Tuesday 31 August 2021

Robert Letham: Systematic Theology, Crossway, 2019

This tome will undoubtedly enrich the theology and ministry of the church for years to come. In what could be considered a magnum opus by Letham, his work spans 1072 pages including indexes. The most striking feature is the accessibility of the writing style of this work; something not easy to achieve for this kind of book. Yet, the style is free-flowing, easy to read and highly enjoyable. Structured with eight parts, it covers all the usual systematic headings, but I will elaborate upon two sections which I deem to be particular highlights. The divisions of subjects or parts are: The Triune God, the Word of God, the Works of God, the Image of God, the Covenant of God, Christ the Son of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God, and the Ultimate Purposes of God. What strikes you when you begin to read the first few pages is that Letham comes quickly to the doctrine of God, without what has become a typical and sometimes a cumbersome elaboration of the existence of God. Letham argues that the “Bible does not follow this method” (43); he then proceeds to introduce general revelation followed by special revelation (what the Bible reveals). In addition, for ease of reading, the chosen style leads to a sense of worship of the majesty of the triune God throughout. The opening first chapter concludes: “However, special revelation comes to its highest expression as God reveals himself to be Trinity (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the apex of covenant history. It is the supreme revelation of God’s name. It is the theme of the next three chapters” (65). Part 1 the Triune God is a particularly exciting series of writings. This is the clearest exposition of the Trinity as the doctrine of God and vice versa among other books in the same category of writing. This is enriching for theology in the season ahead, one which breaks the mould of handling God, followed by a thin small chapter on the Trinity. God himself is triune and this is how the subject is helpfully handled. The proceeding chapter is equally helpful, not least in that the author is anchored within the Westminster Confession of Faith and its unyielding doctrine of inerrancy and the scripture’s sufficiency. Chapter 8 on the interpretation of scripture is noteworthy and should be read by all. Part 6 Christ, the Son of God focusses entirely upon the incarnation of the Son of God. There are three sub-headings to structure the flow of material which are biblical teaching (incarnation 1), church formulations (incarnation 2) and ongoing questions (incarnation 3). This whole panorama of theological teaching is most excellent. All I can say at this point is: “take up and read”. Letham clearly believes the two high points of redemptive revelation are the incarnation of Christ and His resurrection. While I loved the writing on the incarnation, I would have equally enjoyed the same depth of treatment to be given to the resurrection. Perhaps a future writer of a systematic theology could do that. There is so much I could say to commend this volume for theological seminaries, pastors and elders, Christians who want to understand their faith better and missionaries. I hope that I have whetted your appetite enough for you to cross the bridge to fathom the unfathomable which is the knowledge of God. May this book aid you in that endeavour on this side of eternity. Kevin Bidwell, Sheffield, December 2020

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Preaching with passion and emotion

This current focus on my blog is about preaching. There seems so much to say. I am not putting myself forward as an expert, but as a minister my primary task is that of preaching the written Word, twice every Lord's Day. That means that ministers must be committed to the primacy of preaching theologically, but also the primacy of preaching in their weekly schedule, preparation and time management. That is perhaps a different subject.

My concern is that in the preaching that I hear in conservative circles, sometimes it can be dry and technical and with little emotion. It may be that people think that theology and emotion must not go together, but the very opposite is true. True theology must impact the heart and mind and therefore theological preaching must affect the preachers affections.

In reading Luke's Gospel after the resurrection of Jesus here are a range of emotions experienced by the disciples, both men and women.

24:4 "they were perplexed".
24:5 "as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground".
24:12 "[Peter] went home marvelling at what had happened".
24:22 "Some women from our company amazed us".
24:32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?".
24:37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit".
24:41 "And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling ... ".
24:52 And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy".

Perhaps we read the scriptures and do not allow the emotions of the people in the Bible to shine through. We are not talking about emotional excesses, something to be avoided. In the last two decades there has arisen an academic school of men who have begun to criticise the preaching of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards and to begin to pin all kinds of blame at their feet. It is as if these well meaning but mis-guided academics consider that emotionless preaching is of value. It is not.

Whitefield and Edwards are two worthy preachers in the history of the preach. Oh that the Lord would raise up such preachers again. Men with rock solid doctrine and rock solid theology, but with hearts aflame for Christ. we need preachers with emotion and passion in the pulpit. Whitefield would speak of the church's need for a "felt Christ". Martyn Lloyd-Jones would write of preaching being "logic on fire" or "theology on fire". We need it in our day; pulpits aflame with the tender love of Christ and warm emotion being poured out on the substance of Bible exposition! Amen.

Monday 15 April 2019

"Preaching and Preachers" by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake".

The subject of preaching is as vital for the church, as it is interesting. I would love these blog posts to cause a lively interest in the matter of preaching. There is a lack of true preaching and worse still there is a lack of desire for hearing true preaching. Preaching is the means by which the Lord has always primarily used to advance the church. Therefore the more we understand about it the better.

I myself am a preacher and I feel I have so much to learn. Want to be a better preacher and I lament the poverty of my own preaching currently and I would love to know something of the anointing of God in a fuller way when preaching. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of five marks of the preaching they heard at the first:

1. Our Gospel
2. Came not only in word
3. But in power.
4. And in the Holy Spirit
5. With full conviction (with fulness)

One of the classic books on preaching in print today, by a preaching maestro is "Preaching and Preachers". May I exhort all preachers to read this book or to read it again if you did so years ago. I am currently going through it again.

Chapter 6 is a "must-read" for those who are considering the ministry. Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) clearly does not believe in lay-preachers because the task is too important, I agree. MLJ explains in the first few chapters not only about the primacy of preaching but that there are two aspects to preaching: The preparation of the sermon and the delivery of the sermon. The two are distinct but obviously related.

Above all else, may we pray for Holy Spirit empowered preaching, a recovery of the sermon and the centrality of the pulpit in the church and full churches that honour the preaching of the Word of God. Let us also pray for the next generation of preachers in line with command of Jesus. Matthew 9:37-38 'Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" '.

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Preaching that gets through!

Preaching that gets through is a vital subject to consider. We need orthodox preaching that is filled with sound doctrine, but it needs to get through to the hearers. The church is not simply about the process of, as it were simply communicating the truth, but in communicating the truth in a way that the truth gets through to the hearers. There are several points that are necessary for this to happen. I am a preacher and I am aware that I need to constantly work at my preaching, its delivery and its preparation as well.

However, a key question I need to ask myself after preaching is: Did the message get through to the hearers? They should not be bored during the delivery or distracted by unnecessary comments or be side-tracked by irrelevancies made by me during the delivery. Of course we need the assistance and help of the Holy Spirit.

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

Preaching is more than a human task and listening also requires diligence as well. From the preachers part we need to constantly evaluate if our preaching is getting through and if not, to ask the honest question: why not? Am I as a preacher needing to adapt my style, to pray more earnestly for the preaching or to make wholesale changes? The last thing we want is to bore people in the act of preaching?

I find this topic a searching one. A key question for me is: why does some preaching get through to people and some does not? I am willing to learn, so If you have comments on this matter, please make a comment on this blog to help me to improve by God's grace as a preacher.

Monday 4 March 2019

Rediscovering Catechising

I began this blog to "sow seeds", in order to help people to move towards a clearer biblical and a Reformed approach to the Bible. It is amazing that today, we have two forms of Christianity at work within evangelicalism. One that takes the Scriptures (the 66 books of the Bible) as the final source of authority for doctrine and life; the other which adds many things to the Bible as a source of revelation.

For example a brother in the church in Sheffield explained to me that he was into prosperity teachings such as those promoted by Joel Osteen and others. One day he saw a TV program which included John MacArthur and Joel Osteen. They were challenged to answer about a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. Joel Osteen simply failed to give any kind of a clear answer; whereas John MacArthur nailed the answer with clear biblical evidence. This made this Christian think. He realised that doctrine matters.

Part of our dilemma in the Christian church in the West, has been our failure to catechise. This includes to catechise adults in the church, as well as children. At its core, to catechise means "to instruct using a question and answer method". We have the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms, both of which are now available in modern English without revisions. The Larger Catechism has 196 questions and the Shorter Catechism has 107 questions. There is also a children's catechism which is helpful as well.

The late Professor John Murray wrote this in 1962: "What was looked on as a necessary and beneficial practice by the early church and by the Reformers has now fallen into such disuse among Christian people that very few seem to have any understanding or appreciation of the subject. We believe it is to the discontinuance of this practice [of catechising] that we can trace much of the doctrinal ignorance, confusion and instability so characteristic of modern Christianity".

That was in 1962, and I believe that in 2019 things have not improved on the whole.

Why is catechising neglected? Could we begin to teach people to use the Shorter Catechism in the homes to discuss and memorise? Could congregations begin a catechism class for adults using the Larger Catechism? For those churches that have so called Sunday School Adult classes, could they be devoted to expounding the Larger Catechism instead of a general curriculum of Bible subjects?

Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ using questions to teach.

"And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:14-21.

May there be a rediscovery of catechising of adults and children in our own day!

Monday 18 February 2019

Introducing Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones to this Generation

Who has heard of Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones?
Who has not heard of Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

Your answer to this question may well reveal quite alot about you spiritually.
Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was born in Wales, he practiced medicine to a high level and was called by the Lord to be a preacher. He is most known for the pastoral and preaching ministry that he exercised at Westminster Chapel after the war years. Recently, I heard a wonderful paper by Rev Geoff Thomas on Lloyd-Jones and it prompted me to write a blog post to introduce a whole new generation to this man's ministry.

He was best known and remembered in my opinion as a preacher. A model preacher. You can listen to his sermons online at a dedicated website called: https://www.mljtrust.org/sermons/

It is kept up to date by the MLJ Trust.

He is also widely known as an author and his books have had a profound impact upon my own life. When I read his book "The Sermon on the Mount" in the late 1990's I realised that I had been paddling around in ankle deep water, as it were. This preacher opened the Scriptures up to me in that book and I have not looked back since. I believe that it is published by IVP. However, it is readily available online second-hand.

Two other books of his are the Roman series of sermons, now published. They cover Romans Chapter 1 to chapter 14. My favourite is his volume on Romans chapters 3 and 4.

What shall I say of his book "Preaching and Preachers". It is a classic!

May this current and next generation of Christians hear from this mighty preacher first hand through listening to his sermons and reading his books.

Monday 11 February 2019

Celebrating 24 years of marriage!

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken" Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Last week, Maria and I celebrated 24 years of marriage. We tend to let things slip by sometimes not mentioning these events, but a fellow minister, Johannes from Berlin Presbyterian Church, he exhorted me to make much of it. When I said 'why?', he explained that in a time when marriage is so down-graded in society, that this is an important milestone. We can only give the credit to the grace of God. First, for saving us as Christians and second for giving us a love for the Bible and each other. The grace of God and the enabling of the Holy Spirit are the glue to uphold a Christian marriage. It is the means by which you can be delivered from selfishness and stay the course.

Marriage can never be all bliss, because the miseries of this life affect all of us due the fall of Adam. However, trials turned to prayer are used to sanctify us.

So to the Triune God alone be the glory for 24 years of marriage! I count it an honour to promote a positive and biblical approach to marriage between a man and a woman and to express the joy of family life. May God recover a biblical understanding of marriage in our own day.