This post is inspired by three unrelated events, but each of which are influenced by John Stott:-
I am in Osijek, Croatia, and about to begin teaching a one week Langham Preachers seminar. It is nothing other than John Stott’s vision to train a new generation of preachers who will faithfully expound the word of God that has brought me here. Dick Lucas and the Proclamation Trust have probably had the greatest influence on expository preaching in the UK. But in terms of world-wide impact, none surpasses the spread of influence of John Stott. Those who heard him preach noted his disciplined, almost dogged, determination to bring out the meaning of the biblical text such that the hearer really felt as if they had heard the last word about it. But it was not dry or academic because it was heart warming and always Christ and cross focussed.
Secondly, over the Christmas break I have been reading “John Stott: A portrait by his friends”, Chris Wright (ed, IVP, 2011). I have already reviewed Roger Steer’s excellent biography of Stott, but this portrait intends to be different. For some readers it will be the first time they see the humanity of our evangelical luminary. Key themes reoccur throughout the book: his mischievous sense of humour; his deep humility; his rigorous self-discipline; and above all, his Christ-likeness. Indeed, how fitting that his last platform message should be on precisely this topic (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qGHSBZph3g)
Thirdly, from 11th – 15th June 2012, Wycliffe Hall will be hosting an exciting conference on “Charles Simeon, John Stott and the Expository Method”. We shall be looking at the legacy of these two great british preachers and consider the benefits of their preaching for a contemporary audience. In particular, I am keen that we answer the question: “is expository preaching a transferable method and can it be done well by the average preacher?” If you are a preacher, I hope that you can come. More at SoP leaflet 2 and www.wycliffe.ox.ac.uk.
So, I am truly am grateful to God for this remarkable man of God who, through his wit, wisdom and winsomeness has influenced many for good. But, as John Stott would be the first to remark: all glory and thanks goes to God.
I have been teaching students at Wycliffe Hall about “homiletical form”.
I may have a particularly cluttered mind, but one area of preaching used to be troublesome for me. As I poured over the passage I would end up with reams of jottings which included
- exegetical thoughts on the passage;
- possible central themes arising from the biblical passage;
- possible anecdotes/illustrations
- a “hook” into the sermon and possible applications;
- alliterative or numbered points for the sermon;
In order to declutter my thinking I have come up with “3 pages of the sermon”
- on one page I write down all my thoughts on the passage;
- on the second page I write down possible illustrations, applications, introductions and conclusions;
- on the third page I write down a tentative outline including an “exegetical theme” (single sentence summary of the biblical passage) and “homiletical theme” – sometimes called “the big idea” (single sentence summary of the sermon);
Then comes the time to try to distill the three pages into one. For the sermon I preached on Luke 17:20-37 recently it ended up looking liks this http://www.simonvibert.com/Luke_1720_37_notes.pdf. This is a detailed outline of the sermon. After this it is a matter of taste as to whether a full text is then written (certainly a good discipline for new preachers) or whether these notes are used as the outline from which to preach the sermon. An audio recording of the preached sermon may also be found on my website http://www.simonvibert.com/Luke1720_31.mp3.
Other’s may have a much more coherent and logic mind which enables a separation out of the discreet parts of sermon preparation, but it doesn’t work that way for me, hence this methodology.
To put the same principle another way round:
- First isolate the heart of the passage and locate the heartbeat;
- Secondly, overlay this heartbeat with a skeletal structure for the sermon;
- Thirdly, overlay this with the flesh or meat of the sermon;
- Fourthly, dress it up so it is ready to go (with illustration, application etc.)
I hope that this may help preachers arrive at clarity in the prepartion process.
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!
What is Vocation?
Vocation is a slippery word. It derives from a Latin word meaning “call”. There was a time when only the “Priest” was thought to be called. “Every member ministry” has been much more the catch phrase in recent decades. But the concept of vocation is often extended much further in modern parlance to mean anyone who works but does not get paid!
So: What is vocation? Do we all have one? How does that relate to ordained ministry?
Conversion and Calling
The primary call of every believer is to faith, leading to conversion. The needy sinner calls out to God for salvation. But more, the gracious Father calls to us to hear and heed his invitation: “As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” (Rom 9:25).
For some there is also a secondary calling to ministry. For me, conversion and ministry were very much tied up. I was so enthusiastic as a new convert that I assumed that I would spend the rest of my Christian life working for God in some sort of full time paid capacity. But, for many people, the call to ministry is a separate and subsequent call in which God clearly directs the individual into some new acts of ministry and service. And, of course, for many more people calling means serving God in every sphere of life and work.
Try Something New Today
Vocations Sunday is an excellent annual reminder that all Christian believers are “called” to ministry. But for some it might also be a time to hear God’s call to a particular ministry. Recent Sainsbury adverts use the slogan: “try something new today”. The adverts hope to incite shoppers with a sense of adventure and impulsiveness. Give this a try, you might like it! It is also hoped that, having tried something new, you might just stick with it.
An Audience with God
How is your appetite for ministry and service? Vocations Sunday may give you a chance to “suck and see”. But ultimately vocation is a God-thing. It is not about the jobs we do; it is not about the roles we fulfil; it is not about our sense of fulfilment. Rather, as Os Guinness wisely wrote in his Christian classic The Call, vocation is all about living before “an audience of one”. Yes, we serve men and women. Yes, we flourish when we are affirmed and encouraged in our ministry. But, for vocation to be vocation it requires an acute sense that all we do is in God’s presence and is to be for His glory. He is the only audience which matters.
Equipping for Ministry
Those of us who have the privilege of training men and women for the misapplied phrase “full time Christian ministry” are familiar with the word “formation”. The mind needs to be challenged and stretched. So academics are involved. There are skills to be developed: preaching, counselling, evangelism etc. So ministry is involved. But there is also the need for personal and spiritual formation. For what God does through us seems to be inextricably tied to what God does in us. The most useful Christian ministers are those who have their lives God-oriented. Vocation is all to do with being called by the Son, equipped by the Spirit and God-glorifying and honouring throughout.
Spectacle Frames and Skeletal Outlines
We had a great Study Morning with the Students at Wycliffe Hall last week. NT tutor Justin Hardin, Doctrine Tutor Benno Van DenToren and I to bring our integrated thinking to apply academic learning, spiritual formation and ministerial training from 1 Peter. My job was to do a “walk through” sermon from first read of the text to final form.
Sometimes I detect a little impatience when we discuss matters of structure and homiletical form. Surely we need to get on with the task of preaching the message of the bible and spend less time on homiletics?
But I have become increasingly convinced that form and content belong together. The skeleton of the sermon should not be protruding the flesh, but without any bones and support structure the body if formless and lifeless.
As I have mentioned elsewhere (see http://www.Simonvibert.com) Spurgeon was a master at the art of structuring and simplifying skeleton sermon outlines, producing over 12,000 of them, still in print. I have always felt that John Stott is brilliant at this task, always leaving me with a sense that his sermon has said all that needs to be said about the passage, helping me see it with a new clarity.
To illustrate: I am not very good at looking after my glasses. When they are well cared for and not scratched I hardly notice that I am wearing them. However, at the moment, I have bent one arm and scratched the right lens. The consequence of this clumsiness is that rather than seeing through the lens I am forever noticing the scratch. And rather than having clear focus on objects in front of me I have very aware that I need to wiggle the arm around to get a clear view.
A similar clumsiness at the stage of sermon construction can mean that the congregation is distracted from the content of the biblical passage by the lack of focus in the sermon outline. Instead of seeing the passage clearly, the structure distracts.
If the preacher states: “Rejoice despite trials” (1 Peter 1:6-7) the well educated congregation knows this to be true but fails to connect this with the specific flow of Peter’s thought.
If, on the other hand the preacher says: “Welcome trials and testing because like gold, your faith is precious. God will allow faith to be tested through suffering to make it pure.”
This task of pressing for clarity in the homiletical outline is a gift to the congregation. It enables them to concentrate on how the ancient bible passage applies to contemporary life. Good preachers structure sermons in such a way that the framework supports the bible message and enable congregations to focus their gaze on the God who speaks through his living Word.
An edited version of this article will appear in The Church of England Newspaper in January 2010
John Calvin – preacher, thinker and theologian.
A model for theological education today?
2009 was the 500th anniversary of the birth of the best known, and perhaps most misunderstood, voice of the Continental Reformation: John Calvin. By the time you read this article the anniversary will have come and gone. There have been many celebrations in Geneva and around the world to mark the birth of John Calvin. The Guardian online (yes!) ran a series of 8 very instructive articles written by the philosopher Paul Helm which engendered a lot of comment. There have been numerous new biographies on John Calvin and the helpful new book Engaging with Calvin emerging from the Moore College faculty
Reflecting upon this considerable focus on John Calvin let me offer three suggestions about what we might learn from his life and legacy:-
Calvin – a lifelong preacher
Mark Dever is recorded as saying: “If you are going to be a preacher, read Calvin”, and modern preachers would do well to heed his advice.
Over a twenty-five year period of ministry in Geneva Calvin would preach twice per Sunday and lecture a minimum of three times a week.
He believed that preaching was essential, because God’s presence is not mediated through a priestly office, but rather, through the faithful proclamation of the promises of God in his word. His appeal to the literal meaning of the text and the communication of God’s truth in plain language was grounded in his conviction that God addresses the soul through the hearing and heeding of God’s word. But in order for this message to penetrate the fallen human mind, alongside the preacher’s efforts to be clear, the Holy Spirit’s illuminating role is essential.
Wycliffe shares this wholehearted view of the transforming power of godly preaching – and not least when a minister of the Gospel stays in one location for some time, to preach the whole counsel of God and allow that message to seep into the fabric of society. Along with Calvin we should ensure that grace and faith is the central theme our preaching. We too believe that the faithful exposition of God’s word produces lasting fruit in the believer’s soul and in the transformed society around.
Calvin – an integrated thinker
Following in the line of Melanchthon and others, Calvin recognised the comprehensive nature of Paul’s epistle to the Romans in its treatment of the doctrine of God, human sinfulness and the redeeming work of Christ on the cross, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit resulting in the transformation of life.
It is surely no coincidence that in the same year Calvin published his first full edition of The Institutes he also published his commentary On the Epistle to the Romans (1539).
The Institutes were rigorously revised over the next 20 years with the final edition appearing in 1559.
In his introduction to Romans, Calvin argues that when any one gains a knowledge of this epistles, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture… the whole epistle is so methodological, that even from its very beginning it is framed according to the rules of art.
Just as in Romans, Calvin’s Institutes move from the knowledge of God the creator to the knowledge of God the redeemer, to the way of grace in Christ, to the means of grace. The framework with which Calvin wrote and thought is simple in its profundity. Knowledge of God (creator and redeemer); and knowledge of self (in his image; but fallen) is at the heart of Christian faith.
Calvin read the pagans and philosophical thinkers of his day, but applied his careful textual work to a framework of thought which would, through several revisions, become The Institutes of Religion.
The Calvinist stereotype, typified in the mealy mouthed, humourless, life-denying caricature illustrated in the Grant Woods picture American Gothic is far from the picture of John Calvin. Actually it is very much to Calvin that we owe the idea that, though the whole created order is fallen, nevertheless we are to enjoy all that God has made and rejoice in his providence in every area. He had a generous view of the value of civic order, of the wisdom of some philosophers, of the goodness of work and advances in medicine, all of which should lead us to thank and glorify God.
Wycliffe Hall is very glad that its alumni include not just godly preachers, but Christian thinkers and apologists, ethicists, politicians, writers, musicians to name a few. This, it seems to me, is quite close to legacy of John Calvin.
Calvin – a heart for theological education
One area of particular interest for Wycliffe students and alumni was Calvin’s abiding influence on theological education and biblical scholarship. He first arrived in Geneva in 1536, a small city at the crossroads between northern and southern Europe. After tumultuous time in the city he left thinking would never return. But, return he did, although not all was plain sailing. Calvin, a frail and complicated man, was also, of course a flawed man. His vision of a theocracy was never realised in Geneva. But his passion to see Geneva transformed by a faithful presentation of the word of God with a dependence that God would do his miraculous work in souls is surely a message for modern pastors and preachers.
The establishment of the Academy of Geneva in 1559 led to sending out godly preachers who had regularly heard Calvin preach and lecture. He inculcated a vision for Europe with many students being sent off to martyrdom in France.
The English Puritan connection with Geneva in 16th century is significant. Many of the reformers went to Switzerland. At the height of Calvin’s influence in Geneva Cranmer’s critical work on the Prayer Book was ongoing. Subsequent generations of English preachers would be proud to look to Calvin as a key influence on their ministry: George Whitefield, John Newton and hymn writer Augustus Toplady, all Anglicans who thought of themselves as Calvinists.
Whilst Geneva in the 16th Century and Oxford in the 21st Century are notably different, Wycliffe Hall retains a vision to be both a part of the academy (of the University of Oxford) and a part of the Church (training men and women for preaching and many other ministries today). Our twin hope is summed up in our strap line: we hope that our students will love the Lord; treasure his Word; serve his people; and proclaim his Gospel. Calvin’s legacy motivates me afresh to train and mentor preachers, teachers, apologists and evangelists for the Church and the Academy.
Revd Dr Simon Vibert is Vice Principal of Wycliffe Hall and Director of the School of Preaching
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).
Wycliffe Hall was very fortunate to be able to welcome Lord Brian Griffiths, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, to deliver a lecture on a Christian response to the current financial crisis to our students this week.
His perspective on the causes of this crisis are a combination three things: excessive public borrowing with the ratio of debt to household income now standing at about 150%; Banks turning into lending shops, the lack of relationship between lender and borrower, and failures to check people’s ability to pay; and, thirdly, the failures of world governments to regulate what is going on in investment banks.
The most interesting bits of his lecture were his three implications arising out of his Christian convictions. Regrettably time was short, so these were little more than snapshots:
a. Throughout Scripture debt is viewed as something that is problematic; e.g. laws about the land, debts and usury in the Pentateuch as well as the perspective of Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender”
b. The cycles of economic life (upturn, downturn, boom, recession) need to be interpreted in the light the cyclical flow of the Sabbath, the jubilee provisions etc. A good example is the Millennium commitments to the forgiveness of debts. It is even more important that as we go into recession we hold to these commitments.
c. Jesus says: You cannot serve God and Mammon (Mammon being the personification and deification of money). Greed is not good – in fact, greed is the cause of excessive worry (according to Jesus in Matthew 6:24ff.).
As the financial crisis continues to deepen, it is good to be reminded of our commitment to care for the poor (and not renege on this as we feel the pinch) and the challenge to ensure that we love the Lord as our highest and best love, not the things of this world.
Wouldn’t it be good if Christian leaders faithfully teach the Kingdom standards set out in the Bible and help God’s people live wisely in testing times?
Just spent 5 days in Atlanta on Wycliffe business along with Richard Turnbull.
The main purpose was to renew friendships with Episcopalians and Presbyterians over here. We had a good morning with Ravi Zacharias whose RZIM partners with our Wycliffe Apologetics school (www.rzim.org)
We spent an interseting day with Bob Luckman who is a businessman who has coordinated major projects to revive urban areas in Atlanta. He persuades businesses to invest in a layered housing scheme in an attempt to regenerate the city centres with a socially and economically diverse group of people living alongside each other. In addition to regenerating Urban centres he has encouraged Churches to give money and plant in these areas, employ community chaplains and build businesses. It is a great model and very encouraging to see.
We met Michael Yousef, leader of a large independent Anglican Church in Atlanta (www.leadingtheway.org) He trained at Moore Theological College in Sydney, having been brought up in the Middle East. He is clearly having an effective ministry in Atlanta and beyond with a particular passion to reach those from a Muslim background.
We had a dinner on the 25th floor of a private club in Atlanta overlooking the rather splendid skyline. The main purpose of these occassions is to gain some friends across Episcopal and a broader evangelical spectrum, and perhaps in due course to encourage some of those friends to give money to our capital project at Wycliffe.
This morning I attended two Christchurches Independent Anglican (under the oversight of Archbishop Greg Venables http://christchurchatl.org/; and PCA (led by Paul Gardner founder of FWS (www.fows.org and friend from England http://christchurchatlanta.org).
A bit of a whirlwind tour, but well worth it. As the world seems to get smaller, the friendships across the water become all the more valuable!
WYCLIFFE HALL LAUNCHES NEW SCHOOL OF PREACHING
09 June 2008: Wycliffe Hall has today announced the launch of a new School of Preaching to strengthen the training of students in contemporary Christian ministry. The School of Preaching will be based at the theological college in Oxford with the aim of providing an ongoing training facility for the preachers of both today and the future.
Wycliffe Hall’s Vice Principal, The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, will take on the role of Director at the new school. The school will focus on enabling students to hear good preaching models, establishing the case and role for preaching in the modern church and enabling students to practise the skills of preaching while receiving helpful analysis and feedback.
This strategic project will aid in the effective communication of the word of God and provide students with the necessary tools for a lifetime’s ministry. Students for the school will include existing students training at Wycliffe Hall as well as local, national and international preachers and trainers of preachers who will participate in seminars and workshops run by the school.
Director of the School of Preaching, The Revd Dr Simon Vibert said:
“The launch of the School of Preaching is an exciting new initiative aimed at restoring confidence in the preaching of God’s Word. The creation of a School of Preaching is not only a significant step in the development of Wycliffe Hall, but also in the development of effective preaching within the Anglican Church and beyond.”
The launch of the new School of Preaching coincides with Wycliffe Hall’s Preaching and Leadership Integrated Study Week, in which the college will hold a consultation and vision-sharing meeting for friends and partners engaged in training preachers in England.
For further information please contact Helen Mitchell, College Administrator on 01865 274200
Notes to editors
For more information on Wycliffe Hall, visit the website http://www.wycliffehall.org.uk
Wycliffe Hall is a theological college within the diverse environment of the University of Oxford. We aim to equip our students for their future ministries, through excellent academic teaching, practical ministry experience and living as part of a vibrant and supportive Christian community.
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- Tim & Kathy Keller “The Meaning of Marriage”
- resources for training preachers in Osijek, Croatia
- with great thankfulness to John Stott
- a tall story
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