As faithful evangelists we want to have a good grasp on theology. Here are Nathan’s notes from the Theology on Fire conference which he attended this year. It is hoped that by reading these notes you can get inspired by what the conference was all about.
Theology on Fire
Preaching the Living Word into the 21st Century
SMBC Biennial Preaching Conference – May 7-10, 2007
“This generation is profoundly Biblically illiterate”
“Good preaching is when God is central and not us” – Jenny Salt
“The preacher must also live what he believes – people need to see how he lives and do it”
Dr. Dale Ralph Davis
Joshua: Picking up Principles
– Joshua 21:43-45 Sums up everything so far.
– Usual OT pattern: Grace then demand for obedience
– Use the OT to interpret the OT (Josh 1; 7:21, 24-26)
– Accept the stress – Get the point of what the writer is saying. What’s his point? What’s he saying? (Joshua 2)
– Doctrinal bones covered with narrative flesh (See how to preach OT narrative).
– Go slow: Josh 3-4 – The writer wants us to savour the event, like eating a delicious dessert. We need to enjoy it and remember it. God’s finest works take time.
– Keep your eye on the odd God: God is the most interesting character of the Bible. He’s amazing! God surprises us, shocks us (eg. grace: salvation of von Ribbentroff, Hitler’s foreign minister “I’ll see you in heaven”). God does “insane” things to prove a point – that it’s his doing, that he does what we don’t do, that he does the impossible.
– Josh 5:11-12 God provides – be thankful even in the ordinary everyday things
– Josh 9:18-21 God’s people are sometimes called to live obediently and submissively amongst their own folly. Eg. don’t divorce even if your marriage was a mistake – stay obedient even amongst your own folly.
Judges: Dare we preach OT narratives?
– Overview of Judges:
– A case of faithfulness in the little things (1:1-2:5)
– A sketch of grace in action (2:6-3:6)
– A record of salvation in detail (3:7-16:31)
– A picture of people in chaos (17-21)
– A bit more literary approach:
– Double prologue
– Conditions of apostasy develop (1:1-2:5)
– Course of apostasy described (2:6-3:6)
– Double conclusion
– Religious mess: Dan the apostate (17-18)
– Moral mess: Sodom in Israel (19-21; cf. Genesis – same story)
– God has no loose ends. He is completely in control.
– Watch out for myths about Judges: Downward spiral is the theme, rather than the common understanding of cycles.
– The shock problem: God crushes those who crush his people
– Lord’s ladies: God is the mighty warrior (4:14)
– The Bible may report something of which it doesn’t approve (female leaders?)
– Disturbed deliverance (10:6-12:7) Through all of this Yahweh remains silent.
– Judges asks: Where will we find a saviour who does things well?
– Parallels: 10:6-16 God/Israel; 11:1-11 Jephthah/Gilead
– Chapter 19 is intended to shock. Noone is right in this chapter. Everyone does wrong.
1-2 Samuel: Packaging is not pointless
– Some packaging is both simple and subtle (1 Sam 2:11ff): God is providing for the next moment, even during the darkness and sin (ie. Samuel is growing). Samuel is there as God’s man.
– Some packaging majors on placement and contrasts (1 Sam 14, 16): The continued fall of Saul – folly. Jonathon – king material – will never get to reign because God has taken the dynasty from Saul’s house. The ‘foolishness’ of God’s providence. What do we do with it?
– This account is Christian doctrine (God’s providence) with narrative flesh. What do we learn? How do we preach it?
– Some packaging is more sophisticated – but always doctrinal and instructive (1 Sam 23, 2 Sam 2:1-5:5): David does Saul’s job of saving Keilah. David has what Saul lacks (Ephod – God’s guidance). Abiathar is the anointed priest – access to God. Now, Jesus is the appointed priest – our access to God. Through our troubles, like David, we have God with us. Strange things happen in Biblical narrative that make us think “wow, what a great and wise God”. Divine providence.
– We need to see what God is doing in the narrative.
1-2 Kings: The Profit of Prophet Stories
– The problem of longer books: Omri dynasty (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 10). A lot of time is spent on this. Why? Maybe not work through kings but work your way into it. ‘Dipstick’ method rather than ‘working through’ method.
– God demands exclusive devotion
– Jeroboam’s dynasty is doomed from the beginning
– God can see through our motivation
– The unfoolable word – 1 Kings 14:1-20
– A secret word that exposes our trickery (1-6)
– A severe word that detests our idolatry (7-11)
– A sad word that depicts our destiny (12-18)
– Jeroboam only wants God for his crisis, but not to live by. Yahweh detests idolatry.
– The epiphany and geography of God’s word – 1 Kings 17
– 1 Kings 16:29ff – Start of raw paganism
– Jeroboam – water supply is contaminated (syncretism)
– Ahab – raw sewage (paganism – marries Jezebel, Baal’s evangelist)
– Baal is a fertility god
– So you want a ministry of the word? – 2 Kings 2:19-25
– God knows what’s going on in the world. He has his people amongst it. Be comforted!
– Elijah is told to hide (17:1ff) – he is the bearer of the word of God – the disappearance of God’s word from his people is an act of judgement. Elijah goes out of Israel to the gentiles – God turns his back on Israel and goes to the gentiles. Vv. 17-24 Is Yahweh like Baal? Capricious? No, resurrection! Yahweh has power over death – look at Jesus!
Dale Ralph Davis sermon – Serve the Lord in Weakness (Judges 6-7)
– God calls his servants to offer themselves in their weakness. The answer to weakness is God’s presence
– Exodus 3:12: “I will be with you”; Exodus 3:14: “I will be what I will be” ie. I will be present with you. See Matthew 28:20: “I will be with you” – same idea in Judges 6:16. “I will be what I will be” or “I will be present with you” is condensed into one word: “YHWH” meaning “I AM”
– God is present with his people wherever they may be
– Mark 4:40ff Jesus calms the storm – why are the disciples frightened? Cf. Psalm 107:29-30 – only God does this. God is amongst them.
– Gideon’s fleece – he is hesitant and wants assurance of God’s word. God knows his servants – he knows we need assurance. God accommodates himself to our weaknesses. Like a father playing tackle with his son, so God goes easy on us.
– God works through our weakness – it’s how he works, the avenue of his working. There is a necessity for our weakness for it is God’s method. Serve the Lord in your weakness.
Dr. Don Carson
The Preacher and Biblical Theology
– Systematic Theology: answering the atemporal questions ie. what did the cross achieve? And uses the whole Bible to answer it.
– Biblical Theology: answering the temporal questions ie. what does Isaiah contribute to the doctrine of God?
– Massive Biblical illiteracy – Biblical theology addresses and remedies it.
– Biblical theology (BT) – the sweeping storyline of redemptive history. Explaining the Bible in its own categorical terms. Explain passages within the framework of the Bible’s storyline.
– A Biblically informed Christian is our best hearer. Our job is to get them Biblically informed.
– God has spoken – the Bible is what he has said and is saying – we must understand it on its own terms
– Preaching = speaking God’s words in love into a broken, godless world going to hell.
– BT asks – what is the contribution of Genesis 39 to Genesis? Joseph keeps his zipper up resulting in the salvation of Israel and therefore ultimately Jesus can come.
– Each story of the Bible needs to be linked and understood in the light of the story of the Bible.
– Inter-canonical tendons (connections) – themes, etc. within the Bible eg. covenant, priesthood, etc.
The Preacher and Systematic Theology
– Systematic Theology (ST) is a synthesis of the whole of Scripture about some topic (eg. faith, resurrection, etc.)
– Good ST should be culturally and historically aware
– The gospel should encourage true human flourishing – what it truly means to be a human being
– Idolatry – the degrading of God while elevating other “gods”. Putting myself in God’s place
– Most foundational of relationships: Creator/creature
– The best ST forces us to think hierarchically about theology. Some things are more important in the Bible than others eg. 1Cor. 15: “… of first importance” – ie. the death and resurrection of Jesus
– Keep the main things the main things
– Students don’t learn everything we teach – they learn what we’re passionate about
– Genesis 1-11 – What’s important? What’s God saying?
– This generation is profoundly Biblically illiterate
– Read some systematic theology (eg. Robert L Raymond – A Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith)
– The Word Corrects heresy when we are attentive to it
– New priesthood = new sacrifice and new temple (Jesus)
– Other good books: Edmund C Clowney – The Unfolding Mystery; Bryan Chappell – Christ-centred Preaching; Sydney Crydanus; New Studies in Biblical Theology
– Don’t background what is Biblically foreground and foreground what is Biblically background
– We must put passages within the Biblical framework otherwise we can make them say what we like. Eg. “I have come that they may have abundant life” could be an appeal to Buddhism if not understood in its context
The Preacher and Historical Theology
– Historical theology (HT) overlaps with Sytematic theology (ST)
– HT is ST of a particular age
– Importance of history to Christianity. Relationship of Christianity to history is unique; Christianity is historic. Eg. If Siddhartha Gautama never existed would Buddhism be jeopardised? No. Does Hinduism need Krishna to exist for it to work? No. Is Muhammad essential to Islam? No, Islam could have been revealed to another. Is Jesus essential to Christianity? Yes! He is the message. He is the revelation. Therefore, Christianity must be historically true. Documents, witnesses, etc. are essential. Jesus actually became flesh and blood, died, rose again, etc.
– Faith in itself is not important – the object of faith, the truth about Jesus, is important
– HT is seeing what previous generations taught – previous Systematic Theologies (hence the overlap mentioned above).
– We must know the teachings of Athanaseus, Luther, Calvin, Wilberforce, Spurgeon, etc. Get to know the brothers and sisters of Christ from throughout history. Know and cherish the STs of history.
– Most dangerous heresy – Gnosticism (1st-4th Century)
– Reformation – Indulgences started it but lead to more important reforms such as justification by faith alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, etc.
– Today – homosexuality is the issue at the moment but the real issue is do we do what the Bible says?!
– HT teaches us that God has more light to break from his most Holy Word. Historically, some doctirnes are formed when opposing heresy (eg. gnosticism)
– HT reminds us that some (modified) heresies and errors occur (eg. Jehovah’s Witness teaching is similar to Arianism (4th C) in some ways)
– HT enriches preaching through moving illustrations
– Interact with the whole history of the church. What have preachers of the past said?
The Preacher and Pastoral Theology
– How do we tie theology to pastoral ministry?
– Academic reading/learning of Scripture, etc. is just as spiritual and important as ‘devotional’ reading/learning
– Pastoral Theology (PT) – a perspective of all types of theology that focuses constantly on people
– Cultivate compassion – emulate Jesus loves people, loves the lost, loves the church. See the sheep without a shepherd and be moved by compassion
– Cultivate and understanding of people and their needs in Biblical categories. Sociology/psychology is useful but must also be dealt with with theological thought. Challenge narcissistic culture of young people living for retirement.
– Preach and teach to wound and heal
– Cultivate a prepared mind and heart for turning points in people’s lives. Death, birth, marriage, divorce, etc.
– Talk about death – the last taboo.
– The church is preparing people for eternity. Pastoral theology speaks in eternity’s terms
– Cultivate a rapid and automatic turn to Jesus. Rely on Jesus. Turn people to Jesus, to the cross, to eternity. Don’t assume these things. Don’t relegate the gospel to second place. Jesus should be number one.
– Cultivate connections between lofty thoughts of God and people.
– Cultivate the ability to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice
– Cultivate prudential wisdom that refuses to give too much time to bottomless pit parishoners. Don’t let difficult people take up too much of your time. Your job is for the whole church. Instead, 1. Give them tasks to do like memorise 30 verses of Scripture before you will see them again. 2. Find people in the church who have the ability to hold these people’s hands (delegate!).
– Cultivate a healthy independence from your congregation. We need to deal with all topics, even those that may offend some in the congregation.
– Cultivate your own maturation – watch your life and doctrine closely. Pastors are to be examples of what Christians are to be like.
Don Carson Sermon #1
– Hebrew 6:4-6 – How does this passage ‘fit’ in Hebrews? Chapters 3&4 – Israel saved from Egypt but not into promised land. Same for Christians?
– Perseverence of Christians is essential for salvation. Can those who become Christians then fall away, then come back?
– BT helps to avoid anachronisms (definition: the attribution of a custom, event, etc., to a period to which it does not belong; anything out of harmony with its period) by enabling biblically warranted connections.
– Civil, ceremonial, moral law of OT
– Law is prophetic – fulfilled in Christ
– BT – embrace the completeness of Scripture – the whole story
Don Carson Sermon #2 – Jesus the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:1-53)
– God won’t be domesticated – he often surprises us.
– Lots of irony in the Bible; both OT and NT (eg. Matthew and John)
– John 11 – Jesus receives a desperate plea for help and demonstrates his love by his delay. God’s glory is displayed which increases faith, awe, etc. We are often like a 4 year old wanting food “now!”. Delayed gratification is much better: work hard now and appreciate the break.
– Jesus comes up against devastating loss and consoles grief by pointing to himself. Jesus performs resurrection then says his is the resurrection (also chpt.6 – Jesus performs the bread of life then says he is the bread of life). This is like Colonel Sanders saying “I am Kentucky Fried Chicken” or Kurt Cobain saying “I am grunge music”, Mike Hussey is “Mr. Cricket” etc. Jesus is the epitome of resurrection. He is “Mr. Resurrection”. The greatest comfort comes from looking to the gospel of Jesus – his resurrection, life eternal in him.
– Jesus comes up against implacable death and declares his sovereignty over it in tears and outrage. V.33 literally: “Jesus was outraged and troubled” Jesus weeps. V.38 “outraged” – Jesus is outraged and weeping – why? Why the tears and outrage? Jesus is outraged by death itself. Angry. Furious at death. He weeps as he sees the unbelief. Death is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is not natural. It is the result of our sin. It’s part of a damned world. It’s the last enemy but it doesn’t have the last word. Jesus weeps out of compassion.
– Jesus comes against moral and spiritual death and gives life by dying himself. The Jews say “we need to get rid of Jesus to save the nation” – irony: Jerusalem destroyed anyway. People speak better than they know. Jesus destroys death by dying – the supreme irony of Scripture.
The Model Ministry – Acts 18:23-20:38
– Faithful communication of the Word: Testifying, preaching, proclaiming, teaching, etc. – this is true ministry. It is the ministry of God’s word that is important, not signs and wonders (these merely accompanied the apostles message, verifying the truth that they were declaring God’s word).
– A diligent watchman/shepherd: We must be accountable. We must warn people. We must watch over the souls of the flock. We must say hard things when they need to be said. We must declare the fullness of God’s word, not just the bits we like.
– Personal integrity: The greatest need for kids is to see their parents (and teachers) walking with Christ. Practice what you preach.
– Self-effacing: It’s all about God. “Don’t whine, don’t shine, don’t recline!”
– Revelation 2:1-7
The Ministry of Reconciliation – 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
– The ministry of reconciliation is achieved by telling people that:
– We are rebels towards God and therefore alienated from Him
– God is angry about this because of the damage our rebellion causes
– God, in Christ, has taken the punishment for the sin of the world
– God has committed to Christians the message and ministry of reconciliation
– This is described for us in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. The gospel is brilliant in what it achieves and Paul is in awe of this.
– Some background to 2 Corinthians
– Twice Paul reminds the Corinthians that he ‘does not lose heart (4:1, 16)
– Had the Corinthians given him cause to lose heart? Indeed they had.
– Paul is an ‘anti-triumphalist’. He knows his weaknesses.
– He deals with such subjects as sickness, death, decay, and worst of all alienation from God (neglected by the ‘super-apostles’?)
– Paul doesn’t lose heart because he knows of the coming new creation
– What typifies Australia today? Unmitigated hedonism.
– Motivation for the ministry of reconciliation (vv 11-15)
– The fear of the Lord
– Paul wishes to be well-rewarded
– The Thessalonians are described as Paul’s crown
– The love of Christ
– A new creation (vv 16-17)
– Everything is seen through the gosple filter
– Even his thinking about Christ had to be revised
– In Christ – the new creation has started in us
– How is reconciliation achieved? (vv 18-21)
– By God
– By the ambassadors
– The fear of the Lord and the love of Christ are strong motivations
– There is a ministry of reconciliation achieved by God and applied by the message of reconciliation
– To be Christ’s representatives is a high honour
Christian Leadership and the Lure of ‘the Dream’ – 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10
– Illustration: Steve Waugh’s last century in Australia – glory!
– The dream – the applause of our fellow human beings. This is not a good thing for the Christian preacher!
– The distinguishing mark of genuine Christian apostleship? Not worldly success. Not boasting in your own wonderfulness or stoic-ness and ability to overcome. Not a superior strand of the human race. Paul has a “boast-off” although he is reluctant to do so. Paul mocks the false apostles by his list of boasting. He doesn’t boast in his successes – only of his weaknesses. The successes belong to God.
– Chapter 12 – Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to put him on a pedestal (like the super apostles)
– God allowed satan to afflict Paul because He wanted him weak. Why? V.8 – because (v.9) “my grace is sufficient” – my power comes to its fullness in your weakness. Weakness is the way that God works. God chooses the foolish, the weak, the ignoble things, etc. to shame the wise, strong, noble, etc.
– Jesus, crucified in human weakness but raised in God’s power. Renounce self-sufficiency, power, pride. Then, beg God for his power to show through. Throw yourself on God.
1 Peter 5
– 1 Peter 4: General suffering but also Christian suffering. How do you overcome suffering? Humility. Not arrogance, rank, etc. Rather, be humble towards one another. Preachers should serve, shepherding in humility.