Ethiopian pastor shared about a mountain in one part of Ethiopia that was regarded as so sacred that, with its rocks and trees, it was itself worshiped by the people. Powerful witchdoctors ruled over its rituals. The Christians prayed and witnessed to their faith but this pagan mountain loomed even larger. Then, through their witness, one of the chief witchdoctors met Christ and was utterly transformed by radical new faith. Amazingly, he led the way, turning the mountain into a place for worshiping the Christian God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every year over 100,000 people gather for a special prayer and praise day, and every day of the year there are always Christians praying 24/7.

He told us many other stories too from his own experience of amazing God breakthroughs. They really woke us up to the reality of God at work in the world church. And challenged our western (often white) world view that seems to have almost given up expecting God to interrupt with radical transformation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baptist Preaching (3)

In the ferment of early persecution some outstanding and courageous preachers emerged. But, more generally, it was the role of preaching in developing Baptist congregations that ensured its subsequent importance within the Baptist tradition. Because Baptists understand the church to be gathered believers under the word of God, preaching is essential for two reasons. First, individuals need to come to faith by hearing the gospel preached to them (Rom 10:14-15); second, church community is formed by believers responding to the preached word together. Take away preaching and a Baptist people cannot be gathered into church!

So, from the beginnings the pulpit was central, both literally in Baptist architecture, but also metaphorically in its prime place within gathered worship. Further, because Baptist churches are necessarily local - formed from the "bottom up" - gathered believers with different racial, social, political and economic characteristics represent great diversity in emphasis and style, and their preachers with them. Because the pulpit is central, much therefore depends on preachers' own qualities of learning and piety, (or their absence), that can have large influence on gathered communities - for better or worse!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Baptist Preaching (2)

Before jumping out of the seventeenth century I should mention another Baptist preacher who was far less formally educated, yet was so grounded in Scriptural piety that he impacted England (and far beyond). John Bunyan (1628-1688) is better known for his writing of Pilgrim’s Progress but was a widely influential preacher , imprisoned for twelve years because of Baptist convictions. Inspirational and forceful, he famously declared: “I have not fished in other men’s waters; my Bible and concordance are my only library.”[ii] So, to other qualities, strong Biblical authority must be added. Of course, it should be noted, that this was true of most other Protestant preaching in the wake of the Reformation. Further, early Baptists contained both Arminian and Calvinistic theology among different groupings.

In its rapid expansion since these beginnings, Baptist life and witness now exhibits rich (and confusing?) diversity, especially in North America. Do some of the early characteristics, born out of persecution, still remain? Have other characteristics emerged? One certainty is that the authority of Scripture is held high by most Baptist preachers, but what else?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Baptist Preaching (1)

To my shock, (in the midst of much grading and intensive doctoral teaching), I realize I face an approaching deadline for an article on "Preaching in the Baptist tradition," for the British journal called: The Preacher. Sorry, but this means taking a brief detour from other blog themes. Please excuse me all non-Baptist readers.

Initially, I wonder whether there is such a thing as a Baptist tradition - can't almost anything and everything can be found in Baptist pulpits? Actually this year celebrates 400 years since the first Baptists in Holland and England. It's interesting to pause and look at their beginnings. The first Baptists were people of conviction. They needed to be, for they were challenging the state church and majority assumption about the nature of the church! Convinced that the Bible reveals God’s supreme authority, they believed it teaches that the church comprises communities of believers gathered together in each locality. Founded on believers’ faith and formed by covenant fellowship, the first Baptists claimed believers’ baptism as the way into the church. Though nicknamed “baptists” it was ecclesiology (church doctrine) that primarily distinguished them.

In this context, the first Baptist theologians were preachers, (and vice versa), who led by their preaching – “theologically radical, politically dangerous, ecclesiastically Nonconformist, they preached sermons that spoke so clearly to their age that they often found themselves in prison.”[i] Thomas McKibbens’ history of Baptist preaching emphasizes the intellectual rigour of these first preachers, many of them Cambridge University graduates (like John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, and Henry Jessey), whose passion in declaring personal salvation was matched by commitment to serious biblical and theological study. He identifies two distinctive marks: “learning and piety.” Serious biblical study and theological reflection, especially concerning the church as gathered believers, was combined with evident personal spirituality and evangelistic zeal.

To learning and piety I would add evangelism and courage. That's not a bad place to start, is it?

[i] Thomas R. McKibbens, The Forgotten Heritage, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1986, 4