How to Tell If a Sermon is Good

Every week, millions of people around the world situate themselves in moderately uncomfortable seating and listen to someone talk at them for an extended period of time. I am, of course, referring to Christians who attend church services and listen to sermons. While Christian denominations differ on all manner of doctrine and practice, the proclamation of a message is accepted as standard practice by Christians worldwide.

Now, sermons vary quite a bit. They differ in title (sermon, message, homily, lesson), length (from 5 minutes to hours), style (read, Spirit-inspired, off-the-cuff, practiced), emphasis (as the central focus to a prelude to something else), and content (topical, exegetical, series, stand-alone, visionary, reactionary). Furthermore, as anyone who has attended church more than a handful of times can tell you, sermons also vary greatly in quality.

Some sermons are extremely boring, filled with clichés, poor teaching, and dragging on for what seems like an eternity. Other messages are highly engaging, composed of amusing anecdotes, motivational testimonies, and powerful calls to action. Some sermons are theologically rich, rooted in solid exegesis, overflowing with biblical wisdom, and founded on timeless truths. Other times, sermons are theologically destitute, bereft of meaningful insights, rarely referencing the scriptures, and lacking identifiably Christian content. Continue reading

Reflections on The Supremacy of God in Preaching

The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Piper)John Piper’s classic The Supremacy of God in Preaching offers an outline of principles for preaching, centering on the need for preachers to recognize (and apply) the supremacy of God in their theology and practice. The revised and expanded edition contains three emphases: why God should be supreme in preaching; how God should be supreme in preaching (building from Edward’s life and theology); and that God is still supreme in preaching (additions and further reflections after thirty-three years of ministry and preaching). Continue reading

The Church Prospers…

Bauman Quote about the Church

My “other” blogging venture (Conciliar Post) has been running a series of thought-provoking quotes on their Facebook page over the past week or so (include this one). If you’re interested in faithful and serious dialogue across Christian traditions, I’d encourage you to check out Conciliar Post and the work that’s being pursued over there.

On a personal note, this weekend I wrap up “vacation” time in Michigan with our families and return to Saint Louis for the dawn of a new school year (and a return to a regular writing schedule). I’m quite excited about this upcoming academic year (more on that later) and look forward to sharing what I learn with you all. Thanks for following along as I pursue veritas.

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Cathage

Tertullian of Cathage

In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today.[37] In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority.[38] Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith,[39] formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’[40] twisted and distorted Christian scriptures,[41] and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology.[42] Continue reading

Jesus and Crossan (Part I)

Around Easter, various theories about the life, death, and (non) resurrection of Jesus tend to find their way onto various media outlets. Sometimes these theories are outlandish and little more than attempts at attention; other times claims about Jesus come from more respectable sources. In today’s and tomorrow’s posts, I examine one of the more respectable voices on the Historical Jesus (though a voice I often disagree with): John Dominic Crossan and his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.
John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan

In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, scholar John Dominic Crossan presents his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Citing the fourfold accounts of the canonical gospels as presenting a problem for the Christian tradition when trying to determine the historical narrative of Jesus’ life,[1] Crossan endeavors to make use of historical-critical methodology in determining the true narrative, words, and actions of the historical Jesus. Considering the cross-cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and literary and textual considerations of canonical and non-canonical material,[2] Crossan seeks to find accounts that fits the known historical record, cultural expectations, and presents material unique enough to demonstrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan operates with a set of presuppositions that some may find difficult to accept, such as his philosophical naturalism on some points. Overall however, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography presents a narrative of the life of Jesus that, given the materials and criteria used by Crossan, presents a problematic image of the historical Jesus. Continue reading

Book Review: Encountering the New Testament (Elwell and Yarbrough)

PrintFirst impressions matter. Whether at a job interview, social function, or classroom, the initial picture people paint tends to color all subsequent interactions with that person. To a large degree, this is true of non-personal interactions as well, with institutions, places, and subject matter. And while a bad first impression can be overcome (often through much hard work), nothing sets the stage for future success in any relationship like getting off on the right foot. When it comes to education, this is one of the reasons why introductory level courses are so foundational for future learning.

To help set the stage for a successful introduction to the Christian New Testament comes the third edition of Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). This textbook is designed to facilitate an understanding of the theology and history of the New Testament that enables students to undertake an honest and informed reading of the New Testament text for themselves. Continue reading

Roman Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The nineteenth century posed a number of unique challenges to the Roman Catholic Church, among them the continued rise of Protestantism, the increasing influence of modernism, the development of historical and biblical criticisms, and the rise in understanding of numerous world religions. Roman Catholicism developed a number of responses to these challenges, most notably through Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors and the canons of the First Vatican Council. In these writings, Rome affirmed the veracity of the tradition of the Church in opposition to the world, dogmatically affirming the accuracy and infallibility of the teachings of the Church and Pope. Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Miracles

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.
Image of Jesus Healing the Gerasene Demoniac

Image of Jesus Healing the Gerasene Demoniac

Given Crossan’s general view of the world and the relationship between the natural and supernatural,[1] it is not entirely surprising that he grants little historical value to accounts of the miracles of the historical Jesus. Crossan argues that Jesus’ program of ministry focused more on the principles of open social commensality and radical egalitarianism.[2] Based on the prevalence of stories concerned with healing and demonic exorcism, Crossan concludes that Jesus was likely some form of peasant healer, though not in the typical western understanding of the term ‘healer.’[3] Focusing on the social implications of disease within first century Judaism, Crossan argues for a distinction between ‘illness’ and ‘disease.’ Whereas a disease consists of a medical condition, for example HIV/AIDS, an illness refers to the social ills of that disease, namely community ostracization and ridicule.[4] Crossan writes, “I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease [in his example ‘leprosy’] or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well.”[5] Concerning demonic possession, Crossan argues that such claims likely reflect the impact of Roman Imperial colonialism and that Jesus may have healed from an entranced state.[6] Ultimately, Crossan’s presuppositions necessarily diminish the historical veracity of any and all miraculous events that have traditionally been ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth. To explain Jesus’ reputation as healer and miracle worker, Crossan argues that process was reinterpreted as event and that Jesus practiced healing in a social sense without ever performing the literally miraculous. Continue reading