Here’s what I think success in teaching looks like. I remember how my life was changed when I repeatedly witnessed a man in the act of loving a poem. My English professor in college…kept delving so deeply into the poems he taught and showing us how to do likewise, that I no longer remember much of what he said. In part because of his example, I’ve had so many encounters with poetry since then that I can no longer tell what I learned from him and what I learned later. I no longer remember his words, but I do remember the poems. They have been part of my life ever since he first introduced me to them.
That’s what a teacher’s success looks like. It works the same way, I think when you’re teaching the word of Christ. The congregation doesn’t need to remember the words of your sermon. What matters is that God’s word has once again made its way into their hearts and etched itself a little deeper there, so that Christ himself may dwell in their hearts by faith. That’s the ongoing formation of the heart that makes the really lasting change in our lives.
from Good News for Anxious Christians (2010), 188-9.
PS from Gilbert Meilaender
We should not aim at a sermon that people can remember and discuss over the dinner table. That notion–“What was the sermon about today?”–encourages us to think of the sermon as something to be remembered: a piece of teaching and application. But it is not. A sermon is a moment of proclamation within the worship of the congregation. A moment in which to seek a way to let God’s love for us be spoken.
from “Forde, Jenson, and Preaching,” Dialog 30.1 (1991), 59.
God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. They need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Christ in one’s own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of another Christian. The heart in one’s heart is uncertain; the Word is sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.
from Life Together (Fortress, 2015), 6.
Two premier English theologians passed away last month — Nicholas Lash and J. I. Packer. Through their writings both men played outsized roles at key stages in my theological education, and I remain grateful for their instruction.
May we long remember them both and the gospel to which their labors witnessed.
- Nicholas Lash
There are, in my opinion, few more succinct summaries of the Gospel than this: We have been made capable of friendship. The ‘we’ is unrestricted, it refers to everybody, past and present, near and far and, by analogy, to every feature of that web of life of which we form a part. We ‘have been’ made: the passive voice protects the primacy of grace, the givenness of things. Made ‘capable of’ friendship, rather than ‘made friends,’ for it is as duty that we hear the Word’s announcement of the way all things are made and made to be.
from Theology for Pilgrims (2008), 49.
2. J. I. Packer
“were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”
from Knowing God (1973), 214.
Could God be more obvious than He is? Could He erase all atheism? Yes. … But He doesn’t. Why? Because God is only interested in His revelation being clear enough for the purposes He has in revealing Himself. That is to say, God’s revelation is about God’s rather than man’s goals. And it is not man, therefore, who determines how clear He must be. Man’s purposes are often at odds with those of God. As it turns out, God is actually not that interested in people simply believing that He exists. Consider the parallel of Jesus in the Gospels. How often does Christ actually conceal His teaching and His identity precisely because He knows that people will simply abuse His teaching or seek to manipulate His identity for their own ends? Christ is most clear to those who pursue, who hunger, who thirst—and he satisfies them, as in the case of the woman at the well (John 4). This does not mean that His identity was, as such, unclear. It means that He was not interested in maximal clarity. His clarity was fitting to His own purpose in coming and revealing Himself and His Father. … Why would He then ‘fix’ what isn’t, by His standards, broken?
from Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism (2018), 68-69.
Hans Boersma on Matthew 2:13-15
“Out of Egypt I called my son.” Why does God tell Joseph to take the child and his mother into Egypt? Why does he tell Joseph to flee from Bethlehem? Why does he tell Joseph to stay in Egypt until Herod’s death? Obviously, you say, to save the child! Sure, but why Egypt? Why not any other place? Isn’t it because you and I so often return to the fleshpots of Egypt? Isn’t it because you and I are just like the Israelites, and our misdirected desires often lead us back to Egypt? There “we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full,” we say to ourselves, while here we are in the wilderness, starving to death (Ex 16:3). The amazing grace of the gospel, the astounding love of God, is this: not only does the eternal Son of God take on human flesh, not only does he go to Bethlehem so that we can have a place alongside him in Bethlehem; no, he goes all the way to where we are. He goes all the way to Egypt. He goes all the way to the very place of slavery and oppression. He goes all the way to our country of exile. He goes all the way to the objects of our misdirected desires. he goes all the way to the center of our darkest labyrinths. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
from Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ (Baker Academic, 2016), 75-6.
P.S. Martin Copenhaver on “He descended to hell.”
The Apostle’s Creed contains this affirmation about Jesus: “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried. He descended to hell.” The last part of that statement always used to trouble me, until one day someone told me that, for her, it is the most treasured part of the creed. When I asked why, she answered, “Because hell is where I spend much of my life.” Hell—a sense of being forsaken, the absence of God, a place of despair. We have been there. And Jesus has been there. And having been there, Jesus transformed it.
from Jesus Goes to Hell