Webster’s Words

As I read though Webster’s writings I may share some of my favorite sentences or paragraphs. The following quotes are taken from chapter one of The Culture of Theology.

“Christian Faith, and therefore Christian theology, emerges out of the shock of the gospel.” pg. 43

“There can be few things more necessary for the renewal of Christian theology than the promotion of awed reading of classical Christian texts, scriptural and other, precisely because a good deal of modern Christian thought has adopted habits of mind which have led to disenchantment with the biblical cannon and the traditions of paraphrase and commentary by which the culture of Christian faith has often been sustained.” pg. 45

“Good theological practice depends on good theologians; and good theologians are—among other things— those formed by graces which are the troubling, eschatological gifts of the Holy Spirit.” pg. 45-46

“Christian culture is the place where human life is caught up into the process of what the old Protestant dogmaticians called “continual” or “second” conversion, in which, the effectiveness of regeneration is brought to bear on human ruin. Continual conversion is the sanctification of human life through its mortification and vivification in Christ.” pg. 55

“Christian astonishment is the amazed realization that all human life and thought is undertaken in the presence of Easter, for Jesus the living one makes himself into out contemporary, startling us with the fact that he simply is. If Christian culture is a strange reality, it is because it seeks to live out that amazement; and if Christian theology is indeed to be “serious, fruitful and edifying,” if it is truly to live up to the little qualifier “Christian,” it cannot be a stranger to the disruption which amazement brings.” pg. 61

A Year with John Webster

Rather than reading by whim in 2023, I am going to immerse myself in the work of John Webster. The weekly readings are not overwhelming but brief. This will allow for re-reading, annotation, and journaling. My goal is not mere completion but competent understanding. I pray this will be a fruitful exercise that strengthens my thinking and speaking about God.


1st-7th Culture of Theology, Introduction- Chapter 1 (pages 1–62)

8th-14th Culture of Theology, Chapters 2-3 (pages 63–98)

15th-21st Culture of Theology, Chapters 3-4 (pages 81–114)

22nd-28th Culture of Theology, Chapter 5-6 (pages 115–147)

29th-Feb 4th Review and Reflect 


5th- 11th Word and Church, Introduction-Chapter 2 (pages 1– 86)

12th-18th Word and Church, Chapters 3-4 (pages 87—150) 

19th-25th  Word and Church, Chapters 5-6 (pages 151—210)

26th- March 4th Word and Church, Chapters 7-8 (pages 211—262)


5th- 11th Word and Church, Chapter 9 (pages 263—286)

12th- 18th Review and Reflect 

19th- 25th Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Introduction-Chapter 2 (pages 1—106)

26th-April 1st Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Chapters 3-4 (pages 106—137) 


2nd-8th Read and Reflect 

9th-15th Holiness, Introduction- Chapter 3 (pages 1– 76)

16th-22nd Holiness, Chapter 4 (pages 77— 105)

23rd- 29th Review and Reflect 

30th- May 6th Domain of the Word, Chapters 1-2 (pages 3—49)


7th-13th Domain of the Word, Chapters 3-4 (pages 50—85)

14th-20th Domain of the Word, Chapters 5-6 (pages 86—132)

21st-27th Domain of the Word, Chapters 7-8 (pages 133—170)

28th-June 3rd Domain of the Word, Chapters 9-10 (pages 171—202) 


4th-10th Review and Reflect 

11th-17th God Without Measure Vol. 1, Chapters 1-3 (pages 3— 42)

18th-24th God Without Measure Vol. 1, Chapters 4-5 (pages 43—82)

25th- July 1st God Without Measure Vol. 1, Chapters 6-7 (pages 83—114)


2nd-8th God Without Measure Vol. 1, Chapters 8-9 (pages 115—142) 

9th- 15th God Without Measure Vol. 1,Chapters 10-11 (pages 143—176)

16th- 22nd God Without Measure Vol. 1, Chapters 12-13 (pages 177— 212)

23rd-29th God Without Measure Vol 1, Epilogue (pages 213—224) 

30th- August 5th Review and Reflect 


6th-12th God Without Measure Vol. 2, Chapters 1-2 (pages 1—28)

13th-19th God Without Measure Vol. 2, Chapters 3-4 (pages 29—66)

20th-26th God Without Measure Vol. 2, Chapters 5-6 (pages 67—102)

27th-Sept 2nd God Without Measure Vol.2, Chapters 7-8 (pages 103—140)


3rd-9th God Without Measure Vol. 2, Chapters 9-11 (pages 141— 188) 

10th-16th Review and Reflect

17th-23rd Confessing God, Introduction- Chapter 1 (pages 1—32) 

24th-30th Confessing God, Chapters 2-3 (pages 33—86) 


8th-14th Confessing God, Chapters 4-5 (pages 87—130)

15th- 21st Confessing God, Chapters 6-7 (pages 131—194)

22nd-28th Confessing God, Chapters 8-9 (pages 195—226) 

29th-November 4th Review and Reflect.

November- December

Grace period

Reflections on Reading

When Luke was born earlier this year I knew I would not read at the pace of previous years. Newborn life is a joyful, but tiring life and the first six months of his life were tiring indeed. I am still grateful for the opportunities I did have. Few things bring me as much joy as sitting alone with a book in my hands and a cup of coffee by my side. If I were not busy writing this I would be reading my most recent purchase, The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism.

As a top ten list, this does not include everything I read this year. I was in and out of John Gill’s magnum opus, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity. I read the vast majority of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology as I prepared outlines for Sunday Evening Theology at HBC. I read the vast majority of the Exodus commentaries by Christopher Wright and T.D. Alexander for sermon preparation and monographs by L. Michael Morales and W. Ross Blackburn. I read numerous journal articles, online pieces, and newsletters (especially Digital Liturgies ) to my benefit. I also read for the third time Mark Dever’s classic Nine Marks of a Healthy Church with some brothers from my church. 

I always have minor regrets at the end of the year. I don’t read nearly enough fiction and literature (this year not any) and my non-fiction reading consists mostly of biblical and theological studies. I wish I could say I’ll read more widely next year, but I’m seriously considering reading nothing but my Bible and John Webster in 2023. 

I hope you’ll consider purchasing and reading one of the wonderful volumes below! I am confident you will enjoy them as much as I did. 

The Top Ten

Biblical Reasoning, Bobby Jamieson & Tyler Wittman. This is without question one of the most helpful books I have ever read. Jamieson and Wittman clarify confusing but common interpretive problems by equipping readers to interpret the Scriptures in a way that is befitting of God. They offer clear principles for interpretation that build upon each other. This book is a doctrinal and doxological delight!

Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition, Craig Carter. We didn’t realize it, but many of us were taught to read the Bible through the eyes of the enlightenment. We would have never claimed to share the hermeneutics of modernity, but that was our practice. Carter helps his readers interpret the Bible with the communion of the saints throughout church history. The result is an orthodox, trinitarian, and Christological reading of Scripture that aims to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is necessary reading for any serious student or teacher of the Bible. 

Spurgeon the Pastor, Geoff Chang. I purchased this book on a whim while skimming the shelves at a bookstore on my birthday. I began reading it that night and could not put it down. Chang has provided pastors with a thorough and accessible treatment of Spurgeon’s pastoral ministry. When faithful examples are in such short supply, this account of Spurgeon’s ministry will encourage pastors to maintain their Baptist convictions and believe in the Spirit’s work through the ordinary means of grace. It convinced me that reading Spurgeon’s two-volume biography will most certainly be worth the effort. I hope Chang’s book is under the tree of every pastor this Christmas. 

Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands: Recovering Sacrament in the Baptist Tradition, Michael A.G. Haykin. Despite some diversity throughout Baptist history, Haykin shows persuasively that there is a rich theological heritage in Baptist ecclesiology for viewing the ordinances (sacraments) as means of grace. Haykin gives an essential survey of that heritage. It’s mandatory reading for Baptist pastors wanting to deepen their congregation’s understanding of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. His concluding theses are worth the price of the entire book. 

You’re Only Human, Kelly M. Kapic. A masterful and accessible work of theological anthropology. Kapic helps readers better understand themselves by exegeting their burdens and reassuring them of God’s love, presence, and acceptance in Christ through the gospel. He answers questions readers often ask themselves but might be hesitant to admit to others. Kapic’s reflection on God’s love for his people is particularly edifying in this regard. Because of this, it is both a serious reflection on the theological anthology and an exemplary model of pastoral soul care. 

The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom, Samuel D. Renihan. A really insightful introduction to Baptist covenant theology. I read it after Nehemiah Coxe’s Discourse of the Covenants to help clarify my understanding of 1689 Federalism. My understanding of the covenants aligns mostly with progressive covenantalism, but I confess to desiring a convictional confessionalism. I am not yet convinced my understanding of the covenants is radically inconsistent with the Second London Confession, but I want to remain teachable. There are important distinctions, but they are often exaggerated. As of now, I’m fine departing from the confession where I believe Scripture leads me to do so. That said, Renihan’s treatment is the kind of book that could persuade a teachable person to change his mind. 

The Glory Now Revealed: What We’ll Discover about God in Heaven, Andrew M. Davis. This is not your ordinary bestseller on heaven. It is a serious theological reflection on Scripture centered on the glory of God in redemptive history. Heaven, according to Davis, is an eternal education in the glory of God. The redeemed will retain their memory in heaven while also growing in their understanding of God’s works in the world. It is accessible, soul-stirring, and hope-inducing. 

Deacons: How they Serve and Strengthen the Church, Matt Smethurst. I loved this book. I purchased a copy for each of our deacons the moment I finished it. The Lord has already used it to bless our church. In my opinion, it is the most biblical and accessible book on the office of deacon in print. 

The Baptism of Disciples Alone, Fred Malone. A thoroughly biblical and theological treatment of credobaptism. Consider this endorsement by Timothy George, “Fred Malone presents the best case I have seen for believers’ baptism from a covenantal perspective.” Sometimes an endorsement can sell a book and Dr. George’s words were enough to sell this volume to me! Malone proved him correct. Its strength is its analytical argumentation and clear organization. I’ll return to it throughout my ministry as I teach baptism to the saints at HBC. 

Elders in the Life of the Church, Phil Newton. This is a practical guide on the plurality of elders from an experienced pastor. The details that Newton provides about his time at Capitol Hill Baptist Church are fascinating! Any pastor in the midst of revitalization should prioritize this book because it includes both the biblical case for a plurality of elders and a practical plan to make the transition in a local church. 

Tolle Lege!

Praise for an Ordinary, Unknown Pastor

Several of us sat around a table during freshman orientation and talked about preaching. This foreshadowed many of the conversations we would have as undergrad students at Boyce College. At some point the conversation turned to the preacher we would pick to listen to if we could only choose one. This was 2008 and the YRR movement was in its prime, so the expected answers emerged: John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, etc. When my turn came, I sincerely answered, “Honestly, my pastor.” The other brothers paused for a moment and said, “Oh, well, good man.”

This was not an intentional “Jesus Juke” or expression of self-righteousness. I enjoyed the occasional podcast sermon as much as anyone, but my past experience left me with only one answer: Joe Buchanan, pastor of First Baptist Church, Metropolis, IL. Joe may not have possessed the gifts, influence, or platform as those other men, but Joe knew my name. He prayed for me regularly, had me in his home, and talked to me about ministry over lunch. Joe was not a mere preacher whose content I streamed, he was the preacher who served me as a shepherd.

It was the investment of this ordinary, unknown pastor that changed the trajectory of my life. He accepted the call to pastor FBC, Metropolis just before my senior year in high school. I had already expressed an aspiration for ministry, but it did not develop with passion until I met Joe. His sermons were common but faithful. They were ordinary yet glorious. As he preached through the Gospel of Mark his first year, it created an appetite for expositional preaching. It was then that I formed the conviction that preaching is essentially reading, explaining, and applying the text of Scripture, centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  

Many of us would gather around Joe’s kitchen table or back deck every Thursday evening to talk about the Bible, theology, and the church. We began studying the book of Colossians while also reading Wayne McDill’s The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. We read great books like Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, developing convictions and passions about ecclesiology. Eventually, he would require us to write Bible studies, develop sermon outlines, and preach in a controlled environment. He then gave us the opportunity to preach during Sunday evening services. After my final sermon before leaving for Boyce, Joe hugged me before the congregation with tears in his eyes. Hearing public, affirming words through the voice of a tearful pastor was one of the more meaningful moments of my life. 

These experiences exemplified Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Ti 2:1–2) 

When I gather to shepherd my people, those Thursday nights remain with me. The ecclesiological convictions instilled in me at eighteen are the convictions that are with me still. The philosophy of preaching Joe exemplified to me then is the philosophy I exemplify for my people now. I was reminded of him just this week as I began planning a men’s discipleship group for 2023. So as I plan to gather next year with men from my church to read Mark Dever’s Discipling, I can only hope that one day someone will look back and believe that time with their ordinary, unknown pastor changed their life. Mine certainly did.

Your pastor may not possess the gifts, influence, or platform of a celebrity pastor, but they know your name, pray for you, and shepherd you. They are your pastor, and praise God for that. 

Praise God for Learned Men and Women

There is a temptation in some circles to view serious study with suspicion, but any temptation to disparage learning should be dismissed by anyone who values reading the Bible in their own language. Imagine being required to know Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) or Koine Greek (New Testament) just to be able to read the Bible that sits by your bedside. According to John Gill, Bible translations are a gift of God’s providence that should result in gratitude for all who take up that weighty task.

Here I cannot but observe the amazing ignorance and stupidity of some persons, who take into their heads to decry learning and learned men; for what would they have done for a Bible, had it not been for them as instruments?…Bless God, therefore, and be thankful that God has in his providence, raised up such men to translate the Bible into the mother-tongue of every nation…” (John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, 13-14)

One of the first pastoral visits I made after being called to Hermon was to a retired missionary couple who served in Brazil for 40+ years. What did they do in those forty years? They translated Genesis-Revelation into a Portuguese dialect. As I held the Bible in my hands I couldn’t help but praise God for their studious spirit, serious intellect, and sacrificial service.

I can only imagine how grateful the believers were to receive a copy of the Bible in their own language for the first time! And How did they receive it? Did it fall from them sky? Did it self-generate? No. This Bible was the product of God’s gracious providence through well trained and learned translators who love God and his Word.

Do you own a copy of the Bible in your own language? Praise God for his providence and provision to raise up learned translators! Praise God for learned men and women.

God Made a Deacon

We’ve all heard Paul Harvey’s famous speech God Made a Farmer. This morning I decided to open my second sermon on 1 Tim. 3:8-13 with God Made a Deacon inspired by Harvey’s speech. I hope you find it encouraging.

And with the institution of his church, God looked and said, “I want a servant, someone behind the scenes, unheralded but exemplary.” So God made a deacon.

God said, “I want someone that frees elders to pray, preach, and shepherd. I need someone willing to meet practical needs, so pastors aren’t overwhelmed and neglect spiritual needs.” So God made a deacon.”

God said, “I want someone who can be where pastors can’t, to hold hands they can’t hold, and to encourage saints in the pastors stead.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone to serve the widows, the vulnerable, and the poor. I need someone who loves to be near the needy, someone to whom the poor are precious.” So God made a deacon.

God said, “I want someone to support the members, meet their needs, and care about their concerns. Someone who loves  transitioning small into spiritual talk over a hot cup of coffee.” So God made a deacon 

God said, “I want someone to assure the Baptismal pool is full and the elements are ready. I need someone who will assure the aisles are clear, the elements accessible.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone who will pray over the offering, collect it, and assures its security.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone with a benevolent heart, who will listen to the needs of those in the community and coordinate support.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone to follow the the example of Jesus by not coming to be served, but to serve.” So God made a deacon. 

Five Priorities for the Local Pastor-Theologian

“I’m on the side of pastors.” These were words to me from a theology professor while seeking counsel about whether to pursue pastoral ministry or academic theology. I was, after all, enrolled at a theological seminary that exists to train students for ministry. My professor was humble and gracious, reassuring me that there was nothing wrong with graduating with my M.Div., serving in ministry, and never finding a way into academic theology. He was a theologian on the side of pastors. As a professor of theology, he trained local theologians for the local church.[1] 

Every pastor is a local theologian. The theological life does not find its pride of place in the academy, but in the church. The church is the premier place for theological practice, for there the Spirit ministers to the people of God through the Word of God.

That’s not to say that your average pastor is the same as trained scholars who have made theological reflection and writing their life’s work. The church needs formally trained theologians, and we should praise God for them. But the pastoral life is necessarily theological. Since the church is the premier place for theological practice, pastors should make it their pursuit to be as faithful as possible when thinking and speaking about God. 

Todd Wilson and Gerald Heistand have distinguished between three types of pastor-theologians: Local, Popular, and Ecclesial. Their acknowledgment of the local theologian freed me from thinking of the theological life in exclusively technical terms. Since then I have aspired to cultivate this theological life, but until recently without clear priorities and direction.  In what follows, I would like to offer five priorities for the local theological life. 

  1. Personal Holiness

Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14) and so without holiness one should be hesitant to think and speak about God with authority. Gregory of Nazianzus raises this concern, “It is not for all people, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.”[2]

For Gregory mere intellectual preparation falls short for the aspiring theologian. The necessary preparation involves the whole person, “body and soul.” Proper thinking and speaking about God comes from properly formed persons who are in submission to God and his Word. 

2. Prayer

When we pray we are in communion with the triune God whom we think and speak about. The life of prayer assures the theological life is not one of intellectual assent, but affection, adoration, and communion. It is not enough to enjoy talking about God, we should long to commune with God. Prayer is the means of increasing our love and knowledge of God as we seek to commune with Him. Christopher Holmes captures this beautifully, 

Prayer denotes ‘inexpressible devotion’ to the one who does not need us in order to be. Prayer is not simply the fruit of love but the means by which love is further kindled. Prayer is the crucible that determines what we say about God and how we say it.” [3]

A private life of prayer is vital, but so is corporate prayer on the Lord’s day. The pastoral prayer ushers the congregants into God’s presence and serves as a didactic example for lament, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving. This time not only informs the intellect, but forms the heart.  Corporate prayer is a means of “perfecting the appetites” of the congregation, so that they desire God more and more.[4] Over time congregants are formed as a people who pray without ceasing.

3. Pursuit of Intellectual Community 

Every maturing moment in my life took place in community with others. If local pastor-theologians are going to continue to grow in their ability to think and speak about God, it is important to pursue an intellectual community to foster that growth. For many, this is the most challenging priority. There are not a lot of fellowships or institutes coordinating these types of opportunities for the average pastor. Online networking has some benefits, but there are limitations as well. Pastors may very well find members who can provide this, but for most it will involve looking outside the congregation. 

This means it may be necessary to create opportunities through more informal communities like reading and discussion groups. So whether it be in informal reading groups or formal fellowships, look for ways to learn with and from others. This community does not necessarily need to be among fellow ministers, but will be most helpful if made up of those who share a common interest in thinking well about theology, church, and culture. 

4. Private Study and Contemplation 

A pastoral and theological life must prioritize time for study and contemplation. The pastor’s task involves knowing and heralding God and his works in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this faithfully, time must be given to the Scriptural texts, exegesis, reading, and theological reflection. Although it takes discipline, protected time to read the Scriptures and faithful readers of Scripture throughout church history reaps great benefit.  

The practice of contemplation frees us from the constant current of content and allows us to listen to what God is saying to us in his Word. In order to listen we must embrace a habit of both solitude and silence. I confess to be a work in progress in this regard, but I hope to find more peace as I adopt habits to this end.  

By contemplation I don’t mean a Zen like state, but an intentional act that allows for thoughts to develop and mature. A simple act like walking provides an opportunity to think. Likewise, writing forces you to wrestle with words, phrases, and concepts as you attempt to best communicate your ideas.[5]

5. Pastoral Practice: Word and Ordinances

Eugene Peterson defines a pastoral work as “…a ministry of word and sacrament.” This is the primary task of the pastor: to minister through the preaching of the Word of God and to minister through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Prepared for opposition Peterson recognizes the difficulty of this sin-plagued life and asks, “But in the wreckage what difference can a little water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make?”[6]

A great deal. The question we need to reflect on is this: who will do the ministry of Word and Sacrament if not the pastor? Of course, there are many good and important things a pastor could do, but why do them when there are vital tasks a pastor is called to do.

In response to the expected opposition Peterson writes, “Yet century after century Christians continue to take certain persons, set them apart, and say, ‘We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel…This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.”[7]


Not every pastor will finish a PhD, become a professor, or contribute to an academic journal. A robust theological life still awaits them because the premier place for theological practice is not the academy, but the church. By pursuing these five priorities all pastors can cultivate the heart and mind of a faithful theologian for the edification of the church and the glory of God. 

[1] The professor was Dr. John Hammett of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

[2] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and ChristThe Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Claudius (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Press, 2002) 27.

[3] Christopher R. J. Holmes, A Theology of the Christian Life: Imitating and Participating in God (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021) 51.

[4] Christopher R. J. Holmes, A Theology of the Christian Life, 141. 

[5] I owe these thoughts to conversations with Shawn Wilhite. 

[6] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 23. 

[7] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 24. 

Him We Proclaim: Christ as the Subject, End, and Power of Preaching

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that preaching is the primary activity of the church because God never changes and man’s need never changes. 

“…the moment you consider man’s real need, and also the nature of salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the Church is to preach and proclaim this, to show’s man’s real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it.” (Preaching and Preachers, pg. 26)

For Lloyd-Jones, the preaching of the gospel is not one task amidst a host of equal priorities, but the primary activity of the church. If this is so, we need to have a robust theology of Christian preaching. In my mind there is no better starting point to that end than Colossians 1:28-29. There we learn that Christ is the principal subject, end, and power for preaching.

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28–29)

The antecedent of “him” is Christ in 1:27,  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Jesus Christ is the principal subject of all Christian proclamation.

The words “Him we proclaim” remind us that ministry is not about the minister. The minister is not the point of ministry and churches do not exist to make the minister’s name great. Gospel ministry is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Like the focus on a camera these words bring the priority of ministry into clear view. That priority is summarized in the brief phrase “Him we proclaim.” 

Along with a principal subject, preaching also has a primary purpose, “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The maturity or perfection that Paul is speaking of here is the end of the Christian life, that final day when the the church is presented to Christ in glory. If this is the purpose, we can say that preaching does not just aim for the conversion of sinners, but the perseverance of the saints. 

When this becomes our aim, we avoid the error of bringing the church into conformity to ourselves. John Calvin helpfully reminds us, ”If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.”

The motivation to adopt this end for preaching is found in Colossians 1:22,. Paul tells us that Christ, “…reconciled (us) in his body of flesh by his death, in order that he might present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” When pastors prayerfully aim to present the saints mature in Christ they are aligned with Christ’s own purposes for the church. 

Christ is the end of preaching.

If this type of preaching is to be done faithfully, it must be done with necessary discipline and in the appropriate power. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he works powerfully within me.”

There is a story about the famous evangelist D.L. Moody, who on his first Sunday as pastor in Chicago recounts visiting Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London. Here is a summary of Moody’s impression of Spurgeon.  

“What impressed him most was not the praise, though he thought he had never heard such grand congregational singing; it was not Mr. Spurgeon’s exposition, fine though it was, nor even his sermon; it was his prayer. He seemed to have such access to God that he could bring down the power from heaven; that was the great secret of his influence and his success.”1

I think the Pauline prayers throughout his letters support the idea that the power of God is accessed through prayer. There is not an ounce of power in and of ourselves that can accomplish preaching’s great end, but we can trust that those who depend upon God in prayer will be empowered by God in Christ. If we are going to be faithful preachers of Christ for the maturation of the church, then we must both toil and labor while depending upon the power of Christ.

Christ is the power of preaching 

Fellow pastors, we will preach many sermons and in all of them it must be Him that we proclaim. Those sermons will be preached from a variety of biblical texts and from them all it must be Him that we proclaim. We will preach those sermons to a number of people (some of us more than others) and to each one it must be Him that we proclaim. As we do, may we depend on the power of God working in and through us.

My Prayer for Preaching

 I’ve often heard it said that Spurgeon ascended to preach repeating the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost.” It was his prayer for power and an expression of dependance on God for the task of preaching.  Andy Davis, one of my favorite expositors today, has said that he repeats Jesus’ words in John 21 “Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.”1

These habits are good, because they redirect the preacher to the source of his power and the purpose of his preaching. While I don’t repeat the same phrase while ascending the small steps to the platform at Hermon Baptist Church, I have found myself repeating the same prayer before each sermon: exalt your name, edify your church, evangelize the sinner. This prayer captures what I aim to accomplish in every sermon. 

  1. Exalt your name

Preaching is not merely the communication of information. Preaching is the exaltation God’s glory in Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. I long for my people to behold this glory and adore the person in whom it is revealed (John 1:14). In the New Testament we learn that Jesus Christ has inherited the name that is above all names (Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:4). Since I am convinced this is the divine name, praying for the exaltation of God’s name is to pray for the exaltation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.  

  1. Edify your church 

When the saints gather on the Lord’s day, the Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God to renew the saints into the image of God. To hear the Word preached is to really hear the living God address his people for the purpose of maturity and sanctification. This prayer is inspired by 1 Timothy 4:15-16 and Colossians 1:28-29.  

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Ti 4:15–16)

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28–29) 

  1. Evangelize the sinner 

When Paul praises God for the saints in Thessalonica he notes their reception of his gospel preaching. 

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Th 2:13)

For any and all present who don’t know the Lord, I pray that God would evangelize the sinner. First, this is a prayer for gospel clarity. I want every sermon to be the proclamation of God’s work in the gospel and a call to repentance and faith. Second it is a prayer for the unbeliever to receive the Word for what it really is—the Word of God. 

Since these are my aims and I am insufficient to execute them by my own power, I will continue to pray: exalt your name, edify your church, evangelize the sinner. 

A School in Slow Spirituality

In the midst of washing bottles for a four month old, eagerness to change the laundry, and the maneuvering around a loaded sink came the words, “Want daddy, want daddy, want daddy.” These are the words Isaac, my seven year old son with both Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome uses to make requests of me. “Want daddy” is Isaac language for, “Daddy, I want x.” As usual, I asked what he wanted. Also as usual, Isaac repeated “want Daddy” instead of stating his request. After the fourth repetition, my voice began to raise and say shaper, “No, Isaac, what…do…you…want.” He replied, “Water.”

Isaac often moves at this own pace. He is often slow to respond, slow to obey, and slow to act. As an average Western American, I value the productive use of time. What frustrated me about our conversation was that Isaac seemed to be taking up the valuable time during his brother’s nap. My son only wanted water. I only wanted to be left to work. In a moment, the priority of productivity over the being present with my son became clear.

This became all the more evident that same evening when I sat down to read Kelly Kapic’s outstanding new book You’re Only Human. In a chapter challenging our obsession with efficiency Kapic borrows from theologian John Swinton and says, “It is not difficult to see how easily we have imposed a scale of “being efficient” onto our perception of “being human,” consequently valuing people in terms of productivity and speed.”

This correct observation pierced my heart, because I also have raised concerns about how we might dehumanize fellow image bearers in our articulation of the imago Dei. It is not hard to understand how daily parenting problems can discourage, but what if lamenting these challenges leads me to miss what Isaac is teaching me?

Leaning again on Swinton, Kapic writes, “Affirming finitude as part of the creaturely domain, Swinton challenges us to realize that “love has a speed” and we should discover the beauty of “slow and gentle disciples” who are easily missed and ignored but are actually vital to the kingdom of God. We sense that we need to slow down and listen to Christ, to see him in the vulnerable and needy, and to confess our own neediness in the process.”

These lessons not only offer edification for the individual Christian, but for the corporate life of the church. This is the insight Jason Whitt brings out by suggesting the church may learn a lot by including people with disabilities in worship.

“They remind the church that God has given the church all the time it needs, whether that means allowing the person who does not speak well or quickly to read Scripture or pray; walking slowly to the communion table with one whose gait is slow; or creating spaces that are accessible to everyone, not just who are able to rush from task to task. The fear is that including people wit disabilities into the life of the church will slow members down. This slowing down, however, may help speed up the moral formation of the church.”

Repentance may very well begin with acknowledging that God has given Isaac as a gift not so much for how I might help him, but how he might help me slow down, listen to Christ, and confess my own neediness. Perhaps we’re all in too much of a hurry and as we rush from task to task our spiritual formation is stunted. Repentance may very well result in enrolling in a school of slow spirituality.