Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Johnny Can't Preach

I read Dr. Gordon's new book Why Johnny Can't Preach last night (it is a quick read - 108 pages) as I am in the preaching business and wanted to see what he had to say about why my profession is broken. I actually started to read the book about a month ago but put it down after 20 pages when I felt like I had been caught in the vortex of a complaining retired seminary professor. However, late yesterday as I was working on my sermon for 3.14 and putting some books away, I picked it up again and started skimming his later chapters. What I found was encouraging and challenging.

Dr. Gordon's basic premise is that today's preachers (who have grown up in a media-saturated generation) struggle to preach because we struggle to read and write - the necessary basics of preaching well. His chapter on reading basically makes the argument that most preachers do not know how to sit with texts for long periods of time and wrestle with metaphors and poetry (which the Bible is full of) and this negatively impacts our ability to preach the Scriptures. I was challenged by his conviction that most preachers start with a short list of Christian convictions that they have been taught through the years and then look for those principles in every passage they read (technically known as eisegesis - reading intended meaning into a text). This stands in contrast to how we should preach - built on exegesis (looking for the text's actual meaning). Dr. Gordon says that preachers should regularly be challenged (in their worldview) by the texts they are working on if they are doing actual exegesis - because after studying the actual texts the concepts are different than what the preacher thought they were going in. I totally agree with this!

His second concept is that modern preachers struggle to preach because they are ineffective writers. Instead of growing up writing long-hand (which forces thinking ahead, clarity, and brevity), my generation has grown up with limited writing experience and even then, only in the context of email and word-processing (which is very forgiving to errors - thank you "delete" key). Dr. Gordon's main point is that my generation has grown up in a media-saturated environment (where we spend a ton of time with video-imagery) where we spend more time with TV, movies, video-games, and the computer than we do with reading and writing. This obviously has a major impact on preaching, causing most preachers to struggle with not only understanding texts but with articulating their ideas in coherent and cohesive ways. Hard to argue with that!

While these two chapters were insightful, his final one was actually the most helpful in this short book. He writes about four alternative concepts of preaching from the Reformation view of preaching as gospel-centered and Christ-exalting. The first is moralistic preaching, where the sermon is a call to some kind of ethic living separated from the redemptive narrative of Christ's death and resurrection. This is not new to me - Tim Keller has shaped my views in this area over the last year - but Gordon connects moralistic preaching to the birth of Protestant liberalism in the early twentieth century. I have never made this connection (that ethical preaching separated from Christ and the gospel is another version of classical Protestant liberalism) but think it is accurate and common. The second alternative that Gordon describes is "how-to" preaching which is very similar to moralistic preaching (he calls is a subset), but is built even more on the assumption that people can obey God is they simply know the right strategy to take - the problem is lack of information, but the condition of the heart. The third alternative is introspective preaching or what Gordon calls "you think you are saved, but you're really not" preaching where the focus is constantly on the commitment level of the listener rather than the glory and perfection of Christ. He likens this to standing at the edge of a bridge crossing a canyon and discussing the person's level of confidence in the bridge rather than the trustworthiness of the bridge. What people need is not continuous self-reflection but rather to hear the beauty and glory of Christ's perfections. The final alternative that Gordon addresses is culture-war preaching where the communicators spends all of his effort addressing cultural and political issues in an attempt to increase the Christian flavor of the overall culture. Gordon calls this misdirected patriotism that seeks to coerce the masses rather than convert the individual with the gospel of Christ.

In all of this, Gordon is focused on the skill of preaching. And for this contribution to my thinking I am grateful. I would recommend this work to stir your thoughts more than anything else. However, Gordon leaves off one very-important piece of the puzzle - the character of the preacher. As important as the skill of crafting and delivering a fully biblical, gospel-centered sermon is the character (read godliness) of the man who delivers that message. We are all guilty of preaching better than we live, but we need to continue to pursue an incarnational model of preaching that demonstrates that we believe what we are saying.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marriage Resources

As we have just finished the 3-week marriage part of our family series from the book of Genesis at church, I thought it would be helpful to type out a list of resources that would guide couples who are seeking to grow and work through the challenges they are facing. I hope these various ideas and links will provide direction regardless of your circumstances.

If both husband and wife desire to improve the marriage, here are give specific suggestions that couples can do together that will make an impact:

1- Read a marriage book together. I would recommend Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Love & Respect is a good book to read together as it surfaces foundational issues in marriage and how husband and wife see each other and relate to each other. L&R is immensely practical and thoroughly biblical. There are lots of marriage books out there, but this is one of the best. Start here.

2- Watch a marriage movie together. I would recommend Fireproof. The movie is not professional-quality in all aspects because it was shot on a small budget, but the message is solid. For those who would rather watch a movie than read a book, this would be a good place to start. The movie raises lots of important issues related to marriage (work-life balance, pornography, emotional affairs, faith, etc.) and will spur healthy conversations.

3- Attend a marriage conference together.
I would recommend the next Weekend to Remember conference hosted by Family Life. The next one in Austin is April 30th-May 2nd at the Renaissance Austin Hotel at the Arboretum, but they also host conferences all over the US. Barie and I have attended this conference twice and it is awesome. The time away together is refreshing, and the material really enhances oneness. Low-cost and high-impact.

4- Do a getting-away-to-get-it-together weekend together. We did our first getting-away-to-get-it-together weekend four years ago on the recommendation of a mentor during the church-planting residency at HCBC. We haven't missed a year since. The premise is simple and based on the notebook written by Bill Wellons: plan out a weekend trip with your spouse away from the kids to just focus on the health of your marriage. I would recommend reading Wellons' guidance before you go - his ideas on balancing structure and spontaneity are really helpful.

5- Meet with a mentor couple together.
As a church, we are blessed with many spiritually-mature couples who are willing to sit down with you and share from their years of marriage experience. Barie and I have been blessed with great mentor-couples as a young couple in ministry. I would highly recommend that you email Nick Shock (our ministries pastor) if you think meeting with a mentor couple would be helpful to you.

6- Go to marriage counseling together.
I have referred couples to many different Christian professional counselors over the years. If you need professional marriage help, please seek it. Don't buy into the lie that you should be ashamed of getting counseling. In Austin, I would recommend that you contact the Center for Relational Care which provides both marriage intensives and on-going professional counseling. As a second-choice, I would contact New Life Counseling Center in Round Rock.

If a husband or wife's desire to improve their marriage is one-sided and not reciprocated by their spouse, here are some specific steps he or she can take...

1- Pray for your spouse.
If you truly believe that only God can change your spouse, then the appropriate response is committed prayer. Barie has found Stormie Omartian's book The Power of a Praying Wife helpful in knowing how to pray for me. Husbands, I have found praying through Proverbs 31 a good guide in praying for Barie.

2- Do the Love-Dare.
The Love Dare is a 40-day challenge to sacrificially love your spouse based on the movie Fireproof. While completion of the Love Dare will not guarantee that your marriage will automatically be healed, it does give some creative techniques for showing love to your spouse and seeing how that love flows from the love of Christ.

3- Wait on God.
The hardest advice, but also the truest. God's timing is not our own, and we must learn to trust Him and walk with Him even while we wait on Him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Notes: The Well-Behaved Child (4/5)

John Rosemond, a long-time parenting speaker and writer, has written a new book on discipline that is focused on helping parents with kids ages 3 to 13. His book is based on an approach that he calls "old-fashioned" parenting - looking to the wisdom of previous generations instead of the strategies of professional psychologists. Rosemond's discipline strategy is actually very simple and built on a simple philosophy of parenting.

First, a few words on his philosophy. Rosemond teaches that kids are evil by nature (in line with a biblical view of depravity) and all of his parental coaching flows from this worldview. He believes that parents are called to lead their children rather than follow them, correct them rather than coddle them, and discipline them rather than apologize for them. All of these conclusions flow from his view that kids are foolish in themselves and need correction and direction.

Second, a few words on his discipline strategy. Rosemond teaches that parents need to shift the burden of bad behavior from themselves to the children that misbehave. He calls this the agony principle and most of the book is full of ideas on how to shift the agony of poor decision making away from the parents to the children. His most common discipline technique for young children is to send them to bed early, strip them of all electronics and privileges, and keep them from extracurricular activities. The book gives various examples of how to use these techniques, but the core elements are the same. Rosemond also gives helpful techniques to parents on how to shepherd young kids during tough moments without losing their cool (a constant challenge I have found with multiple young kids).

Overall, I thought his book was helpful in his abundant specific examples - he has obviously been working with many, many parents over a long period of time. He is convinced that parents have lost their backbone in our generation after listening to too many professional psychologists give expert advice that he believes has come up short. Rosemond is a funny writer and keeps the material moving. While I was thankful for his very practical advice and will most likely use some of his techniques with my own children, I was a little concerned that he didn't take the next step and talk about the need for a child's heart to be changed by the gospel. In my view (based on Ted Tripp's book Shepherd a Child's Heart), the greatest need that our children have is not compliant behavior, but transformed hearts. And while Rosemond's techniques can help us have compliant children, they will not produce hearts that love God and want to do what is right over the long-term. Only kids who love Christ first will continue to honor God after they leave the next of parental supervision.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading Lately...

Sometimes people ask what I've been reading lately. Here's a quick overview of some books I've finished in the last few weeks. I'll have a longer review tomorrow for a book on parenting that I'm reading right now. We are finishing a three-week marriage series from the book of Genesis in the morning at church, and then we are starting a three-week parenting series from the book of Genesis next Sunday. Both have been really energizing to work on and helpful to our families (from the feedback I've received so far). Because of that, I've been looking back over some books on marriage and parenting the last several weeks. I'll post a review of one of the new parenting books I've read next week. But, here are some others that I've read - both work-related and some just-for-fun stuff.

1- Forgotten God by Francis Chan. Chan's book on the Holy Spirit was a good reminder of living in daily dependence on the Spirit and teaching our people to walk with Him each day. A good primer on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the practice of engaging the Spirit daily.

2- Why We Love the Church by DeYoung & Kluck. Similar in format to the book they wrote on the emergent movement (alternating chapters), this is a response to increasingly popular stream of thought that is anti-establishment and anti-institution. I found it extremely helpful and encouraging, giving me words to describe why I feel so positively about the local church.

3- How to Multiply Your Church by Ralph Moore. Moore is the founder of the Hope Chapel movement of churches and the pastor of Hope Chapel in Hawaii. The book is more motivational than strategic, but Moore's words and his example did help me process some of my fears related to church-multiplication.

4- Money, Greed, and God by Jay Richards. This is the most helpful book I have ever read on how economies really work. Richards writes as an economist and as a committed Christian, and his insights and explanations have radically changed my view of economics.

5- Stone Cold by David Baldacci. I haven't read a fiction book in a while and got this one on clearance at B&N and read it while I was in Colorado. Fun read, fast paced, entertaining, nothing life-changing. I already forgot what it was about.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Appropriate Smallness

We (me, Barie, and the three boys - we left Brynlee with grandmothers) just returned from a great family getaway last weekend in Colorado. We had booked some cheap Southwest tickets when they were available last fall and spent three nights up in Estes Park - right next to the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Our intent was to spend some intentional time with our sons and let them have some firsts that they have been talking about for a long time - riding on a airplane, playing in the snow, seeing the mountains, etc.

What I didn't expect was how refreshing the time would be for me spiritually. I told the kids during our time in Colorado that if they listened (according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1), they could hear creation crying out, "God is awesome!" It was so cute to listen to them stop us on the trails in the national park and say, "I can hear it." In reality, I needed to hear the words of Psalm 121 that says, "I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my hope come from? My help comes from the Lord." In looking at the enormous size of the mountains and their beauty and grandeur, I was reminded of the size and beauty and grandeur of our God. We serve the God who made everything that I was seeing from nothing. My Father is the God of all creation - easy to forget, isn't it?

I think in the daily grind of life and ministry that it is easy to forget the awesomeness and hugeness of God. I know that I am tempted to think too highly of myself and too lowly of God. But the mountains reminded me of my place. I am one person on a planet with over six billion people. My life is brief - the Bible compares it to a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:14) - and so small when compared the greatness and glory of God. Why am I so tempted to forget this and be so full of pride? The truth is that the mountains I saw were a small part of the creation we see on earth - mountains and oceans and clouds and fields. And the earth is one small part of a giant universe that include billions of stars and planets. And God is bigger than this - the Maker of all.

I am not depressed by this truth - in fact, it reminds me how remarkable the love of God is as seen in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I am humbled by this truth. I see myself again with appropriate smallness. God is God and I am not.