Sola Fide: by faith ALONE

Someone shared with me a fairly awful sermon he heard recently. The fact that the sermon did not touch upon the scriptures before them was bad enough, but the speaker spent a great deal of time not preaching but giving a motivational speech about becoming the next Nelson Mandela through hard work and determination. That’s just my friend’s reflection on that sermon.

I’m preparing what will prayerfully be a scripture saturated expository sermon from Habakkuk for this Sunday. This is probably one of the key verses in the book:

Habakkuk 2:4 – ‘…but the righteous shall live by his faith

These words, quoted in Romans 1:17, changed the world. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk on a pilgrimage to Rome. Along the way he fell sick and while sick the verse ‘the righteous shall live by faith’ kept creeping into his mind. Upon arriving at Rome he headed to St John Lateran’s basilica to  head up the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs). These white marble steps are, according to Roman Catholic tradition, the staircase leading up to the ‘office’ of Pilate – steps which Jesus would have used during his passion and thus, according to Roman Catholic tradition, sanctified by his blood. At the time of Luther the Church offered an indulgence for any pilgrim who went up each step on their knees, kissing them while reciting the rosary prayer.

Luther began this ritual but half way up the steps the same verse kept creeping into his mind: ‘the righteous shall live by faith’. Instead of completing the ritual and his pilgrimage he got up and went home to Germany.

Here are his reflections on that time:

“Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and the miseries of life he tortured us by the Gospel [which he understood to be ‘works based’ – Ed] – but when by the Spirit of God I understood those words – “the righteous shall live by faith” – then I felt born again like a new man, I entered through open doors into the very paradise of God.”

Luther’s meditation on scripture and subsequent gospel-oriented actions changed the world as we know it.

Hard work and determination are good things, but as a preacher my job is to exhort God’s people to not just pull up their proverbial bootstraps (moralism), but to point them to the amazing grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them meditate upon its grandeur until the Spirit prayerfully works it into their lives.

For those inclined, your prayers for me for this Sunday are greatly appreciated!

Theology Thursday: What is Expository Preaching?

Theology Thursday

When you hear the phrase exegetical or expository preaching there can be a little bit of confusion about what this means. For some the idea is simply the teaching of God’s word verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.

John Woodhouse helpfully orients our definition of expository preaching when he writes:

The richness of the Bible’s message is heard when attention is given to the particular details of the text under consideration. Certainly the major theme of a passage must be recognised – the ‘big idea’ – but the insight of just this passage is only appreciated by taking seriously the unique way in which this text is expressed.

The keys to this are:

  • Focus on a particular text
  • Attention to its particular details
  • The unique insights this particular text expresses
  • How these insights shape and inform the major theme of the passage

So does teaching verse by verse mean you are an expository preacher? Not necessarily. How can this be?

Answer: when you end up importing topical preaching into a verse by verse format.

Let me illustrate this with Romans 5:9-11

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The preacher who may be committed to preaching verse by verse but who ends up importing topical preaching into the text (and therefore not preaching an expository sermon) might, as an example, do the following:

In verse 9 we are told that we are ‘justified by his blood’. What does it mean to be ‘justified by his blood’? (5 minute explanation on justification). Verse 9 also says we are saved from ‘the wrath of God’. What is God’s wrath? Isn’t God meant to be all loving? (5 minutes explanation on what God’s wrath is and how good it is to be saved from it).

Verse 10 tells us we were enemies now we are reconciled (2 minute illustration on reconciliation). Verse 10 reminds us that we are reconciled by Jesus’ life.

Verse 11 is our application from being justified (in verse 9), saved from His wrath (also verse 9), and reconciled (verse 10). What does it mean to rejoice? (5 minute explanation and illustration of rejoicing). We rejoice because we have received reconciliation – isn’t this good news!

Now, when you look at the above there is nothing inherently wrong with this form of teaching. The congregation is being fed God’s Word and what has been said is true (and not heretical).

The problem, though, is that you’ve walked away with an understanding of these topics but not how the passage uses them and what unique insight on these topics is given by Romans 5:9-11. The richness of the Bible’s message has been missed, clouded by misunderstanding, or lost altogether.

What does an appropriate exposition of this text look like? Here’s my short example:

Romans 5:9-11 carries on from Paul’s building argument all the way back in chapter 1. The wrath of God, his judgement upon sin, has been revealed in chapters 2-3 in particular, and the good news of justification and reconciliation by faith has been explained in chapters 3-5. The key to these verses now is the contrastive phrases in verses9 and 10:

Since we have been justified, much more shall we be saved from his wrath. If we were reconciled by Jesus’ death, much more shall we be saved by him.

The particular insights of this particular text are: 1) to encourage us that what happened in the past (our justification by Jesus) saves us in the future (when God’s wrath is revealed) – this is the doctrine of assurance; 2) remind us that salvation is both ‘now received’ (we are saved) and ‘not yet consummated’ (we will be saved); and 3) give us the grounds of our rejoicing in God (verse 11).

Can you see the difference? In the previous example topical preaching was brought into each detail of the text. In the latter the details are explained in order to show how the text is using this information.

Now, one might pause here and wonder if this is all just kicking up a fuss when there’s no need to. But I’d like to suggest that we should have a strong definition and desire for expository preaching because it is the way in which the message of scripture speaks to us.

Gary Millar has written a fantastic chapter in this new book from Matthias Media – Saving Eutychus. In it he argues for expository preaching that preaches to the heart of people and he concludes with 8 advantages of heart-changing expository preaching (which I quote at length here and add my explanations):

Conclusion: The advantages of heart-changing, expository preaching

What are the advantages of teaching the Bible in this way?

Expository preaching:

1. Does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through his word to change people’s lives—as it ‘uncages the lion’ and allows God’s word to speak.

Expository preaching isn’t just one of many ways of preaching – it should be the main form of preaching since it is also the manner in which scripture itself teaches us (for more info see chapter 2 in the book in which Millar shows us how Deuteronomy 4:32-40, Isaiah 55:10-13, 2 Timothy 3:13-17, and Hebrews 4:9-13 all exposit scripture for the reader). Doing ‘justice to the biblical material’ is essentially to be faithful – faithful in communicating its intended message

2. Acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.

The best examples of expository preaching leave us in awe of the text in front of us and with a willingness and encouragement to change in response. A clearly explained passage trumps the need for clever of inspiring communication which is dependent on the communicator rather than the Spirit of God

3. Minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.

4. Minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.

How often have I heard lately of preachers using the sermon to affirm their own positions and thinking, use the sermon to angrily defend against criticism, or use the sermon to unhelpfully criticise members of the congregation. It’s plain abuse of authority.

So too is the opposite: to neglect the weightier matters of scripture and to only woo people into liking the preacher…

5. Removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times, of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its colour and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.

6. Encourages humility in those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.

7. Helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter the God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.

A topical sermon on the need for evangelism might be helpful. But it seems to me that the weight of scripture is devoted to getting Christians to understand what the Gospel is and how it impacts our daily living. Expositional preaching which is committed to preaching verse by verse, chapter by chapter and book by book is necessarily going to spending more time explaining to Christians how they should view and live in the world – and this not because expositional preaching is necessarily insular/inward looking but because the weight of scripture is about how we are to be transformed in mind and spirit.

That said…

8. Drives us to preaching the gospel. As we’ll see in more detail in chapter 5, expository preaching is also uniquely valuable in that it persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel—that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.

What is it that will transform mind and spirit? It’s the gospel. Any preaching which does not point to the grace of the gospel in Jesus Christ is essentially moralism or legalism.

True expository preaching expresses the heart and intention of scripture at in its clearest and safest form for the preacher. It’s also really hard work and one that the preacher needs to be always crafting and encouraged to grow.

Review: Saving Eutychus

Saving Eutychus Cover

I begin writing this review having spent one tedious hour working on the opening illustration to my sermon last Sunday (while juggling whether I really nailed the big idea and big question). I’ve been at the work of preaching for just over a year, and I’m privileged and very thankful to be working with friend and mentor Ben Ho.

I should also start this review where my friend Nathan Campbell started: a disclaimer. Gary Millar is a friend and principal of the college I attended, Queensland Theological College. Phil Campbell is also another friend who taught me preaching while at QTC. So I can’t say that my review will be completely impartial, but I don’t think it matters that much.

To the book.

Saving Eutychus gets its nifty title (partly inspired by Nathan’s blog) from the little incident in Acts 20. It’s Paul’s final evening with in Troas and he’s probably pretty keen to impart as much teaching as possible – even going way into the evening. By around midnight Eutychus, who was listening in, struggles to stay awake and ends up falling asleep. On a window sill. Three stories up.  As Phil jokes, with a little apostolic first aid, the young man’s ‘terminal velocity’ wasn’t as terminal as it could have been.

But Phil outlines the problem this story highlights for the average preacher, “…what took Paul many hours of speaking to achieve—near-fatal napping—takes most of us only a few minutes speaking to a well-rested and caffeinated crowd on a Sunday.

So true.

I’ve seen the droopy heads. I’ve seen the glazed eyes. Every so often I can grab everyone’s attention with an illustration only to lose it again as soon as I begin talking about the text for the morning.

I find preaching really hard work. So I was both encouraged and deflated by the opening lines to this book, “Preaching is hard work. And—we’re sorry to break this to you if you’re just starting out—it doesn’t seem to get much easier.

Deflated, yes. But the rest of the book serves up some real encouragements and challenges.

As a young preacher struggling to find a groove in my preparation and ‘performance’ this was a most timely book. But as I read through it became clear that this book isn’t just pitching at the young preacher, but essentially at any preacher who is genuinely, and humbly, seeking to improve their craft. Preaching is deadly serious business and should be afforded the appropriate amount of time for preparation. Gary puts the weight of the task in this way:

“I want to know that God has addressed me through his word. I want to be challenged, humbled, corrected, excited, moved, strengthened, overawed, corrected, shaped, stretched and propelled out into the world as a different person. I want to be changed! And if I’m the one who’s teaching the Bible—whether it’s to my children, to our students in college, to our church family in Brisbane, or to anybody else—I long for that change to happen in the hearts of those who hear. I long for Jane to find new security in Christ, and for Rob to discover real joy in following Jesus. I want Ian to stop doing that because he realizes it is dishonouring God, and I want everyone to be bowled over by the power and beauty of God. I want people (myself included) to become more like Christ. To borrow Edwards’ language, I want people to be affected. I want to preach in a way that results in change. Real change. Heart change.”

Real change in the lives of believers isn’t just for their benefit, but also taps into God’s purposes to make known his glory to this world.

It’s at this point that Gary impresses upon the reader that expository preaching is the best form of preaching to accomplish this grand purpose. I found myself fist-punching the air a number of times, especially during Gary’s 8 advantages of expository preaching. However I felt like this could have been teased out a little more. Perhaps not so much as to be preaching to the choir, but I would have appreciated a little more given the state of some choirs…

Gary’s chapter on preaching the gospel from the Old Testament is also very helpful. Prior to the start of my ministry apprenticeship I grew up on a diet of very poorly taught Old Testament sermons. There is enough in this chapter to whet the appetite, and enough references to do further reading.

And that’s one of the great strengths of this book overall. It’s both encouraging and challenging. It sympathises with the weakness of the preacher who is reading, while at the same time pointing them forward, with hope (!), to a better future.

Phil’s top ten tips in chapter 3 bring back a lot of memories. There’s plenty there, as well as some helpful website links to gauge sentence length. It’s a very Phil chapter.

But probably the most heart-warming, or at least to me, chapters was Gary’s on ‘Faithful Wounds: the importance of critique’. Gary steps through the importance of faithful constructive criticism to grow our preaching. In this regard my partner in ministry, Ben Ho, has been a faithful friend. Particularly as a young Gen-Yer, who finds it difficult to separate my performance from my personhood (as is a general flaw of Gen-Y and Millenials), Ben has faithfully walked me through each of my sermons, shown the strengths and the weaknesses and has encouraged me along. The wounds of a friend are faithful indeed.

This book is not just for the young preacher, though this young preacher benefited from it greatly.  It’s not even just for the old preacher. But anyone who wants a glimpse at the process of crafting a sermon. I know some preachers who would benefit from this book greatly. I also know plenty of sermon listeners who could do with reading this book, if only to be better listeners.

This is a great book. The message to preach clearly with simplicity for maximum gospel punch is given clearly and with simplicity. What’s more is that each chapter is fairly personal. Gary’s chapters are very Gary. Phil’s chapters are very Phil. I felt like I wasn’t reading a how-to book on preaching, but was sitting in a bar, chewing the fat and listening to two of my favourite preachers chat about their craft.

Saving Eutychus will be available from Matthias Media towards the end of March/early April.

Saving Eutychus: Preview

My favourite quotes so far…

Preaching is hard work. And—we’re sorry to break this to you if you’re just starting out—it doesn’t seem to get much easier. – Gary & Phil

The night Eutychus struggled to stay awake was Paul’s last among them, and there was a lot he wanted to teach them. Paul couldn’t catch a later flight and prolong his stay; he had to keep talking. But the humbling point we want to make is that what took Paul many hours of speaking to achieve—near-fatal napping—takes most of us only a few minutes speaking to a well-rested and caffeinated crowd on a Sunday. – Phil

Where God is explaining something, we need to help people to understand. Where God is warning us, we need to help people feel the urgency and weight of that. Where God is wooing us, we need to help people feel the pull of his love. Where God is correcting us, we need to show people that they are going the wrong way and to help them get back on track. Where God is comforting his people, we want people to feel the security and warmth of his comfort. And that, in a nutshell, is expository preaching. – Gary

Our contention is that the Bible itself preaches to the heart. Through a huge range of genres across the sweep of biblical history, through the voices of known and unknown authors, God speaks to move and change people.

Expository preaching, then, isn’t simply one technique or approach amongst many; it’s the model that allows Scripture to speak most clearly and powerfully. The key to preaching in a way that affects people’s hearts is to let the text speak in all its richness and variety. – Gary




Breaking News (maybe?): Book Announcement

I’m pretty slow on the news, but this was a pleasant announcement from two lecturer friends. QTC Principal Gary Millar and QTC Lecturer/Pressy Minister Phil Campbell, both great blokes, have a new book coming out.

Looks exciting, and when I get my hands on one you can be guaranteed a book review here…and I’ll most likely get signatures and photos with the authors.

Watch this space!


Here’s what Dale Ralph Davis says about the book:

Let me invite you to eavesdrop on an Irish-Aussie conversation about preaching. This book teems with ‘plusses’: it is short (as a tome that takes Eutychus as its poster boy must be); it is stretching (they force one to deal with longer texts—and leave one asking, ‘Why can’t I summarize extended passages like that?’); it is specific (they include actual sermons with critique); it is searching (in case you skip the first chapter, ‘pray’ occurs eight times in the conclusion); and stirring (you still want to preach when you’ve finished reading). If you don’t buy the book, don’t cry if Eutychus isn’t saved!

Update II:

Believe or not I think I beat Nathan Campbell to the post!

Update III:

I’ve just received an advanced copy for review. Watch this space indeed!

Expositional Preaching Rap

I’m currently listening to ‘The Church: Called and Collected‘ – a Reformed Rap/Holy Hip Hop collection which walks through Mark Dever’s ‘The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church’. It’s biblically faithful and devastatingly clever. My favourite track so far is Shai Linne’s ‘Expositional Preaching’. Here it is with lyrics I’ve transcribed (so please excuse any errors). I hope you’ll find it as encouraging as I have.

2 Timothy 4:1-2, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (English Standard Version)


Soli deo Gloria – yeah, once again, it’s the church man, called and collected
there’s alotta confusion about what makes up a healthy church
so we gonna look at the first mark
cos without this one you’re in bad shape, let’s do it

Verse 1
With our raps we adore our Master and Lord
Jesus Christ who deserves all our claps and applause
For the wrath that he bore
At the cross for our blasphemous thoughts and the classless acts of a whore!
He gave up His life with a passionate roar
Was raised up to heights where He sat at before
After this all he gave Pastors the call to ministry found in Second Timothy chapter 4
Verse 1 and 2, what I first wanna do is come to you the church to reverse a funny view
So let me ask a question: What’s most essential, what is it that gives a local church its potential?
Some would say, ‘Music’, some would say, ‘Deacons’
Other say, ‘Reaching the lost and soul seeking’
But if we wanna give God the glory in our meetin’s
The most important thing is: Expository Preaching!

Chorus 1
Where are the Whitfields? Where are the Spurgeons?
To preach the word, to preach the word
We sound theology to deal with reality
Preach the word, so preach the word
We’ve got enough rappers we need more pastors
To preach the word, to preach the word
We need explanation and deep application
Preach the word, so preach the word

This verse right here is for the congregation
It’s whatcy’all need to be listening for

Verse 2
Let me explain what I mean, it’s not too complex
It’s preaching God’s Word in its proper context
As you listen be discerning, what you have to determine: Was the point of the passage the point of the sermon?
If not this problem must be confronted today ‘cos he just used the bible to say what he wanted to say (what?!)
And even if it’s delivered with fire and intelligence that’s basically making what God has inspired irrelevant
Instead of applying the Word’s realities a lot of Pastors are relying on personality
But gifts of communication can never be a true replacement for the Holy Spirit’s illumination
Without exposition you’ll lack major profit, all you’ll get is tradition and your Pastor’s favourite topics
And that can be a slippery slope, the Word should be giving you hope, this dude is just giving you jokes
That won’t help you love Christ, it won’t help your obedience
We need more expositors, not more comedians (that’s right!)
Expect for true labour in the text then faithfully connecting to the Saviour, then wait for its effects
God gives the increase: holiness, love, unity. The Word faithfully preached builds up the whole community
If not, your Sunday meal will not last and you’ll have to supplement it with the Podcast

Chorus 2
Don’t entertain us, that won’t sustain us
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Careful instruction, not a big production
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
We don’t need theatrics or man centred tactics
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
We’re on the brink of eternity, so please speak earnestly
Preach the Word, so preach the Word

This verse here is for the Pastors, I just wanna encourage y’all

Verse 3
Y’all should be mindful of this devout thesis: all of the Bible is about Jesus!
The Old Testament: Jesus Christ concealed
The New Testament: Jesus Christ revealed!
This truth of the Lord Christ boldly conveyed this in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus
The Law, the Prophets and the teachings of Apostles: all of these point back to Jesus and the Gospel
So if the words of Christ is what the Word is about ultimately that should be what the sermon’s about (true!)
Forget applause you gotta let the Cross rock ya
All roads in the Bible lead to Golgotha
Whatever the text faithfulness demands that we should hear the echo of nails hitting His hands
Don’t try to be original, say the old story
And watch your people change as they behold glory

Chorus 3
The glory of Jesus we need to see this
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Make Christ the centre so new life can enter
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
Give us the whole counsel along with the Gospel
Preach the Word, so preach the Word
This is your duty: to show us God’s beauty
Preach the Word, so preach the Word!

So that’s it man, that’s the charge in Second Timothy chapter 4
Paul tells Timothy, he charges him, to preach the Word
And yo, there’s a lot of good resources out there
Spirit Empowered Preaching, by my man Arturo Azurdia
Christ-Centred Preaching, by Bryan Chapell
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Get these resources
More than anything: dig into the Word of God, meditate on it and give it to your people.
Grace and Peace.

What makes a good sermon?

It’s a tough question to answer. I remember once stating to a work colleague that the sermon I heard that previous Sunday was “not that good…” to which she replied, “Oooh…that’s a bit judgemental!”

But what is the dividing line between ‘judgemental’ and ‘discerning’? Just because someone is in the pulpit it doesn’t mean that the words they are speaking are perfect (even if it is Philip Jensen!). Speaking of which, Philip Jensen, in a talk given a few years back, did state that we should all be personally discerning as to what is being said from the preacher. The closest thing to perfect we have in our Church’s today is God’s word – though if we can speak Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic then there would indeed be perfection amongst us.

So back to discernment – it is something which is very necessary, despite appearances of ‘judgementalness’. God’s word should be the focal point and the challenge to our lives on Sunday mornings… not solely the words of the preacher – even if that preacher is myself ;)