Church


In my experience one basic problem with contemporary preaching is that most preachers are poor speakers. Not only do many of them not have a good command of their subject matter, but they give relatively little time to thinking about how to present the material. This could stem from several reasons, for example: a lack of confidence when speaking publicly; lack of time to prepare; or a rejection of the idea that a sermon should be well delivered. The first of these can be overcome with time. The second arises because of the general downplaying of the sermon in many of today’s churches. The role of the pastor-preacher has shifted away from the preaching of God’s Word to an administrator who manages church resources and staff. Ministers find all their time occupied by hospital visits or counselling sessions . Well these things are important (and I don’t want to downplay their signficance), the focus on them as the key components of a minister’s responsiblities reveals a shift away from preaching.

The third point stems from a misunderstanding and misuse of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2.1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)

This text is taken to mean that Paul didn’t give attention to how he spoke and whether he attempted to speak persuasively or not. Such a reading misses the contextual issues at play in the Corinthian church and overlooks the way in which Paul composes his letters.

The outcome of such neglect of speaking well, though, is that many people find the sermon boring and powerless, which breds the sense that the sermon is irrelevant to our contemporary lives. The striking thing, though, is that the ‘monologue’ is still a key element of public speaking in other fields. Political speeches are still highly valued, while people will listen to lectures from famous academics on subjects about which they know very little. The reason people listen to these others is because they speak well.

I think that the sermon has a vital role in the future of the church and the development of disciples. One key to recovering the power of the spoken Word is for ministers to give attention to how they speak. There has been signficant discussion about this in recent years, and a good place to start is the recent blog post by Ian Paul ‘Rhetoric in Preaching’, which draws attention to the place of rhetoric in contemporary society and in current reflections on preaching. He concludes by drawing attention to the practical implications of preaching persuasively:

Given the sense of growing hostility to Christian faith, the importance of good, persuasive, engaging preaching is not just about satisfying religious consumers in the supermarket of faith. Increasingly, Christians in the West need to have good reasons for what they believe, and encouraging faith involves continually making a persuasive case for trusting in God.

There was an interesting article at CT last week with three opinions about what changes seminaries need to make. The first view (Dan Kimball) argues that seminaries must be more missionally focused so that seminaries become ‘missionary-training centers’.

The second view (Cheryl Sanders) suggests three ways to change. First, theological training needs to be more ‘pracitical’. Sanders isn’t thinking simply of how one does ministry; rather,the piont is that students should be taught ‘to think about what these truths mean in specific and changing ministry contexts’. Second, Sanders also argues that there needs to be greater ethnic diversity in the seminaries. Third, seminaries need to diversify the teaching methods.

In the final view Winfield Bevins opines that seminaries should be producing more church planters and a part of the curriculum would be that students would do an internship with a church plant.

Two things in particular stood out to me. First, the idea that our seminaries should be turned into missionary training centres or church planting factories seems to leave out those of us who are not going into these forms of ministry. Where will the next generation of scholars go for training if the seminaries are so oriented toward missionaries or church planters? Surely our seminaries need to be more diverse and recognise that there are all sorts of ministries. Second, the emphasis on doing seems to have forgotten what education is about. Seminary should be a place where one goes in order to have his or her mind stretched, to encounter new ideas and to develop the skills to evaluate and assess the ideas. Seminaries should be producing thinkers. Some of these thinkers will go on to be scholars well others will become missionaries and church planters or indeed pastors of an already existing church.

What is needed from our seminaries is not a narrower vision focused on a few people and a few types of ministry but a stronger emphasis on the value and point of education itself.

Looks like Tom Wright retired too early, since his successor Justin Welby, only in the position of Bishop of Durham for just over a year or so, has been selected to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, as has been reported.  I know the crowd in Durham was pleased with his selection as bishop, so I imagine he will be liked as archbishop as well.  However, I’ve not heard word on what the dunelm crowd thinks of his actual work there.  I have high hopes that the Anglican Communion can stay together, and so I pray that +Welby, soon to be ++Welby, will be able to help the church navigate all its challenges.

I try daily to read the Deutsche Welle news to keep up with my German.  Another benefit of this news source is that it is much more balanced in its discussion of key world events than the normal US news.  They’ve been following a story of late that in Germany if you don’ t pay your church tax, the Catholic church has decided that you are not a faithful member of the church and should therefore have privileges like participating in communion curtailed.  As a good baptist (though I’m probably only a baptist as much as Olive Garden is Italian) I like the separation of church and state, in distinction to the recent baptist resurgence has led in the exact opposite direction from its roots.  At any rate, the question of financial participation as being a requirement for participation in the sacrament reminds me of questions that were raised a few hundred years back by a German monk.  No doubt, this is much different than the indulgence question and I think that giving to the church is very important, but should the church bar those from the eucharist for not paying a tithe?  I’m sure many baptists would argue yes, though the Supper doesn’t mean enough for them to matter.  I don’t want this to sound anti-catholic, because many of my students accuse me of falling on Catholic (and Orthodox) sides of issues as much as Protestant.  I imagine the Evangelische Kirche will have similar problems.  Also, should a civil court make the decision?  How would they enforce it?

[Update: After thinking about this more, it does hit me that it's not directly about the money.  It's more about believers making a public confession that they are not part of the church.  It's a double whammy to the church because of the financial implications, but they should rightly be disturbed by church members who denounce their association publically but want to participate privately.]

I note the two bits from DW.  I apologize for the German text, but I’m too lazy to go find an English description of the issue (Google translate should suffice):

Ohne Kirchensteuer keine Sakramente

Die katholische Kirche schließt Menschen, die keine Kirchensteuer zahlen, auch aus dem kirchlichen Leben aus. Kann man aus der Kirche austreten und trotzdem katholisch sein? Darüber entscheidet nun ein Gericht.

Sept 26:

Das Bundesverwaltungsgericht in Leipzig trifft am heutigen Mittwoch eine Grundsatzentscheidung zur Kirchensteuer in Deutschland. Es geht um die Frage, ob man sich von der Zahlung der Kirchensteuer befreien, gleichzeitig aber Mitglied der katholischen Kirche bleiben kann. Der Freiburger Kirchenrechtler Hartmut Zapp hatte 2007 seinen Austritt aus der Kirche als Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts erklärt und keine Kirchensteuern mehr gezahlt. Er erklärte jedoch, er sei weiterhin gläubiges Mitglied der Kirche. Dagegen hatte das Erzbistum Freiburg geklagt. Zapp erhielt mit seiner Klage in erster Instanz recht. Der Verwaltungsgerichtshof Baden-Württemberg in Mannheim entschied aber, dass es keinen teilweisen Kirchenaustritt geben kann. Dagegen hatte Zapp Revision eingelegt.

I got an email from David Wilkinson, principal of St John’s College, this afternoon:

We are delighted that the announcement has been made of the appointment of the Bishop-Elect of Durham, Justin Welby. Justin is a former John’s and Cranmer student and is currently Dean of Liverpool Cathedral. He trained at Cranmer Hall in the early 1990s, having left a career as Finance Director of an oil company. He was based in Paris for 5 years, speaks fluent French, and also has links with Nigeria.

He spent some years in the reconciliation work at Coventry Cathedral, with international experience of conflict resolution and terrorist mediation. He often represents the Archbishop of Canterbury in Nigeria (he is visiting there shortly). We are not yet aware of the timing of his official start in Durham but it may be 6 months away.

A week or so ago, my wife Heather took up a job as childrens/youth/family outreach worker at the our church. It’s a 3 yr post, so as long as we can keep the British govt from kicking us out of the country we’re planning to stay here until then. We were already planning on being here 1 year anyway, so this will be 2 extra–until 2012, Lord willing. I should finish my doctorate around November, ideally before SBL so nothing will be hanging over my head. For my own employment, I’m looking at trying to get a post-doctorate fellowship, and the current idea I’ve got is to do some translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s NT commentaries, which are as yet untranslated into any modern language. I’ve got a couple of meetings this week to feel out how feasible the project is. If nothing turns up, I may pimp myself out as an accountant again. :) We’re definitely excited.

I preached last Sunday at a local methodist church here in the Durham circuit. It was deemed worthy, and I moved from being ‘On Note’ to ‘On Trial’ as as part of the lay preaching vetting process. For this sermon they require you to preach out of Mark because of the training module that goes with this stage of the process. Since we’re in the Easter season I picked Mark 16.1-8.

I was struck at how odd this passage is. Lost portion of manuscript or intentional ending? The thing I thought was most interesting was that the angel/young man told the women to do two things: 1) don’t be afraid and 2) go tell the others what he said. And 16.8 reads: ‘So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ So, Mark has them not doing either one. Interesting.

P.S. We moved last week, and are almost done unpacking all the boxes and re-organising everything. Thanks especially to Heather’s mom, who had a previously planned trip here and has spent most of it cleaning and organising.

I appears that dishonest people live in England, too.  Let me give you a brief run down of my last two days and a little background.

Tuesday
7am, leave for the office/study room to do work on finalising an article on Rom 3.23.
10am, get call from my wife saying that a baliff has been by the house telling us that we are going to be evicted in a fortnight (2 weeks). It appears that our landlord has not been paying his mortgage. Since our lease term officially ended about a year ago, we essentially don’t have any rights to stay. (I never ‘renewed’ it because the previous time they wanted to increase the rent, so I just kept paying the same amount and all was well, until now.) Here are few links describing it: Sky, Tiscali, Shelter
10:01am, WHAT!?!?!?!?! What’s he been doing with my 2.5 yrs of rent payments?
10:02am, have a firm call with the management company asking why they didn’t tell me about the court proceedings before now.
10:30am, wonder how to salvage a trip to Ireland that was to be 6 of the next 14 days before eviction.
11:00am, call to landlord’s mortgage company to see if we can work out a deal for us to stay until they sell the house. response: that’s not in my box of pat answers. where’s the logic? wouldn’t be better to have some income from the property instead of having it sit empty? realise that it is ‘when’ not ‘if’ we will be leaving this house.
12:30pm, go to the Civil and Family Court to file a petition to stay the execution, I mean postpone the eviction. Leaving to Ireland 15th, but with Easter break court is closed Thurs 9th-13th. But they amazingly can fit in a hearing the 14th. We can tell the lady is having mercy on us. Incidentally, we saw a NT on her desk.
1pm: we decide: If there is an extension, we go to Ireland. If not, we stay and lose our plane tickets and deposits on hotels and car.
2pm, go home and feverishly search the internet for a new house to let in our part of town since my kids go to school here and my wife works around here (seems like RightMove is the best overall site to use), glad I documented the process from our first try 3 years ago since it made it easier the second time around: Settling In
4pm, narrow down the list and make viewing appointments, learn that several are already taken.
6pm, dinner
7pm, begin to sort closets, wardrobes, etc.
10pm, crash because of mental exhaustion

Wednesday
8:30am, go to dentist, pay £16 to have my teeth counted (no cleanings here unless a problem), all family in and out 20 min.
10am, set off by foot to first viewing–house is only 10 min from current hub of life, all aspects of house have been remodeled: floors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom, walls painted; it sits beside a huge city park; price is £75 less than current place; near to boys’ friends. This is a place we can live and would want to live! Extreme relief.
11am, keep sorting and packing
12pm, lunch
2:30pm, view next house. 25 min by foot, insides not updated for 40 years.
2:31pm, Decide to go with house #1.
3pm, place offer on the house #1, and wait until tomorrow to hear response.
3:01, more packing
4pm, crash–again, just mentally tired
6pm, dinner arrives from minister and family! such a timely gift that just saves so much time and energy
7pm, watch movie with boys and fall asleep
9pm, boys in bed watch a little tv–chelsea beats liverpool 3-1 in the champions league quarter(?) finals
10pm, try to go to bed, can’t because fell asleep during movie
10:30pm, remember that I needed to send deposit to apartment for SBL Rome (good site: SleepingRome), so hit the computer
11:00pm, blog and check email, consider how fortunate we are to have such a good community from friends (internaltional and local) and a helpful church body
throughout the day, calls and emails offering help, encouragement, advice, baby sitting, etc.
I’m sure I missed something in all that.

It’s been a full two days. We’re quite pleased with the house we found and are hoping that our offer is well received. The big question mark is whether our Ireland trip will work out so we don’t lose the money. Thank God for good friends to help us out in all this.

I came across an article written from a secularist point of view but that is quite sensitive to the imporatance of the discussion here at the Independent: Church in the lurch. It also has a bit about the conservative conference (Gafcon) which has taken steps to break away.  Though we’re attending a Methodist church and the decisions won’t directly affect us, with 85% or so of our congregation being women, the issue has taken a new reality for me.

Now that I’m about to begin the lay preaching training process with the local Methodist circuit, I’ve started picking up the quarterly preaching calendar for the circuit.  I saw that CK Barrett, or Kingsley as he is called at the churches, was preaching two or three times this quarter.  So a group of us visited St. Andrew’s Methodist in a village just outside of Durham to hear him preach this Sunday.  Nijay gives a summary of the event over at his blog, so I’ll just add a couple of extra details I found interesting. 

Though his vision slowed his scripture reading down, his preaching was clearer and more interesting than any that I’ve given to date!  He tied his darkness to light message from Acts 26 to that of Plato’s cave imagery in light of Halloween.  Kingsley applied the shadow-reality dialectic as a Christian viewpoint to the world, with the reality coming from the gospel and God’s work.  The question he had for Plato was how did the guy ever get out of the cave?  It was a great turn when he offered that it was the one who was born in a cave and left it and the one who was placed in the grave after the cross who left it.  Jesus is the one who shows us the way of reality by leaving the cave and bringing us with himself.  My summary doesn’t do it justice, but it was a good balance of academic tid bits (why this was not a defence at a trial, Paul’s education, etc.) with the more pastoral encouragement to live according to the light of the gospel. 

It was such a treat to meet him in person and to hear him preach, especially since he celebrated his 90th birthday last spring.   Methodism has been well represented at Durham–Barrett, Morna Hooker, and Jimmy Dunn.  Not to mention students like Ben Witherington who passed through here several years back.  St. John’s college here hosts the Wesley Study Centre, which is one of three UK residential training centres for Methodist ministers.

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