18 May 2007

Passing along a pastoral ouchy

by Dan Phillips

I am in the process of getting beaten up and beaten up as I listen to an audiobook of Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. From this morning's drive-time listen, I share this timely pointer with you brothers who have the enviable position (and burden) of occupying the pulpit week after week:
A sermon full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while it wants the light of evidence, and the life of zeal, is but an image or a well-dressed carcass.
You should hear the rest. I wish that this had been the textbook in my Pastoral Ministry class at Talbot.

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25 comments:

steve said...

Maybe Michael Haykin could make it a required text in his new teaching post at Southern...

SolaMeanie said...

That's rich. How many sermons have I sat under over the years that seemed lifted from Reader's Digest or Guideposts instead of Scripture? What was C.S. Lewis' old line..."I find Paul appealing but Peale appalling?"

jsb said...

Actually, it was Adlai Stevenson who found "Peale appalling."

I love the thought in the quote: evidence + zeal. The two essentials. Intellect + Spirit.

DJP said...

Almost more offensive, solameanie, are sermons that are okay, content-wise, but delivered so listlessly, detachedly, and lifelessly that it is difficult not to wonder whether they meant anything to the preacher before he mouthed them.

As a rule, the text cuts me before it cuts anyone else, and kindles a fire in me before I can have any warmth to spare for others.

Daniel said...

I recall sitting in on an evening service at one of our local reformed churches. The message was biblically sound, delivered crisply and articulately enough, but lacked the three things that distinguish a sermon from a lecture, it lacked passion, it wasn't personal, and there was no plea in it. I wasn't drawn to Christ, I was given information.

That well dressed corpse image is just too perfect.

jsb said...

I should more correctly have put Spirit over both intellect and heart. Dan and Daniel point to that lack of "pathos" in a sermon, which means even the "logos" does not connect as it should.

Then "ethos" for the life of the pastor.

One has to have all three to be clicking.

YnottonY said...

Great quote, Dan. I take it that you downloaded the free audio version of the book as I did :-)

Baxter has some very good insight. I am presently working through his Catholick Theologie and The Universal Redemption of Mankind, which I purchased from Dr. Curt Daniel. I look forward to reading Baxter's other works that are more manifestly "practical", as they say. Keith Plummer, on his excellent blog The Christian Mind, has quoted from Baxter's A Christian Directory several times. It's worth checking out as well.

donsands said...

Excellent quote!

SolaMeanie said...

Dan,

I'd agree with you about delivery, but I have always heard that Jonathan Edwards delivered "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in a monotone and had people shrieking in the aisles.

I guess that's where the Holy Spirit takes over in our weakness. :)

Chris said...

Solameanie,

You bring up a good point about Edwards.

In "The Supremacy of God in Preaching," John Piper talks about this, and makes the point that while Edwards read from his manuscript with almost no vocal variation, his "blood earnestness" was obvious to all.

"The Supremacy of God in Preaching" should also be mandatory reading for every pastor. It's nice and short, so it can easily be read they way it should be- very often.

John Haller said...

I've got this book loaded on my iPod and it's in the queue. I'm not in the mood for a thrashing, but maybe I'll go ahead anyway.

The last post raises an interesting point. I've asked my pastor if he ever preached what he thought was a real stinker of a sermon. He says he has. I asked him what happened: he said, you know some people said it really resulted in change in their lives. I think that shows that the Holy Spirit can use imperfectly presented material. Just a thought.

So Dan, with this post and the past two in mind: how do you use the A word (apostasy) passionately without being branded, as you were, unloving and acerbic?

Seth McBee said...

I find it funny to say this, or think that I can add anything by saying this...but...

great quote...there now you can all go back to living your lives...sorry for wasting 10 sec. of your life you'll never get back.

Kevin Sorensen said...

I listened to a good portion of this over that past three days. I attended a family funeral in Claremore, OK (Is that near Phil's hometown? Can't remember now) and had a lot of road time to get beat, pummelled, thrashed, downtrodden, run over, and then built up, encouraged, re-built and strengthened all at the same time. Thanks for the quote, Dan.

DJP said...

Isn't that true, Kevin? Baxter's manner (and the reader's) is gracious, the tone more concerned and even heartbroken than scolding, you almost don't know you've been taking such a thorough drubbing... until you see the blood and bruises and realize that the groaning you've been hearing has been your own.

DJP said...

John Haller—my wife will tell you that it is often the case that when the sermons that impress me the least seem to be of the most actual use. Often I've come down from the pulpit feeling I'd really botched it, and far more often than not, those are the sermons with the most reports of blessing, challenge, conviction, a personal application from the Lord the Spirit.

As the the other — and I'm not being defensive — are you saying I struck the right tone on those posts, and how did I do it? or that I struck the wrong tone, how could I do better? or something different?

Jon said...

This reminds me of some pages I read this morning from Spurgeon's autobiography (vol 1 ~ pg 356). Spurgeon was not thought to be a refined preacher in his day. Edwin Paxton Hood said "...for polished diction, we shall ot look to him; for the long and stately argument, we shall not look to him; for the original and profound thought, we shall not look to him; for the clear and lucid criticism, we shall not look to him..." In attempting to answer why Spurgeon could regularly draw crowds of 10-20 thousand the pamphlet "Why so Popular? "An Hour with Rev. C. H. Spurgeon" Speaking of Spurgeon "You have strong faith, and as the result, INTENSE EARNESTNESS. In this lies, as in the hair of Samson, the secret of your power. Go on, my brother, and may God give you a still larger amount of ministerial success! 'Preach the Word,' the old theology, that 'glorious gospel of the blessed God' for which apostles laboured and martyrs died. In all your teachings, continue to exhibit the cross of Christ as occupying, in the Christian revelation, like the sun in our planetary system, the very centre, and imparting to all their light and heat. Tell the people that every doctrine, duty, or promise of the Scriptures stands imtimately connected with the cross, from that connection derives its meaning and value to us."

donsands said...

"Often I've come down from the pulpit feeling I'd really botched it, and far more often than not, those are the sermons with the most reports of blessing,"

When you're weak, He is strong.

Greg P said...

We have to read this book for a class at TMS. May I simply say that I am immensely thankful that it's required. What a truly amazing read.

John Haller said...

I think you struck the right tone on those posts. As you will recall, some disagreed and accused you of being unloving. I think you said what had to be said.

I guess my point is that you can never use the apostasy word, even if spoken in truth and with love, and avoid some accusing you of being, well, mean.

We once had a discussion in a class at church and the subject of the Catholic mass came up. I'm an elder in the church and was asked for my opinion. I used the word "abhorrent". Well, all you know what broke loose.

It's like the truth is not a subject that cannot be discussed.

étrangère said...

I loved the Reformed Pastor / found it extremely challenging to ministry generally, but I thought he had a low view of our creaturelyness at the end with a utilitarian view of rest - he slams ministers taking time off more than the brisk walk each day which he requires for health for more ministry.

DJP said...

Haven't gotten there yet, Strangergirl. As I'm taking a day off today and will probably listen to more, I'll see if he spoils my day or not. (c;

John Haller—thanks, I think I understand better. No, I think one can be more or less tactful, wise, and/or gentle, but there are some truths that to some people simply are explosive. It is a very difficult question: "Did I cause this explosion by gracelessness or ineptness, or is it the truth that is explosive?"

But I have to say I'm with you. I'd have serious, serious concerns about someone who really understands what is going on (say) with the Mass, or a scapular, and who shrugs it off as no big thing. Boy, if those aren't big things, what are?

Andrew and Carolyn said...

This book has blessed me more than any other in terms of a challenge to holy, sincere, Spirit-filled ministry.

I do think that 'etrangere' has a strong point, however. Not EVERYTHING Baxter states has stood the test of time. He lived in a world very different from our own where constant electronic communication and the hectic flow of twenty first century existence are a constant drain. I don't think this abegnates any of the moral/spiritual/personal challenges he makes - but some of the more practical rebukes are very much of their time. Reading this in conjunction with Peter Brain's excellent 'Going the Distance' is a nice balance. Brain softens some of Baxter's hardness, and Baxter toughens some of Brain's softness!!

The thing that amazes me about this book is that these were addresses which were originally intended for a Ministers' Fraternal. Can you imagine? Many that I have attended can descend into a pity party or become an exercise in equating ourselves with a certain prophet under a certain juniper tree!! How we need the challenge!

Dan, I wonder what your thoughts are on his emphasis on catechising, and pastoral visitation. How do you think this fits with the ministries of many many modern day Pastors whose main/only role is public Bible teaching?

DJP said...

That's the portion I—okay, let me revise that: That's one of the portions I find most challenging. In my first senior pastorate, my philosophy combined with my natural unwillingness to thrust myself into situations uninvited, and left me neglectful of that duty. I have come to believe that my philosophy was wrong, and that I needed to battle that reticence more brutally.

As I told Strangeforeigngirl, I haven't run into much that I thought didn't transfer fairly well yet (with cultural adjustments), but I'm not done.

jbuck21 said...

"I wish that this had been the textbook in my Pastoral Ministry class at Talbot."

Sheesh...what'dya expect??!? :)

Problem #1: School Choice. Everything else was just details.

étrangère said...

Haha, it's almost at the end I think. And I hope it didn't spoil your day off!

The visitation / catechising thing is in his particular context of having a parish wherein he had the cultural right to call on every house in that parish with the expectation to catechise. That said, it still transfers with challenge to taking responsibility for each household, and showing Fathers how to take that responsibility themselves - not just telling them to do so. Some of his burden/vision would be covered by a good one-to-one and housegroup set-up, but that doesn't entirely remove the pastoral responsibility he sets out.

"Andrew and Carolyn", I found reading Brain at the time helpful too, though as you suggest, also find him a bit weak in places! It'll save some ministries though - recognising this, an evangelical Bishop in Northern Ireland read Going The Distance and promptly bought one for each of the ministers in his charge, for the sake of their ministry.