Should Speakers Use Notes?

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I was reading recently Leonard Sweet’s book on preaching entitled Giving Blood. He cites something called the Berne Preacher Act of 1667 in which ministers were instructed as follows:

“They must not read the same in front of the congregation from notes or paper, which is a mockery to have to watch and takes away all fruit and grace from the preacher in the eyes of the listeners.”

When I first began learning to speak/preach I was encouraged to use a fairly full script as it would help me know how long I was going to speak for; it would help me not run out of steam; and it would help me with precision of language (so that I didn’t accidentally say anything too stupid in the heat of the moment). I used this way of preaching for maybe my first 6 years. I then was privileged enough to go on a three day intensive that forced me to stop using a script and instead use minimal notes. This was a revolution for me, but one that I’ve stuck with in the last 6-7 years and I’m convinced it’s a much better way to go. The connection with the listeners is vastly improved. The quality of communication is much better. And sometimes those accidental, in the heat of the moment, things are the best things to come out of my mouth (knock me down and call me a chari).

If you’re still using full script I’d strongly encourage you to experiment with weaning yourself away from it. It will feel strange at first, but the experience of truly connecting with listeners will convince you it’s worth it.

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An encouragement for parents

Yesterday we had the privilege of being at our niece’s thanksgiving down in Guildford. The minister there did a great job, and I was particularly struck by one comment he made. Just before he prayed for Faith (our niece) and her parents he said to the whole church ‘you know, communities raise children – I really believe that kids have so much to gain from the communities in which they are raised’ (or words to that effect). The way he said it was arresting as it bought a moment of clarity to something I guess many of us instinctively know. While parents have the primary privilege and responsibility of raising their kids the community can be an enormous help (or hindrance depending on the community!). Anecdotally I can already see the various ways in which my own kids benefit from the various friendships (across the generations) that they are privileged to enjoy in our local church. Biblically its so obvious we don’t even notice it. The Bible was written not to individuals but to a community/communities – the instructions about raising kids in Deut 6, 16, Eph 6 (and elsewhere) are given to people in community. The earliest believing communities met together, ate together, prayed, worshipped, and served together. They weren’t anywhere like as individualistic as 21st c. Westerners. Community was an inevitable part of life. The fact is it still is. I wonder if it’s a case of thinking carefully enough about the communities our children spend most time in.

Practically the application to Christian parents would be as follows. Get to church with your kids (regular and often). Take your kids to the church’s kids clubs. Have people round your house for lunch on Sundays. Go for day-trips out with other people. Laugh. Pray. Sing. Play. Eat. If you do the ordinary everyday things regularly and often with your kids you’ll find all sorts of good things coming in to their lives. On the flip-side if you want to give your kids every reason to walk away from church when they’re old enough then miss plenty of Sundays. Take them to football club or dance class instead of church kids club. Don’t exercise hospitality. Don’t hang around church after the service too long on a Sunday.  Now, of course we can’t save our kids – that’s God’s job – but we can sow seeds and prepare soil (or not).

If the minister I heard yesterday is right ‘communities raise kids.’ So parents need to think carefully and act intentionally about the communities we spend most time in.

Ekklesia in NT Usage

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We’ve been doing some evening talks recently on Christians and politics. This past Sunday we were thinking about the relationship between church and state. Thomas Jefferson wanted a ‘wall of separation’ between the two, and Alistair Campbell famously said ‘We don’t do God.’

It struck me in preparing that its pretty crucial to understand what you mean by the word ‘church.’ A few years ago I read Bannerman’s The Church of Christ. In his opening chapter he outlines the various NT uses of the word ekklesia. This got me thinking about Kuyper’s distinction between church as institution and organism. Is there a biblical warrant for the distinction. I also read, last week, Matt Banks’ dissertation on Kuyper’s distinction and Matt made some helpful critiques and suggested that local/scattered might be a fruitful way forward.

I went back and did a little work on ekklesia myself to help me get my head round it and came up with the following, which may (or may not) be helpful:

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  • Institution refers to the local church organized around the Christ given congregation recognized office-bearers (think of some of the instructions in the pastoral epistles)
  • Organism refers to the wider church as vine, bride, temple, church of Christ (Eph 1)
  • Gathered refers to the church as Christians together for a purpose (end of Acts 2)
  • Scattered refers to the church as Christians apart (think Paul’s persecution of the Jerusalem ‘church’ [sing.] by going house to house to imprison Christians – seems to refer to church not gathered, i.e. scattered)

And so some of the suggestions in the boxes:

  • Institution gathered is Sunday worship (1 Cor 14 – when you come together . . .)
  • Institution scattered refers to those things done in the name of the institution, but done outside of the gathering – eg. homegroups, community work in its various forms (Acts 6 seems to fit the bill)
  • Organism scattered refers to individual Christians on their personal front-lines at work, home, or wherever (think instructions in Col 4 or Eph 6 to slaves and masters working for the Lord)
  • Organism gathered seems to refer to Christians from a number of different ‘institutions’ coming together for a purpose – think parachurch work (an interesting example seems to be the collection in 2 Cor 8:23 – those who administer the collection are described as representatives of the churches)

I’d value your comments on this as I continue to dwell and refine. I think its useful but would value help in sharpening it up. In particular I think it helps us think and talk more carefully about what we think the ‘church’ should do. Should the church feed the poor? Should the church be involved in politics? Should the church run debt-counselling services or food-banks? I guess part of the answer is what do you mean by ‘church’? Would love your thoughts.

Baptism and the Covenants

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Last September I did a debate with learned scholar and good egg David Gibson on the Abrahamic Covenant in Reformed credobaptist and peadobaptist perspective. For those interested in such things you can now find both of our papers published in the latest issue of Themelios here:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/themelios-40.1

Looks like its also got some good articles by Carson, Ovey, and my good mate, Pauline big-wig of the future, David Shaw. Enjoy!

A Structural Analysis of Revelation

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We’re just starting a new series on the book of Revelation at church and our pastor gave us a brilliant structural analysis of the book based on that of Michael Wilcock in his BST commentary on Revelation. My only difference is going with 7 scenes not 8. I’ve looked at this quite hard and I really think it works. The super cool bit is at the end – 7×7 = 49 – one final scene makes 50, the number of Jubilee. This is going to be a good series. Check it out online.

Prologue (1:1-19)
Scene 1:

Seven Letters (2:1-3:22)

Ephesus (2:1-7)
Smyrna (2:8-11)
Pergamum (2:12-17)
Thyatira (2:18-29)
Sardis (3:1-6)
Philadelphia (3:7-13)
Laodicea (3:14-22)
Scene 2:

Seven Seals (4:1-8:1)

Rider #1: conquest (6:1-2)
Rider #2: strife (6:3-4)
Rider #3: scarcity (6:5-6)
Rider #4: death (6:7-8)
Martyrs (6:9-11)
Judgment (6:12-17)
Silence (8:1)
Scene 3:

Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:18)

Earth stricken (8:7)
Sea stricken (8:8-9)
Rivers stricken (8:10-11)
Sky stricken (8:12)
Torment (9:1-12)
Destruction (9:13-21)
Kingdom come (11:15-18)
Scene 4:

Seven Visions of Conflict (11:19-15:4)

Beast of the sea (13:1-10) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (13:1)
Beast of the earth (13:11-17) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (13:11)
Lamb and followers (14:1-5) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (14:1)
Angels (14:6-13) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (14:6)
Reaping (14:14-20) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (14:14)
Preview of bowls (15:1) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (15:1)
Victory song (15:2-4) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (15:2)
Scene 5:

Seven Bowls (15:5-16:21)

Earth (16:2)
Sea (16:3)
Rivers (16:4-7)
Sky (16:8-9)
Torment (16:10-11)
Destruction (16:12-16)
Judgment (16:17-21)
Scene 6:

Seven Words (17:1-19:10)

Babylon (17:1-6) . . . ἀγγέλων (17:1)
Mystery explained (17:7-18) . . . ἄγγελος (17:7)
Fall of Babylon (18:1-3) . . . ἄγγελον (18:1)
Judgment of Babylon (18:4-20) . . . Καὶ ἤκουσα (18:4)
Death of Babylon (18:21-24) . . . ἄγγελος (18:21)
Victory song (19:1-5) . . . ἤκουσα (19:1)
Wedding (19:6-8) . . . Καὶ ἤκουσα (19:6)
Scene 7:

Seven Visions of Ultimate Reality (19:11- 21:8)

Rider (19:11-16) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (19:11)
Victory supper (19:17-18) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (19:17)
Enemies defeated (19:19-21) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (19:19)
Satan (20:1-3) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (20:1)
Reigning martyrs (20:4-10) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (20:4)
Final judgment (20:11-15) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (20:11)
New heaven and new earth (21:1-8) . . . Καὶ εἶδον (21:1)
Epilogue (21:9-22:21) – 7×7=49; +1 = 50 = Jubilee

Leaders Eat Last

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I’ve just finished reading Simon Sinek’s acclaimed Leaders Eat Last. The basic thesis of the book is that sustainable healthy organizations require leaders that invest in the people and the culture, rather than just maximizing profits for shareholders. Here’s a few snippets to whet your appetite:

  • “According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 . . . when our bosses completely ignore us, 40 percent of us actively disengage from our work. If our bosses criticize us on a regular basis, 22 percent of us actively disengage.”  
  • “Whitehall Studies . . . found that workers’ stress was not caused by a higher degree of responsibility . . . but the degree of control workers feel they have throughout their day. . . Put simply: less control, more stress.” 
  • “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance” 
  • “In a weak culture, we veer away from doing ‘the right thing’ in favour of doing ‘the thing that’s right for me'”
  • “Not until those without information relinquish their control can an organization run better, smoother and faster and reach its maximum potential”
  • “instead of trying to command-and-control everything. leaders devote all their energy to training, building and protecting their people”
  • “its a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment, and loyalty.”
  • “being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interested advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.”

I liked this book. If you’re the kind of leader obsessed with numbers and spreadsheets, this ‘softer side’ will be a crucial corrective.

Some Good Reads on Christian Engagement With Politics

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At Grace CC, we’re about to start a 4 part series on Christians and politics to help our folk in the run up to the general election. While we’re being uber cautious not to tell our folk which way to vote we do want people to engage intelligently with the political realm. Here’s a list of useful things I’ve read in my prep which you may find helpful:

  • Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions – a helpful summary of the classical positions with a Christian response.
  • Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life – nice chapter in there about origin and function of the state.
  • Keller, Center Church – contains a brilliant summary of the ‘Christ and culture’ debate, and offers a way through for Christians to engage well in the public square.
  • Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens – useful to read and has some helpful stuff about the distinctiveness of the Christian community, but I’m not persuaded by the overall thesis that the state is the beast.
  • Plantinga, Engaging God’s World – contains a brilliant chapter on vocation and kingdom – a brilliant apologetic for why Christians need to be engaged politically.
  • Trueman, Republocrat – a stimulating critique of current political ideologies and the forces which shape and affect them and us.
  • Green (ed.), A Higher Throne – personally I love David Field’s chapters on the basis of government here.

It seems to me there a few key questions you need to sort out to lay the foundations for your political engagement:

  1. How do you view the state? Beast or servant of God (surely the latter – Yoder’s exegesis of Rom 13 is bizarre).
  2. What do you think the state should do? Big or small? Why? (I find Deut 16-18; Rom 13; 1 Pet 2 useful in thinking about this question).
  3. On what basis does the state function? Satanic and sinful; natural law, common grace, and conscience; or something stronger (i.e. Scripture)?
  4. How do you view the relationship between church/Christians and the state – disengagement, suspicion, co-belligerence, sphere-sovereignty, or something else?

These, it seems to me, are some of the central questions that need to be considered before we move to specific issues. In a nut-shell, what is the state in God’s eyes, and what should it do? Once you’ve established these ideological principles, then you’ll probably be a whole deal nearer to deciding how you’ll engage.

Throw me a bone! What else do I need to be reading? Other key questions?

An Easter Meditation on Isaiah’s ‘Little Apocalypse’

Zhivago_semen_afanasevich_1807_1863-tainaya_vecherya_1845_1846Isaiah 24-27 has often been termed his ‘little apocalypse’ and while it’s not generally well known it provides some fertile ground for theological reflection. It begins in ch. 24 with a vision of de-creation, with the only hope being some sort of new creation. In ch. 25 Isaiah has a vision of a mountain feast with the nations welcomed. Chapter 26 moves from a mountain to a city in which righteousness dwells, and chapter 27 moves from city to vineyard. God will watch over his vineyard so that it will be fruitful. So vineyards, mountains, cities, and new creation.

Perhaps the most interesting little piece comes at the mountain feast where we’re told that death rocks up uninvited. The Hebrew of Isa 25:8 begins with the words ‘death swallows’. Bad start. It looks like death is going to come and devour the guests at the feast. We then pause and reflect. Although, grammatically speaking it looks as though death is the subject of the verb, God is the subject of every other verb in the section, therefore he’s the implied subject here. The verb then is not active but passive and future. So rather than ‘death swallows’, the verse actually means ‘death is swallowed.’ No sooner does death arrive at the party than it gets unexpectedly eaten itself. It’s not just choice meats and fine wines that gets consumed – death itself gets devoured.

So, pause to think. A feast with God, followed by the ominous arrival of death, yet death doesn’t last too long before it gets swallowed up. Sound familiar this time of year!?