Choose Your Pope

Favorite line: “Please shut your mouth before the Angel of Death destroys us all.”


Naghmeh Abedini and Jordan Sekulow on Fox News: Pastor Saeed Writes of Torture He Faces

Naghmeh Abedini and Jordan Sekulow appeared on Fox News today to discuss the latest letter from Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned and being tortured in Iran.

Review of ‘Preaching the New Testament’ by Ian Paul and David Wenham

Preaching the New Testament Paul, Ian and David Wenham, eds. Preaching the New Testament. 2013. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Expository preaching is not an easy task. It requires familiarity with the Bible and your listeners, as well as facility in bridging the contextual divide between the two. In other words, it involves at least three disciplines: exegesis, homiletics, and hermeneutics.

Preaching the New Testament is a collection of 17 essays by evangelical New Testament scholars who are also preachers. Edited by Ian Paul and David Wenham, it does not focus on “persuasive communication.” Rather, it offers “insights about how to interpret and communicate the New Testament today.” In other words, its focus is on exegetical and hermeneutical foundations of homiletics rather than on the mechanics of homiletics.

The first 11 essays are organized in canonical New Testament order, with specific focus on the Gospels (ch. 1), the infancy narratives (ch. 2), Jesus’ parables and miracles (chs. 3, 4), the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5), Acts (ch. 6), Paul’s letters (ch. 7), the Pastoral Epistles (ch. 8), Hebrews (ch. 9), the General Epistles (ch. 10), and Revelation (ch. 11). The remaining six essays address archaeology and history (ch. 12), New Testament ethics (ch. 13), hope and judgment (ch. 14), relational hermeneutics (ch. 15), exegesis and the “New Homiletic” (ch. 16), and evangelistic preaching (ch. 17).

As a Pentecostal, I was especially interested in the chapters on preaching Jesus’ miracles and Acts. Pentecostals typically ignore the hermeneutical divide between narrative and normative, between what Jesus and the early church did and what we should do. So it was interesting to see how evangelicals negotiate the divide. Though I did not agree with all the conclusions in these chapters, I learned from both of them.

Expository preachers needing help with this Sunday’s sermon will not find it here. Preaching the New Testament offers no plug-and-play advice for procrastinating pulpiteers. Rather, it should be read long in advance of preparing an individual sermon, perhaps as you are planning a new sermon series. It will stimulate insights into about the meaning and significance of the New Testament for contemporary audiences. For the mechanics of how to persuasively communicate these insights from the pulpit, you’ll need to read other books.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

What Christians Know (1 John 5:18-20)

What do Christians know?

According to 1 John 5:18-20, they know three things:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

The first thing Christians know is the relationship between belief and behavior. Throughout 1 John, John argues that belief in God must result in godly behavior. There is an intimate and necessary connection between faith and works, in other words. In verse 18, John states the matter quite forcefully: “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.” I don’t think that John literally means Christians never sin after the moment of their conversions. Rather, I think he means that sin does not have an abiding power over them. Why? “The one who was born of God keeps him safe.” That is, Jesus protects Christians from any “harm” the “evil one” can do to them. It is Jesus himself who makes possible the ultimate victory of Christians over sin.

The second thing Christians know is the assurance of their salvation. According to verse 19, “We know that we are children of God.” Notice what a strong statement this is! Know. Not think or believe or hope. “Know” is what philosophers call a “success term.” It indicates the successful accomplishment of a desired action. In this case, Christians have succeeded in attaining assurance of salvation. They know they are saved because they have put their trust in Jesus Christ. He is the one who makes knowledge of salvation actual.

And, therefore, it is unsurprising that the third thing Christians know is really a person, Jesus Christ, who makes knowledge of the first two things possible. Verse 20 says, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true,” in other words, God. The reason Jesus Christ entered human history and took on a human nature was to give us the knowledge leading to salvation. He is in the position to give this knowledge because he himself is “the true God and eternal life.”

Obviously, these three pieces of knowledge are tremendously important from a personal and devotional point of view. What a comfort it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, to receive assurance of salvation, and to be empowered for godly living! And yet, please do not fail to see the theological intensity of John’s personal and devotional remarks. They go straight to the heart, for example, of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation. Doctrine determines spirituality; spirituality reflects doctrine. Truth is practical, and practicality must be truthful. That also is something Christians know.

Mortal Sin (1 John 5:16-17)

What should you do if you see someone sinning? In our culture, the typical answer to that question is, “Absolutely nothing!” There are several reasons for this answer.

For one thing, we have drunk deeply from the cup of John Stuart Mill. In 1869, Mill published an influential essay, On Liberty, which advocated “one very simple principle”: “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” In other words, if you see someone sinning, unless he is sinning against you, leave him alone.

For another thing, we have eaten at the table of moral relativism. That ideology teaches that the commandments, “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not,” are relative to the culture or the individual that commands them. What is cannibalism in one culture is another culture’s four-course meal. One man’s pornography is another man’s art.

There’s a bit of truth in both of these reasons for doing nothing, but only a bit. Christians are neither competent nor capable to intervene in every case of wrongdoing. If we tried, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else. And anyway, sometimes we do confuse morally universal norms with culturally relative practices. Marriage is a moral norm; wearing a white dress to a wedding is a cultural practice. We’d look silly if we imposed white dresses on a culture that had a different color scheme for weddings.

With these qualifications in mind, however, there are times when we are obligated to do something when we see someone sinning. The question is really not whether we should do something, but what we should do and when. First John 5:16-17 provides Christians with guidance on answering these two questions.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

Regarding what, John advises us to pray. Other Scriptures advise us to stage an intervention of some sort. (See Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1-2, and James 5:19-20, for example.) But here, John counsels us simply to bring the issue before God in humble supplication. We may not be competent or capable of intervening, but God is. So pray!

Regarding when, John advises us to intervene in the case of a “brother,” that is, a fellow Christian. As Christians, we know what is on the line with sin, namely, life and death. Repentance leads to life. Lack of repentance leads to death. If you love your brother or sister, you will pray for their repentance.

As Christians, when it comes to the sins of others, God does not call us to either busybody-ism or indifference. But he does call us to concern. And the first expression of concern is always prayer.