>Some Helpful Resources on the Psalms

>For the past couple of months, we have been attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Norfolk, Va while waiting for a call. In the morning, the senior pastor is preaching through the Psalms. From listening to the sermons, I have been reminded of the deep riches that can be mined from the Psalms, as well as the importance and necessity of reading and applying them Christocentrically. So I recently decided to do my own study of the Psalms, including some work on the use of the Psalter in Reformed worship. Here are some resources I have found helpful so far.

First, a classic place to begin for any reader, but especially the Reformed reader is the “The Author’s Preface” in John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. This can be found in volume four of the Baker edition on pages xxxv-xlix.

Second, for any proper Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms, one needs to begin with Geerharudus Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter.” This article first appeared in the Princeton Theological Review back in 1920, but has also been republished as an appendix in The Pauline Eschatology. Now, this article is not for the faint of heart–it is challenging, but well worth great effort. When one comes to understand Vos, one will find that every Psalm, not just some of the Psalms, are “messianic.”

Third, for an updated case arguing for a Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms in which all Psalms are understood to be “messianic,” I am reading Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms.

Fourth, for a handbook that is geared towards teaching the exegetical method for approaching a Psalm, I am reading Mark Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. This book does a great job of starting with the most basic elements of Hebrew poetry and then moves you through the exegetical process, including understanding the Psalms redemptive-historically and theologically, including how to identify the type of Psalm, and how to teach or preach the Psalm. The book is equally practical and theological. The book may appear technical to those who have not had Hebrew, but lack of training in Hebrew will not cause anyone to miss anything.

Fifth, for an introduction and suggested guide for using the Psalms in worship, I have been reading John D. Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship. Although this book is not as Reformed as I was expecting (the author is the director for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship), it still has much to offer concerning the historic use of the Psalms and current ways to use them in worship and prayer.

Last, a book that I am not yet reading but plan to is Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship. This book combines exegetical insights from Waltke (who also believes that every psalm is messianic) with historical insights on how the Psalms have been interpreted and used throughout the history of the church. The only reason I’m not reading it yet is because it has not yet been released! But I will begin it as soon as I get it.

The plan is to provide more in-depth reviews of these resources as I am able, so check back for more info. But for now, pick one or two and get reading!


>Being a Pulpiteer not a Puppeteer, or Finiding One’s Voice in the Pulpit

>In addition to his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed, Kevin DeYoung has begun blogging over at 9Marks. In a recent post he talks about a subject that I have sensed myself struggling with for over a year now–learning to be yourself in the pulpit instead of consciously or unconsciously channeling someone else.

As I have been learning to preach, I think this has been the hardest thing to learn (which I haven’t yet). It is not learning to study in the original languages, biblical theology, systematic theology, or even speaking in front of a congregation that has been difficult for me, but presenting what I find in my voice according to my personality. DeYoung frames my struggle (and the struggle of most young pastors) well:

One of the hardest things for any preacher to learn, especially young preachers, is to simply be yourself. Don’t put on someone else’s passion or humor or learning. And don’t take off your own personality because one of your heroes doesn’t share it exactly. Go ahead and learn from the best. But your congregation needs to hear you on Sunday, not an impression of the preacher you wish you were.

I am glad to hear that he feels that he is growing into his own skin. I look forward to that day myself, when I, “Let [my] person constantly be refined by the Spirit of God, and let the truth of God’s word shine through [my] own personality.”

Read his entire post here, and then think of some ways to encourage your pastor!

>Charlie Dennison On The Rhetoric Of The Bible

>What is the relationship of preaching and rhetoric? In Homiletics, or the study of preaching, what principles should drive the way the preacher communicates the scripture? Many have taught that in Homiletics, the preacher should borrow the standards, or principles, of classical rhetoric and apply them to the preaching task. But this raises an important question: just how sufficient is the Bible? Do we have to go outside the Bible in order to learn how to effectively communicate the Bible? Is the effective communication of God’s word dependent on man’s communication theories and devices? Or, is the scripture sufficient for not only providing us the right content for sermons, but also the means by which that content will be effectively communicated?

Charlie Dennison offers his perspective in his lecture “The Bible and Rhetoric,” “I don’t think the Bible is interested in [the science of public communication].” What we find in the Bible is God’s sovereign, preserved speech, in which he discloses himself to his people that they might by his grace partake with him in a transcendent bond of perpetual fellowship. Preaching, therefore, is communicating not ideas that we hope lead to good morals and ethics (classic rhetoric) but a person and an event by which this perpetual bond will come about. Therefore,

Because the event of God’s self-disclosure is central to biblical or Hebraic reality, rhetoric within the Christian context could never be summarized by the traditional categories of classical rhetoric. . . . Biblical reality must first of all be proclamation. Proclamation not of an idea, but of an event. Not of a thought in someone’s head to be argued for or defended, but an event most certainly having taken place.

The rhetoric of the Bible is not about getting people to believe ideas, it is about proclaiming the certainty of an event that centers in the event of God’s self disclosure–principally his final revelation of his ultimate saving act as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Central and foundational to this self revelation of God is a covenantal dimension that is lost and nonexistent in classical rhetoric as it treats persons as if they exist in a vacuum of the here and now. Yet, the rhetoric of the scripture is inherently covenantal an intrudes itself upon the listener with a completely different way of thinking, so that the consciousness of the audience is to be drawn into the event–because covenantally the audience was there and must learn to find their lives there in the event of the intrusive saving act of God, especially as it is realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–to which all of the Bible points. So that now, although I am separated from the historical event of Jesus by almost two thousand years, covenantally I can say with the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2.20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Was not Paul himself absent from the crucifixion and resurrection historically just as I was? Yes, but not covenantally and redemptively. By faith both Paul and I (and all who receive and rest Christ by faith) are united and bound up with Christ and his story. The Bible is the history of God’s event and action of redeeming a people for his glory through Christ–all the Bible is Christ’s story–all the Bible is your story.

The rhetoric of the Bible is to get you to find yourself there and then to live by faith in light of it. The rhetoric of sermons, therefore, should be the same as the rhetoric of the scripture. This is not a baptized version of classical rhetoric, for it is classical rhetoric’s opposite.

Classical rhetoric keeps the audience outside of the text–which is the complete opposite intention of the text. It leaves the audience in a position to read about what happened in the past and how others lived in those events. The audience is left outside looking in, with no other action to take than from a supposed position of neutrality to either accept what happened and try to emulate or not emulate the persons involved and discover principles that can be practiced, or, to reject what happened and not care. Classical rhetoric does not allow the audience to connect with the Bible’s rhetorical intention, which is to covenantally draw the audience into the story–into the life of Christ himself, and to live by faith in Christ.

This does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to still communicate clearly and accurately; it does not mean that the pastor is not responsible to communicate passionately; it does not mean that the sermon is not supposed to have movement and can just be running commentary and rambling on about historical details or cultural insights. Sermons should have a main idea that is developed, that is unified, that is clearly set forth, that has movement that drives to a climax and conclusion. But not because secular philosophers and communication experts say it, but because this is what we see in the redemptive-historical pattern of the revelation of God. And the purpose is not to teach ideas to merely persuade persons to action–but to proclaim the event of revelation itself and draw the audience into the event to strengthen their faith that they may walk in the confidence of the gospel. And that communication should be shaped not by the clever and eloquent techniques and devices of sophists, but by the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A gospel shaped proclamation (humiliation that leads to exaltation because of union with Christ in his humiliation and exaltation) of the gospel is the Bible’s rhetoric for effectively drawing the Christian into the gospel into order to believe it and live by it. Not only is the gospel to be proclaimed in the content of what is said–but in the manner in which it is presented. The pastor should be so bound up with Christ and find his life hidden in Christ, that even his method of argumentation, his rhetoric, preaches Christ.

Dennison closes with this summary of the Bible’s rhetoric,

[The Bible] co-opts rhetoric and transforms it into an extension of the biblically declared saving work of God, where the event of God’s accomplishment dominates all ideas about that event. The Bible, therefore, intends its presentation to bring the hearer into the direct and spiritual contact with God’s saving act. . . . The message and the method in the Bible’s rhetoric are so intertwined that in the end, the method itself communicates the message. The world’s rhetoric, for all its artistry and scientific precision, in the end, by contrast, too often comes off only transparently contrived, but anemic, if not vacuous.

This lecture is a must listen for everyone, pastor and lay person alike. For not only does it speak to the rhetoric that should be used by the minister in the pulpit, it speaks to the rhetoric that the congregation should expect to hear from the minister. Ultimately, it will transform how we read and understand the Bible itself.

Evangelical Eloquence – Introduction to Sacred Rhetoric

>How important is gospel communication? The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1.17-19 states,

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Many use this statement by Paul to suggest that it is wrong to teach and learn communication skills in order to communicate the gospel–they suggest that that is falling prey to using eloquence that robs the cross of its power and wisdom from the world that will be destroyed.In the Introduction to his classic work on sacred rhetoric, R.L. Dabney confronts this notion by suggesting a difference between art and artifice. He suggests that “Art is but the rational adjustment of means to an end. . . . it employs proper menas for a worthy end; it is but wisdom in application, (15). For Dabney, describing preaching as the “art” of speech communication of the gospel is not the same as saying that preaching is to utilize lofty speech or sophistry, for that is “artifice,” not “art.” “Artifice is fasle; it adopts deceitful means for a treacherous end,” like “when the cunning seducer prepares a seeming attraction which is not indeed real, to inveigle his prey into the snare, this is artifice, (15). But not only does “artifice” include using tricky tactics to get people to agree with the speaker, it also includes the pathos of the fine arts, “in which the end of the skill employed is only to gratify the taste, and not to evoke practical volition, (15).

For Dabney, then, referring to preaching as an art, is not to suggest that preachers should use tricks, fanciful language and or sophisticated arguments to simply get people to agree with them or to create an experience that merely flatters one’s taste; for when he does so, he violates his responsibility to his office and contradicts the very notion of preaching itself. Rather, because the preacher has been called by God to communicate the truth of the gospel with oral communication, then, the preacher should utilize means that help him accomplish his duty:

But I assert none the less that, since this duty is to convey gospel truth effectively to other souls, and since there are adapted means by which this end may be the better accomplished, there is a true art of preaching, which is not only lawful and hones, but sacredly obligatory.

Dabney’s point here is that the preaching of the gospel is itself a means that God uses for the nourishment of faith in his covenant people and for creating faith in the lost, and as such, it is imperative for the preacher to use the proper means of communication. As Dabney points out, the preacher does not have the choice between using a means and not using one, but rather, the real choice is between “art wise and art foolish, art skillful and art clumsy,” (17).

Sacred rhetoric helps the unclear to become clear. And this is quite important, since “the state of the pulpit may always be taken as an index of that of the Church. Whenever the pulpit is evangelical, the piety of the people is in some degree healthy; a pervision of the pulpit is surely followed by spiritual apostasy in the Church,” (27).

So in light of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1.17-19, how should the preacher utilize effective means (art) for communicating the gospel without utilizing eloquent wisdom that empties the cross of its power? Dabney suggests that in the history of gospel preaching, there have been three stages that serve to help illustrate the proper and improper rhetorical art, and these stages help provide the preacher a guide.

The first stage is the proper stage for gospel preaching. In it, “scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb . . . they are presented in that dress and connection in which the Holy spirit has presented them, without seeking any other from human science.” By this Dabney draws our attention to the reality that the scripture itself comes with its own means of presentation. The Bible is not a random collections of words–but the Spirit has communicated God’s revelation with a form. We must study the Bible, not only for its content, but also for the form in which that content has been communicated. Faithful preaching and sacred rhetoric that is in keeping with Paul’s instructions utilizes the means of communication found in the Bible for communicating the message of the Bible. (I will have more to say about this stage later, so check back!)

However, there are two other stages, both of which the preacher should avoid. The second stage is a hybrid of the first and third stages. In it the doctrines of the Bible are taught using the methods developed by human wisdom “moulded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics.” This kind of preaching attempts to maintain the correct teaching of the Bible, but rather than using the rhetoric of the Bible, it utilizes the popular communication styles of the culture. Let me provide an example. Many today believe that preaching itself has become outmoded because we live in a culture that is image oriented. Mere spoken words do not communicate to today’s culture, so we need to find other creative, image-based means to communicate the gospel. In essence, this method, although well-intentioned, falls into the trap that Paul says we are to avoid. The preaching of the gospel is foolishness to those who are not meant to receive it. We are not called to smooth out the foolishness by utilizing means that are culturally driven instead of the means found in the Bible itself. According to Dabney, this is important, for when one tries to teach the truth using culturally based communication styles, the result is that the truth will ultimately be lost, which leads to the third stage.

The third stage is to be avoided at all costs, for the third stage is when not only are “the methods and explanations conformed to the philosophy of the day, but the doctrines themselves contradict the truth of the Word,” (28). The point: one cannot separate the message from the media. If one attempts to utilize the media of the culture, the message will soon begin to correspond to the message of the culture, as well.

In this Introduction, Dabney helps the preacher and the person in the pew have a better understanding of the importance of communicating the gospel well and the proper place to ascertain the form of that communication–the Bible. The preacher, no matter how gifted he may be, must study and learn the art of sacred rhetoric, for the sake of being faithful to his own call and for the sake of those listening to him. There is an art to sacred rhetoric that does not empty the cross of its power and is not based in the culture of the world that is passing away. In the words of Dabney:

Let us, my bretheren, eschew the ill-starred ambition which seeks to make the body of God’s truth a “lay figure” on which to parade the drapery of human philsopophy. May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress!


>MTI Homiletics Reading List

>So here is the required reading for the class:

  1. Arturo G. Azurdia III, Spirit Empowered Preaching (Mentor, 1998)
  2. Graeme Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000)
  3. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1999)
  4. Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Pilgrim Publications $40 +4, or an equivalent unabridged edition). Vol. 1: Lectures V, VI, VIII, IX, X; Vol. 2: Lectures VI, VII, VIII, X

We are required to submit summaries for each of the required readings. So, over the next couple of months, I will be posting reflections and critiques here. I welcome any and all interaction, so feel free to share your comments!

>MTI Homiletics Practicum

>I have just received my introduction letter and prospectus for the upcoming MTI Homiletics Practicum. MTI stands for Ministerial Training Institute:

“MTIOPC is designed primarily to provide men who are preparing for the gospel ministry (men under care of presbyteries and licentiates) and current OP ministers with instruction supplemental to that which they might receive in seminary. Others (including OP ruling elders, ministers from other denominations, and men in other denominations training for the ministry) should also be able to benefit from this instruction. MTIOPC grants continuing education credits.” For more information see an excellent article by Dr. Jim Gidley here.

The course is co-taught. I have been grouped with Pastor Peter Vosteen who is the minister of Lynnwood OPC in Lynnwood, WA. Lynnwood OPC is also the home of Northwest Theological Seminary. The other instructor is Pastor Bill Shishko who ministers at Franklin Square OPC in Franklin Square, NY. The course is set up like a correspondence class, so most of the work is done at home, then we will meet for an intensive period of training from April 30 to May 3 in Lynnwood, WA!

I’m really looking forward to the course and the interaction with the instructors and students. I pray it will help me to communicate more effectively!