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Preaching Versus Teaching

As I instruct students in homiletics, one of the distinctions I try to help them see is that of preaching versus teaching. Clearly, pastors must do both, and there is a great deal of overlap. After the apostles were beaten by the Jewish authorities, they were released and we are told that they “did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). So they both taught and preached, yet the use of both of these words does denote a difference.

In his book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, David Gordon points out this distinction in his critique of modern, Western preaching. He notes that many ministers in this generation talk about subjects, but do not bring out from the text what amounts to a “convincing, compelling weight on the soul of the hearer.” Men lecture behind pulpits instead of proclaim, sounding more like they are reading a commentary than urging their listeners with heart-felt truth.

So how do you distinguish between the two? First, let’s be clear on what are not true differences. The difference between teaching and preaching is not that one appeals to the head versus the other is for the heart. Nor is it simply a matter of talking versus shouting. […]

The Dovetail Nature of Scripture

Recently, I worked with a talented friend in his well-equipped workshop in making some storm windows for my study. His gifts and abilities were fun to watch as he went from coming up with the ideas and drawings to their execution. He transformed pieces of pinewood and glass into snugly fitting windows that will keep my study warm while letting me see clearly the woods outside.

Not being very skilled myself, I mostly just held the wood in place or helped sand a bit when needed. I did learn the new word “kerf” in the process, which is the wood lost in the cutting of the wood. As we carefully measured each piece, we had to account for the amount of wood the saw blade takes away in a cut. We had fun joking that I was the “kerf catcher.”

This experience brought to mind the craftsmanship of the Bible. The Spirit has worked beautifully in bringing the Scriptures to us in written form, dovetailing together the Old and New Testaments like a master craftsman does with furniture. Like a window, God has given to us in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation the way to see his Son, the Lord Jesus […]

Reflections on Dr. Bruce Stewart

Last Friday, I attended the quietly glorious memorial service of Bruce Stewart. Dr. Stewart served faithfully and well at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary as Professor of Pastoral Theology and also as President (you can see an article about his life here). One of the remaining living professors from my years at RPTS, Dr. Wayne Spear, preached with his customary dignity and insight from the words of Simeon on seeing the Savior in Luke 2, highlighting in his message qualities Dr. Stewart had embodied. As Dr. Spear spoke, memories of his ministry and influence on me swirled together with the phrases I was hearing. Here are a few of my reflections.

“Compassionate and gracious like his Savior.” When the Lord called me into the ministry and I knew I was heading toward seminary, everything in my life already felt new at that time. Miriam and I were newly married, living in a new city, had just become parents, were brand new to the church and the Reformed faith, and were now scheduled to head away from our first home after less then three years of being there. Moving to Pittsburgh and entering into a whole new field of study seemed daunting to us. […]

A 2016 Thank You!

During a busy holiday week with friends and family coming and going, I have been on the internet less and face-to-face more. So I was a bit delayed in receiving some good news brought to my attention by some of my fellow GenRef Gents. Gentle Reformation was named as one of “My Top 10 Blogs of 2016” by Tim Challies. So I had to sneak away from company this morning and write a bit!

For several reasons, this recognition is quite an honor for us. Though some of us have attended conferences or interacted personally with Pastor Challies on occasion, for the most part he has been a “mentor at a distance” to us. The rich content of his blog combined with his caring, pastoral tone – qualities we sought to capture in the naming of our blog – have set a high mark that we have tried to emulate here. So as one who is a father and leader in the Christian blogging movement whom we respect highly, having Tim think of us in this way is surprising and quite humbling. To be honest, as Tim’s linking to us draws far more attention our way than we normally receive, it feels a bit like […]

The Most Hurtful Comments of Job’s Friends?

Each time I read through the drama of the Book of Job, some new theme seems to stick out to me. The limit of Satan’s power. The majesty of God in his creation and rule. The incredible insights into the Lord’s sovereignty. The depths to which human suffering can take us. Or, as James pointed out earlier this year which pertains to the theme I want to share, how the Lord restored Job’s fortunes, including blessing him with children again.

For what has hit me in reading Job in my devotions recently are the hurtful comments his friends make with respect to children. Though Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar made many barbed remarks through the three cycles of their discourse with Job that impugned his character, questioned his faith, and mocked his knowledge, perhaps the ones that must have struck most deeply into the heart of Job were the ones they spoke regarding children?

Before I point these remarks out, remember the context. Job had seven sons and three daughters (1:2). The sons appeared to have been adult males at the time, each having their own homes. Apparently, during a season of the year much like the holiday time we are currently in, they […]

Our Heart Telescope

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, making it unique among attempts to peer into the universe. As Hubble orbits the Earth, it does so above the atmosphere, which distorts and even blocks the light that reaches our planet and is what makes the stars seem to twinkle.  This orbit allows Hubble to give a view of the galaxies that far surpass that of conventional telescopes on the ground that struggle with atmospheric distortion.

So 353 miles above the Earth, Hubble orbits our globe every 97 minutes (which is about five miles per second, meaning it goes across the United States in about 10 minutes).  Hubble has caused the knowledge of outer space to explode, as it has captured images never seen before of newly discovered galaxies and space phenomenon. Scientists have realized what is out there is far more beautiful, complex, and grand in magnitude than they had even imagined. For instance, they discovered there are ten times more galaxies in the observable universe. Who knows what lies beyond what our telescopes can observe now? It took getting beyond earth’s atmosphere for scientists to see new things.

As the Hubble telescope is to astronomy, so is the Spirit to the heart […]

Browse Worthy: The Trumpian Landscape

With the election over and the inevitable setting in, people are wondering what factors led to Trump’s victory and what will things look like as he takes over. Here are a few intriguing articles that help provide some answers toward that end.

A New Poverty | Rod Liddle

This article at First Things reviews Hillbilly Elegy and sheds further light on the disenfranchised, white lower class that is being credited for Trump’s victory.

I’m an Adorable Deplorable | David Murray

Dr. Murray hung around a few of the deplorables at a Trump rally for a while and came away with an important spiritual lesson.

Understanding TIME Magazine’s choice for Person of the Year, Donald J. Trump | Al Mohler

This short audio section of The Briefing explains this decision.

The Theology of Donald Trump | Michael Horton

Whose theological beliefs does Trump (and many of his followers) most emulate? Read and find out.

Nine Christians in the Trump Cabinet? | David Murray

Trump appears to be putting around him people of faith. Get the line-up and the low down.

The Too Visible Church

Theologians like to speak of the distinction between the invisible church and the visible church. The invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect” (WCF 25.1), meaning all true Christians. The visible church “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion” (WCF 25.2), or in other words all those who are baptized and in Christian congregations. Every local congregation is part of the visible church, for it is the church that the world sees.

Yet I wonder if in our day and age the church may be too visible?

Churches today seem to be vying to be THE ONE SEEN. Almost every community in our land now has one or more churches with a huge megaplex campus that rivals the local mall, with signs all over pointing to it. Given the slick advertisements in magazines, newspaper inserts, radio, television, etc., the promotional line in many congregational budgets must equal, oh let’s say, the salary of one or two small church pastors. Pastors (here I warn myself) use social media and write blogs, which can serve an edifying purpose, but can also be a huge temptation just to be heard and seen by others (“How many Likes do […]