In my first post on Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, I looked at some areas of Keller’s thinking that I found helpful to me personally. Even where I would take his conclusions in some different directions (though part of his point is itself that there should be a diversity of applications, depending on context), I found this work helpful in those areas. In this post, I would like to look at some areas that I would term “challenging.” Some of them are challenging because I think he’s right, but I know that changing my own life and approach to things would be painful and difficult. Others are challenging because I’m not sure that he’s right, and so I’m challenged to think through some of my own positions. So some of these really could have been included in the first post as helpful things, and some could probably be included in the last post on things that I disagree with. But nonetheless, here are some challenging things from Center Church.
(1) The Importance of Cities
Keller is known for many ideas; but his insistence on the importance of cities is perhaps one of his most well known. To be honest, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the importance of cities in the past. But Center Church does have me thinking about them more. In the past, when I’ve heard similar talk about cities, I’ve always thought, “But people need to be reached in the country and in the suburbs as well, so why should we make a big deal about the cities?” Keller’s answer to this objection is the following;
Cities, quite literally, have more of the image of God per square inch than any other place on earth. How can we not be drawn to such masses of humanity if we care about the same things that God cares about? (Kindle Locations 3903-3905)
That is a unique and compelling way to think about cities. The big buildings aren’t the point. The masses of people (i.e., those created in the image of God) are the point.
However, Keller also talks a lot about the importance of cities as shapers of culture. He urges believers and churches to be involved in cities so as to pervasively affect the culture. Thus he advocates what can broadly be described as a transformationalist approach (more on this in the last post). If one doesn’t accept that approach to the Christ and culture question, then the force of that argument may be weakened considerably.
Sidestepping the transformationalist question briefly, though, I must admit that I was challenged to truly love the city (or any community) in which I am providentially placed–whether the goal is transformation precisely or not. This means being involved in it, wanting its good, and learning to appreciate the diversity and peculiarities of the city. So often–regardless of locale–in can be easy to criticize, complain, and lament, rather than appreciate, compliment, and participate. I know that this is something I need to work on personally.
(2) Working with People You Disagree With
Keller is also well known for his willingness to work with those outside of his Presbyterian, Reformed denomination. He summarizes his approach here:
Our goal as Christians and Christian ministers is never simply to build our own tribe. Instead, we seek the peace and prosperity of the city or community in which we are placed, through a gospel movement led by the Holy Spirit. Movements like these do not follow a “bounded-set” approach in which you only work with others who can sign off on nearly all your distinctive beliefs and practices. Rather it follows a “centered-set” orientation in which you work most closely with those who face with you toward the same center. That center is a classic, orthodox understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a common mission to reach and serve your city, and a commitment to have a generous, Christ-focused posture toward people who disagree with you. It’s a type of movement that is missional, integrative, and dynamic. (Kindle Locations 7208-7214)
Movements are characterized by a stance of generous flexibility toward other organizations and people outside their own membership rolls. Movements make the what— the accomplishment of the vision — a higher value than how it gets done and who gets it done. The vision encourages sacrifice, and members of a movement are willing to make allies, cooperating with anyone who shares an interest in the vision. (Kindle Locations 9873-9877)
And one final quote to emphasize his approach:
Openness to cooperation is another essential movement dynamic. Because members of the movement are deeply concerned with seeing the vision accomplished, they are willing to work with people who are also materially committed to the vision and share primary beliefs but who differ in preferences, temperaments, and secondary beliefs or are members of other organizations. Because institutions are more focused on protocol and rules than on results and outcomes, their members tend to look askance at groups or people who don’t do things in the same way. In the Christian world, this means Christian groups with movement dynamics are more willing to work across denominational and organizational lines to achieve common goals. (Kindle Locations 10126-10131)
I find this idea challenging for two reasons: (1) My tendency (from personality, theological conviction, and perhaps general stubbornness) is not to want to work with those that don’t sign on the Westminster dotted line with me. However, I have enough friends who don’t sign precisely on that dotted line, and I live in a place with a real dearth of such dotted-line-signers, and so I recognize that I need to continue learning how to work with others and work with them well. So I appreciate Keller’s encouragement to that end. And I appreciate that the overall vision–seeing an area reached with the gospel–is more important than seeing everyone accept my view on Christ and culture paradigms.
But having said that, (2) I’m not convinced that Keller demonstrates well how this actually works. In other words, he doesn’t offer very clear ideas on exactly how we determine with whom to partner. He seems to downplay the importance of his own tradition. Consider the following quotes:
How can a city’s churches become unified enough to be a movement of the gospel, even a movement of movements? They need to be part of a citywide movement of churches and ministries that exist in a supportive, mutually stimulating relationship. The assumption behind this idea is that no one kind of church — no one church model or theological tradition — can reach an entire city. Reaching a city requires a willingness to work with other churches, even churches that hold to different beliefs and practices — a view sometimes called “catholicity.” (Kindle Locations 10655-10659)
Because of this belief, Redeemer Presbyterian Church has for a number of years given money and resources to churches of other denominations that are planting churches. We have helped to start Pentecostal churches, Baptist churches, and Anglican churches, as well as Presbyterian churches. For our efforts we have received sharp criticism and a lot of amazed stares. We believe this is one clear way to practice the kind of catholicity that turns a city of balkanized Christian churches and denominations into a movement. (Kindle Locations 10685-10689)
All of this seems to beg the question as to which issues are secondary and which issues are key when it comes to sharing a theological vision for a city. In particular, for example, if Pentecostalism is built on unbiblical theology (which I believe Keller would admit), then is it likely that partnering with them in church planting (I’m not saying there can never be cooperation on anything) will ultimately lead to a sustainable gospel movement. If a gospel movement was among some members of a Roman Catholic church, would he cooperate with planting a Catholic church? What about a Mormon church? Where does it stop? If it’s purely about the gospel (and assuming some in these groups hold to it), why not? Were not other elements of biblical teaching given so as to protect the gospel? If we cooperate with those who deny some of those, is it not possible that we are setting up the movement for eventual gospel compromise? Despite knowing that I have a lot to learn in this area, these are the questions I couldn’t help but consider as I pondered Keller’s approach.
I should admit that Keller does give one brief piece of advice on some of the issues I raised:
But so is the opposite posture. It is important to be doctrinally vigilant and willing, when necessary, to respectfully contend for important theological truths when we believe that ministry partners are losing their grasp on those truths. A cowardly refusal to speak the truth in love is neither cooperative nor loving. The critical truths that ministry partners must hold in common should be clearly stated, and if there is movement away from them, there should be straightforward conversation about it. (Kindle Locations 10148-10152)
That is a helpful guideline. Nonetheless, it doesn’t really address what are the “critical truths” that the ministry partners should hold in common.
(3) Emphasis on Church Planting
I have long been convinced of the necessity of church planting in the work of gospel extension throughout the world. However, Keller brings many insights to bear on the work and necessity of church planting. The following paragraphs summarize some of his key insights:
So how many churches does your city need? The reality is that churches are institutions. Some of them endure because they are continually revitalized, but all of them lose some flexibility; many of them stagnate for long periods between revitalizations, and a certain percentage die every year. We have seen, then, that it requires at least modest church planting in a city just to keep the body of Christ from steadily declining, and aggressive church planting is needed to grow the whole body — meaning ten to twenty relatively new churches in relation to every hundred existing churches.
There is a problem with answering the question in this way, however. The goal should not be to conserve Christianity’s “market share” in a given area; it should be to serve, reach, and influence the entire city. How will this be done? Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per ten thousand residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per one thousand residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per five hundred residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear. 7 We should not, then, simply aim to maintain the church’s traditional place in a city or society. We long to see Christianity grow exponentially in conversions, churches, and influence in our city. While it requires many kinds of ministries to achieve this outcome, aggressive church planting is the trigger for them all. (Kindle Locations 10504-10516)
Of course, such an approach to church planting requires great commitment from existing churches and those who would plant them. But whether in the USA or elsewhere, I have been challenged to think more carefully about the necessity of church planting–since it is the only institution that has a God-ordained role in reaching communities for Christ.
Good books make you think, even when you do not agree with their conclusions. Tim Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your Center is such a book. More than many other books I’ve read in the past, this one has spurred me to think not just about theology, but about life, ministry, and the connection between my theology, my context, and my ministry. Because this blog ultimately exists as a way for me to think out loud about the issues I’m process in my own head, I’m going to write three posts in order to reflect well on this book.
First, I’ll write about some things that I found extremely helpful: personally, pastorally, theologically, and ministerially. Then I’ll consider some things that I found challenging. Some of those were challenging because I’m not sure I agree with them; others because they challenge me (or the church in general) to change, and my own sinful heart resists that change. Lastly, I’ll reflect on a few areas that either had significant questions about or disagreed with. I hope that as I write out my reflections on all of this that my own thinking will be refined and strengthened as I ponder ministry in my context. Obviously much more could be said than what I will say, but these are at least some of the main things that struck me as I processed through Keller’s book.
(1) Success, Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, and Ministerial Competence
Early on in Center Church, Keller notes:
In reaction to this emphasis on quantifiable success, many have countered that the only true criterion for ministers is faithfulness. All that matters in this view is that a minister be sound in doctrine, godly in character, and faithful in preaching and in pastoring people. But the “faithful — not successful” backlash is an oversimplification that has dangers as well. The demand that ministers be not just sincere and faithful but also competent is not a modern innovation. (Kindle Locations 83-86)
I found this helpful for one basic reason: there are dangers in a “success = numbers” approach as well as a “faithfulness is all that matters” approach to ministry. The latter, at least in my world, is obviously a major problem. It is, however, a problem in that it can be only a partial truth. And of course, in anything like this, “faithfulness” needs to be defined properly. If it were defined in a full biblical manner, faithfulness would be all that matters. But sometimes when it is used, it can mean, “If I’m doctrinally faithful and I’m preaching every Sunday from the text, then if there’s no fruit, it’s not my fault.” And while that can be true, sometimes there is a missing link.
To take an absurd example from my context, if I’m praying, preaching, and am doctrinally faithful, but every time I preach the gospel, I use the wrong word for God, such that no one ever understands what I’m talking about, I think all would agree that my lack of knowledge of the language (a ministry skill) is causing a problem in my competence as a minister. If we extend that idea somewhat, we can say that ministerial competence (how to define that is of course a longer discussion) is a factor in discussions about fruitfulness in ministry.
In other words, if I see no fruit in ministry, I should look at, (1) am I being faithful?, (2) am I competent in ministry skills such as understanding the people I’m preaching to? Now, it’s possible that we answer “Yes” to both of those and must wait on the Lord for him to work. But I am grateful for Keller’s reminder not to stop at the first question, and go on to answer the second question before assuming I’m doing everything just fine.
(2) Connecting Theology and Ministry through Theological Vision
According to Keller, a theological vision “is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history” (Kindle Locations 272-273). It is the ”the middle space between doctrine and practice — the space where we reflect deeply on our theology and our culture to understand how both of them can shape our ministry. This leads to better choices of existing ministry forms, or to the development of promising new ones” (Kindle Locations 211-213).
The basic point, insofar as it goes, is helpful: in order to determine how to go about ministry in one’s community, making sure we’ve examined our theological underpinnings but also our particular context are helpful in determining how to go about ministry. For example, a common feature of American churches is often Sunday School either before or after the service. In my current context, I’ve never heard of such a thing existing. What are the reasons for that? Obviously, Sunday School is not a biblical mandate. It is a means of carrying out biblical instruction. Is there a cultural reason for it not existing here? If so, what other form would be most helpful for biblical instruction? Those are the types of questions that are key to ask.
(3) Gospel Renewal through the Ordinary Means of Grace
Part 2 of the book is on “Gospel Renewal.” The revivalist-skeptics are likely to get quite worried about what at times like some pro-revival language. But what I appreciated about this section was his emphasis that corporate gospel renewal is essentially a large number of people experiencing gospel renewal at the same time through the means of grace that God has ordained.
We ought to seek renewal through the gospel. We ought to pray and dream and hope for large numbers of conversions and changed lives. And we ought to seek that through the ordinary means of grace that God has provided, rather than through gimmicks.
(4) A Helpful Approach to Contextualization
While “contextualization” is a concept that worries many and can be easily abused, Keller makes two valuable contributions in this area. First, he argues convincingly that everyone contextualizes (2509), and therefore that we must consider how to contextualize well. All of us live within a particular context, and we explain the gospel and do ministry in that context. We are all affected by our culture, language, and history, and so we should not claim that none of those things affect our reading of Scripture and our practice of ministry.
Secondly, though, his definition of contextualization strikes me as nuanced and carefully formulated. Contextualization, according to Keller, is
giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them. (Kindle Locations 2251-2253)
Much of the book is fleshing out the statements in that definition. I’ve seen quite a few different definitions of contextualization in the reading I’ve done, but this one encapsulates some things I’ve been encountering in my context recently. In particular, the last part is a key thing I’ve considered lately, because some times I make appeals and arguments that sound very convincing to me, but my conversation partner finds uncompelling. Now, this could simply be because of a hard heart. But sometimes, I think it may simply be that I’m not using a type of reasoning that is compelling to him. That is something I will need to work on, and Keller’s unpacking of that statement is helpful in thinking through how to do so well.
To give an example of how Keller fleshes this out, he suggests that within any given culture, because of common grace, there are premises (or doctrines) that people will accept (even if they have no epistemological basis for doing so). He calls these “A” doctrines. There are other doctrines we can term “B” doctrines. These doctrines are not accepted by the people of that culture, but they flow from the basis for the A doctrines. That is, if one holds the A doctrines, he should hold to the B doctrines as well. Appealing to people to see that they are being inconsistent on those points then forms part of the arguments used to proclaim the gospel. That seems like a helpful way of fleshing out a presuppositional (or covenantal) apologetic in any given culture.
Of course, Keller said many other helpful things: an emphasis on prayer as a primary means of gospel renewal would be one that definitely stuck out. But the four above spurred me on to think more than most. In the next post, I’ll look at some challenging areas, both those that challenged me to think personally about how I should change, and others about how I wonder if Keller is exactly right.
Since time is limited these days, I am unable to write extended reviews of all of the books I’ve been reading. But in the interests of keeping the material in front of me, I though I’d write just a few brief notes on the books I’ve recently completed.
How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish
Fish’s book is incredibly insightful into the craft of writing. You might say the whole book is an extended celebration of good sentences. But nonetheless, that celebration bleeds over into helpful ideas on how to improve one’s writing. I only wish I had read it years ago.
Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day by John Leonard
While there are parts of this book that make you scratch your head or even shake it in disagreement, overall, I think it is the most helpful book I’ve read on evangelism and sharing your faith. Leonard repeatedly shows how evangelism can be something that simply flows out of spirituality lived out in front of people. I find his approach both refreshing and encouraging. Despite the fact that Jesus (and the disciples) seemed to weave biblical truths and gospel challenges into the details of life, in the West we seem to have reduced it to something along these lines: “I will share these 4-6 points with you right now, and if I don’t make it through all of them I’ve failed…ok, I guess I don’t have time for that so I won’t say anything.” Leonard shows how to faithfully connect the gospel to real life all the time.
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque by Sidney Griffith Harrison
This was a fascinating book, as it looks at how various Christian (primarily Arabic-speaking) authors wrote in the centuries following the life of Muhammad and the rise of Islam. Seeing how they responded to the rise of Islam and developed their theology during that period was helpful in understanding the Middle Eastern context better.
“The Church as the Image of the Trinity”: A Critical Evaluation of Miroslav Volf’s Ecclesial Model by Kevin J. Bidwell
It might seem a bit strange that I even read this book, but I did so for two reasons: (1) Given that I hope to embark on doctoral study soon, I am trying to dissertations (this is a published one), and (2) I have been interested in Volf’s work in the past. I have not studied Volf’s ecclesiology, but nonetheless this work was fascinating in that it provides a careful look at how theology is done in the academy today. Looking at the sources and assumptions on which Volf develops his ecclesial model, Bidwell is able to provide a compelling critique of (and at points, appreciation for) Volf’s work. The bulk of the work is looking at whether or not Volf’s ecclesial move from the Trinity (which he casts in egalitarian, social terms) to the church is sound. I found his critical evaluation both irenic and compelling.
The Gospel as Center by Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, et al
Looking at a number of key issues (issues which essentially define the Gospel Coalition), this work seeks to lay out biblical foundations for ministry. While there is nothing particularly new or earth-shattering, it was a helpful collection of essays on key issues such as the biblical story, the Holy Spirit, justification, ecclesiology, and the sacraments.
Some time ago I lauded Carl Trueman’s book, The Creedal Imperative, as one of the best books I’ve read recently. I still echo those thoughts, and I came across a series of lectures he gave related to the confessions this week. I highly recommend checking out the conference videos (including those of Thabiti on Anyabwile on other topics), but the one that stood out to me was the following lecture on “The Contemporary Scene and Confession.” Trueman gives some helpful reflections on how the use of creeds and confessions might make their way back into evangelical churches, as well as many incisive comments on why they are necessary.
Some key takeaways: As I mentioned in my review of his book on the topic, one of the most helpful points Trueman makes is that everyone has a creed or confession. But not all of them are written down. Those that aren’t written down are difficult, if not impossible, to examine and correct. That, I believe, summarizes much of American evangelical Christianity right now: unwritten rules and doctrines that can’t be crossed, but because they’re unwritten, they are very hard to engage.
Another big takeaway: we may want to reject the formal nature of some liturgy, but since we all have a liturgy of some sort or other, do we really want to claim that “We just…” (the default liturgical form of modern evangelicalism, it would seem) is really that much better than the classic prayers illustrated by generations past?
The video is insightful and encouraging to those of us who hope to see renewed study of and commitment to the historic creeds and confessions of the church. Check out all of the conference videos here.
The internet world has been full of blog posts both for and against John MacArthur’s recent conference, Strange Fire. Far from holding anything back, from all reports, MacArthur seems to have made it very clear that he believes charismatic theology (which does not necessarily entail the same about the people who hold to charismatic theology) has not provided anything beneficial to the church today.
Since I have only read Tim Challies’ summaries of the conference and have not seen any of the conference videos yet, I won’t make any comment on the content of the conference or the responses to it. As I’ve been thinking about the topic of the conference though, I couldn’t help but reflect on the various encounters I’ve had with charismatic theology as well as those who strongly oppose. In the interest of full disclosure, I should be quite clear that I believe that the supernatural spiritual gifts ceased with the closing of the apostolic period and the completion of the canon. So that puts me on the cessationist side of the camp.
But one thing that frustrates me in the debate (and many other debates as well) is that proponents of one view or the other seek to contrast the best of their view with the worst of the other. I believe that this can lead to unfair characterization and a lack of helpful dialogue between brothers who strongly disagree. Here are a few of the resulting mischaracterizations:
Mischaracterizations of Cessationists
(1) Cessationists don’t believe in miracles. I can feel the frustration in me rising every time I hear this statement. While there may be some cessationists somewhere who don’t, I haven’t met them. I’m far more confident that they’re not in the majority than I am that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who has ever lived. We do believe in miracles. We just don’t believe God continues to give the supernatural and miraculous spiritual gifts to people after the apostolic period. But God can certainly choose to send cancer into remission, open the heart of a terrorist, and much more whenever he so desires. Now of course us cessationists need to make sure we don’t ignore the miraculous. Cessationists should never be closet secularists. But if you actually listen to cessationists, they do believe in miracles.
(2) Cessationists don’t care about the work of the Holy Spirit. If you make the presence of the supernatural gifts in our time a necessary component of “caring” about the work of the Spirit, then this sticks. But given that this issue is precisely what’s being debated, it seems fairer to say (if you’re a convinced continuationist) that the cessationists, because of their theological perspective, ignore a key aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. But given that we are convinced that the Spirit works through the ordinary grace means of the word, prayer, and the sacraments, saying that we don’t care about the work of the Spirit might tend to raise the tone of the debate to an unhealthy level. Let’s stick to hammering out the real issue in Scripture.
Mischaracterizations of Continuationists
(1) They’re all crazies like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, et al. Granted, I doubt few of us cessationists would directly say that, but it wouldn’t shock me to find out that some secretly think that. Worse, in our elevated rhetoric, we sometimes hint at such ideas. When I’m tempted to think that because of some new scary Mark Driscoll video (not that he’s on the level of the others, but still, this video is crazy) all continuationists are going the way of Hinn, etc, I go listen to D.A. Carson or John Piper. I don’t agree with them on this issue, but they’re godly scholars who have managed to be continuationists and yet speak strongly against the abuses in the movement.
(2) Continuationists are only continuationists because they haven’t studied Scripture but instead rely on emotions. Obviously, there are more than a few charismatics who haven’t studied the Scriptures on this topic. Perhaps it’s likely that they’re in the majority. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Grudem, Piper, and Carson are not cessationists. They have studied. They disagree. So rather than comparing the worst of examples of non-studied, emotional charismatics who are carried along by various winds of doctrine to our best cessationist theologians, let’s focus on developing solid, biblically faithful, exegetical responses to our brothers who disagree.
I’m sure, with a little thought, we could come up with more mischaracterizations. But these seem common and unfortunate. Both sides can do better.
Preachers can’t preach.
That is the first thesis of T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. While not based on statistical studies of preaching in (evangelical) America, Gordon’s time spent in churches over several decades and conversations with many others in a variety of other churches have convinced him that preachers can’t preach.
His second thesis is that the primary reason for the lack of good preaching (not great preaching, but rather, in his words, “mediocre” preaching) is that the way contemporary media, particularly TV, has affected our culture is such that those who would be preachers can neither closely read texts nor carefully write their thoughts. Our cultural condition, he claims, simply doesn’t produce the kind of people who are capable of putting together good sermons. The problem is not the lack of faithful professors and examples of good preaching, but rather ”the condition of the typical ministerial candidate when he arrives at seminary.”
Table of Contents
What’s a Good Sermon?
Of course, in thinking about Gordon’s thesis, one has to wonder, “what is a good sermon?” That is, is this just a subjective question? Is it possible that Gordon and I would hear the same sermon and come to different conclusions about it? And of course that is a distinct possibility. Nonetheless, I think his use of Dabney’s seven criteria for a good sermon are actually quite helpful in providing some sort of mostly objective standard to that question. According to Dabney, every good sermon must be characterized by these seven elements:
- Textual fidelity
- Evangelical tone
Certainly there can be variety in how each of those exists in a sermon, the list is helpful in determining on a basic level if a sermon is good or not. As Gordon notes, if a majority of listeners can’t answer the following two questions in the affirmative after the sermon, then there’s likely a serious problem: (1) What was that sermon about? (2) How did that content arise from that text? Sadly, Gordon laments, it is all too often difficult to answer those questions after hearing a sermon.
Thus far, in his identification of the problem, I basically agree. While I have been blessed to hear a number of good preachers, I have heard many sermons in my short life whose point and faithfulness to the text were anything but clear.
And I don’t doubt that the severe decline in reading and writing has contributed to the inability of many aspiring preachers to compose and deliver good sermons.
But I do have a few questions about his overall proposal.
Is this proposal applicable to contexts other than white, middle class America?
In other words, as I read this book, I hear Gordon saying that you have to appreciate reading and writing and be familiar with the history of Western literature in order to be able to preach good sermon. And while I would generally say that pastors–given that our job is to proclaim and apply a text–should at least appreciate reading and writing on some level.
But I wonder about contexts in which no one has an excellent education, particularly by Western liberal arts standards, and therefore the only people available to pastor in such a context will not be able to fulfill Gordon’s standards.
In particular, the Reformed churches have had, at least in recent memory, a problem in reaching those outside of a white, middle class environment. Is it not likely that Gordon’s thesis reflects at least one of the reasons for that problem? If we expect all preachers to have the same educational status as we do (and I don’t mean knowledge of Scripture, but general educational status), then is it likely we will be very effective at reaching minority groups?
Does this proposal essentially add qualifications to the office of (teaching) elder that are not present in Scripture?
Closely related to the previous question, I wonder if the seeming elitism present in his thesis would preclude some of the apostles themselves from the presumed capability of preaching sermons. In other words, it sounds as if Gordon is saying that under “able to teach” in 1 Timothy there should have been a footnote saying that the elders ought to have read and at a minimum written some reflections on Plato and Aristotle (yes, I know, the printing press, much less the computer, had not yet been invented).
But that is decidedly not what we find in 1 Timothy or elsewhere. So I have to be somewhat skeptical of a proposal that seems to make the ability to preach a good sermon depend on one’s prior educational status.
Obviously, I am not at all advocating for a less educated ministry in America. Indeed, in countries where a B.A. is the norm, it seems like good practice for ministers to read widely and write well, even before studying theology and exegesis. And perhaps that is all Gordon is saying. But I think it is somewhat easy for us educated Reformed types to simply forget about the majority of the world that does not fit into our bubble of education and history.
Perhaps one could also so that Gordon’s proposal is the ideal that we ought to strive for, but that in some places it may take some time to get there. Though perhaps sensitive to what smacks of cultural imperialism, that is something that might be legitimate, given that his three proposed competencies do seem to ring true:
To preach the Word of God well, one must already have cultivated, at a minimum, three sensibilities: the sensibility of the close reading of texts, the sensibility of composed communication, and the sensibility of the significant.
What is the status of my preaching?
My previous questions aside, I greatly enjoyed Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It gave me much food for thought in terms of my own preaching and my own writing. I do pray that the Lord will continue to raise up preachers who will proclaim the word of God faithfully and clearly.