Review of Doctrine that Dances

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There are several ways to teach a subject but the different approaches can be summarized as “tell them how” versus “show them how.”   In Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Robert Smith relies heavily on the latter to instruct pastors in the importance of doctrinal preaching. His style of writing uses a lot of metaphors and pithy quotes to compare preaching to dancing and escorting. This brings an original approach to a book on preaching that when it succeeds, it hits a home run but when it doesn’t succeed it strikes out, leaving the reader unsure of what the metaphor really was meant to convey.

Summary

 

Robert Smith Jr. serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching. He formerly taught Christian preaching at The Theological Southern Baptist Seminary as well. He is obviously well versed in preaching and one gathers right away that the style of the book will be similar to a sermon. The reader can almost hear the writer preaching the material of the book in the way that he uses metaphors and pithy quotes and proverbs. Smith says that the book is about doctrinal preaching and handling the word of God in such a way as to bring joyous praise and glory to God. He works to drive home the importance of doctrinal preaching while at the same time providing various definitions of preaching from people through history before finally settling on his own definition. He summarizes his definition as “transformation through Christ.” Doctrinal preaching “is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith employs two larger metaphors to define doctrinal preaching and to build the rest of the book upon, an exegetical escort and a doxological dancer.   He hangs the major themes of the books on these two metaphors. First, the role of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to be able to escort the hearer into God’s presence for transformation. One of the major themes of Smith’s book is that the text must be first interpreted correctly by the preacher and then internalized by the preacher. The preacher must sit under his own preaching. After having done this, then the preacher can exegete his audience and bring the text to bear upon them so that they will be confronted with the truths of scripture.

Smith says that the exegetical escort must rightly divide the word of God. He says that the sermon must come from the text and not imposed upon it. He says that doctrinal preaching will keep three focuses in mind, apologetics, polemics, and catechism. The exegetical escort will work to establish what the correct teaching and doctrine by arguing from the scripture while fending off false teachings and nourishing the sheep.

The second big theme of Smith’s book is that preaching must be balanced between the intellect and the emotional, the mind and the heart.   He drives this point home with the doxological dancer metaphor. He shifts from content to style of delivery and back with this theme. The doxological dancer “is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.” The doxological dancer internalizes the message for himself. He exegetes his audience. He then he can now deliver the message in such a way that his audience is moved by the content and delivery of the sermon.

He uses analogies of songs and also speaks of the history of African Americans to help drive home the importance of making the sermon dance. He says that you “Begin low; Proceed slow; Rise higher; Take fire; When most impressed Be self-possessed; To Spirit wed form, and Sit down in a storm.” He reminds the preacher that the gospel of Jesus Christ should not be boring. The preacher is escorting the people into the presence of the Lord and this should cause us to rejoice. It should change us. The audience is concerned with the “what”, the “so what” and the “now what” so the preacher must be able to answer these questions in a way that causes the listener to exalt God.

Another big theme for Smith is preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he uses a metaphor of jazz improvisation. He argues that a preacher must have internalized the sermon so well that he is not glued to the manuscript but is free to go as the Spirit leads. He does not diminish the importance of preparation because he has already spent ample time speaking about sermon prep. However, he is very adamant that the preacher must trust God through his preparation and especially in the delivery of the sermon. Finally, Smith ends with reminding the reader that preaching God’s word faithfully will have an effect upon the preacher and his listeners. The preacher should preach so that his listeners will be motivated to take that message to their neighbors, communities, families, and friends.

Critical Evaluation

Smith is obviously an accomplished preacher and is masterful at telling stories. He uses that to good effect in this book. As said in the introduction, he seems to lean on showing how rather than telling how. That is, he relies heavily on applications of his points from metaphors, pithy quotes and parables. For some readers, this style may take a little getting used to.   He doesn’t give clear and delineated points as in other instructional books but instead seems to flow from thought to thought seamlessly. This approach provides a good example of how a sermon can flow however it left me wishing for him have been a little clearer. His two big metaphors are the linchpin of the entire book. So we will begin with looking critically at them.

The exegetical escort fits his style of showing and not just telling. An escort comes along side someone and ushers them to where they need to be. Smith drives home the point that the preacher must sit under his own preaching first. This is especially helpful for a young preacher. The preacher cannot lead his people where he has not first been. This means that the preacher must spend time in the study preparing for the sermon. But he must also spend time in prayer embracing the sermon as well. He says that “If the preacher exults in the Lord in the prayer room and study, the channels will be open for the preacher to motivate the hearers to mutually participate in the exaltation of God in the pulpit.” He says that the three lines of public ministry, preaching, teaching, and administration must be undergirded and propped up by the three lines of private ministry, prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.

In the second metaphor, Smith describes preaching as doxologically dancing. This metaphor is not as strong as the prior. This is partially because Smith wants to keep some things undefined. He says that the mystery of doctrinal preaching makes it hard to define. Because of that he speaks in a lot of metaphors and parables. While this at times can be his biggest strength it also can be the biggest weakness. There was an entire chapter on jazz improvisation that made things muddier. I was never quite able to grasp exactly what point the metaphor was supposed to be making. He spoke of call and response during the sermon but outside of African American churches, there may not be must experience of this kind of back and forth during the sermon.

The doxological dancer is one who presents the sermon in a way that matches the content. This is helpful in acknowledging that we must engage our audience with emotions and examples that match the content of the text. Our delivery cannot be boring. Smith is very critical of those would preach in an unattached way. He also seems to suggest that for the Spirit to move there must be spontaneity. He in particular was not fond of liturgical worship styles because he says they keep God at arm-length. Those of us who hold to a more liturgical worship style believe that God has commanded certain things and certain ways that worship must be done. I think we must be careful to not over associate the movement of the Holy Spirit with spontaneity lest we become impulsive and disorderly.

While disagreeing with Smith on liturgical worship, he makes an important point about trusting in Christ while delivering the sermon. We must not be so full of pride that we think we must have complete control of every single second. Sometimes God uses our pauses or forgotten thoughts to drive home a previous point to the audience. God may bring to mind something that had not been thought of during the preparation but would be appropriate during the delivery. We cannot be so beholden to a manuscript that we become glorified readers. The challenge is to trust God in the delivery.

Equally important is the fact that we cannot assume that our hearers know the biblical stories. Smith says that in a previous generation, you might have been able to assume that the listener could fill in some of the details or backgrounds in more familiar passages. But he says that it is important that preachers not assume and instead to go ahead and provide that context. Secondly, we cannot assume that our listeners understand theological terms such as justification and sanctification. We must work to drive home these terms by illustrating them in terms that our listeners understand. He points to the example of Christ using parables. We also see this in what he calls the “biographical snapshots.” That is the bible uses narrative to place us in the story alongside the characters where we learn the doctrine that God is teaching us through them.

One danger that Smith points out is that preaching cannot be devoid of grace. He said that Paul always taught theology of grace before the theology of works. The gospel gives us the power for the works. I think we must be equally careful not to miss the role of God’s law to act as a mirror driving us to Christ. The commands of God are meant to be obeyed and our disobedience has created the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The law drives us to Christ and Christ empowers us to obey the law. There are ditches on either side. To focus on duty without position is to miss the Gospel and leave people dead in their sins. To focus on position without duty neglects one of the purposes of the Gospel, our sancrification.

Smith strongly points out that preaching is to be both to the mind and the heart. God’s word is not something to be merely assented to but it must be loved and obeyed. The preacher cannot be happy to only appeal to the intellect but must engage the emotions as well. I do wish that Smith would have shown better how to engage the heart as well as the mind. I also wonder if this might be a false dichotomy. Does not the mind engage the heart? Are they really separable? Obviously Smith means that the preacher must engage the emotions through the use of illustrations and other tools that make the passage hit home. He says that the use of hymns and stories help drive the doctrine to the heart in a way that other language cannot.

 

Dr. Smith’s unique style showcases what he is trying to drive home. He uses stories, music, illustrations, and quotes very well. This is at times where the book shines. Not coming from a similar background as him, it was interesting to see how he drew from his heritage to drive home the points. It is good to engage with cultures and traditions that one is not normally familiar with. Smith’s stories from slaves and their adoption of music to showcase their struggles were very interesting. Smith’s background here adds to preaching books a viewpoint that is not often found in them. I found some of the sources of his quotes a little questionable, however. Not of all of them were from orthodox preachers or theologians. But never the less I appreciated this viewpoint.

Conclusion

Robert Smith gives a good reminder to preachers that their task must be to honor the text of God’s word and to connect it with his hearers. The preacher must let the scripture define the doctrine and then present it in such a way that it moves the listener. Doctrine ultimately must drive our living. Smith gives many examples of this throughout and even ends the book with two sample sermons putting into practice what he outlined in the rest of the book. The preacher must be an exegetical escort ushering his people into the presence of God. The preacher must worship God in preaching. The preacher in this case is a doxological dancer embracing the doctrine in praise. If the preacher can accomplish this he will ensure that the audience will turn around and preach the sermon in their homes, at their jobs, and in the barbershops.

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Books of 2014

It is now January 8, 2015 and I realize this should have happened a week ago but I wanted to take a look back at 2014.   2014 was at times stressful but for the most part it was a pretty good year.   It saw the birth of my second daughter, Arriana Liberty Spurgeon.   I also said goodbye to one church family and ministry position and hello to another. God being always faithful also provided for my family this year even when times seemed tight.  I am thankful to have been able to spend another year with my wonderful wife.   I also was able to complete another year of school work at Seminary.   Studying Hebrew this past semester was stressful but God is good.    In 2014, I was also able to read some great books, a few of which challenged some positions that I had held.    Therefore, I wanted to devote the rest of this blog post to highlighting some of the best books I read in 2014 along with pointing out a few places where some of my theological positions either changed or were clarified.  So without further ado here is my Top Books of 2014 List:

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This year I found two books to be very helpful in thinking through student and family ministry.   The first book “Perspectives on Family Ministry”  is compiled and edited by Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   If you are not familiar with the “Perspectives”  books, they are are a series of books put out by B&H Academic that cover a wide range of theological topics from different viewpoints.   Each book typically has three or more authors who write about the topic and then critique each others position on the topic at hand.   They are excellent little books to help get a basic understanding of the different arguments.   I had not really been aware that there was much of a debate about youth ministry and the need for family ministry.  This book presents three different ways or strategies for engaging families in ministry and how that relates to youth or student ministry.   While you can read for yourself and discover which view you think is most biblical,  in my opinion the main thing is  we as the church need to do a better job engaging, training, and leading families to minister to themselves and others.   Parents are the ones given the primary responsibility to raise and nurture their children in the Lord.   One of the authors contributing to the perspectives book, Voddie Baucham Jr, also wrote a book entitled “Family Driven Faith:Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God.”  This is a wonderful book that challenges parents, fathers in particular, to take responsibility in raising their children for God.  Baucham says that “Our primary goal for our children is that they walk with the Lord.”    This means taking an active role.   Parents need to be spending time in the word of God with their children.   “If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.”

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History is one of my favorite subjects especially American history.   I  enjoy reading about the founding of America up through the War between the States, the Civil War.  There is a nice series put out by Mark David Ledbetter called “America’s Forgotten History,” that I recently discovered.   Ledbetter is a libertarian and he writes a series of histories following the founding of America up through the 20 Century from this perspective.  He works to show the way that America has went from a simple Republic devoted to individual liberty to the bloated government leviathan that we have today.  Mark David’s best work is the second volume which covers much of the history leading up the the Civil War.  He is forthright about writing from the libertarian perspective.  It is refreshing to see a historian being upfront about any bias or worldview they may have.  The series was self-published at first as a Kindle ebook but has since been picked up by a publisher. You can still get it for very cheap on the Kindle.  A few criticisms that I have are that the author seems to downplay the religious understanding leading up to the founding and also seems to conflate all New Englanders with the Puritans.  Thus when Unitarian beliefs take over much of the once Puritan universities, Mark David does not do a good job of distinguishing between the two.  I would highly recommend reading this and supplementing it with work done by others especially Rousa Rushdoony.

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Two books  that I found helpful in motivating and thinking through evangelism were J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” and John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad.”   Both of the books are excellent in providing a clear biblical foundation for evangelism.  Some have criticized Calvinism because they think that belief in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation can lead to a lack of motivation of sharing the gospel. Packer works to “show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks.”   Belief in the doctrine of election under-girds us as we evangelize.  We can be confident in the fact that God can overcome any resistance to the gospel.    God has chosen to call a people to himself and thus we do not need to trust in our own abilities to preach the Gospel.   We can be confident that the power of the Gospel will prevail.   Piper reminds us that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”     Again we are motivated out by a love for God that moves us to love others.

This confidence in the sovereignty of God along with a study of God’s word this past year has led me to come to hold a Post-Mill view of the end times.   I won’t have time in this short post to go into what all this means but in short Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.  There is much more that could be said here but I will leave that for another post.   An excellent resource for this view is www.PostmillennialismToday.com.   

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The last two books I want to mention are ones that has helped clarify my position on politics and ethics are “Lectures on Calvinism” by Abraham Kuyper and  “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg Bahnsen.   Kuyper’s book is excellent in applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life.   Kuyper is famous for saying that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  I’ve always held to the belief that our nations leaders should seek to follow and obey God. However, I was somewhat inconsistent on how this was worked out. Which brings me to the conclusion as Bahnsen excellently defends, that God’s law as revealed in the scriptures first in the Old Testament and then clarified in the New are to be the standard by which all people and nations should conform.   God moral and civil laws are binding still today and should be upheld by our leaders.   God will judge all people and nations by how they obey his commands.  Bahnsen does an excellent job laying out the case of what is called Theonomy.   He answers every objection that I have heard mentioned.  Again I will have to leave a discussion of theonomy to another post.

There are several other books I could mention but I wanted to keep this post pretty short.   I mainly wanted to highlight some good and/or interesting books that I had read this past year and recommend them to you.  I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store.   May you be blessed this year by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

 

Homosexuality and the Bible: 2 Views – Book Review

The following is a very short book review/analysis of a book that I’ve been reading.

The two arguments presented in Homosexuality and the Bible:Two Views could not be further apart in both position and in substance. In this book,  Dan O. Via and Robert A.J. Gagnon present arguments for homosexuality and against homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle for a Christian. While both men claim to represent evangelical viewpoints, Gagnon is the only one to give a thorough and convincing argument for his position against homosexuality. Both men argue from opposite viewpoints but in a puzzling manner both men agree that scripture treats homosexuality as a sinful practice. That said, Via then tries to present an argument to override scripture’s teaching in light of science. As a Christian who professes the authority of scripture, I agree with Gagnon and scripture that homosexuality is not a lifestyle compatible with the Christian walk.

Dan Via begins his argument by claiming to hold to a high view of scripture. He says that he takes “the Bible to be the highest authority for Christians in theological and ethical matters.” He then inserts the troubling statement that “authority does not mean perfection or inerrancy or complete consistency.” His attempt to hold to Biblical authority is undermined right away by this statement. He also sets up another condition on the authority of scripture when he says that “the Bible is authoritative only in those parts that are existentially engaging and compelling – that give grounding and meaning to existence.” These conditions on biblical authority really just serve to undermine it and to allow Via to exercise authority over the Bible. Dan Via does not spend any time trying to argue that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. What is interesting is that Dan Via spends a lot of time actually undermining the many arguments put forth by the homosexual activist who might say that the Bible does not speak against homosexuality. Dan Via basically argues that “yes, the bible says homosexuality is wrong but it is outdated and not authoritative in respect to homosexuality.” Via’s argument might hold water in non-evangelical circles but to anyone who takes the Bible seriously his argument is not convincing.

When it comes time for Robert A.J. Gagnon to lay out his side much of the ground work has already been placed by Dan Via. Even though Gagnon presents a brilliant argument that Scripture does indeed condemn homosexuality as sinful, these facts are not really debated by Via. The issue then rests solely on the authority of Scripture as Gagnon states, “ the debate about same-sex intercourse acutely raises the question of Scripture’s place in the life of the church.” Gagnon also explains the impact that accepting homosexuality will have on the church and society which include the “radical devaluation of the place of Scripture in the life of the church. . . (and) radical devaluation of Scripture’s moral imperative – of the place of holiness, obedience, and repentance.” A reading of Via’s arguments will attest to this devaluation of scripture.

Even though no real debate was made by Via that Scripture does not oppose homosexuality, I still appreciated the depth that Gagnon went into to show that scripture does indeed oppose it. I also was appreciative of his answer to some criticisms that others have made about the bible and homosexuality, in particular the analogy of slavery. Many times those arguing for homosexuality will flaunt the issue of slavery as if it was there trump card in the debate. Gagnon does a very good job showing that this analogy does not work for several reasons including that Scripture does not mandate slavery nor does it condemn those who release slaves.

I also appreciated Gagnon’s defense that one can be loving and still speak in truth. He explains that most people have a definition of love that is not what Jesus held, “If by love Jesus meant a nonjudgmental acceptance of various lifestyles, especially sexual lifestyles, then Jesus’ own stance against divorce/remarriage and adultery of the heart was unloving.”

Both Via and Gagnon agree on Scripture’s view of homosexuality. Neither man disagrees that according to the Bible, homosexuality is sinful. The problem arises when Via takes a view that science and new cultural demands must trump Scripture at times. If one follows this view to its logical conclusion, every biblical truth can be over turned and Christians will be left holding nothing to believe. In conclusion, I stand with Gagnon and Scripture to say that homosexual acts are sinful.