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Spurgeon and Textual Preaching

December 28, 2011 1 comment

I’ve recently learned (the terms at least) of the three styles of preaching:  expository, topical, and textual.  Expository is generally preferred for the “verse-by-verse” teaching through Bible books, exemplified by many preachers such as John MacArthur, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and S. Lewis Johnson.  Topical preaching at its best, done by good preachers who generally do expository teaching, selects a topic and preaches from various passages that relate to the topic.  S. Lewis Johnson did several topical series including one about the leading figures at Golgotha, or the topic “Death and Afterwards.” 

Topical preaching is also common fare at a lot of evangelical-lite churches:  pick a topic such as “marriage and relationships” or “parenting” or some other perceived need of the congregation, and pick various passages to preach from that relate to that topic.  As noted, though, it can be done effectively, though certainly it should not be the primary preaching style, since such a method by its very design would skip some parts of the Bible in favor of other “more relevant” parts.

A third preaching style is called “textual preaching,” exemplified by Charles Spurgeon as well as W.A. Criswell:  preaching on a very short text of just one verse, or even part of a verse.  Having read Spurgeon sermons regularly for almost three years now, I was familiar with the style, though I didn’t know the term for it. Phil Johnson had noted that Spurgeon was NOT an expository preacher, commenting on a few cases where Spurgeon took a phrase of a verse and veered off elsewhere with it, to come up with ideas completely unrelated to the text itself.  I’ve observed that as well in my Spurgeon readings:  Spurgeon’s sermon on a given verse does not necessarily relate to the actual event or context of that verse, the manner in which it would be taught by an expository preacher.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his “Messianic Prophecies in Isaiah” series, mentioned textual preaching when he came to Isaiah 55, a passage great for textual preaching:

In fact, if I were a textual preacher — and there is nothing wrong with being a textual preacher if you are preaching the text of the word of God; I don’t think it’s the best way to do it, but it is at least preaching the word of God —  this would be one of my most used chapters.

Johnson went on to note that Spurgeon’s “Treasury of the Old Testament” (a collection of sermons) included six sermons from Isaiah 55.  Looking at the full Internet Spurgeon collection at Spurgeongems.org, I counted 16 sermons from Spurgeon on Isaiah 55.

This article from GotQuestions.org highlights the differences the three preaching styles.  I agree with its observation that “While exposition is not the only valid mode of preaching, it is the best for teaching the plain sense of the Bible.” Also, “in a textual sermon, the preacher uses a particular text to make a point without examining the original intent of that text. For example, someone could use Isaiah 66:7-13 to preach on motherhood, although motherhood is only peripheral in that text, being merely an illustration of the true theme, which is the restoration of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom.”

The differences in these preaching styles also relates to the differences in peoples’ approach to Bible reading.  Consider the following words reportedly from Spurgeon (though not contained in any of his sermons):  “Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than I would, as it were, rinse my hand in several chapters.”

Such an idea is indeed antithetical to the whole idea of expository preaching: to understand the plain sense of the Bible, by reading it all rather than just picking a few verses here and there “without examining the original intent of the text.”  Certainly, though, in our Bible reading we should strive to pay attention to what we read instead of just looking at the end goal of getting through so many pages or so many chapters.  I’ve noticed that very thing in my own Bible reading, that I can be reading the words on the page while thinking about something completely different, thinking about some recent incident or conversation with my online FB friends, for instance.  S. Lewis Johnson, in 1993 (during his Hebrews series) made it a point to read through the Bible during the year (sequentially from beginning to end), and accomplished his goal of three times through by mid-November.  At the end of that he too noted the wandering tendency, that he would often have to stop and go back and re-read, making extra effort to pay close attention to it.

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Bible Reading for 2012: 90 Day Modified Horner Bible Reading

December 16, 2011 6 comments

Following is a re-post from December of last year, when I mentioned my 90-Day Modified Horner Reading Plan.   Click here for the PDF for the full 90-day reading.  It was a good reading plan, 14 chapters a day and gradually reducing near the end of the 90 days, to complete and end the reading on March 31.  Since then I’ve been back to an 8-list genre reading plan which completes the Bible every 125 days.

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Update:  New Facebook discussion group for the Horner Bible Reading plan and modifications including this 90-day reading plan.

At the beginning of 2010 I described a 2010 Bible Reading Challenge with several variations on the Horner Bible Reading System, a genre-based reading through each of several different sections of the Bible.  With such plans you read one or two chapters from each list, for a total of 10 to 14 chapters per day, and read completely through the Bible several times per year.

For most of this year I’ve been doing an eight list plan that includes 12 to 14 chapters per day; the longest list is 125 days.  However, beginning January 1, just for the first three months, I’ll be following a 9-list 90 days plan.

List 1:  Gospels  (89 days) — one chapter per day
List 2:  Pentateuch (90 days) — two chapters per day
List 3:  New Testament (Acts through Revelation) — two chapters per day
List 4:  Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes — one chapter per day
List 5:  Psalms, Song of Solomon — two chapters per day
List 6:  History Joshua thru 2 Kings (except Ruth), and Esther — two chapters per day
List 7:  History 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah — one chapter per day
List 8:  Major Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel — two chapters per day
List 9:  Other Prophets–Lamentations, Daniel thru Malachi — one chapter per day

Since this is not an A-to-Z type plan that breaks the reading in the middle of chapters, the lists do not all end on the last day.  Actually, all the lists except List 1 end before March 31, and so the reading gradually tapers off toward the end.  List 9 ends on March 25, and the others end gradually after that.  I made additional adjustments for some especially long chapters, so that where I would normally read two chapters I only read one for those days.  A few examples of these include Psalm 119 split into two days, as well as 1 Kings 7 and 8, Jeremiah 49 through 52, and Ezekiel 39 and 40

You may notice that I put Ruth in List 4 after Proverbs.  I made this adjustment after learning that, at least at one time, the Jewish scriptures placed Ruth after Proverbs — flowing from the Proverbs 31 woman to the godly woman Ruth.

*** Added on 1/3/2011:   A good variation on the reading sequence — instead of reading the lists in the order above, read as follows:

List 2 (Pentateuch)
Lists 6-7 (History)
Lists 8-9 (Prophets)
Lists 4 and 5 (wisdom books)
List 1 (Gospels)
List 3 (New Testament)

Click here to see the actual day-by-day list, in PDF format for printing.

PDF of the 125-day 8 list plan.  (Note: with the eight list plan, after you complete a list you return to the beginning of that list.)

When Doctrinal Labeling Attempts Go Too Far

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

From various online discussions with other believers, it soon becomes apparent that labels are often used to describe the various beliefs of particular teachers.  In a general way these definitions are helpful, in the larger differences such as between “cessationism” and “continuationism,” as well as in the overall categories of millennialism and the past-present-future continuum approach to the book of Revelation.

Through this approach, though, some have a tendency to get carried away and take the labels and categories too far.  On the one hand, are those who habitually change their views on important doctrines, one week a Dispensational premillennial, next week a Postmillennial Preterist.

We must continually remember the abiding principle, to understand the biblical doctrines underlying what we say we believe, and read the Bible as primary, rather than try to analyze and categorize every known and lesser-known Bible teacher.  When someone asks the question, “what type of dispensationalist is John MacArthur?” the real answer is that he shuns labels precisely because of the confusion and misperceptions that they can cause; and if the person really wants to know what MacArthur believes, the way to find that out is by listening to or reading his sermons, to see how he interprets various texts of scripture.

Sometimes the labels and categories go into even further details:  NCT premillennial, covenantal premillennial, historic premillennial, classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, etc.

I am among those who use the terms dispenationalist, and Calvinist-Dispensational.  In my recent post “The Five Points of Dispensationalism,” a few others agreed with the final list of five distinctives of dispensationalism:

1.  Distinction between Israel and the Church.  The church is not Israel, it is not the continuation of Israel, and it has not replaced Israel.
2.  Israel’s Future. Israel has a future as a nation in the plan of God in which the Lord will fulfill the covenant promises He made to her in the Old Testament.
3.  Emphasis on the Biblical covenants set forth in scripture, and especially on the unconditional, unilateral Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants.  These take precedence over the theological covenants of Covenant Theology.
4.  Literal future kingdom of God upon the earth, which will last for a literal 1000 years, in which Christ reigns from Jerusalem, and Israel has a place of prominence among the nations.
5.  Literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.  The Old Testament stands on its own and is not “reinterpreted” to have additional meanings.  Bible texts can have multiple applications, but have (one) singular meaning.

Labeling of different beliefs can also be taken too far, in restricting the meanings to only “the select few” who hold to a more restricted meaning instead of an overall meaning such as this.  Recently, for instance, I have come across those who limit dispensationalism to only the classic kind, noting the exception of PD; anyone outside of the traditional “classic dispensationalism” cannot be called a dispensationalist.  Thus, these individuals concluded that S. Lewis Johnson (in a sentence also listing A.W. Pink and Waltke) rejected dispensationalism due to the tension with 5-Point Calvinist / Reformed theology.  Further discussion noted that of course SLJ did not abandon dispensationalism in the manner of Pink or Waltke, two individuals who completely left and switched to amillennial CT.  Yes, SLJ would be in the group that “the other side” would still call dispensationalism. Yet they still were very reluctant to admit that SLJ was, in the overall definition, dispensationalist.  They especially noted SLJ’s apparent later abandonment of the pre-trib rapture as well as the characteristics of classic dispensationalism in favor of “one people of God” and all believers inheriting all the Abrahamic promises including the land promises (the grafting-in in the Romans 11 olive tree).  Then attempts followed to say how SLJ was NOT dispensationalist, how he was more like “NCT Premillennial” or like “PD” (Progressive Dispensationalism), even to say that surely we cannot include SLJ as a dispensationalist, since that would mean widening the definition so greatly as to include covenantal premillennialists like Spurgeon and Ryle.

However, we need to remember that S. Lewis Johnson focused on the biblical covenants (not the theological covenants of CT, the case of Spurgeon and Ryle).  Furthermore, he did not see the church or this age in any way “spiritually fulfilling” the Kingdom, or that Christ is now seated and reigning on David’s throne (distinctives of NCT-Premill and PD).  That point was finally understood, with the conclusion that indeed SLJ defies the standard doctrinal labels; yet still they preferred to say that SLJ left dispensationalism and in later years was not dispensational.

In the comments follow-up from the “Five Points of Dispensationalism” post, a few others also preferred removing the pre-trib rapture as one of the “five points,” and yet they were comfortable with calling the final five points “dispensationalism.”  S. Lewis Johnson certainly fit those points, even in his later years.  Matt Weymeyer similarly defines himself as a dispensationalist, as do many others I know on the  “Calvinist Dispensationalists” group.

The conclusion of all these discussions is that at any rate I’m in good company with many others who understand  dispensationalism in the overall sense (the five points cited above) and who are comfortable with the terms “dispensationalist” and “Calvinist Dispensationalist.”  We all need to avoid such extremes as narrowing definitions too much, to restrict doctrinal terms to only a select few who agree exactly with our own particular notions.  In reality, as I continue to learn from the views of different believers, we all have slightly different views on particular biblical texts and particular issues in Christian life and practice.  No two Bible teachers, however similar, are always going to interpret the same passage in exactly the same way.

Christian Praise Songs: The God of Israel

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The more I read the Bible, especially the Old Testament passages, I notice disparity between scriptural language and that of modern hymns and praise songs. Certainly the church replacement theme has continued through Protestant history, as I observed previously here in reference to one current praise song with the line “Speak O Lord, till your church is built, and the earth is filled with your glory.”

A recent choir praise song, “Great is the Lord Almighty,” is another that contrasts with the language of the Bible.  It’s a great upbeat tune, with great words of praise overall, though without the depth of thought of traditional hymns.  See the full lyrics here.

The verses for this song briefly reference stories of the Old Testament:  at the drowning of Pharoah and his army at the Red Sea, and Joshua and the people at Jericho.  In each case, the lyric tells us, after these great deliverances they were singing – the chorus line,

Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord He is God indeed
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is God supreme

From my continual Bible reading, though, I observe that throughout the OT, the Israelites when they praised the Lord, used the phrase “the God of Israel,” with frequent reference to Him as the covenant keeping God of Israel.  A song with the above lines might be good enough for Gentiles in our modern times of songs lacking serious teaching, but to associate such simple lyrics with the Old Testament age is to betray vast ignorance of the strength and depth of their actual faith.

Indeed, a search in my Bible software (“The Word”) for the exact words “God of Israel” finds 201 references, mostly throughout the Old Testament.  Only two references occur in the New Testament, both in the gospel accounts (Matthew 15:31, Luke 1:68).  I also remember an old praise song, “The God of Israel is Mighty,” with other words of a more OT Israel style.

The New Testament, with a focus on bringing the Gentiles in, does not use that phrase, but several texts speak of the people of Israel, such as “the house of Israel” and “the Israel of God.”  Then Revelation 15:3 mentions the Song of Moses, and the words proclaimed by those saints who sing “the Song of Moses and the Lamb.”  Here the full purpose of God finds expression as God is praised as the “King of the nations,” the one that “All nations will come and worship.”  This is the God we worship, the God of Israel and the nations, the covenant keeping God — and we use words that convey these attributes of God instead of just simple lyrics about how great God is, yet without mention of the ways in which He is great.

Hebrews 11: The Characteristics of Faith

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s teachings, I am continually impressed by the richness and depth of good expository teaching.  Consider the first verses of Hebrews 11, a familiar chapter with familiar verses about faith.  SLJ neatly summarizes some interesting points.

The chapter includes several contrasts, showing a faith that operates in several directions:

  • faith in God, against the world

verse 7:  Noah; verse 38: Of whom the world was not worthy

  • faith in the invisible, against the visible:  the conviction of things that we do not see
  • faith in the future, against the present

verse 10, Abraham waiting for the city which has foundations
verse 13, these all died in faith, not having received the promises
verse 20, “concerning things to come”

So these are the characteristic things of faith.  It has to do with belief in the certainty of the divine future.  The verdict of history is, of course, that this is true.  That those who do trust in the Lord God, ultimately, win out.

Verse 1 includes the word “assurance” (ESV), also translated “substance” (KJV).  Interesting to note, here, is that the Greek term is one that could mean “substance” but can also mean “assurance.”  Those words convey different ideas:  substance is in reference to objective realities, that which we look toward.  Assurance is subjective, the inward sense.  So is faith “that which gives us an inward sense of assurance, for the fulfillment of the promises?  Or, is faith itself the substance of the things hoped for?”  As S. Lewis Johnson notes, some of the distinction here may be the quibbling of theologians, because both are true:  faith involves objective reality, the “substance,” as well as our own subjective assurance.