Preaching Christ at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

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As some of you might know, I spent four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary before taking a call to a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in Prince Edward Island. I did internships with 4 consistories and 3 pastors in the United Reformed Churches on my way through seminary and I have always been a member of the United Reformed Churches since I was knee-high, so I am unable to say much about the Canadian Reformed Churches at large. I have heard some excellent sermons from Rev. den Hollander Sr. in Rehoboth URC and some excellent sermons from Rev. William den Hollander Jr. and Rev. VandeBurgt while visiting my wife who was a member of the Langley CanRC while we were dating.

I found that CRTS during my time there had a strong homiletics (the art of preaching) department. This was confirmed by various conversations I had with leaders and members in both the URCNA and Canadian Reformed Churches in the opportunities that I had to preach in close to 35 URCNA and CanRC churches across Canada and into the States (over the course of 3 years and 4 internships).

One of the highlights of taking this particular homiletics program was the 9 sermons (3 per year) that were publicly presented before 1 or 2 professors and the entire student body. There was then a public critique from the professor and the floor was then opened up to our colleagues to bring up questions, concerns, and encouragements. The intense self-reflection following an evaluation was not particularly fun, but I can’t imagine a better way to teach men to preach a message that is faithful to the text and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another highlight was the two homiletics classes (in 1st year and 3rd year). We read a lot of articles on preaching: anywhere from ones by professor de Visser to Sydney Greidanus and Cornelis Trimp. We also read some great books on finding the glories of the cross and resurrection of Christ throughout the pages of the Bible. We read David Helm’s “Expository Preaching.” We read Timothy Keller’s “Preaching.” We also read Bryan Chappell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching.” We studied and reflected (and yes, debated) each book closely. Various Church Fathers, Reformers, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, and other preachers were also discussed in class.

One of the points that Dr. de Visser underscored to our class in first year is that the difference between good preaching and great preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of the preacher. We were also encouraged to reflect on that in the grading system. Of course, there an was an effort to grill us based on objective principles for preaching, like whether the text was preached, how we drew our lines to Christ, and how Christ was preached. But an “A” sermon might just be a good sermon, whereas a “B” or a “C” sermon might be a great sermon because the Holy Spirit is working powerfully through it (I believe that Tim Keller also presents this important reminder). 

Between 5 professors and 20 students, a variety of perspectives and intellectual/spiritual gifts are brought to the table. Yes, there are weaknesses and points for growth in both individuals and institutions. And so we see every institution, individual and denomination growing also in conversation with the broader Reformed/Presbyterian and evangelical world. For individuals, mentorships bring further gifts to the table, and prior education also brings various gifts to the table. Seminaries should not operate in isolation from broader ideas and the authority of the local consistory. It was also great to hear lectures from OPC pastor Eric Watkins on redemptive historical preaching at the conferences one year. Over my years at seminary, we heard lectures on various topics from members from the RPCNA, OPC, FRCNA, PCA, URCNA. 

I would recommend the Canadian Reformed Seminary for the Christ-centered nature of their homiletics program and for the way that both OT/NT/dogmatic disciplines also lead to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

I would love to reflect further here on the need for greater union between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. Maybe one day I will also reflect further on unity with the many other congregations and federations in North America. I have many thoughts on the importance of organic and geographic unity and the danger of stereotypes and lack of charity. I hope to shape and formulate these thoughts in the coming months and years also in conversation with the wisdom of older pastors and the wisdom of my consistory and other consistories. We must not neglect good debate and healthy communication. Christ-centered preaching leads to Christ-centered unity. Those who preach the cross, after all, must be examples of life under the cross and resurrection. And so we also find unity at the cross, in our worship of the Triune God and on the bedrock of the Bible:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13–22


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Muddying the Waters

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One of the many issues that the young man will have to learn how to deal with over the course of his life is how to deal with interpersonal conflict. I am convinced that one of the reasons why Proverbs is addressed to the young man is because if he sows to the Spirit in his youth, then he will also reap from the Spirit in his old age (see Gal. 6:7-9). Young men face great temptations and young men are establishing patterns of faithfulness that will affect them for the rest of their lives. It is the young man whom Jesus calls to follow after Him for wisdom. Wisdom cries out to the young man in the public square when he is standing there wondering which way to walk (Prov. 1, 7:24-27).

I want to get a couple possible misconceptions out of the way before I get to the point. When applying Scripture, we must be filled with the Spirit of Christ who is the Spirit of wisdom. In other words there is a way to be dumb in the application of Scripture. We don’t simply hold to the doctrine of Scripture alone, but the entirety of Scripture (sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura). We seek to understand things in their context. There are other passages in the Book of Proverbs which balance out those who might take a rash approach to Prov. 25:26. For example, there are many verses which condemn contentiousness and getting into unnecessary fights. Just think of Prov. 26:17: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Many more could be stated. But I digress.

Ashley and I just read Proverbs 25:26 at the dinner table: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” This struck me, because this sounds dangerous. Isn’t it better to avoid a conflict? Aren’t we supposed to be peace-makers? Isn’t it better for the unity of the group to live and let live? Isn’t it better to just apologize and move on? These are many of the questions that might come to mind in the context of this passage. These are not bad questions. 

I have been trying to get a better understanding from the Hebrew. The first image is of a well that has been trampled in, so it raises up the dirt, and filled the drinking water with silt. The second image is of a fountain that has been purposely fouled. The man is a righteous man who trembles or shakes or quakes before the face of the wicked. To give way is to back down out of fear. But notice the connection between the second clause and the first clause. That man who actively gives way is compared to that well that has been trampled in. He is compared to that spring that has been fouled. The drinking water is good for nothing. The salt has lost its flavour. The light has been put out. 

I imagine here a situation with a bully in a high school or a grade school. Another guy has stepped between him the person he is bullying. He realizes too late that the bully has 50 lbs on him and has been going to the gym 3x a week. So he stands down and watches the other guy get kicked around. That young man is like a well that has been trampled in and a spring that has been fouled. He has effectively muddied the waters himself by backing down. 

This reminds me of a popular quote from Jordan Peterson: “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” I would simply edit the end of this quote with words from Galatians 6: “A good man is a very dangerous man who is under the control of the Spirit and not of the flesh.” Someone might contend with the word “dangerous”, but then I should point out that in the Old Testament whenever the Spirit comes upon a man, he goes to war. The principalities and powers in the heavenly places should flee before the church when it is in the armour of God. A dangerous man is someone who does not stand down before wickedness. 

Wickedness should be terrified by righteousness. Light should shine in the darkness. Christian men should fear God and not men. Wisdom must come into conflict with folly. Truth should militate against error.

There is a time for everything. There is a time to stand down. But don’t muddy the waters. Don’t trample in the well. Don’t poison the spring. Don’t be that poison spring. Don’t be that muddy well. This is what Christ calls His followers to. He calls you away from that spirit of cowardice that stands down when someone is coming at you to intimidate you on a point of godliness. Sure, Christ was perfect and we are not. But He gives us His Spirit, He forgives us for the times that we have stood down before wickedness, and we have the mind of Christ through union with Him. Christian men are in this struggle together, because all must learn to rely on Christ more and more. 

So beg Christ for His Spirit of wisdom, call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, and then take a stand.


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Victims or Victors?

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Just recently, we have seen a pastor in downtown Toronto going through the court systems for public street preaching. He was released on bail on June 5 and just in the last two months his church was evicted from the public building where they were meeting in downtown Toronto. They were evicted for apparent “hate activity.” We might debate the method of street preaching and/or even the wisdom of street preaching. Regardless of where your opinions fall on that matter, free speech is being crushed in the public square.

In another case, the churches in Edmonton, AB are facing a very broad law against ‘conversion therapy.” While most pastors would condemn abusive forms of conversion therapy, they are now at risk to be seen as being abusive when they counsel someone with gender confusion or same-sex lust and point them to Christ. In cases where someone is offended by this Christ-centered approach to counselling, pastors might face a minimum $10,000 fine. This is being praised in other regions of Canada as progressive.

I am less concerned with the government in this post as how Christians are prepared to respond to this systemic targeting of the public proclamation of the Christian gospel. Many of us might know that secular universities have long been hot-beds for this kind of ridicule of Christianity. I know people who can speak of having their Christian beliefs publicly ridiculed by professors in class. Christians who hold dearly to the value of human life and the value of the human body are often attacked for their beliefs. Depending on where you work, in what workforce you have been given the opportunity to testify to Christ, there will be various responses.

We all too often spend too much time trying to change the system rather than seeking to find ways for God’s Word to shape us. In her book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield confronts a Christian victim mentality: “Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.

These are strong words, but I recognize what she is saying. I recognize this temptation for Christians to play the victim, to hunker down and wait for the end times. Yes, we should pray “even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But Jesus gave His disciples the promise of His second coming as a reason to go out in faith and boldness, not to retreat in fear and discouragement. 

This is not a fight with our governments. This is not a fight with our neighbors. This is a fight with the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6), and so the call is to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Jesus says in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Apostle Paul tells the church in Rome: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (Rom. 16:20). In Romans 8:37 we read: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

It is these Bible passages that bring a call to take heart. It is time to attend secular university and to take the blatant criticism with a cheerful face and a heart full of the love of God (Rom. 5:5). It is time to throw resources at Christian institutions to stem the tide of mass indoctrination. It is time to have that discussion in the lunchroom at work without “losing it” even if you are the only guy in the room who holds to a Biblical position. There may come a time where churches might even have to consider cheerfully covering a $10000 fine for their pastor (Acts 17:1-10). That is, if he has clearly and cheerfully shared the love of Christ with a man or a woman who is confused in their sexuality.

Will Christians play the victim and cave to the pressures of a society that is beginning to target Christians more and more? Or are we prepared to take a hit for the Name of Christ? We often speak of a culture of victimhood. But the question is: will you play the victim? Will I play the victim? Christians are victors in Christ. We have been given a task to share the love of Christ to men and women created in the image of God. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)


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Trinitarian Christianity

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A number of good books and articles have been written in the last 20-30 years on the centrality and importance of the Trinity in Christian theology. One of the best has been Michael Reeves book “Delighting in the Trinity.” He writes: “‘God is love’: those three words could hardly be more bouncy. They seem lively, lovely and as warming as a crackling fire. But ‘God is a Trinity’? No, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy. All quite understandable, but the aim of this book is to stop the madness. Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a dusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.”

St. Patrick’s Prayer is quite well known for the words: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me…” But the beginning and end of this song are often neglected among us: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”

Just this last week I had to prepare a teaching sermon on Lord’s Day 8 in the Heidelberg Catechism. This of course, is on the subject of the divine Trinity. It was a good week, I sat down and decided to use the sermon of the Apostle Peter to the crowd in Jerusalem as my main text. Of course, the rest of the sermon had me going all over the Bible to show the glory of the Trinity in the prayers, praise, greetings, and blessings of the Apostles and all over the Gospels. It was intimidating since this about God and these truths are so deep. It also brought me to reflect on how a truth that has been so central to the church for 2000 years is so undervalued today.

I have encountered modalist heresies that actually do teach falsehoods about Christ. There is this idea afoot in Toronto that God is one person who changes his clothing to Father clothing and then Spirit clothing. Such groups might even teach that we must only baptize in the Name of Jesus. This of course, is in direct conflict with the clear teaching of Christ Himself in Matthew 28:16-20. 

I would wager that there is also a shift in modern day evangelicalism towards grounding orthodoxy in a right understanding of the person of Christ. This of course is a noble enterprise since liberalism has so heavily attacked the divine nature of Christ.

The problem with basing orthodoxy solely in orthodox language about the person of Christ is that sometimes the Trinity is sidelined. You cannot speak of Christ without speaking of the Trinity (or at least you must speak of the Trinity at some point). Christ reveals the glory of the Trinity to us: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 4:6). He brings us to a knowledge of the Triune God: ““And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:20-21) Read the Gospel of John and you see very clearly the love that the Triune God contains within unity and community. 

This is why the Athanasian Creed combines its theological formulations in two parts: on the Trinity and on the incarnation of Christ. With regards to the first, it concludes in this way: “So in everything, as was said earlier, the unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, is to be worshipped. Anyone then who desires to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.” With regards to the second, it begins this way: “But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.”

The Apostle Paul delights in the Trinity and teaches this truth about God to his congregation in Ephesus in Ephesians 3:14–19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

If we learn from the missionaries of old like St. Patrick, we should also inject our missional theology with more Trinitarian theology: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”


 

How Women are Viewed in the Holy Bible

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What does the Bible say about women? How are the followers of Jesus Christ supposed to treat women? How does God view women?

This goes right back to the very first chapter of the Holy Bible. In the Book of Genesis, in chapter 1 and verse 27, God tells us how He views men and women: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man is created in the image of God. Those who are male and female are created in the image of God. Like those who are male, a female has been created in the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? One Christian document intended for teaching people in the church defines it this way: “God created man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.” This first man and woman, both walked with God and talked with God.

But then sin came into the world. The woman listened to the words of Satan and the man listened as well. Because of that, everything went wrong. Women sought to rule over their husbands. Men became abusive and domineering and lazy in leading and loving their wives. The natural duty of man was to die for his wife, to sacrifice himself for her, to lead her by dying for her. But instead he made her die for his sin, and he hid behind her in cowardice. He sent women into battle in front of him and did even worse to her by treating her poorly himself. He even went so far to blame his sin on her.

But God had a plan to begin to right what went wrong in those first couple chapters of the Bible. He gave a promise to send His Son from eternity, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of His sons and daughters. He told Satan in those verse 25 of chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God chose that it would be through the childbearing of a woman that He would bruise the head of the Serpent. Eventually, the Virgin Mary would have a Son, Jesus Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, who would deliver the death blow to Satan. A death blow that the first man Adam was unable to execute upon Satan.

Old Testament

In the first 39 books of the Bible (the Old Testament), you will find stories of women who raise godly young sons and support strong and good husbands. You will find women who love their God and seek to do what is right. There are beautiful women, strong women, intelligent women. In one passage, you will find God’s prophet Moses defending the property rights of the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, who at that point had no brothers and were unmarried (Numbers 27).

On the other hand, you will also find many wicked women. Two very wicked women even became queens in the nation of God’s people: Jezebel and Athaliah did a lot of harm to the kingdom of God. Women need to be saved from their sins as well as men. For example, one lady named Rahab was a prostitute, but she protected a couple men of God, and she became one of the ladies in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. She was forgiven of her sins because she turned to God from her sins.

One chapter in the Bible, Proverbs 31, presents the ideal woman that many Christian women aspire to be like. She is strong, she is industrious, her husband trusts her. Most importantly she fears the Lord and not men. She serves the Lord first and she serves her husband in a way that will make him want to serve God. I will give you a couple verses of this chapter here: Proverbs 31:28–30 “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

New Testament:

The last 27 books of the Holy Bible (the New Testament) present a very similar picture. Our Father in Heaven sent His Son to redeem His daughters who believe in the Name of Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, calls herself most blessed among women. She calls herself a maidservant of God. She is blessed, because as a virgin, she will bear the Savior of the world. She is not proud. Instead she gives all the glory to God!

Jesus treated women with the utmost respect. At one point a group of men who were pretending to lead His people, dragged a woman before Him who was caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her. But He did not condemn her. Instead He sent her away without stoning her, and told her to sin no more (John 8). This is a beautiful story about what it is like for a woman to be loved by Jesus Christ. When she feels that love she finds true fulfillment and also turns away from her sins.

Those who follow Jesus are called to treat their daughters and wives well. A husband is called to love his wife just as Jesus loves His Church and died on a cross for her (Ephesians 5). At the end of this chapter God gives a strong call for men to act like men. To act like a man means to love your wife, to listen to her thoughts, to hear what she is worried about. It sometimes means to defer to your wife’s opinion. We hear these words in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 33: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Notice that the man is told to love his wife before she is told to respect him.

Conlcusion

Jesus and His apostles healed women, promised forgiveness to women, and treated them with all respect. They set the bar high for how women are to be treated in the followers of Jesus. Yes, there is sin, but men who follow Jesus are called to fight for a high standard of treating women, while understanding that Jesus forgives our sins: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (I Timothy 2:1-4). In those who follow Jesus seek to look more like Jesus.


This is an article that I wrote for the Christian-Muslim Forum section of the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times is a Pakistani-Canadian Magazine.


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It is not good for man to be alone

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Below is an excerpt from Rev. Vander Hart’s book “Bible Studies on Genesis 1-11”, p. 65-66:

The King James Version of the Bible in Genesis 2:18,20, speaks of “help meet.” A new word – helpmeet – was coined as a result. But what does it mean? The word helper can have the idea in our language of servant, the assistant who stands in the background, perhaps the slave who has to “go for” this or “go for” that. But, in fact, the word is used many times in reference to God Himself as our heavenly Helper. Reflect on the following passages:

Exodus 18:4: “My father’s God was my helper.”

Deuteronomy 33:7: “Oh, be his help against his foes.”

Psalm 70:5: “You are my help and my deliverer.”

Psalm 121:1,2: “Where comes my help? My help comes from the LORD.”

Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Psalm 146:5: “The God of Jacob is our help.”

More passages could be cited, but the general meaning of help and helper begins to become clear. The word is not pejorative, inferring a put-down for the person called a helper. The word has almost the sense of rescuer or deliverer. The helper is the one who does for me what I could not do all by myself. God said that man’s calling as image-bearing ruler of the creation was such that being alone is not a good thing. Adam need help, and none of the animals would provide this help.

The word meet is better translated as suitable to, a counterpart for, one who corresponds to another in a complementary way. Thus the woman will be a helper who meets Adam’s need; she will, with him, help him fulfill mankind’s chief end, namely, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1).

The text is not saying that she is a helper equal to the man (the original language could have said that, but it does not say this). The study note in the New Geneva Study Bible for Genesis 2:18 reads thus, “the word ‘helper’ entails his inadequacy, not her inferiority; for elsewhere it is used of God.” This is an important point to understand in our times. The woman is not inferior in her being because of the nature of her creation. Animals are not superior because they were made first. Nor is the ground superior because man came from the ground. Male and female constitute mankind, and both are created in the image of God. But within mankind (humanity), there is a relationship, an “economy,” of office-bearing. In their being image-bearers, man and woman are equally before the face of God our Father. In their respective offices, the man is the head of the woman, and “so there is a divinely imposed subordination here” (E.J. Young, In the Beginning, p. 77). At the same time the woman is a gift of a loving God to the man because our Lord knows that we can never make it all alone in fulfilling the divine plan for God’s creation kingdom. 


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Chapter Review: the Interrogative in Preaching

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I will now move on from the indicative and the exclamative in preaching to consider John Carrick’s chapter on the interrogative, or the use of the question in preaching. 

Basic grammar is important for good communication, thus the importance of studying Hebrew and Greek grammar. In the same way, this study of the indicative, the exclamative, and the interrogative are important for understanding how to better communicate the gospel. Carrick understands the interrogative to be an aspect of the indicative. Both consider objective fact, but one states it while the other questions it. It is searching and it brings more of a connotation of dialogue to it. He recognizes three basic types of interrogative: the analytical, the rhetorical, and the searching. The analytical looks for an answer, the rhetorical assumes an answer, and the searching searches and probes the hearts of men.

  • Analytical: “What is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28)
  • Rhetorical: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15)
  • Searching: “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom. 2:21b)

He then shares a number of examples from the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. He writes about Jonathan Edwards: “Edwards individualizes is hearers; indeed, there is a sense in which Edwards thus interrogates his hearers. He reasons with them; he searches them; he almost hounds them.” (p. 73) It is often commented that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not observe his congregation as passive, but he would seek to engage them with the Word. They were to be involved, not just sitting there as spectators. Here, Carrick emphasizes that this questioning moves the preaching of the Word from explication to application. The encouragement of self-reflection or self-examination in the hearer moves the sermon from being a lecture to a sermon. He concludes this section with this comment referring to a quote from CS Lewis: “There can be no question but that the sins of the pulpit have come home to roost in the pew. It is, therefore, high time for the pulpit to see to it that God is reinstated to the bench and that man is relegated to the dock.” (p. 80) He concludes the chapter in this way: “There can be no doubt that, under God and with God’s blessing, the interrogative is one of the foremost weapons in the preacher’s arsenal in the battle for the souls for men.” (p. 81).

I found that this chapter left me with a lot to reflect on. Again, as with the exclamative, the interrogative should never be contrived.

I have often found myself inclined to the interrogative because it brings about the reasoning aspect of the preacher’s task. Of course, the Holy Spirit must also be at work through the interrogative otherwise people will just enjoy the rhetoric without coming to a fuller realization of the truth of God’s Word. That being said, this is exactly what the Word of God does. It helps me to realize my condition and my need for a Savior. Pointed questions only drive that point home. This is one reason why I love the Book of Romans. As he writes in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul is relentless in driving these questions into the hearts and minds of his readers. It is then with this passion of the Apostle Paul that we also must engage congregations with the Word of God. 

The value of the interrogative is that it doesn’t necessarily assume certain things about people, but it forces them to put themselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word and Spirit. Used rightly, it avoids the dangers of preaching at, and instead focuses on preaching to.

Nathan Zekveld

A prayer of Thanksgiving at Thanksgiving

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Almighty God, we come before you with an overflowing sense of gratitude. We have seen your hand at work over the last year and we are humbled by the mercy that you show to your servants. 

We thank You for the great gift of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. We see the multiple beams of his glory shining out in the darkness and we are both humbled and amazed. You have displayed Your righteousness in Jesus Christ and we fall to our knees in wonder. You have confronted our self-righteousness and unrighteousness in the display of His perfect righteousness and we say: “What wondrous love is this.” We have seen the radical change that this knowledge and truth brings about in our lives and we say “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” We consider the depth of Your love towards us in Jesus Christ. And when we reflect on the ingratitude that we have shown, we ask that You would pour out Your Holy Spirit and bring us to a true sense of gratitude at Your grace and mercy.

We thank You for the mercy that You have shown in filling our tables in the last year. We know how often we have worried and yet You have given us food and clothing. We thank You that the harvest continues as farmers get out in the fields and harvest their corn and potatoes. We thank You that the hurricane did not do any more damage. We thank You for all these things.

We thank You for the gift of new life in our church over the last year. We thank You for the little babies born and we thank You for the children that run around in the basement of the Church. We thank You for the little faces streaked with food and for the hands that are raised to praise Your Name. We know that You have established your strength in the mouths of these infants and children because of Your foes to still the enemy and the avenger. We thank You that we can learn a simple trust from them.

We thank You for the trials that we have experienced in the last year. We know that this is hard to do, but we know that You love the one You chasten and we know that all things work together for good. We repent of our ingratitude, and we ask that you would teach us to be grateful in prosperity, patient in adversity, giving thanks in every situation knowing that this is your will in Jesus Christ. 

We thank You for our church community, for the weekly gathering of the saints, for the weekly fellowship in men’s bible study and women’s bible study. We thank You for the hospitality and fellowship that is shown and shared in this communion of believers. What a supreme gift that we have and share in a lonely world. 

We thank You for the challenges that we have to face as a church community, challenges that drive us into Your Word, challenges that teach us to love you more. Thank You for the bumps and bruises, for your gift of repentance. Thank-you for giving us a love for Jesus Christ, that when we see the scars and the wounds in our lives, that we can see the glory of the scars in His hands and His side from the supreme display of love that He showed to us on the cross. 

We thank You for our dinner tables laden with food, we thank You for our marriages, and for a church community. We thank You for the times of raking gravel, and scraping manure. We thank You for the dishes in the sink, for the poopy diapers, for the late nights of work, for our children who sometimes give us a hard time but bless us in so many other ways, for our parents in spite of their weaknesses. We thank You for the rolling hills, for the sandy beaches, for the fall colours. We thank you for the time spent in the milk parlour, in the fields, and in the office. We thank you for young limbs and creaky limbs, we thank You for fresh air, clean water and the coming of winter. 

We thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ and the fact that He helps us to put the things of this world into proper perspective. We thank You that the gospel changes everything and that because of the gospel we can enjoy this world and love the little moments of every day in light of our vision of the city that is yet to come. We pray this all in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


This is a prayer of Thanksgiving that I wrote for the Thanksgiving Day service in the URC in PEI.

Chapter Review: Preaching the Exclamative

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I am now moving from a summary of Carrick’s chapter on the indicative in preaching to his chapter on the exclamative. And yes, Reformed preaching is allowed to contain exclamation marks! Even if it is a Dutch guy on the pulpit.

He begins with the four types of sentences which include: statements, requests, questions, and exclamations. Statements are indicative, requests are imperative, questions are a branch of the indicative except with interrogative, and exclamations imply emotion. Digging deeper into the exclamative itself, it is usually expressed by words like how, what, oh, woe, etc. The purpose is to give a certain truth more emphasis. 

All these indicators of exclamatives are used in Scripture and I will record an example of each below focusing on the examples he gives from the Apostle Paul:

  1. Romans 10:15 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
  2. 2 Corinthians 7:11 “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
  3. Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
  4. Micah 2:1 “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.”

In each case it is important to bring the emphasis and feeling that are appropriate in context. 

We can find examples of this in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. All of these men use and abundance of exclamations in their sermons. Jonathan Edwards, for example, used these exclamations to emphasize the greatness of man’s sin. Harry S. Stout writes that “words or phrases such as ‘Hark!’ ‘Behold!’ ‘Alas!’ and ‘Oh!’ invariably signaled the pathos Whitefield dramatically recreated with his whole body.” Of course, contrary to his naturalistic evaluation, we have to consider how the Spirit was at work through his piety. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote that “Preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture” and that “a sermon is not an essay”. On the opposite side, JI Packer has critiqued the type of sermon that only expresses “calm and chatty intimacy.” 

But of course, the real meat of the exclamative comes the preacher’s own heart and piety as the Spirit works through the preacher. J.W. Alexander writes: “No rhetorical appliance can make a cold passage truly warm. If, for any cause, an inanimate sermon must needs be uttered, it ought to be delivered with no more emotion than its contents engender in the speaker’s soul. Everything beyond that is pretence; and here is the source of all mock-passion, which is the fixed habit of many speakers.” We must remember that this is not simply rhetoric, but sacred rhetoric. And so Dabney challenges the preacher: “affectation in the preacher, in the orator, the damning sin.” This exclamative, then, is not primarily a rhetorical device, but flows from a heart that is overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of God. 

Again, I appreciate Carrick’s exhortation to use exclamation marks in preaching as well as his warning against affectation. I have found it worthwhile to reflect on what the preaching does to me before I bring it onto the pulpit. Hebrews 4:12–13 states: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This has always been an incredibly important truth to me as I am preparing for a sermon. No creature is hidden from His sight, that includes the preacher. And so if I am honest with myself, then I realize that this word must act first on my own pride, my own hypocrisy, my own sin! And so preaching must continue to be an overflow of my own faith life and union with Christ. This is why it is so important that true godliness accompany intellectual knowledge.

It’s like the old adage goes: “Theology leads to doxology.”

I will conclude with another quote from Dabney: “Nothing, therefore, is a true oration which is not a life, a spiritual action, transacted in the utterance.” 

 

Chapter Review: Preaching the Indicative

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Over the next couple weeks I will do a series of blog posts on preaching as I read through John Carrick’s book “The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric.” Today, I will work through his introduction and his first chapter.

Carrick introduces his book with a discussion as to whether the use of the terminology “sacred rhetoric” is appropriate when speaking of preaching. He comments on how our culture sets rhetoric in antithesis to action. He also comments on the words of the Apostle Paul where Paul contrasts the preaching of himself and his colleagues with human wisdom of the Greeks (I Cor. 2:4). Of course, the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use and so he points out how the Apostle Paul did use rhetoric, just not in the dishonest and manipulative way that it was used by the Greeks. The preacher’s task is one of persuasion. Carrick points out that the four main rhetorical voices that are used in Scripture are these: indicative, exclamative, interrogative, and imperative. He then points out the two sides to preaching: the crucial use of the means (the Scriptures) and the crucial role of the Holy Spirit. These two are necessary for good preaching when we consider the “rhetorical voices” of preaching.

His first chapter turns to the indicative, which as Machen remarks in his classic Christianity & Liberalism is central to the proclamation of the gospel. He writes that “Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative.” This matter is no light matter but comes down to the contrast between Christianity & Liberalism itself: “The liberal preacher offers us exhortation… The Christian evangelist… offers… not exhortation but a gospel.” Carrick points that in much of the preaching of the Apostles and of course the great preaching of history, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are presented in the indicative. We can see the many indicative statements of triumph throughout the New Testament. Just consider the message of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. The imperative ‘repent and believe the gospel’ rests on historical fact, what really happened. Preaching is not primarily application, but it is explication of historical facts.

This is also the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Augustine argued that man is morally dead, whereas Pelagius argued that he is simply morally sick. Augustine then had to begin with the indicative, whereas Pelagius could begin with the imperative. 

Carrick quotes Murray: “The indicative underlies the imperative, and the assurance of the indicative is the urge and incentive to the fulfilment of the imperative.” Or to quote John Stott: “The invitation cannot properly be given before the declaration has been made. Men must grasp the truth before they are asked to respond to it.” Again, Stott writes: “So the true herald of God is careful to make a thorough and thoughtful proclamation of God’s great deed of redemption through Christ’s cross, and then to issue a sincere and earnest appeal to men to repent and believe. Not one without the other, but both.” 

There are fatal consequences to not taking this route. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes about certain ministers: “…they spend the whole time ‘getting at’ their people, and slashing them and exhorting them, calling them to do this and forcing them to do that.’ They start with the imperative rather than the indicative. The indicative and the imperative are inseparable: the indicative must move to the imperative, the imperative needs the indicative. What God has done must move men to respond. 

I appreciate Carrick’s grammatical approach to preaching. It puts into clear language the difference between Arminian preaching and Reformed preaching. It grounds all Biblical exhortation in the gospel and it bases the evangelical call of Christianity in the evangelical truths of Christianity. It is a reminder to preachers to begin with the gospel, the historical fact that Jesus died and rose again. But of course, when Paul was standing before Festus, he pointed out that these facts of the gospel were compelling reason for Festus to bow his knee to Jesus Christ: “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (Acts 2:26-27).

I trust that this is helpful food for thought. Next week I will reflect on Carrick’s 3rd chapter on the exclamative in preaching.