Once again my good friend John Armstrong at ACT3 has put his finger on a major weakness in our American churches. It comes on the day before we Americans go to the polls to choose our national leaders. What he has to say about the absence of prophetic preaching in the pulpits of America and spiritual leadership by vision, has much to do with the challenges our larger society is facing at this moment. In “What  happened to Prophetic preaching”? He writes,

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

“The vast majority of pastors, as revealed in a number of surveys, declare that leadership is their greatest weakness. They admit to having become managers of ecclesial organizations and speakers in churches on Sunday. But less than 10% (in one survey) said that they believed they were leaders. A leader exercises influence, casts vision and helps people to follow that vision. Modern ideology and modern ways of training men and women for pastoral ministry have impacted the church profoundly in this area. We need to understand how and why and what we can do about this problem.

Our schools have prepared future ministers to be students who can exegete a text, clinicians who can listen and help people in personal crisis and managers who can direct programs and serve the social structures of the church. But they have not conveyed clearly how to be a godly, praying, spiritually-formed leaders who can inspire and build up people in their daily lives. And they have not been taught how to prophesy the Word of the Lord.

In my lifetime I have seen the role of the pastor change dramatically. I remember my childhood pastors being shepherds of people and leaders who gave a vision to our collective witness. I held my pastors in high esteem. Today this has changed. Pastors are much less accessible to people, far less able to cast clear vision, and churches collectively languish in spirit. This has created a tragic gulf between leaders and people. People now demand managers for the church. They do not want prophets who will challenge them to think and become truly different in faith and virtue.”

I personally believe this is one of John’s better messages to the churches and the way forward in the future.

The entire article available as   Prophetic Preaching Pastors (pdf).

Recommended reading: The Work of Preaching Christ (1864)

Hell is an essential part of LENT.

To not speak of hell is not an option for those who want to be faithful to the Biblical story. It shows up in many places where the word itself is not specifically used. But the concept is there in both the Old as well as the New Testaments.

So we must speak and to answer my own question of how, I will say first, with dignity and respect for all of you who will read this post. I confess that this is hard to do and not something that is very common in our religious history. Just think of the latest example. The ad that was rejected by the Super-bowl committee for the game/soon to be movie, “Dante’s Inferno“.(see Dante’s “Divine Comedy“)

But this version of hell as well as the classic it takes it’s name from is not exactly the concept and theme that is so central in the Biblical narrative. I’ve heard that Jesus the Christ himself spoke more about this theme than anything else other than the Kingdom of God. I listened to a free-download of a sermon (abbreviated), said to be the most famous sermon ever preached in America. It is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“, preached by Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1741. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

May I suggest that we all down-load this mp3 version and listen to it as it represents faithfully the Biblical concept as well as any sermon can. No book and certainly no one sermon can ever take the place of the Biblical narrative itself. This is certainly true with a major theme such as hell. To lift out even this theme and try to present it separated from its original context in the story-well, you get the picture. This is what led to my original question. How are we possibly able to speak this essential part of the divine message into our present twenty-first century of electronic games with images and sounds so common to every Play-station owning kid?

Free Mp3 Download  (34 min) with Introduction,  narrated by Max McClean.

Billy Graham’s 1949 sermon honoring Edwards ministry, 200 years earlier;  The Jonathan Edwards Center@ Yale University.

RESOURCES ABOUND 

 Once we choose to deliberately set our own cherished orthodoxy into the background and concentrate on celebrating our unity, we will find a rich and varied treasure chest in the traditions of other Christians. Perhaps at this point I need to make an apology to those who are not a part of the Western tradition, especially Anglo Saxon and white. I am very aware that there are rich resources outside the of those usually posted on American blogs. Having speant years in Brazil, I have learned how limited our own life experiences are and how much we need to deliberately seek out those beyond our own horizons. In a limited way I have tried to include some of those both on my Blogroll and in my E4Unity toolbox as well as on the Saints Gallery pages.

I have found a rich supply in the Liberal wing of the American churches, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, which I am afraid, has been greatly ignored by Evangelicals. One example is Karl Barth himself. I have learned much from him and other outside my own tradition in regards to Christian unity. Here is a small excerpt from a study on Barth’s concept of the Preaching role of the Christian minister:

“The positive factor in the new development was this: in these years [the 1920s] I had to learn that Christian doctrine, if it is to merit its name, and if it is to build up the Christian church in the world as it needs to be built up, has to be exclusively and consistently the doctrine of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the living Word of God spoken to us men.  If I look back from this point on my earlier stages, I can now ask myself why I did not learn this and give expression to it much sooner.  How slow man is, especially when the most important things are at stake!… My new task was to rethink everything that I had said before and to put it quite differently once again, as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ…  I have discovered that by concentrating on this point I can say everything far more clearly, unambiguously and simply, in accordance with the church’s belief, and yet far more freely, openly and comprehensively that I could even have said it before.  In the past I had been at least partly hindered, not so much by the church tradition as by the eggshells of a philosophical system.” – from PREACHING and BARTH

 

For those not familiar with Karl Barth and his contribution to the Church, here is an excellent place to BEGIN