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Thursday, March 01, 2007

By Hymn and For Hymn

As I mentioned before, the process of review is not a delightful process. However, if it can clarify the role of the preacher, it is beneficial. Dr Jeremiah's message was not heresy and I don't believe he sinned in his presentation. However, I do believe it missed the mark of a good sermon. I explained why I believe his illustrations fell short.

As far as I can remember, Dr. Jeremiah did reference two verses (Ephesians 2:8-9 was one passage). However, the majority of his time was spent in another text:

Amazing Grace

It may be necesary to restate that I do not mind illustrations. I do not mind references to media, history or personal accounts. I do not believe it is wrong to use a song as an illustration. However, an illustration is intended to come alongside the point you have already made. It is not intended to make the point for you. In Dr. Jeremiah's sermon, the text he chose to use to build the case that grace is amazing was the song. The illustrations were the stories I listed in the last article.

But wait, someone will ask, Didn't Paul appeal to hymns and literature to make his points? There are two interesting things to consider when we examine this arguement:
    1. He was recording Scripture for us. He did not have the luxury of the full canon to work with. In fact, he was an instrument used to complete the Scriptures. Therefore, as he places lyrics from ancient hymns in the text of his letters he is simultaneously making them the Word of God. We obviously do not have that ministry today.
    2. The poets (Acts 17:28) are quoted not to make Paul's point but to illustrate it. He has already established that God created the world, that He does not dwell in man made temples, and that all mankind has originated from one man. He's teaching them Genesis first, then illustrating with their own poets. (Of course, immediately after quoting the poets, he attacks idolatry and tells people to repent...not a real trendy message.)
But we do not have any expository sermons in Scripture, someone will argue. You're arguing for a style we don't even find in the Bible! Two more thoughts:
    1. We do not read the manuscripts of sermons in Scripture. No one was taking dictation as Peter, Paul or even Jesus preached. We've got bits and pieces, summaries of their messages. These summaries are perfectly accurate, but they are not word for word.
    2. I would challenge anyone, even with just these summaries, present to me any message in the New Testament which does not incorporate Old Testament (their Scriptures) into its text (that's why cross references are so rich!) or prophetic revelation. The messages we read are peppered with either Scripture quotations or the direct result of divine revelation to the apostles. The Word of God was central to the men who God worked through to give us the Word of God!
But it's a beautiful hymn, you're thinking, what's the harm? I'm glad you finally asked!

A few times, Dr. Jeremiah referred to this hymn as one of "God's chosen hymns." While God certainly gifted men to write songs (no one wants to sing anything I've written!), He has not inspired them. They are not God-breathed, but God's Word alone is. This is not to diminish the God-given ability of John Newton, however the song should not be inserted into our Canon. Not only did Dr. Jeremiah speak words that make is sound like John Newton was carried along by the Holy Spirit as he recorded the lyrics. (Ironically, Jeremiah explained that Newton wrote this hymn to sing at the conclusion of a sermon he had preached. In fact, it was his habit to write hymns to accompany his sermons. It does not seem that his hymns, however, were ever the content of his sermons.)

I realize that this paragraph will probably be upsetting to some. Therefore, I will offer this brief statement:

[I like hymns. I really do. I think it is great for a church to sing ancient (relative term) songs to remind the Body that many have gone faithfully before them. There are also wonderful lyrics in many (not all) hymns. I believe hymns are a wonderful part of our corporate worship and churches that neglect them miss out.]

However, hymns are no more sanctified than other forms of music. We concluded Dr. Jeremiah's sermon by singing "Amazing Grace" together (to the arrangement we all are most familiar with, which is rather new). Ironically, the next session started with two newer songs, each of which was more clearly taken from Scripture than "Amazing Grace." I am not stating the newer songs are more Biblical (many are not), but I am stating the age of a song does not equate to Biblical clarity. It appeared that nostalgia and age played a role in making "Amazing Grace" a more worshipful song than others.

Dr. Jeremiah explained that many people's favorite verse (5) does not even come from Newton's pen. Instead, it is borrowed from some lines by Harriet Beecher Stowe. He also acknowledged that the church doesn't even sing a couple of the verses that Newton actually wrote. However, as we concluded with the song, we skipped these "lost" verses by Newton and finished triumphantly with the verse from Beecher Stowe. Using extrabiblial sources as your primary text naturally allows for this. You select what you like, and discard the rest. Maybe you even adapt or modify. Of course, this lacks any form of authority, for the listener also has the privilege to add or discard, accept or disregard. The preacher's ability to pick and choose what he wants transfers over to the listener's right to do likewise.

I know some have not liked this series, and I acknowledge as I write this, I know I am struggling to convey my thoughts. It is hard for me to try to systematically walk through a sermon when I don't have a text as a starting point. (I must give McLaren props, he may have missed the point of the text, but atleast he went to one.) Ironically, that is exactly my point. Dr Jeremiah's sermon is hard to assess because it lacks an anchor.

In reality, I sat there for forty minutes waiting for the sermon to begin. It felt like he presented his introduction only to realize he had run out of time. And as I hope to show tomorrow, I don't think I'm the only one who didn't connect with it.


  • At 1:09 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    In all honesty, Danny, I agree with 95% of what you're saying here. I probably also would have been aggravated by an arbitary distinction between "mercy" and "grace." I agree that we need to infuse a biblical worldview into our messages, though not necessarily biblical prooftexts scattered throughout a topical message. That's why I try to preach inductively through the Bible when I talk to my people.

    That to say, I only have a few quibbles...

    1. In your last post you said something about only God's Word being able to prick people's hearts (something like that). I disagree. I think John 16 is pretty clear that this is exactly the role of the Holy Spirit. And he can convict people using whatever means he deems acceptable.

    2. I think you're off in your reading of the poets in Acts 17. It seems pretty clear that Paul is grounding his logic in those quotes, not merely using them as illustrative. Check out the end of v. 28 and the beginning of v. 29.

    As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

    29"Therefore since we are God's offspring

    Doesn't that sound like the basis of a rational appeal? On the basis of this rational appeal, I think we can make similar rational appeals based on truth found in secular sources so long as that truth is congruent with biblical revelation.

    3. In presenting the gospel to unbelievers, we certainly understand that we are using "milk, not solid food." As people grow in their faith, they can get more nutrients from the solid food than the milk, which is why we must teach hermeneutics and in-depth Bible stuff. However, we shouldn't get so addicted to the meat that we cannot give milk to people that aren't ready for the more mature offerings. That doesn't mean we're distorting the message or becoming seeker-driven. It means we're doing evangelism according to a biblical paradigm.

  • At 9:20 AM, Blogger BReformed said…

    It seems to me that the Holy Spirit "convicts the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment" (16:8) through the preaching of God's Word.

    "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing of the Word of God"

    "How shall they hear unless a preacher is sent?"

    Like the Ethiopian Eunuch...great example of the Word, the Preacher, and the Holy Spirit.

  • At 9:25 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    in "mohlerarian" :-) point-by-point style, i will attempt to work from your comments into my thoughts.

    In all honesty, Danny, I agree with 95% of what you're saying here.

    in all honesty, i think that number is either higher or lower because i don't think i'm clearly conveying what i mean (this series has been weak). many of my posts progress, so hopefully this series will end with you being able to say, "finally, i get what he's saying!" even if it ends in disagreement.

    I agree that we need to infuse a biblical worldview into our messages, though not necessarily biblical prooftexts scattered throughout a topical message. That's why I try to preach inductively through the Bible when I talk to my people.

    due to us only getting to know each other recently, you do not have the advantage of some others of knowing my strong passions in regard to preaching. i abhor biblical prooftexts scattered throughout a topical message (though i know this series could probably be classified as that. again, it is hard to build a textual arguement against a sermon devoid of text!). if i see the need to preach a topical message (resurrection sunday, for instance...or the occassional topical series), i believe that message should still be rooted in one text. want to speak on worry? don't bounce around the bible, but pick a text. walk your body through matthew 6. we're grace brethren, we believe in immersion...not sprinkling! (that's meant in jest, but it does kind of make the point too.)

    i'm a big fan of expository bible teaching. our church has walked through 1&2 samuel, acts, and are half way through joshua right now (with 1,2,3 john coming in the fall). it's the only way i want to preach to the day i die. even my topical messsages i strive to be expository.

    point 1 response. (rather than taking the time to copy/paste, just read what you wrote in point 1 and know this is my response.) perhaps prick is the wrong word to use. however, i hold to the classic reformed perspective that Scripture alone has the authority to bind the hearts and consciences of man. you may get attention and stir people's hearts with any number of things, but you have not spoken with authority that they need to obey until you have made your appeal to the Word of God. yes, the Holy Spirit does the work when we open the book, but He LOVES to use the book. i think throughout paul's writings (avoiding a pithy prooftext) he establishes that a person becomes aware of their sin and becomes convicted through the Word of God.

    2. here's the biggie where we disagree. honestly, i feel like this passage has been taken hostage by so many today who want to use it to make their case for their current contextual desires. ironically, this passage that is often an epicenter of a homiletics discussion is often the greatest victim to eisegesis.

    i think you're putting a bit too much emphasis on your english translation. in the greek, the connection between the quote in verse 28 and the "therefore" in verse 29 is not so close. i like the way the nasb keeps purer to the word order here:

    "being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and thought of man."

    i think it keeps it clearer that paul did not introduce the idea of being God's child from verse 28, but it really goes back to verse 24. he lays out that God made everything, that God does not dwell in temples made by hands, and that He doesn't need us, but we desperately need Him (quick paraphrase). he then points out that God made all of humanity from one man.

    he arguement is not built out of the poets quote in verse 28, but instead, that quote is merely used by paul to ILLUSTRATE the points he's already told them.

    the litmist test is this. could he have made an accurate presentation without the quote from the poets? absolutely, he had already established God as Creator and us as creation. he already established our dependance upon Him and origin from adam before he turns to the poets. however, could the message have existed with just the quote of the poets and none of the work he did before hand? hardly. it would have been empty. the listener could have easily said, "so what? i don't like that poet or i don't feel he accurately states what i think." the listener could have excused paul's argruement for he could have claimed it had not authority over him.

    paul used the poet to illustrate the point he had already made, he did not use it as the foundational arguement....there is a huge difference in those.


    like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,--1 peter 2:2.

    sorry, i couldn't make it through a post without at least one reference (i'll take the risk that you may see it as a simple prooftext). however, the Word of God is both the steak and the milk we need to grow. what does the unbeliever need? to hear the Word of God. what does the immature believer need? to hear the Word of God. what does the struggling believer need? to hear the Word of God. what does the growing believer need? to hear the Word of God.

    we must be careful that we don't bait and switch, or offer them two paradigms for growth. we cannot say to the unbeliever that u2 (whom i enjoy), desperate housewives or even the andy griffith show reveal their need for Christ, then expect them to turn to the Word of God as they grow older in their faith. why would they need to? it wasn't necessary to work the miracle of regeneration in their life (or so they could possibly think), why do i really need it to know God's perfect pleasing will? this evangelism technique is probably what has created an entire society of "believers" who direct their christian living by emotions, thoughts and logic and dr. phil rather than the Word of God.

    download a sermon of mine. (http://greenvillegrace.org) i think you'll find that i am VERY committed to explaining the gospel truth in a way the unbeliever (provided the Spirit is moving him) and believer can both understand. i'm not thumping people on the head with a steak like napolean dynamite on a bike!

    by the way, i'd love for you to tell me what you thought about my observations of mclaren's sermon from earlier this year.

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Brad said…


    While I agree that apostolic preaching was always based upon scripture or supernaturally inspired revelation, I don't see that it was the normal practice to focus on "one" passage of scripture.

    The apostles seem much more frequently to follow the practice of Jesus in which "beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."

    I believe that preaching is more effective when it centers upon one topic - Christ - than when it is centered upon one passage, which may or may not directly concern Christ (though, of course, all scripture is ultimately related to him).

  • At 10:53 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    certainly that is the joy of preaching.

    walking through a passage to show how it speaks of Christ. by walking through the passage, you show you are not doctoring up the text for your reasons...it was the genuine intention!

  • At 8:40 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    The point I intended to emphasize was that apostolic preaching usually walked through several scripture passages rather than just a single passage.

  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    oh, and dale...

    if you are commenting to my blog at 1am, perhaps you and David have more in common than you realize! :-)


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