A listener’s guide to the pulpit

Most of the preachers were dynamic, engaging, interesting and even entertaining. Most of their sermons were terrible.

I’ve just come across this magnificent article, written by Pastor Todd Wilken of the Issues, Etc. radio program. It clearly shows the difference between a good and bad sermon.

Everyone who preaches, or listens to preachers, would benefit from reading this. Why not print a few copies and share them with friends?

The challenge: give a talk on the birth of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy. Oh, and keep it to 5 minutes

I was asked to talk on this topic for a carol service at the local sheltered housing complex just before Christmas. What a great subject! But, how to do it justice in ‘about 5 minutes’? Give me an hour, and no problem. But a mere 300 seconds? That’s hard!

And how in that short time do I weave in not just the good news of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead, but also the reason for that gospel — our failure to keep God’s law? After all, there’s no sense in talking about the Saviour unless you first explain what we all need to be saved from — the just wrath of a holy and righteous God that we each have earned by our sin.

Combative, opinionated, and highly recommended – the Fighting for the Faith radio programme

I consider Fighting for the Faith to be essential listening. Chris Rosebrough, the show’s host, examines the trends and fads of today’s church, comparing what people say in God’s name with what is taught by Scripture.

Although entertainingly polemical, Chris doesn’t just poke holes. Rather, he equips his listeners to defend against error. He gives clear correction from the Bible and always directs us towards the true Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners. He faithfully handles the Word of God, properly understanding and explaining the critical distinction between Law and Gospel. He uses the law to crush us, and calls us to repentance, but never neglects to offer the forgiveness of sin through trusting in Christ’s death on the cross.

A highlight of most programmes is the sermon review — after listening to Fighting for the Faith for a few weeks, you’ll perhaps never listen to a sermon in the same way again.

As with Issues, Etc (mentioned in my previous post), Chris is coming from a Confessional Lutheran background. Don’t let that put you off, even if you (like me) are from a different tradition. There is gold here.

If you find yourself listening to Fighting for the Faith regularly, don’t forget to support the work by joining the Pirate Christian Radio crew or making a donation!

How to diagnose a sermon

The excellent Issues, Etc* radio programme has this very handy diagnostic for reviewing sermons:

  1. How often is Jesus mentioned? Keep a simple running tally. It’s a problem if He is mentioned only a few times, or tucked in at the beginning or the end. If He is mentioned, even only once, go on to step 2.
  2. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs, the one doing the action? If He is, go on to step 3.
  3. What are the verbs? What is the preacher telling you what Jesus did, does, and will do for you? Is the Jesus that is presented one of pop therapeutic deism, who helps, inspires and gives examples? Or is He instead the Jesus of Scripture who lives, suffers, dies and rises again, all for you?

I find this to be a very helpful tool for evaluating the sermons that I hear week by week. Perhaps you will too.

* Disclaimer: the Issues, Etc programme has a Confessional Lutheran perspective. I am not a Confessional Lutheran and would differ from the show’s position on a number of important doctrinal points. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the hosts properly distinguish between Law and Gospel, and faithfully proclaim the true Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead. I am therefore happy to commend the programme.

‘The Calvin I Never Knew’ seminars by Dr Frank A. James III (audio)

I’d like to share with you another gem on iTunes U from the Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr Frank A. James III gives a refreshing, and perhaps unexpected, perspective on John Calvin. If you have iTunes installed, you can find the seminars here. Give them a try — you’ll be captivated.

Does God have two wills?

If it is true that the Bible teaches that God unconditionally (i.e. not on the basis of foreseen faith) chooses those who are to be saved, and it does, does the Bible contradict itself when it says that God ‘desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4)?

Put another way, if God really desires all men to be saved, why does He only choose some of them actually to be saved, while eternally condemning others?

In his article, Are There Two Wills in God? John Piper addresses this apparent problem head-on. He gives a cogent and coherent Bible-based explanation of how divine election and God’s desire for all to be saved are two harmonious and consistent truths.

Paul Washer on the True Gospel

Crosstalk has a radio broadcast of a talk by Paul Washer, given in February 2008. Paul, in his usual uncompromising and clear way, presents the essence of the True Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well worth a listen.

The Crosstalk site also offers this broadcast in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.

Free Bible reading chart: keep track as you read through the Bible

You want to read through the Bible methodically, but it can be hard to keep track of what you’ve read, right? Here is a simple solution, without the restrictions of traditional Bible reading plans: the BetterThanSacrifice.org Bible Reading Chart! It lists every single chapter of the Bible; simply cross-off each one as you read it.

Download either of these files, then print using the Acrobat Reader:

Did you know that you can complete the whole Bible in a year if you read just 3 chapters each weekday, and 4 on Saturdays and Sundays?

‘History and Theology of the Puritans’ lecture series by J I Packer (audio)

My wife and I have recently finished listening to Dr Packer’s lectures on the Puritans, recorded about 20 years ago at Reformed Theological Seminary. The Puritans did not conform to the misleading stereotypes that we have of them, but had a zeal for making the most of life by putting into practice what they found in Scripture. Dr Packer is engaging on this important subject, and we give the series our wholehearted recommendation.

You can hear this series for free via RTS on iTunes U. You can access the series here, or, once you’ve managed to get to the iTunes U area in the iTunes Store, navigate to Reformed Theological Seminary > RTS/Virtual Courses in Church History > History and Theology of the Puritans.

Why ‘Better Than Sacrifice’?

In 1 Samuel 15, we read God’s instruction to King Saul to punish the city of Amalek by utterly destroying it. Not one man, woman, child, ox, sheep, camel or donkey was to be spared. Saul carries out the command – almost. But, he does not execute Agag, king of the Amalekites, and he spares the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs and ‘all that was good’.

The prophet Samuel confronts Saul with his sin, and pronounces God’s judgment with these words: