Harden Not Your Hearts

 

Sunday, September 10, 2017.

Sources:

Walter Brueggemann. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit (Second Edition). Eugene: Cascade, 2007.

Peter C. Craigie. Psalms 1-50 (WBC). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, & Beth LaNeel Tanner. The Book of Psalms (NICOT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.

Paul Ellingworth. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NIGTC). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

John Goldingay. Psalms Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (BCOTWP). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Luke Timothy Johnson. Hebrews: A Commentary (NTL). Louisville: WJK, 2006.

Derek Kidner. Psalms 73-150: A Commentary (TOTC). Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1975.

Craig R. Koester. Hebrews (AYB). New Haven: Yale, 2001.

Posted in church, discipleship, liturgy, Old Testament, prayer, Psalms, Sermon Podcast, theology, worship | Leave a comment

Reading the Psalms Well

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017. “Reading the Psalms Well”

The video played at the end of this sermon:

Sources:

Leslie C. Allen. Psalms 101-150 (WBC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Walter Brueggemann. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit (Second Edition). Eugene: Cascade, 2007.

Peter C. Craigie. Psalms 1-50 (WBC). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

John Goldingay. Psalms Volume 1: Psalms 1-41 (BCOTWP). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

— Psalms Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (BCOTWP). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Derek Kidner. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC). Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1973.

— Psalms 73-150: A Commentary (TOTC). Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1975.

W.D. Tucker Jr. “Psalms 1: Book of”. Dictionary of the Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings. Tremper Longman III & Peter Enns (eds). Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.

Posted in Judaism, liturgy, music, Old Testament, prayer, Psalms, Sermon Podcast, theology, worship | Leave a comment

Book Review: Of Seeds and the People of God

Michael P. Knowles. Of Seeds and the People of God: Preaching as Parable, Crucifixion, and Testimony. Eugene: Cascade, 2015.*

Michael Knowles, a professor of mine at McMaster Divinity College, previously wrote a masterful book on Paul’s theology of preaching (We Preach Not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation. Brazos, 2008). This more recent book builds from that book, looking at Paul again, but spending more time on Jesus parables, the Gospel according to John, and homiletic theory (focusing on Augustine, Barth, Brueggemann, and Ricoeur) to expand the thesis which is foundational in Knowles’ teaching of homiletics and missional theology- that both the content and the form of preaching must be formed in a cruciform way, that is, anchored in the self-emptying love of Christ demonstrated in the incarnation and death of Christ, which provides the hope of sharing in his resurrection. The message of the Gospel which is preached must also be embodied in the life of the preacher, and the act of preaching, or as Knowles repeatedly reminded us “preaching is predicated on spirituality”. What this means for the preacher, is that preaching must an act of self-emptying, of setting aside self to elevate Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to bear fruit through our obedient acts. In a world of celebrity preachers, and the never-ending temptation to preach in such a way as to impress the audience and build a reputation as skilled orator, this approach to preaching is sorely needed. Throughout this book, Dr. Knowles skillfully hammers home this point, and over and over again calls preachers to take up their crosses and imitate Christ in their ministry of proclamation.

Knowles begins with the parables, suggesting that one pervasive theme in many parables of Christ is surprising (even at times absurd) results, which are beyond the control of the participants- the gracious Divine provision of abundance. Knowles links this with Paul’s theology of preaching, which declares that in his weakness, in his self-abasement, God produces a harvest; that the success of his ministry has nothing to do with his own skill or strength, but with a surprising divine provision of grace, and the results themselves are evidence of the grace he proclaims. Knowles suggests that the parables point us to a striking conclusion: that the act of preaching is actually meant to serve as a parable for the message it proclaims. We proclaim a Gospel of God’s provision of grace through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, to meet our need, and the act of preaching itself should embody this. In the same way we cannot come to salvation of our own abilities, but require the intervention of God. Fruitful preaching cannot be of our work, but must be an expression or incarnation of God’s grace at work through the preaching of the Gospel.

Knowles then combines this with Jesus’ own statements about his own ministry, especially in the Gospel According to John, that he does nothing of his own accord, but only that which the Father sent him to do, and he does not speak his own words, but those of the Father, and he does not glorify himself, but is glorified by his Father through his own complete obedience and self-abandonment to the will of the Father.

The section on homiletic theory was, for me, the weakest section. It dragged quite a bit, and grappled with technical, abstracted theory, which I sometimes appreciate, but is not where Dr. Knowles is strongest (and I think he’d admit that).

The concluding chapters brings all this together to emphasize that preaching is an act of bearing witness and “Parabolic Testimony”, that is, both in the content of the message (we testify to the Gospel which we’ve heard, and received) and the method of presentation, we testify to what we have encountered and experienced. To preach a message of the grace of God, we must first know the grace of God, and rely on that in our proclaiming of that grace. Preaching is not an act of devising clever and persuasive arguments, but should resemble the testimony eyewitnesses in a courtroom bring. The Apostles announced what they saw and heard- that the promises they had heard announced in Scripture had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit to the Church. Their message, and method of preaching directed attention away from themselves, and towards Christ, and demonstrated that the message was not their own, but empowered by the Spirit. Knowles uses this as a paradigm for modern preachers- that the ultimate fruitfulness of our work comes from the Spirit-empowered preaching of the message of Christ crucified and raised, bearing witness to the grace poured out to the preacher who must be crucified with Christ in each act of preaching.

This book is best read together with We Preach Not Ourselves, but is, I believe an important work which in many ways runs counter to so much of modern homiletic teaching. The theology of cruciformity is well established now, and Knowles application of that to preaching makes a vital connection which has been explored by some more broadly in terms of mission and discipleship, but not to the ministry of preaching specifically. Dr. Knowles has thus effectively filled a void with a book which sums up and reflects his years of work bringing together biblical theology and homiletics. Having been a student of Dr. Knowles, I’m incredibly thankful for his books now, as they build on the foundations he provided, which made (and continue to make) me a better preacher and pastor. I’d strongly recommend this book to all preachers, as it is both meaty (in regards to biblical theology, spiritual theology, and ministry praxis) but also highly encouraging and relevant to our weekly schedule of tasks and expectations. If absorbed and lived out, Dr. Knowles suggestions will make better preachers, and more fruitful local congregations; of that I am quite certain, not because Dr. Knowles is brilliant (though, of course, he is), but because he faithfully bears witness to Christ, and his commitment to forming better preachers has always reflected it. His words carry even greater weight for those of us fortunate enough to know his character and faithfulness; his life and his words align, testifying to the truthfulness of his words.

*Wipf & Stock/Cascade kindly provided a free reviewers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks.

Posted in books, gospel, Jesus, Kingdom of God, leadership, mission, Paul, preaching, theology | Leave a comment

Why I Am (Still) a Baptist

We believe… in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. (The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381 AD)

In my undergrad I took a course on the intellectual history of Europe in the Post French Revolution era. Our major assignment was a biographical paper on an influential thinker from that period which we drew from a hat. I drew John Henry Newman, a key leader of the Oxford Movement. Despite his vocal denunciations of the papacy, he was eventually received into the Roman Catholic Church, even becoming a Cardinal. A key turning point in his journey was a study of the heresies of the early church, and the Creeds of the early church councils. In particular, the the confession of belief in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. Many of us who identify as protestant get squeamish around the word catholic. But of course, the Vatican doesn’t own that word- it simply means universal. The early church believed in just one church in all places and times.

I have had various periods of deep sympathy for Newman’s struggle. How can I, as a baptist- a protestant- confess that I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church? There have been attempts to draw lines from the early baptists back to the apostles, but these are terribly strained, and to claim that the baptists are the universal church is problematic at best (completely absurd at worst). So do I drop the Creed and sever ties to the historical confession of the Church? Well that’s problematic. Do I “swim the Tiber” and become Roman Catholic? Or become Eastern Orthodox (since there claim to Apostolicity is arguably stronger than the Vatican’s)? Do I go for the via media of the Anglican communion which connects their bishops to the historical line back to the Apostles and claims to be a communion which is part of the one catholic church but doesn’t claim to be the sole claimant of the designation one catholic church? Or do I find some way to embrace my Baptist identity with all the tension it requires? The last option is where I’ve landed. It’s awkward, but the alternatives are, for me, just as much so, if not more.

First, I think it’s worth asking is the belief in a single, unified church necessary? The bishops gathered in Constantinople in 381 thought so (and there were important historical factors for the update to the Creed to include this assertion). Jesus prayed for the unity of his people (John 17:20-21), and Paul wrote there is one body, and the unity of that body must be maintained (Ephesians 4:3-6). So this idea of a single church is both biblically, and historically vital, essential even… and yet, here we are, a body deeply divided. Where is this one body? Who is part of it and who is schismatic and false?

These questions began swirling again last year, for the umpteenth time, because of a few interactions with other clergy friends, and really got going when my social media feed was flooded with both pro and con stuff surrounding the T4G conference, the theme of which was “We Are Protestant”; an evangelical conference beginning celebrations of the protestant reformation’s 500th anniversary. And of course, my thoughts were “why is this a cause for boasting and celebration”? Shouldn’t the breaking apart of the already split Body of Christ be cause for lament?

More recently these questions came to a head when I read Steve Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity. Harmon, and other recent baptists have done impeccable work in examining early baptist confessions and their attempts to navigate their connection to the historical church- the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Harmon suggests that early baptists intentionally retained language which reflected/echoed the creeds of the early church, and they were keen to maintain an identity within the apostolic tradition. In the 1700s, a shift began, partly in response to the challenges of the Enlightenment, towards a “no creed but the bible” mentality which became increasingly distinct from the historical trajectory of the church, and from liturgical traditions and historical methods of articulating doctrine and prayer. Harmon and others have called for a baptist recovery of more catholic, historical, liturgical traditions like recitation of the Creeds, reading the Church Fathers as a source of authority (obviously of course not equal to Scripture, but authoritative as a help to interpretation of Scripture and for liturgical tradition), and other parts of the theology and practice of church traditions.

In his concluding chapter, Harmon reflects on the question of why he doesn’t just move over to the Catholic, or perhaps Orthodox or Anglican tradition, all of which embrace these practices and can lay some claim to apostolic tradition? If we profess a belief in a single church, how can we stay in a denomination which is part of a schismatic movement? Is not our communion in opposition to our profession? I’ve been asked the same question myself- and more than one person has said, only half-jokingly, I’d make a better Anglican than I do a Baptist. There is so much I love about the high church traditions of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. For instance, I think their attention to tradition provides them with tools developed over time which evangelicals desperately need; practice of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, confession, liturgy, lectio divina, the church calendar, art, etc. These practices have created a much deeper, fuller, more robust spiritual theology and appreciation of beauty, wonder, mystery. Evangelicals often dismiss these things as “empty ritualism” but I’ve found them to be anything but empty. The evangelical skepticism of these things is disheartening and robbing us of so much potential. The “no creed but the bible” attitude which developed in evangelical thought generally and baptists particularly has removed our connection to the great cloud of witnesses and contains within it a very dangerous element; the idea that I can read the Scriptures apart from the body of Christ without causing damage to the body, my interpretation of the Scriptures (or the interpretation presented by some which I prefer to make my own), and myself. This isn’t to in any way diminish the authority of the Bible (as is often the accusation) but to recognize that Scripture comes into existence in the context of the Church and that the Church was the vehicle of inspiration of the text. To disconnect the Scriptures from the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” and read it in isolation from our history is to misunderstand what the Bible actually is. No creed but the bible is, in reality, naive at best, and destructive and unbiblical at worst.

Of course, I have interpretation and doctrinal differences with the Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox traditions (more below), but there are times when I think they have it right, and my own tradition is wrong. For example, the Eastern Orthodox understanding of soteriology and the meaning of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus developed by the Eastern Fathers is, I believe, more biblical than the model most often espoused by evangelicals (which understands the cross in terms of forensic imputation and/or satisfaction of God’s holiness and wrath, and fits incredibly awkwardly with the Incarnation). I am consistently amazed by the biblical scholarship and gracious, robust thinking which has been happening in the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox communions over the past several decades. Show me an evangelical who has the exegetical prowess of Luke Timothy Johnson or the late Joseph Fitzmyer SJ. And show me a more concise, beautiful, inspiring introduction to the Christian faith than Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way. Or show me a better author on pastoral practice than Henri Nouwen. And who in the evangelical world is as influential right now as NT Wright?

But I am still Baptist. And I have no plans to move, in spite of a few tensions with that identity.

So why do I stay put?

First, there the doctrinal concerns. Harmon admits that he has valid doctrinal disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion and I, as a Baptist, share these and similar concerns (Baptism, Mariology, Papal authority, transubstantiation, the ordination of women). I admit that the case for many of these doctrines are better than most protestants actually think. But I still can’t embrace them. So can I belong where liturgical practice and doctrinal confessions declare things I believe to be false?

Like Harmon I wonder if these can or should be barriers to fellowship. Can I disagree within the one body? Harmon envisions an opportunity for baptists to be dissenters within the apostolic tradition, rather than outsiders to the tradition. Now, most would probably be quick to say that these doctrinal differences do require separation, but I’d echo Harmon’s caution here. I say that for two reasons; first, most evangelicals have no problem worshipping and praying with folks of other traditions with whom they disagree on certain doctrinal things (e.g. Baptists typically get along well with Presbyterians even though they adamantly disagree on baptism). So, where do we draw the lines between willingness to pray/worship/minister together and actually have denominational fellowship (especially since denominations are the very problem I’m wrestling with here). Second, do I agree with Baptists on all issues of doctrine? Of course there are various Baptist fellowships, and the denomination to which I belong is just one. But do I always agree with the Baptists within my own denomination? No. In fact, one colleague even declared his hatred of my doctrinal positions from the pulpit of the congregation where he serves. And yet those disagreements apparently do not require a separation. Why is that? For myself, within the CBOQ I can appreciate the allowance for a spectrum of belief on many subjects, so I’m not opposing any of our official doctrines. Everything I hold to doctrinally is well attested within the scope of historical orthodoxy- within the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”, as well as within the baptist tradition more broadly. However, some of my doctrine and liturgical and spiritual practices fit a bit awkwardly among my own tradition, and quite comfortably elsewhere.

I think the strength of my own denomination is the allowance for this diversity. Some disagree on this. That’s fair. I can appreciate the desire for likeness of mind on this. But I’ve also read enough of the Early Church Fathers to know that they allowed for more freedom and diversity than we often assume.

Second, and more importantly: these are my people. Harmon concludes that leaving the tradition where he was discipled in the faith, that is the community which invested in him, would be a breach of a cherished fellowship, leaving one’s own people. And I have similar tensions. I am a Baptist. I was baptized in a baptist church, by a baptist pastor, went to 3 different baptist post-secondary schools. I was called by a baptist church to pastor, and am now ordained by the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. But perhaps more importantly, I was called here to Centre Street Baptist Church specifically, and still feel as strongly (or even stronger) now about my calling to be here, ministering with and to these particular people, this particular congregation.

Not too long ago I was having lunch with the priest at the nearby Catholic Church, and we discussed the idea of boundaries of fellowship between us. His own tradition frames the limits around the Eucharist. He and I can pray together, worship together, eat together, etc. But he cannot serve me the Eucharist because the broken Eucharistic fellowship of our two communions lamentably constrains him. He asked if he came to Centre Street, would he be allowed to participate with us. My answer was that since we practice open communion, (those who profess faith in Jesus Christ are welcomed; the old cliche that this is not our table, not a baptist table, but the Lord’s table) nothing on our side actually prohibits him from participating with us. He was surprised, and said he’d likely not partake.

And there I think is the proverbial rub for me. Why can I not leave the tradition I’m in for another? Because to do so would require me to sever table fellowship with the community which led me to Christ, and bore witness with me as I was baptized, and taught me to pray, and read Scripture; the folks who taught me to belong to the Body of Christ. Belonging elsewhere would also mean not belonging with my people.

These are my people. I am part of this group which is lamentably not visibly part of a single catholic church. Are we irreparably broken? Will the schism only end when Christ returns and sets all things right? There should be really tension and heartbreak among us, which I don’t think has sunk in as it should among protestants. How can we build more and more bridges? How can we develop greater ecumenical sharing and co-operation in serving God’s Kingdom here on earth? I have to echo Harmon, that developing a greater appreciation of the history of the Church, and reclaiming a sense of belonging to the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church is probably the best way to move towards greater unity.

Posted in Baptist, church, history, liturgy, mission, practical theology, Spiritual Disciplines, Stuff I Like, Why I Am, worship | Leave a comment

The Gift of God

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017. “The Gift of God” (Romans 6:12-23)

 

Sources:

James D.G. Dunn. Romans 1-8 (WBC). Milton Keynes: Word Inc, 1988.

Michael J. Gorman. The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014.

Ted Grimsrud. Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. Eugene: Cascade, 2013.

Richard N. Longenecker. The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Douglas J. Moo. The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Grant Osborne. Romans (IVPNTC). Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2004.

NT Wright. The Day the Revolution Began. New York: Harper One, 2016.

Posted in culture, gospel, Jesus, Kingdom of God, New Testament, Paul, resurrection, Romans, Sermon Podcast, sin, soteriology, theology | Leave a comment

New Life

Sunday, June 25th, 2017. New Life (Romans 6:1-11)

 

Sources:

James D.G. Dunn. Romans 1-8 (WBC). Milton Keynes: Word Inc, 1988.

Michael J. Gorman. The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014.

Ted Grimsrud. Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. Eugene: Cascade, 2013.

Richard N. Longenecker. The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Douglas J. Moo. The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

NT Wright. The Day the Revolution Began. New York: Harper One, 2016.

Posted in baptism, church, discipleship, gospel, Jesus, New Testament, NT Wright, Paul, Romans, Sermon Podcast, sin, soteriology, theology | Leave a comment

For Us… To Him

Sunday, June 18th, 2016. For Us… To Him (Romans 5:1-11)

 

 

Sources:

Paul J. Achtemeier. Romans (Interpretation). Louisville: WJK, 2010.

 

James D.G. Dunn. Romans 1-8 (WBC). Milton Keynes: Word Inc, 1988.

Michael J. Gorman. The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014.

Ted Grimsrud. Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. Eugene: Cascade, 2013.

Richard N. Longenecker. The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Douglas J. Moo. The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Grant Osborne. Romans (IVPNTC). Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2004.

NT Wright. The Day the Revolution Began. New York: Harper One, 2016.

Posted in gospel, Jesus, New Perspective on Paul, New Testament, Paul, Romans, Sermon Podcast, soteriology, theology | Leave a comment