Bible in Pulpit

Is the Preaching Any Good?

One of the most fundamental truths to understand about the church’s corporate gathering is that Jesus is a giver.

Jesus, our Savior and salvation — the one to whom we are united by faith — gave himself to us by becoming like us. He then gave himself to us by dying in our place. And still today, every week when the church meets, he gives himself to us through the preaching of his word and the sharing of his Supper.

This matters because, as surely as we have received him as the God-man and trusted in his finished work, we should anticipate that there is yet more of him to experience in weekend worship.

More of Christ

More of Christ, after all, is the great aim of the Christian life. Paul’s goal in ministry was to present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). His one-thing-I-do ambition was to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10–14). His great prayer for the church was that Christ dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17) — with the view of us reaching the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), that is, to grow up in every way into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

It really is all about Jesus.

And exactly how we get more of him is chiefly through the means of grace he has ordained — the word and the “sacraments” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or as Marcus Peter Johnson calls it, “the audible and visible gospel” (see chapter 8, One with Christ). But for now, let’s just focus on the word part — the audible gospel, the preaching.

Many of us know that Bible-intake is fundamental to our sanctification. It’s the bread and butter of spiritual growth. And many of us also know that “not neglecting to meet together” is another habit on the path to spiritual maturity. But have we seen the relationship between the two? Have we connected the dots that one of the primary means of grace in the worship event is Jesus extending himself to us through his preached word?

Setting Himself Forth

In Preaching: A Biblical Theology, Jason Meyer makes the case that the faithful preaching of God’s word is always an encounter with God himself. This means that through the heralding of his gospel, through the vocal means of a human minister, Jesus sets himself forth to be believed and enjoyed.

It matters little who the preacher is, or how skilled he is in communication, or the measure of his IQ, as long as he is faithfully unfolding the text of Scripture. It’s in that moment when the very presence of Jesus is mediated to us. Jesus himself, by the power of his Spirit, comes to sit by us, to speak to us, to effect more of his likeness in our lives, to deepen our union. Therefore, we are freed to walk into the corporate gathering with this kind of expectation.

This is what Jesus does when his word is proclaimed, and we ask, is the preaching any good?


Hedonism to the Extreme: On the Lamborghini Egoista and Our Souls

“What does a tractor manufacturer know about sports cars?” said Enzo Ferrari to an Italian mechanic from humble roots.1

This mechanic, Ferruccio Lamborghini, did manufacture tractors, and he did well. But he also liked fast automobiles and building things, and in the decade following World War II he decided to try his hand at supercars. Frustrated with the Ferrari’s handling on the road, and Ferrari’s dismissal at some suggested improvements, Ferruccio blazed his own trail by creating Automobili Lamborghini. By the fall of 1963, at the Turin Motor Show, he released the Lamborghini 350 GTV and launched the beginning of an iconic supercar brand — a brand at which most men have only marveled from afar.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of that original design.

To commemorate the anniversary, Lamborghini has unveiled a new car that many say is aptly named “Egoista” — that is, “selfish.” Yes, that’s right. The car is named “Selfish.” It is a single-seat concept engineered for those who want to treat “me, myself, and I.” One commentator writes that the Egoista, along with its 5.2-litre V10, 600 horsepower engine, has aesthetically more in common with a fighter jet than with a vehicle meant for the ground. And there’s no secret about the marketing. Walter DeSilva, the head of design, explains, “[This car] is designed purely for hyper-sophisticated people who want only the most extreme and special things in the world. It represents hedonism taken to the extreme” (David Undercoffler, LA Times).

“Hedonism taken to the extreme.” So there you have it. This car is about pleasure to the max. That deep craving in our souls for ultimate happiness — the craving we all have — that’s what is behind this automobile. That is the bait held out for the few who can afford it. You are not really seeking pleasure until you sit behind this wheel.

But we know that’s an empty promise, on at least two levels.

What Only God Can Do

First, and most fundamental, no car can satisfy a God-shaped void. The quest for pleasure is really a quest for God. He created us to be happy in him. Now, grant the Lamborghini Egoista this: it would be a fun drive. It’s a beautiful machine. But while it’s a fruit of human ingenuity to be enjoyed, it’s not the place to search for the joy we need. While it offers a good experience, even if just to a thin slice of the human population, it’s not the destination of anyone’s deepest longings. That craving is satisfied in God alone. The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.

And we can attest to some experience of this dead-end road. Sinners can’t help but make black holes of the heart. We grab this one thing and give it its own space within the deep places of our souls. A gravitational pull begins. Eventually our whole lives orbit around its force and our resources get vacuumed into it with galactic abandon. What should be a gift — a glorious gift from God — ends up combusting into its own world.

We spin our wheels trying to recreate that superficial glee we felt the time before. We toil and toil for a diminishing return. Sure, entertainment may tarry for the night, but the wakeup call of emptiness comes in the morning. This is what it means to fall short of God’s glory: we exchange the hope of eternal joy for that which does not profit, we spend our money on moldy bread that cannot satisfy, we rebel to dumb ourselves down from the wonder for which we were made (Jeremiah 2:11–13Isaiah 55:2Romans 1:22–25).

There just aren’t substitutes for the “pleasures forevermore” of God’s fellowship (Psalm 16:11). The parched land of our lives needs more than a desperate splash from good things here and there. We need to be infused with the rivers that lead us to the One who is good. We need our land eroded by the ocean of God’s glory. And that gets into another level.

Deeper Than a Splurge

The Egoista ends empty not just because God alone can satisfy our souls, but also because this car’s offering isn’t how real pleasure works. This piece of Lamborghini commemoration tries to sell joy as a splurge. Happiness, they’d tell us, is a metric to meet, a high to hit, a rush to realize.

But this is too shallow to resonate with any soul responsibly aware of reality. The pleasure we crave can’t be contained in the excitement of 0 to 60 in less than four seconds, or the elitism of being a Lamborghini owner. The Egoista tells us to buy the car and burn the fuse while we have eternity in our hearts — eternity. We can’t manufacture anything to fill that gap.

The quest for real joy isn’t fulfilled in a moment. It isn’t a one-time event to experience, neither with a Lamborghini nor with God. The quest for real joy is a movement — the movement of God centered on himself as the author and perfecter of pleasure. God, because he is eternally glad in the Trinitarian fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit, launched a movement to show that gladness. He created everything that there is in order to show that gladness, including us. Out of his gladness he made us such that our gladness would be found in his own — not once or twice, but forever.

To The Extreme

So “hedonism taken to the extreme” isn’t found in a good supercar. And it’s not even in a good quiet time every now and then. Lasting joy is more than an existential buzz, whatever the source. Hedonism taken to the extreme is the day-in, day-out life of redeemed sinners who know they were created for another world.

Hedonism taken to the extreme is everyday forsaking the jewels of Egypt because our eyes are set on a better Treasure.

Hedonism taken to the extreme is the steady road of enjoying gifts as gifts from God in Christ, tributaries of joy that lead us to his fullness.

Hedonism taken to the extreme is what says, even when darkness veils his lovely face, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). GodForever.

1 Fifty Cars That Changed the World, (Kindle Locations 702–703).


The Main Task of Exegesis

This paragraph from Kevin Vanhoozer gets at two important components. It involves both attention to human authors (i.e., read… it’s a text like any other text) and attention to the divine author (i.e., listen… God is doing something with the text for his church that is perceived by the Spirit’s help in light of the drama/canon). ….

The main task of exegesis is to discern the communicative intent through a linguistic analysis of a text in its historical, literary, and canonical contexts. The theologian exegetes in order to help the church hear the word of God in Scripture for today and understand its implications. Biblical exegesis that aims only at discovering the historical meaning of the text is not yet a theo-dramatic science, however. Theo-dramatic exegesis requires one to recognize the various human voices in Scripture as commandeered and coordinated by the divine playwright. A theological exegesis will therefore pay as much, if not more, attention to the canonical context as the historical in order to discern the communicative intent of the divine playwright. (Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 249)

Personal note: In so many ways I feel that this paragraph describes my calling. With God’s help, this is how I want to read and teach and preach the Bible the rest of my life.

What J. I. Packer Said About Matthew Henry

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to meet and spend some time with J. I. Packer. It was an unforgettable event that I imagine telling my grandchildren about one day. On the ride back from Vancouver I transcribed the four hours or so of conversation ranging from the Puritans to Martyn Lloyd-Jones to his first attempts to write as a ten-year-old boy in Gloucester, England. The box score of that day is still pushed to the side of my desk, waiting for more reflection. But here’s a excerpt ready to go…

Speaking of George Whitefield, Dr. Packer commented that his main theological resource was Matthew Henry’s commentary. He suspects that Henry’s influence is much wider than most think.

Here’s one simple takeaway: J. I. Packer really values Matthew Henry as a commentator. He continued,

Henry is astonishingly good as a scholarly commentator. People believe he was a Puritan devotional author and not a scholar. The proper response to that is “balderdash.” Henry is outstanding and is very undervalued.

I wondered if Henry is so undervalued because he is so accessible. His commentaries are cheap and all of his stuff is on public domains, so it’s not lucrative to quote him. A freshly translated monograph is much sexier. I mentioned this (not the “monographs are sexier” part), but I don’t think Dr. Packer understood what I meant.

“You have to read more than a few pages,” the Reformed sage added, “He grows on you.”

Then we were on to other things.


See Amazon’s complete selection of J. I. Packer’s works.

John Piper on Chesterton and Calvinism

Piper starts,

Ever since my days at Wheaton College, when I followed Clyde Kilby’s advice to read G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, it has been one of my favorite books. I think it’s the only book I have read more than twice (except for the Bible).

This is strange. Not only was Chesterton a Roman Catholic, he also hated Calvinism. So what’s up with me and Orthodoxy? I still think at least half a dozen Roman Catholic distinctives are harmful to true Christian faith (e.g., papal authority, baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, justification as impartation, purgatory, the veneration of Mary). And I think “the doctrines of grace” (“Reformed theology,” “Calvinism”) are a precious and healthy expression of biblical doctrine.

Here’s an important article on the glad, biblical flavor of Calvinism.

The Sovereign God of “Elfland” (Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off).

The Miraculous Event of Reading the Bible

Before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family—whenever you read the Bible, something miraculous is happening.

The presence of desire to hear God’s word and think his thoughts testifies to the blood-bought grace by which he called you out of darkness. The mental energy and hungry soul that you bring to an open Bible is not separated from God’s saving activity. In fact, the act of your reading is part of that saving activity as God continues his perfecting work (Philippians 1:6).

And it is not merely a piece of God’s action in your personal life. It is another scene in God’s whole redemptive and revelatory activity towards mankind. Your simple reading the Bible—your interpreting—is a step forward both in the degree of your transformation and in God’s manifold wisdom being made known to the world.

Read the whole post via Desiring God.

Holiness and Relation are the Selfsame Reality

John Webster writes:

Holiness is a mode of God’s activity; talk of God’s holiness identifies the manner of his relation to us. For if the word ‘holy’ is a shorthand term for a pattern of activity, if it indicates—as von Rad put it—’a relationship more than a quality’, then the holy God is precisely God manifest to humankind in his gracious turning.

‘God’s holiness’, wrote Bavinck, ‘is revealed in his entire revelation to his people, in election, in the covenant, in his special revelation, in his dwelling among them.’

What, then, we may ask, is the force of faith’s language of God’s holiness? What particular aspect of the unified identity of the triune God’s being, works and ways is indicated by this language? We may answer thus: Talk of God’s holiness denotes the majesty and singular purity which the triune God is in himself and with which he acts towards and in the lives of his creatures, opposing that which is itself opposed to his purpose as creator, reconciler and perfecter, and bringing that purpose to its completion in the fellowship of the saints.

Holiness, because it is the holiness of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ now present in the Spirit’s power, is pure majesty in relation. God’s holy majesty, even in its unapproachableness, is not characterized by a sanctity which is abstract difference or otherness, a counter-reality to the profane; it is majesty known in turning, enacted and manifest in the works of God. Majesty and relation are not opposed moments in God’s holiness; they are simply different articulations of the selfsame reality

For if God’s relation to us were merely subordinate to his primary majesty, then God’s essence would remain utterly beyond us, forever hidden; and if God’s relation to us were not majestic, then that relation would no longer be one in which we encountered God.

(Holiness, 41-42, paragraphing mine)