Enter the Pastor-Theologian

flowers
J. Roswell and Alice Reynolds Flower, ca. 1950

There is no better place for doing theology than in the life of the local church. It is in the local church that the rubber hits the road and one’s attempts at careful theological reflection need to be applied to the life of God’s work in the world. Where there can be no mere hypothesizing, but praxis is called for if one desires to be a faithful minister and disciple.

Andy, over at Hopeful Realism, has just posted a couple of articles on the pastor-theologian in the mega-church and in the small church. His introduction to the topic offers several strengths to each context.

Certainly the complexities of pastoral ministry, whether in a mega-church or small church, can seem enough of a challenge without attempting to be a so-called “pastor-theologian”. However, the responsibilities of caring for Christ’s church should demand that we take up the charge to study to show ourselves approved unto God in every way. This is not a day for leaving the work of careful theological reflection to those who do not serve in the context of the pastorate.

We NEED more pastors committing to applying themselves to intensive study of the Scriptures (original languages, hermeneutics, homiletics, etc.) and theology (historical, contemporary, systematic, biblical, etc). Our churches NEED ministers who will vigorously study and apply what is studied to writing, preaching, counseling, and pastoral care. And will do this all in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is a HUGE task, but it is one that is essential to the overall health of the community of believers (locally and globally).  We need more women and men committed to the task. We need more Augustines, Teresas, Calvins, Wesleys, and Alice Reynolds and J. Roswell Flowers. Will you give yourself wholly to the work set before you?

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Originally posted by myself at bluechippastor.org on April 25, 2013.

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Praying Well

praying handsToday in our Adult Sunday School* we were discussing prayer and my mind was taken to how we as the Church might pray well. We seem to have a penchant for and pride in our “free” prayers as Evangelicals (and particularly as Pentecostals). However, it seems such “free” prayers may more often than not tend toward unguided babbling, self-centeredness, or even childishness over genuinely praying well in accordance with the will of God. (This is by no means to denigrate “free” prayers which form a significant part of my own prayer life).

Three ways in which we might be delivered from such tendencies and pray God’s will better would be to (1) pray with the Church, (2) pray with the Scriptures, and (3) pray with the Spirit.

We can pray with the Church by joining our prayers to those of the Church which goes before us (for example, by following the prayers of The Book of Common Prayer, praying with the prayers of saints of old, etc). We can also join our prayers to those of the wider body of Christ in the world today.

We can pray with the Scriptures by praying the Psalms (properly called the “prayerbook of the Bible”). It has been said that while most Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. We can pray the prayers of David, Daniel (Dan.9), and Nehemiah (Neh.9). We can pray with the prophets of old, we can pray with the apostles. We can pray with John the Revelator, and we can pray with our Lord Jesus (John 17; or our Lord’s Prayer Matt.6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4).

Finally, we can pray with the Spirit even when we do not have the words to pray. We can pray with inexpressible groanings and know God hears His Spirit’s intercessions (and that of His Son’s) on our behalf being in and through and for us (Rom.8:26-27).

Such helps to our prayers are given that we might know we pray according to God’s will…and when we do, we know we are heard. And we are being shaped more and more after the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.

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* Originally blogged at bluechippastors.org on February 10, 2013.

Listening to the Spirit…Ahead of Time

Preaching CalendarI have a friend whom I remember visiting with about his preparations for preaching. He didn’t prepare. He would simply show up to the service a little early…play some worship music and “let the Spirit lead to whatever text the Spirit wants” and then he would go to the pulpit when it was time and preach “as the Spirit led.” (Or so his story to me went).

My version is, he was just being lazy about his preparations and study and not listening to the Spirit ahead of time. After all, the last I checked, the Spirit speaks if we will listen. My friend’s “prep” was bogus. And sadly there is a temptation among many pastors to do similar things and blame (er…”name”) the Spirit for their message. This can even occur when we are simply not giving ourselves to the faithful meditation of Scripture that God demands if we will truly desire to listen and be changed by this word to us. Pastors MUST prepare and be faithful persistent students of the Scriptures ever listening to the message God would speak to His Church.

But the Spirit IS speaking…are we listening? Are we planning and preparing in advance by attuning ourselves to the leading of the Spirit as we give ourselves to study the Scriptures and hear what the Spirit is saying to the church? Can’t the Spirit be involved in the preparations of a preaching calendar (especially if we actually believe the Spirit superintended the composition and compiling of the Scriptures)?

I personally “know” what I’ll be preaching for the next year or more at any given time (how NOT very Pentecostal of me 😉 )…and that’s for three different messages a week. For me, I’m currently doing Sunday AM through the Gospels and Epistles (alternating one Gospel and one or two Epistles…currently Matthew), Sunday PM in the Psalms (and currently with an interlude of Marriage video with discussions), and Wednesdays are OT books (currently Leviticus). But that is what I felt the Lord would have my congregation to do for this time. This way I can look down the road and see where I believe the Lord may be leading us and try to attune myself and my congregation’s ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.

So my question to you pastor is: Are you taking time and energy to lay out a preaching calendar and begin your preparations on messages BEFORE the few days you are due to preach? I’m not talking about writing out every detail, but are you taking time to discern just where your congregation might need to go in Scripture over the next month, several months, or year?

If so, what have you found helpful for such preparations? Pre-selected topics? Pre-selected texts? Church calendar days for particular messages or series?

The Spirit is speaking…are you listening?

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Originally blogged by myself at bluechippastors.org on February 1, 2013.

DISCLAIMER: While I do not preach this regularly in my current ministry, I still plan out my preaching calendar well in advance: enough so that I know what I will still be preaching about 6 months out for the services I have booked at camps, conferences, and churches. For this, I have found great help in a regular Bible reading plan as well as making good use of the Revised Common Lectionary.

1 Kings: For the Person in the Pew (A Review)

Jim West
Photo courtesy of Joel Watts and Facebook. 🙂

Jim West (ThD; Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology) has written an easily read commentary on the entirety of the Old Testament of which I have reviewed his commentary on 1 Kings. West has proven himself to be a capable scholar of the ancient Near East, but more importantly of the texts of Scripture and as a preacher of said texts. He has written extensively on Scripture (including this commentary series covering the entirety of the Bible) and is perhaps one of the foremost and most prolific of bibliobloggers today. West shows considerable concern for the average church goer in his writing of this commentary both in the use of language, brevity and pastoral injunctions.

the-person-the-pew-commentary-series

West here offers some of the most concise and on-point comments of any commentary I’ve read on 1 Kings. He writes with the skill of an artisan even as he limits his own comments to a minimum. Where he becomes prosaic is in the quoting of other commentaries (sometimes at length), but even more so in his not to be missed excurses (on such topics as suicide and theodicy) which offer delectables neatly prepared for consumption to those wanting more.

Several of the features which make this volume less helpful would firstly include the choice of translation (the RV) which is all but out of use by the Church and uses unhelpfully antiquated language. While West claims it is perhaps “one of the best ever produced” this offers little consolation to the contemporary reader in the pew who neither is likely to use it or to understand its language (and if they prefer such dated language likely already prefer the KJV).

Several other features which would greatly benefit this series: listing the excurses on the table of contents page, including a bit more detail in the introduction, and indicating the chapter being discussed somewhere on the page. The introduction at least offers a very basic indication of West’s ideas about the text, but could perhaps use some further boiling down of the overall theological themes of 2 Kings. On passage number citations, if one stops reading and then takes it up again it takes some searching to find the correct chapter/passage.

One final lamentable feature of this series: West opts too often to refer to deity as “God” even when the very point being made is to be made by using the divine name YHWH (Yahweh, or even as his translation of choice has it: LORD). This seems to be all to common a mistake (and not a trifling one) in commentaries of all varieties. While this may be missed by many readers “in the pew” it continues to validate notions of the generic sense of “God” rather than specifically the God of Israel, YHWH, who makes and keeps covenant by that name and whom the writers are specific to point to by that name. A point which he seems to understand when he points clearly to Yahweh as God on pages 122-123.

On page 117, West improperly states that there would be no more raising of the dead after Elijah until the time of Jesus. Though he must have written the commentary covering 2 Kings 4 where one encounters Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son.

Overall, West is to be commended for producing among the most readable commentaries on 1 Kings and thus deserving of a wider readership. His work highlights throughout its pages many key ideas and could likely inspire further reflection upon the text proper. One cannot but help to hear the word of a preacher speaking as a prophet of the LORD and calling the community to faithful obedience in the voice of Jim West’s many comments. May this commentary bear fruit in the Church.

Misreading Bonhoeffer: A Response

Bonhoeffer

I was recently alerted (via Facebook) to an article by Richard Weikart, “The Troubling Truth about Bonhoeffer’s Theology,” Christian Research Journal 35.6 (2012) which can be read HERE.

It seems Weikart initially felt quite happy with Bonhoeffer while he thought him an “Evangelical,” but quickly dismissed him once he came to see him as “Neo-Orthodox” (pp.1-2). What makes this so troubling is that neither category is fitting for this early twentieth century German Lutheran minister theologian, but seem more concerned with categories of Americans intent on dismissing folks by use of labels. That being said, Weikart expresses numerous points at which he finds trouble with Bonhoeffer.

Under the heading of Scripture, Weikart quotes Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, “Scripture belongs essentially to the preaching office, but preaching belongs to the congregation. Scripture must be interpreted and preached. In its essence it is not a book of edification for the congregation.” He then proceeds to argue this is not true to Luther (on the “priesthood of all believers) or Lutherans. But this type of belief about the place of the proclaimed word and its potency is precisely Lutheran. Weikart seems to not realize the place of the preached word in Lutheran theology proper or in the theology of Luther. For Luther (and thus Lutherans in his wake), it is the proclaimed word of God where one hears the voice of Christ. Such is the case with Bonhoeffer.

Where Weikart accuses Bonhoeffer of moving from his earlier reading of Scripture with regularity, he seems oblivious to Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the spiritualizations of the pietistic Lutheran practices with which he had at first been fostered into and only later came to see the pietism often did not result in greater faithfulness, but only a higher sense of spiritualized success all the while avoiding taking responsibility in the life of the world (see his many such comments on this in Ethics). There is in fact nothing wrong with not reading Scripture daily. Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. What is imperative is that we meditate upon Scripture, hear it and obey it. The Scriptures nowhere demand daily Bible reading. That is a matter of pietistic Evangelicalism that has learned to think such a practice is a requirement of genuine spirituality. Bonhoeffer seems to have understood this at deeply sustained levels.

While many (in the U.S.) regard Barth as “neo-orthodox” this is not owing to Barth himself, but to early American interpreters of Barth who either failed to understand him or misrepresented him. It is easier to just lump him in with others who are also rejected without wrestling with what he has actually written.

Under his attack on Bonhoeffer’s (and Barth’s) view of Scripture, Weikart misses that the Scriptures are recorded not as transcripts, but as careful theological reflections of the revelation of God concerning the stories of Israel, Jesus, the Church and the world. The Scriptures are not attempting to document empirically verifiable history, but instead that which must be believed by faith which is offered sufficient witness to believe. Weikart’s view seems to be more intent on historicality (even when the text itself does not warrant it, nor the preservation of the text) rather than the realities to which the text points in the manner in which the writers were inspired to record them.

Further, what Bonhoeffer rejects of the emphasis upon trying to speak of the “historical” with regard to Jesus is that 19th-20th century German obsession with doing just that. This led to a number of notions such as a bifurcation of the Jesus between that of history and that of faith, or worse yet, an eradication of the historical Jesus altogether. Bonhoeffer was responding in just that sort of milieu. And he responded by pointing to faith in the preserved stories of Jesus regardless of the ability to historically verify details beyond the witnesses of the texts themselves.

Weikart’s use of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison shows an utter disregard for the writings of one in a personal letter to another that was NOT intended for public consumption. If any of us had things we said privately preserved by others after our death and disseminated globally we would find ourselves having stated things which we were wrestling with and/or were not offered with the context of explanation (because it is assumed the person spoken to knows this sufficiently to understand). Judgment of all of us would ensue.

Under the title “The Good Book,” Weikart fails to grasp Bonhoeffer’s rejection of Scripture as offering “universal, timeless truths”. Bonhoeffer is convinced that to treat Scripture as offering such, is to pre-determine what God would have us to do in any and every situation. But this (for Bonhoeffer and for myself) ignores the living word of the living God who speaks today through that word to us. It makes a binding law of the word of Jesus. It means one is no longer required to attune their ears to the Spirit, but only to reread words written. It is on this very idea, that I have personally found life and joy in Christ and proclaim that we are not through listening as if we have heard all there is to hear…NO! We must go on listening anew today!

On Weikart’s claim of universalism, he fails to engage the very “this-worldly” notion of redemption at work in Scripture and the theology of Bonhoeffer. Instead, he seems to think more of spiritualized heavenly individualistic salvation. Bonhoeffer, however, was concerned with the redemption of the cosmos that was enacted in Christ Jesus. Bonhoeffer was concerned with “people” and not simply individuals and he was concerned with this precisely because of the election of Jesus wherein all of humanity finds redemption. This is not to say all are saved, but to say that in Christ salvation is sufficient for all and is extended to all and must be declared to all. The pastoral and missiological implications of this are profound.

I for one find little to judge negatively of Bonhoeffer’s reflections stated by Weikart, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve become one of Weikart’s “liberal” “neo-orthodox” folks he seems so adamant are to be despised and rejected. Or maybe Weikart is simply judging Bonhoeffer by means of his own skewed theological and ideological agenda rather than on grounds of truthful discourse that hears Bonhoeffer in Bonhoeffer’s own context. To those who have ears to hear…

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My apologies for not citing Bonhoeffer’s works throughout. This is more of an overall response (without direct access to Bonhoeffer’s works from my home). For those interested in reading Bonhoeffer in context, they can read the pages cited by Weikart as well as reflecting particularly on Bonhoeffer’s Ethics which answers (for myself) the misreading of Bonhoeffer contra much of American Evangelicalism and its inherited pieties.

Readings in Theology

With the proliferation of resources currently available online, there is a growing need to have access to resources which are both credible and actually helpful. Thankfully there are some who work to make such resources available (like Rob Bradshaw…and this is also a passion of mine though I have not done the work of Bradshaw). As part of the open access to resources continues (hopefully in increasing measure and for resources which actually benefit the Church and world), I determined to make proper use of such.

As a part of this open access I am teaching a course this semester as an independent study that I am elated about: Readings in Theology. Here is the course description along with its objectives:

This course is constructed to offer readings in theology in conversation with the instructor while engaging various authors and theological traditions of the Church both historic and contemporary.

Upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to:

  • Understand and articulate various proposals and trajectories in historic and contemporary theology,
  • Discuss some of the proposals and critiques of various theologies and theologians, and
  • Articulate a theology that is framed in conversation with the wider Church.

I am using solely articles available free online (via the 30,000+ resources at http://theologyontheweb.org.uk/) to facilitate weekly conversations about the given topic and for the student to engage through critical reflection. So I thought I’d share the syllabus for anyone interested in following along. 🙂

The readings are all hyperlinked for ease of access.

Readings in Theology Winter 2016 Syllabus

Invest in Your Library

booksI love books! It is no secret. Anyone who knows me knows that I love books. But here is the deal…as much as I love books, when I first began pastoring I told myself I just didn’t have the budget to buy books for preaching, counseling, discipleship, leading, pastoring, imagination-development, literary interest, etc. I bought into the lie that I’ve heard many other pastors embrace. Then one day it dawned on me: This is my life calling! Why would I NOT invest in it. So I’ve made a point since then to build a strong pastoral library (and actually read the books I buy 😉 ).

As I was reading the latest minister’s journal put out by the Assemblies of God I found this brief sidebar a helpful recommendation along the lines of which I’ve already mentioned, so I thought I’d share these “rules” for building a better preaching library…after all…EVERY pastor needs ongoing personal and ministerial development, and every church needs the same of their pastors.

Eight Rules For Building a Preaching Library

  1. Make your preaching library a priority. Readers are leaders. John Wesley said to his preachers, “Read or get out of the ministry.”
  2. Buy books that fit you and your ministry. Know yourself. If you do not have knowledge of biblical languages, do not buy technical commentaries. Buy books that profit you, not books that impress others. Books are tools, not museum pieces.
  3. Read and use the books you buy. Some books will just be acquaintances, while others will become best friends. I have some books I have read one time; I have other books I read and then reread frequently. The latter books are good friends. I know them well.
  4. Lead your church to work your book purchases into the church budget. A good preaching library will take money, but results in your wisdom and preaching (and your members’ growth) is well worth it.
  5. Visit Amazon.com and used bookstores for great prices. I paid 35 cents for a sought-after book at a used book sale that retails new for $36.
  6. Examine your current library. Do not just buy books that fit your favorite hobbyhorse theology. Where do you have holes in your library? Old Testament commentaries? New Testament commentaries? Prophecy? Spiritual warfare? Buy books that fill those holes.
  7. E-mail 10 preacher friends and ask them to suggest the best five books they have read recently. Ask them why that book lit their spiritual fire. Then buy some of those books.
  8. Be reading a book or two constantly. Paul, the older man, told Timothy to come to him and “bring the books.” I know a great preacher who took a briefcase of books with him on his honeymoon. (And yes, he still has a terrific marriage.)

THOMAS LINDBERG, D.Min, Cordova, Tennessee [Enrichment 18:1 (Winter 2013): 71]

I am intentional about purchasing commentaries that fall into a spectrum of categories (technical, pastoral, theological) as I preach through text series (not to mention other Biblical studies resources). I am also intentional to develop theologically (historical, systematic, dogmatic, Pentecostal, ecumenical, etc.). An area in particular that I know myself to be weak in is the trends and more popular writings (I often joke that I only read the books of “dead guys”)…so I’ve been intentional to ask around about what is actually considered “good” [i.e., useful] (by asking a few pastor-friends who keep up on such things and whom I see as trustworthy for such recommendations). I also follow numerous blogs, but doing so only orients me to what is happening in the wider world of literature and not to replace building a library that can be accessed any time in the future as need arises.

So what do you do to develop a library? library

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Originally published at bluechippastor.org on January 24, 2013.