My book “Excellence in Preaching. Learning from the Best” has now been published. IVP have done a great job and I am most grateful that the 12 preachers I examine have been gracious and cooperative in allowing me to write about them.
What have I learnt as a result? What produces excellenet preaching? In an attempt to distill my thoughts it includes the following:-
1) A deep love for the Lord, dependence on the Holy Spirit and sustained immersion in Scripture. Preaching is a deeply spiritual task and the godliness of the preacher shines through whether they intend it or not!
2) A certain grasp of what makes for good communication. Sermons need a “Big Idea” (or “Homiletical theme”) and preachers need to practice clear, concise, relevant and engaging communication.
3) The third thing preachers need to learn is what motivated the writing of “Excellence in Preaching”, namely that we learn much from preaching by listening to good preachers. Apart from the obvious fact that preachers need to hear God’s word explained and applied for their own spiritual health, the language of mentoring and modelling is important here. My prayer and hope is that good preachers will notice and appreciate the things good preachers do: not to mimic but rather to observe and learn.
I have learnt so much from Dick Lucas’ preaching: not from his teaching about preaching but from him doing it! His style is quite unique, with a delightful self-deprecating and dry sense of humour. But mainly – and this surely is the best test of preaching – there are so many passages (mainly from Mark’s Gospel) where I cannot read them without hearing Dick’s voice in my head. He regularly taught me things which I had not known before, and once I had learnt them I could never forgot the lessons.
“Excellence in Preaching” will be launched at Wycliffe Hall Oxford at 5pm on Thursday 17th November, but if you can’t wait it is available online in England now! (see http://www.ivpbooks.com/9781844745197 the book will be published in the USA at the end of the yearhttp://www.amazon.com/Excellence-Preaching-Studying-Leading-Preachers/dp/0830838155)
Rob Bell’s Love Wins – taking its toll among evangelicals?
Rob Bell could be characterised as a young, hip and trendy preacher, media savvy and culturally alert. He is the founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Michigan which since its beginning’s in 1999 now has a Sunday congregation of over 10,000.
He is best known for high quality DVD’s entitled Nooma (a phonetic transliteration of the Greek word for “spirit”). These are 12-14 minute teaching resources. They are intended to be “visually stunning and emotionally compelling”.
Much ink has already been spilt over Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins. The advanced publicity caused quite a stir, but I think that was the point. I have refrained from making comment on the book until I have read it, and I have also read quite a bit of blog comment subsequently.
Up until now I have been pretty positive about Rob Bell and commend him in a forthcoming book on preaching (“Excellence in Preaching”, IVP 2011). He is a great communicator. But, like many others, I was taken aback by the advance publicity in mid March (see HarperCollins http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Love-Wins-Rob-Bell/?isbn=9780062049636). Now, with the book on the market, it is sure to be a bestseller: not least because there must be many others who, like me, have bought it to see what he really says.
Some generally positive comments:
He asks good questions. This is one feature of the Nooma DVDs. Asking difficult questions elicits empathy from the hearer and also shows due self-awareness that teachers don’t necessarily have all the answers.
He is a good verbal communicator. His style is engaging, relaxed and humorous; thousands flock to Mars Hill Church every week to hear him preach.
He is keen to win those who may have been disenfranchised by the Church. He is convinced that many have heard a wrong view of the Christian faith, namely, that in this short life-span on earth a decision made for or against Jesus Christ determines whether they spend eternity in hell or eternity in heaven.
[God’s} love compels us to question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story. A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear (p.viii).
He demonstrates the power of story to change lives. The Gospel is God’s story, which has the ability to transform your story and reconnect you with the author. And the story of the Bible is bigger than rescuing people from hell (see p.134).
He is keen to emphasise the positive message about the love of God.
Love does indeed win, (see Rev 21:5-7). I am with him when he says we need fresh and engaging ways to communicate this message:
I want to rescue preaching. I believe it's an art form and I want to rescue it back from the scientists and the analysts. I want to see the poets and the prophets and the artists grab the microphone and say great things about God and the revolution. I think a whole art form has been lost that needs to be recaptured, a grand ambition for the art of preaching. (The Subversive Art Leadership Journal January 2004).
Some genuine concerns:
He does not always give clear answers where clear answers are available. He claims: this isn’t a book of questions. It’s a book of responses to these questions. But is it? Chapter after chapter is full of questions. If Bell is not clear in his mind on these matters should he not keep his questions to himself? And, as Job learned, not all questions are good ones to ask; indeed God asks the most searching questions of us (Gen 3:9; Job 38).
He is a better speaker than writer. I do not think that Bell is a great writer. It is partly because the written word does not enable the same kind of engagement that the spoken word does: inflection, nuance, eye contact, non-verbal and para-verbal issues; all these come across well in his speaking. But there is more:
He is in danger of knocking down straw men/ being disingenuous
One of the better chapters is “The Good News is better than that” (Chapter 7). Here he emphasises the fact that both sons in Luke 15 had misunderstood God; they had a skewed idea of the Father’s love and goodness. Is he charging Evangelicals of being too Older Brother/Pharisaic? Is he saying that the Church generally does not preach enough the message that “Love wins”?
His questions have prompted a few questions of my own: what is the target at which Love Wins is aimed?
Is this a debate about legalism?
So when we hear that a certain person has “rejected Christ,” we should first ask, “Which Christ?” (p.9). In Chapter 9 he cites websites which are, quite frankly harsh, off putting and hardly the most winsome in welcoming non-Christians into Church! His worry is that the “Turn or Burn” placard is toxic and inherently dangerous to the Church.
His corrective is to emphasise that God “gets what he wants” and “love will win.”
Of course there are religious fundamentalists who give the Christ of Christianity a very bad name (note Louis Theroux’s recent TV exposé of some of the worst extremes). Richard Mouw argues that this book is about the gap between “generous orthodoxy” and “stingy orthodoxy.” But Bell’s problem is not with a fanatical fringe, but rather he seems to be suggesting that mainline churches have been mistaken over the biblical teaching of hell and have got the message wrong.
Is the issue over Universalism or Annihilationism?
There is a legitimate evangelical debate over whether the Bible envisages unending torment for the wicked in hell.
John Stott argues that the biblical language of “destruction” and “fire” (as consuming) implies that hell will not be unending. The nature of God’s justice questions whether “eternal conscious torment” is compatible with biblical revelation of divine justice (Evangelical Essentials, p.319). Universalism is an unbiblical concept, he states, not least because of the repeated warnings of the Bible about judgment. Nevertheless Stott pleads that ‘the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment’ (p.320).
Evangelical contemporary, Jim Packer, responds saying that the Scriptural language of “destruction, death and punishment” point to the ruin of unbelievers, not necessarily their non existence. Human beings have an eternity: either to intimate relationship with God or eternal distance from God. References to “eternal punishment” following judgment (see Matt 25:46) need to be taken seriously. (See: The Problem of Eternal Punishment, Fellowship of Word and Spirit, Orthos 10).
Some of Bell’s concerns relate to this issue of “the eternity of hell.” But he goes much further. He asks: what does it means when Jesus says he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32)?
At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God (p.107).
God’s goal in all things is restoration and reconciliation: Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love? But a few pages later he asks: So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future (p.114).
There is a conundrum here: Bell argues that love can not be coerced and we get the hell (or heaven) we choose. But, he argues: in the end, “love wins.”
Is the issue over penal substitution?
Considerable controversy was raised in the evangelical world over Steve Chalke’s book The Lost Message of Jesus. In this book Chalke likens penal substitution to “cosmic child abuse.” Some of what Bell writes sounds similarly concerned:
However true or untrue [that Jesus paid the price for sin] is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God (p.182).
So, what happened at the cross? Is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled or a guilty defendant who’s been set free or a battle that’s been won or the redeeming of something that was lost? Which is it? (p.127).
The traditional evangelical answer has been: God is holy; there is sin; there will be a judgement; and that is why we need a cross to rescue us. As with the Steve Chalke debate, we do well to remember that the cross is more than penal substitution (which Bell helpfully points out in chapter 5), but, we say too little if we don’t put at the heart of the Gospel Christ’s “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world” (as the Book of Common Prayer so eloquently puts it).
Is the issue over the nature of the new heaven and the new earth?
Is heaven and hell to do with the eternal life hereafter? Bell’s corrective is spot on: it starts with “life eternal.” This is reflected in the prayer Jesus taught: “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Bell’s thoughts about the new heaven and the new earth clearly have been influenced by Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope which he cites for further reading.
He is right to say:
Heaven, for Jesus, was deeply connected with what he called “this age” and “the age to come.” (p.30).
Equally, discussions about “eternal life” have as much to do with life “now” as life “then” (e.g. p.41). Heaven is dwelling with God; and when we dwell with God the future is dragged into the present (p.45).
Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course. (p.71) – so that settles it? Well no, because for the most part, Hell is what is experienced now on earth when people reject God: if we want to say “no” to God, we can, and that is hell.
He notes the way in which Jesus speaks about Hell to religious leaders of his day as a place of purifying. Then he concludes: the punishment of hell is for chastening, rebuking and purifying. God is in the business of restoration: Failure, we see again, isn’t final; judgment has a point, and consequences are for correction (p.88).
It certainly seems that Bell doubts the eternity of hell: Hell is distance from God and hell is lived on earth. But, I was also left asking: does he believe in an eternal heaven? I think he does but the book is not clear on this point: for him, heaven should be read as synonymous with “God.” As he rightly corrects errors in popular views about heaven, I wonder whether he has lost any sense of the hereafter.
Unhelpful advanced publicity
The short video promotional focused on a response he records in chapter one of the book: “Gandhi’s in hell. Really? … Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?” Surely this served no other purpose than to stir up an unholy ferment ahead of publication.
Following the initial publicity some initial comments, including from high profile speakers, were quite sharp. I do not think that it helps to respond in this hasty way before the book was published and available for careful review.
Better was the debate between John Stott and David Edwards in Essentials which is a great model of how to disagree agreeably! See also chapter 6 of their book for extended discussion on Judgement and Hell.
Ultimately an unhelpful book
Bell begins with a key question:
Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity in conscious punishment and torment, suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth?
I think the Bible seems to say: quite probably; Bell thinks no. Surely the point is God never made me the Judge!
Of course we do not know the answer to every question. But some things are very clear: God will judge the wicked and the only way to be saved is through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. James 3 instruction to teachers sounds a sharp warning, Bell!
* Further blogs/resources
Ben Witherington: chapter by chapter analysis of the book http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/04/03/for-whom-the-bell-tolls%e2%80%a6%e2%80%a6-chapter-eight-coda/
Richard Mouw: a more positive review http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-orthodoxy-of-rob-bell-49500/
A measure and helpful response: EA and Derek Tidball http://www.eauk.org/articles/love-wins-response.cfm
Best title: Michael Horton “Bell’s Hell” http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/bells-hell-a-review-by-michael-horton-part-1
Michael Yousseff http://michaelyoussef.squarespace.com/michaels-blogs/love-has-already-won.html with retort from Virtue online http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=14160
Some important resources from recent Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/
Summary of the very helpful Q&A session between Tim Keller and Don Carson at the Desiringgod website http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/god-abounding-in-love-punishing-the-guilty
Simon Vibert is Vice Principal at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. An abbreviated version of this article is published in the Church of England Newspaper (15th April 2011). See also www.simonvibert.com.
I have just got back from a week in Los Angeles. I was there with fellow Wycliffe Tutors Richard Turnbull and Peter Walker.
First we led a day’s Preaching Conference at St James’ Newport Beach for local clergy, then an overnight teaching event for the congregation at St James’. I preached the three morning services on “the ordinary and extraordinary nature of Paul’s conversion” (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Listen here http://stjamesnb.org/content/sermon-rev-dr-simon-vibert
I spent a very fruitful and encouraging time with Professors at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles discussing mutual interest alongside the possibility of Wycliffe being a home for American postgraduates studying in the University (http://www.biola.edu/).
Next, a short visit to the marvellous “Ecclesia” Church which meets in a theatre on Hollywood Boulevard – what a great location to reach out with the Gospel (see http://www.churchinhollywood.com/).
Church politics is complex! St James’ has left the Episcopal Church and is now part of the Diocese of Western Anglicans, in the Province of the Anglican Church in North America under the oversight of Archbishop Robert Duncan. They are in protracted legal dispute over rights to the property. Horrible. But it is so heartening to meet prayerful, godly, sacrificial people in this congregation who are keen to look outwards with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I hope we encouraged them in this great mission.
I left the West Coast with a sense of thankfulness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ unites believers across cultures and down the ages. Links with Wycliffe are further encouraged by several members who have been to our Summer Schools and the possiblity of Seminarians coming here for short study stints (www.wycliffe.ox.ac.uk)
And, oh yes, I had a great sail with courtesy of a retired rocket scientist and, along with dolphins, sea lions and pelicans, got a brief glimpse of a Whale!
With much gratitude for all the friendship, food, enthusiastic support, great hospitality and, of course, your sponsorship, Simon Vibert and Chris Leftley completed the nearly 1000 mile trip from Lands End to John O’Groats on Sunday 18th July 2010.
We saw some stunning parts of the British Isles, help by the vista from a saddle, lovely cycle tracks and rural routing. We were humbled by the expressions of good wishes and kindness along the way.
God’s creation is truly marvellous. I found myself musing: “Who does Richard Dawkins praise when he sees the beauty of the natural world?” As for me, Psalm 103 was very much in my mind as the Psalmist exalts the Lord for his many wonders. Although slogging up the A9 near Perth in torrential rain was a more humbling experience!
Our final stop-off at the home of Christian Focus was a treat, a lovely rural setting near Tain. To see first hand the entrepreneurial vision for Reformed Christian Publishing was very refreshing.
Of course, we were acutely aware that we weren’t the first to make such a daring trip, particularly as we crossed into Scotland and were caught in a traffic jam of cyclists all trying to take a photo of Gretna!
Nevertheless, this was a matter of dogged discipline (20 miles to coffee; 20 miles to lunch; 20 miles to tea and then overnight stop!). We were thankful for good health, largely good weather, and very minor bike problems.
We cycled to raise funds to supplement student teaching resources at Wycliffe Hall. Out of the target of £10,000 a little over half of that has been raised so far. Donations are still trickling in.
But, finally, as I return to my desk for less physically rigorous activity, it is good to remember Paul’s wise words: For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
After more than 6 months of planning Simon Vibert (Vice Principal) and Chris Leftley (Librarian) of Wycliffe Hall Oxford set off on Monday 5th July to cycle the 950 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats in 2 weeks.
Wycliffe Hall subsidises every student training for the ministry by up to £2000 per annum. The shortfall needs to be met by donations and fundraising. The particular goal of this endeavour is to try to raise £10,000 towards the cost of updating teaching resources (interactive whiteboards and video projectors).
Details of the ride may be found at http://lejogjuly2010.weebly.com/
Daily updates may be found at our facebook group http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/group.php?gid=104914276223578&ref=ts
Finally, should you wish to donate to this worthy cause please check out the fundraising page at http://www.justgiving.com/Simon-Vibert
Wycliffe in 2010
Wycliffe Hall is an evangelical theological college with 100 full time students, located in the fine city of Oxford. Wycliffe is a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford. Over half of the student body are Ordinands in the Church of England, the rest of our students come from various denominations, and from around the world, pursuing qualifications up to Doctoral level.
The 1877 Trust deed of Wycliffe Hall, signed by all members of the Hall Council, emphasises a Protestant interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles, atonement, justification, the sacraments, priesthood and the Bible. This is the rich heritage in which Wycliffe Hall stands.
Throughout its existence Wycliffe has identified itself as an Anglican Evangelical Theological College. In practice this means that we have represented in our community those who would describe themselves as conservative, those who would call themselves charismatic and those who would have a more reflective or contemplative spirituality. We believe that this gives us a genuine depth and richness which enhances our community and equips those preparing for ministry within the Church.
Our Chapel services include daily worship using the range of services in Common Worship (and Book of Common Prayer), Scripture readings, a combination of organ, keyboard, and guitar for sung worship. Students lead and preach, taking responsibility, along with their tutors; our weekly Holy Communion service often includes a guest preacher. Other services include a weekly student led Complin service and occasional prayer meetings and a Taize style service.
The three principal parts of ordinand life at Wycliffe are Academic learning, Ministry Training and Spiritual formation. All students study towards an Oxford University qualification (Diploma in Theological and Pastoral Training, C.Th. B.Th., B.A., M.Th. D. Phil). Wycliffe’s academic results have consistently been high, with the Hall in the top two positions in the Norrington table for at least the last 5 years. Amongst the Tutorial staff we have (8 Doctorates) and (91 years of parochial experience)! Our recent staff appointments have deliberately sought to hold together academic excellence and recent parochial experience.
Ministry training is undertaken by practitioners and we place particular emphasis on the ministry gifts of Leadership, Preaching, Church Growth and Christian Apologetics. Students will spend some of their time at Wycliffe in Pastoral placements which take place in churches of very different sizes and demography to enable them to experience worship in contexts which are different to their sending Church and range from rural parishes across Oxfordshire to larger City Churches with a more student emphasis. Many students elect to use their placements to experience a Churchmanship with which they are not familiar.
Spiritual formation lies at the heart of everything we do. Some formation happens within the formal curriculum, including writing a Pastoral Reflection on a long summer placement, or writing an essay on Worship, or on a style of Pastoral Counselling. All students meet with their personal tutor formally at least once per term, and informally on a regular basis along with the other 11 members of their fellowship group. They will undertake the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and spend an intense week considering the spiritual aspects of Church leadership. The communal experience of rubbing shoulders with men and women from different backgrounds over meals, worship, sport and informal conversation is often very significant for personal devotion and spiritual development. When put alongside the active mentoring of students by Tutors throughout their time here, the two or three years at Wycliffe Hall can be the most spiritually formative period of an ordinand’s life.
Men & Women in Ministry
Wycliffe holds together the “Two Integrities” which are currently evident in contemporary Anglican Church life. Two of our full time academic staff are ordained women who along with a substantial number of students and fellow tutors hold to a more egalitarian approach. Others, both on the staff and in the student body, hold to a more complementarian approach to men and women in ministry. What is important for us is that Wycliffe is a place where differences of viewpoint may be acknowledged, discussed and allowed an equal place alongside each other.
Focus Days and Integration Study Weeks spend considerable time discussing the ministry and personal implications of academic training. For example, an annual Focus Day on Men and Women in Leadership involves a debate between two tutors who have divergent views in this area and allows students to hear a passionate and clear presentation of both positions. Additionally, the Focus Day on Human Sexuality recognises the pertinence of a related current issue in the Anglican Communion, wrestles with the biblical text and concludes by seeking to encourage students to be aware of the conclusions of “Some Issues in Human Sexuality” (and other Church House publications) whilst exercising positive love, overcoming prejudice and showing compassion to the struggles of many in this area of human sexuality.
Wycliffe is a thriving community which continues to train some of the finest men and women for 21st Century Church of England Ministry. We consider that our best ambassadors are the students themselves. We hope that Bishops and DDO’s will take up our invitation to visit the Hall and experience student life here. Students will happily share of the positive and negative experiences of Residential training in the Hall and give a balanced impression of what it is like to be a student at Wycliffe.
Revd Dr Simon Vibert
Vice Principal Wycliffe Hall
On this Valentine’s Day I want to ask the question: what is true love?
1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start. This might be many people’s favourite but it is much misunderstood:-
1) 1 Cor 13 is not about romantic love
I think I can say with confidence that the Apostle Paul did not dictate 1 Corinthians 13 in order that thousands of years later the vicar might have a text on which to preach at a wedding day.
2) 1 Cor 13 is not about Jesus
It is sometimes said that 1 Corinthians is a “portrait for which Jesus sat”.
Of course, of all people in the world, Jesus was know to fulfil the qualities of v4-7: He was patient, kind, not envious, humble, respectful, not self-oriented, angry, forgiving, truthful: He alone ALWAYS protects, trusts hope and perseveres.
But I think I can also say with some confidence that Paul did not primarily have Jesus in mind when he wrote 1 Cor 13.
3) 1 Cor 13 is about the Corinthians
This is a church which has caused the Apostle quite a bit of heartache. Vv 1-3 is addressed to competitive Christians who parade their knowledge, gifts and great acts of faith… which is having a hugely divisive effect on the congregation… Of course it is not so much that tongues, prophecy, interpretation, knowledge, faith, sacrifice, martyrdom are not gifts to be prized. Rather they had come to perceive these things as being the most excellent of gifts. And they had paraded them in a way that denigrated those with “lesser” gifts.
V4-7 is also about the Corinthians, for:
- They are quite clearly not patient, their love is short-lived, they are not kind … Paul believes that when such things are absent in a congregation, however great their other virtues, then things are sadly lacking.
- There should be no place for competitive, pride etc among God’s people.
- Paul seeks to show them the excellent way of LOVE: The Corinthian view of excellence is incomplete and passing
- Their gifts, their sacrifices, their wisdom will fade … love won’t
But what exactly does this mean? What does it mean to say that love will never fade and that love is the most excellent way?
Is love a force which cannot be conquered (as some of our pop songs seem to suggest)? If we are going to join Cheryl Cole and “Fight for this love” – what exactly is the love for which we fight and what does it look like?
Paul’s conclusion of this chapter is significant, I think.
Faith hope and love remain, love is the greatest.
Why? Because faith and hope die out in heaven? No. Rather, because in loving this way we most reflect God.
The key to interpreting this chapter, it seems to me is see why, in Paul’s mind, the greatest out of faith, hope and love is LOVE…
In other words, the secret of true love is: God!
In reaching this conclusion I have been very much helpful over the years by the 18th Century New England revival preacher Jonathan Edwards. For Jonathan Edwards, true religion, true worship and true love are very much focussed on God. Let me illustrate this is in the life and works of this great man.
Religious Affections – In this book Edwards described true love as affection. In modern parlance we tend to use “affection” to mean “Like, a bit” … but for the Puritans the “affections” were the root of our desires, wants and motivations.
‘The religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion…’ (p.27).
Charity and its Fruits – Love as “Light and heat”
‘A truly practical or saving faith, is light and heat together, or rather light and love, while that which is only a speculative faith, is only light without heat; and, in that it wants spiritual heat or divine love, is in vain, and good for nothing. A speculative faith consists only in the assent of the understanding; but in a saving faith which is only of the former kind, is no better than the faith of devils for they have faith so far as it can exist without love, believing while they tremble’ (p.13).
By heat he means warmth. By light he means truth and intensity.
Relationship with Sarah
Jonathan Edward’s life long study in the love of God was grounded in his “uncommon union” to his wife Sarah. He wasn’t an easy man, something of a work-aholic, although he did find time to father 11 children…!
When the George Whitfield visited their Northampton home in 1740 he wrote:
“A sweeter couple I have not yet seen… she talked feelingly and solidly about the things of God, and seemed to be such a help meet for he Husband that she caused me to pray God, that he would be pleased to send me a Daughter of Abraham to be my wife”
Another visitor to their home commented that it opened up
“the world in which love lifts the whole animal endowment to an ethical level” (George Gordon)
Edwards was quite clear in his writings to say that True Virtue is not to be found in the love of love, or the sentimental sensations of love. But rather love for love to be true it flows to and from God.
Love is the root of a relationship with God
Love is the fruit of a relationship with God
All true love is grounded in God
All true love has God as its goal
Do you want to know true love?
Do you want to show true love?
God as the Ground of Love – Know true love
1 John 4:16: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
Put your absolute confidence, security and trust in no one other that God!
You won’t learn to love truly and fully without focussing your life on God
God as the Goal of Love – Show true love
All love should have as its highest goal, the love of God
Let me illustrate this from the well known, albeit controversial Ephesians 5:21ff passage –
The Daily Mail (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1250464/Curate-outrages-congregation-telling-women-silent-submit-husbands.html)was outraged this week that the Curate of St Nicolas Church Sevenoaks suggested in a sermon that wives should submit to their husbands. Of course I don’t know the full details of the content of this sermon, but Paul does say in Ephesians 5 that husbands should love their wives with same sacrificial love which Christ loved the Church – in total self-giving. Wives should submit to their husbands, in sacrificial self giving.
Of course this is a tall order, not least in our egalitarian day and age. However, Paul expects both the husband and wife to see the Lord as the highest object of your affection, not your imperfect spouse. If you make God the highest object of your delight then loving and serving your less-than-perfect spouse will be possible.
The illustration which I find helpful is from golf. When lining up to putt the ball, one way of avoiding “choking on the ball”, (which is hitting the ball short of the hole) is to focus on a spot 3-4” beyond the hole and making that your target. When aiming for that, the ball will drop in the hole.
In a similar way, if we make God our greatest love then loving our less-than-perfect spouse becomes possible.
Jesus said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matt 22:37-39)
As popular culture rightly recognises: love is often lacking when it is most needed. Experiencing true love is our life quest, but is elusive to so many people…
However 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that true love will only be found when our lives are focused on the one true who is LOVE … for sure, it seems to me, this will do much to enliven Romantics on this Valentines Day, but more, it should and could transform our families, our churches, our friendships and, ultimately the world.
May God work this God-centred love deep in our hearts so He may be the deep source of our love and the object of our highest affections. (more on Jonathan Edward’s and Love in this Churchman journal article http://churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_117_4_Vibert.pdf)
Let’s make Valentine’s day a day which is all about God!
Make a house a home
Some thoughts on preaching which hits home
We are preparing to move house again soon (2 miles across the other side of Oxford). As we prepare for the process of transporting all our possessions from one house to another my thoughts turned to what makes a house a home? The bare structure and location of a property only becomes home when it feels lived in and starts to reflect the personality of its inhabitants.
The same could be said to be true of preaching. Many sermons which I listen to show evidence of structure, design and effort. But they often don’t feel lived in. They lack the warmth and personality which only comes when the preacher has inhabited the text for themselves and taken it home.
What are some of the errors which sermons make? You can probably think of more, but these few thoughts came to mind.
When you first move into your new house boxes get emptied and mounds of clothing, books etc. await proper ‘filing away’. Should someone come to visit the chances are their coat will need to be draped over a chair or put on the bed. Hopefully, in time, pegs will appear upon which you may hang your coat.
In a similar way, many sermons which I hear offer nowhere to ‘hang your hat’ so to speak. There is content, but it lacks pegs. Without this attention to structure, the hearer can struggle to navigate their way through the sermon. Without pegs it is unlikely that hearers will be able remember salient points of the sermon for the week ahead.
Rhetoric gets a bad name today. But the later Greek sophists (Isocrates. Cicero etc.) believed Rhetoric to be the ability to speak with such clarity that the audience would be persuaded. Philosophers think clearly. Rhetoricians think clearly out loud. Preachers should be doing the same. This will in part be reflected by careful attention to the structure and form of the sermon.
It takes time for a house to become a home. Over time the inhabitants will begin to stamp their own personality on their property – hanging curtains, arranging flowers, decorating to taste etc.
Many sermons I hear lack personality. Phillip Brooks’ now famous comment that preaching is “communication of truth through personality” is exactly right. Obviously we don’t want the sermon to be littered with personal anecdotes and stories. It is not supposed to be a talk about them. However, congregations listen when they can see that for the preacher the message has hit home personally.
They have been moved by the message they are preaching. They have made the connections as to how it applies to their own life.
Sermons which hit home are those which apply pertinently and pointedly to today’s world. They are illustrated in real life.
Too many sermons I hear leave me only in the world of the text. Now, of course, this is not the worst problem, there are equally many messages that never take me to the world of the text and only start in the world of today. I guess the former may be the weakness of evangelical expository preaching; the latter is the weakness of liberal preaching.
John Stott has regularly repeated the need to engage in “double listening” – Hearing the voice of the text; hearing the voice of the world.
When you move into a new house you are inclined to think: however did they live with that wallpaper? How come they didn’t modernise the bathroom suite etc. But of course, it is very difficult to see your environment and culture from the fresh perspective of an outsider.
As preachers we need to retain the fresh “eyes” of an outsider, someone who has not spent the whole week labouring over the text, and who can see the difficult punchy questions which might need addressing.
At home in the sermon
By this expression I don’t at all mean that preaching should be psychologically therapeutic, only comforting and devotional. What I think I mean is that I expect preaching to give me pegs (to help me recall and apply the bible to my life in the week ahead); personality (so I feel that the preacher has met with God in his preparation); punch (I see the issue with a freshness and pertinence for the week ahead).
Why am I taking part in the London to Paris Sponsored Ride?
Like many people I have made a habit of buying the Big Issue Magazine. The idea of getting Vendors to sell the magazine in order to gain some financial independence and eventually get off the streets is a great one.
But, this is small change. I would like to do more.
From the beginning of April to the end of July I am on study leave from my ‘day job’ of being Vice Principal at Wycliffe Hall. I have a number of academic goals: to update lectures in Homiletics and Hermeneutics; to finish off my book on John’s Gospel entitled Lives Jesus Changed and to start writing a new book The Power of Persuasive Speech.
I also have two short trips: teaching Pastors in Zambia, and teaching and networking in Sydney.
But, I am delighted to combine a physical goal (to undertake a serious physical challenge and get in shape) alongside a Charity event which resonates with my genuine desire to do something for those who, for all sorts of reasons, have been made homeless.
As a Christian, I believe that this is something which God feels strongly about and would Christian’s to be involved in:
For example in the Old Testament we read:
“If any of your Israelite relatives fall into poverty and cannot support themselves, support them as you would a resident foreigner and allow them to live with you. Do not demand an advance or charge interest on the money you lend them. Instead, show your fear of God by letting them live with you as your relatives” (Leviticus 25:35-36 ).
Jesus said: “Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-40).
This is quite a big undertaking for me. I have Asthma and some ongoing lung related issues. However, I believe I can do it!
Please click on this link and pledge your donation!
If I can give you any more information please drop me a line
Bishops’ Inspection 2008 Wycliffe Hall welcomes the Bishops’ Inspection report arising out of a thorough week of inspection in November 2008. We are encouraged that they found that ‘the Hall displays a rich mosaic of evangelical traditions,’ commend the clarity of our ‘common purpose that unites staff and students,’ and affirm our aims and purposes in ‘preaching, teaching, pastoral care and evangelism.’ We also agree with them that significant goodwill exists within the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford; that the academic, administrative and support staff work together well with a sense of corporate direction.
Commendation is made of the good academic results achieved by Wycliffe students and corporate and communal life in the Hall is observed to be healthy. The Inspectors point out that Wycliffe has gone through a period of major restructuring including significant staff change. Whilst they acknowledge that adjustments and rebuilding needs to continue to happen, we are pleased that they feel that the structures are in place for Wycliffe to go from strength to strength.
We rejoice in the fact that the Inspectors have stated their full confidence in Wycliffe’s ‘ministerial and spiritual formation’. We are grateful for the affirmation of our revised programme of Integrated Study Weeks and Focus Days as ‘excellent expressions of best practice and as effective means of integrating theology and practice.’ For many years Wycliffe has sought to give significant attention to the formational aspects of training alongside academic development and practical ministry skills. In the area of ‘practical and pastoral theology’, we look forward to working on the recommendations for greater theological and pastoral reflection deploying the ‘collective expertise’ recognised by the Inspectors as already present in the staff team. As new staff become established and continue with the development of this department we anticipate much progress in this area. Wycliffe is also grateful for the many additional and positive recommendations which we shall be working hard to ensure are implemented over the short and mid term.
Revd Dr Richard Turnbull (Principal)
Revd Dr Simon Vibert (Vice Principal)
Revd Dr Peter Walker (Associate Vice Principal)
Revd Will Donaldson (Director of Christian Leadership)
Helen Mitchell (Director of Administration)
Graham Robinson (Finance Bursar)
Dr Benno van den Toren (Dean of Faculty)
The Senior Management Team Wycliffe Hall
17th March 2009
- Preparing for suffering with the help of Job
- Existential Threats
- Some biblical wisdom on dealing with Stress and Worry
- The Hunger Games – Christian Review
- Wouldn’t you like to be a castaway?
- Lessons from the Long Distance Cycle Ride
- An Easter Word for Exhausted Preachers
- the agnostic, the atheist and the Christian
- Tim & Kathy Keller “The Meaning of Marriage”
- resources for training preachers in Osijek, Croatia
- with great thankfulness to John Stott
- a tall story
- back from the dead
- Bible by the Beach
- Big Ben
- Big Issue
- Bishop of Rochester
- Charlie Cleverly
- Christ Church Cathedral Oxford
- Christian Focus
- Christian Leaders
- Don Carson
- Egyptian Plagues
- Episcopal Church
- fellowship of word and spirit
- Fundraising Bike Ride
- General Synod
- John Piper
- John Stott
- John the Baptist
- John's Gospel
- Millennium Wheel
- New Testament
- Nigel Biggar
- no-go areas
- Oxford Church
- Professor Wotton
- reformed theological serminary
- Richard Turnbull
- Rowan Williams
- shi'i law
- Simon Vibert
- Son of God
- Song of God
- St Aldates Church
- St Paul's cathedral
- third millennium ministries
- wycliffe hall
- wycliffe hall students