Thoughts on Preaching and Robinson Crusoe

I often use mnemonic devices to help me with vocabulary. One I’m particularly proud of is the image I used to remember the Greek word for “I am preaching”, ke̅russo̅. I imagined the stranded Robinson Crusoe, preaching to his flock of goats. I read the book—probably an abridged version—when I was a kid, so I can’t remember if this was an actual scene in the book or something that my brain came up with to help me memorize the definition of the word. Either way, it seems fitting because I can just about guarantee that, were I stranded on a desert island and isolated from other humans, sooner or later the goats would be hearing expositions and exhortations from Scripture. I love preaching God’s word that much.

Admittedly, I’ve not always thought about this love in the right way. At times I’ve loved preaching because it gave me opportunities to demonstrate what little intelligence or wit I have. At others I’ve loved the exhilaration that comes from receiving affirmation from those who heard me. But I think preaching to goats, who are neither enamored by the preacher’s intelligence nor able stroke his ego with affirming words, would surely test this love. This experience would probably clarify something essential to biblical preaching: Who am I preaching for?

The commendable preachers of Scripture weren’t preaching for themselves, to be seen as wise or intelligent, to receive money or fame. They preached for the glory and fame and worship of the Lord Jesus. They preached when the likely outcome was bodily injury, social ostracization, imprisonment, or death. When their audience was goats, (in the Matthew 25 sense), those who listened patiently but refused to allow the message to have any true impact on their lives and loves. And they did it gladly.

“After calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40–42, NASB)

Ultimately, this willingness to preach regardless of the outcome reflects the biblical understanding of the calling to preach, summed up beautifully by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:8—“To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” The preacher knows that it is a grace, a gift, to proclaim the truth about Christ. He knows that it does not rest on him, a dirty castaway, but on the God who first saved him, and now enables him to declare his truth.

I love preaching because it brings me joy to share with others the unfathomable love of Christ that has captured me and compells me to preach. To study Scripture and search its depths in prayer and with help from God’s Spirit Himself. To wrestle with texts, to organize thoughts, and write line by line explanations and applications. To lift Jesus up, set Him forth, and hold Him out for careful, prayerful, worshipful reflection. It is God’s grace to me that I get to do that.

So like Crusoe in my mnemonic device, were there no one around to hear it I couldn’t keep it in, nor would I try. I’d sound like a madman preaching to goats and trees and the ocean itself. With the Psalmist I’d say, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:11–13).


A Pastor’s Prayer

I wish to be thankful for what the Lord is pleased to do among us; but, at the same time, to be more earnest with him for a further out-pouring of his Spirit.

— John Newton, To the Rev. Matthew Powley, Letter III

The End of Protestantism Videos

I got a followup email this week that let me know my review copy of Peter Leithart’s new book, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, is due to be sent out by the end of the week. I’m looking forwarded to reading the book and engaging with the ideas through a review here on the blog. I wholeheartedly agree with Leithart’s concern about the fragmentation in the church—the unity of the church is essential to our mission (see e.g., John 17:21-23). However, I’m not sure I’ll agree with his suggestions for pursuing that unity. 

In anticipation of the book’s release next month, the folks at Brazos Press have developed a great website for the book and are featuring the following videos to give you an idea of what the book will be about. 

The first explains the wordplay in the title. Leithart doesn’t just seek to explore the “end” of Protestantism as its conclusion, but also its goal or purpose.

The second explains the rise of denominationalism, as well as the signs that he believes indicate its losing steam.  

MOTD — Doxology (Jude 23-24) — Sandra McCracken

I love this song, “Doxology (Jude 23–24)”[1] , off Sandra McCracken’s new album, God’s Highway, for two main reasons:

  1. It is a song that is derived from and reflects on a text of Scripture. It is good to sing songs that contain doctrinal language and reflect on biblical themes, as most hymns and worship songs do. It is another thing entirely to sing the words of Scripture themselves.

  2. In its reflection on Jude 24, it takes us to the day when the promise is fulfilled, when “we are standing in His presence with our garments clean and white”—i.e., unblemished. We’re caught up in the thought of what it will be like when the God who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us unblemished to himself has done it. Won’t it be glorious!

The full text of Jude 24–25 is —

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you unblemished in His glorious presence, with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, and now, and for all eternity.

Here are the lyrics:



Support the artist by buying her music.

  1. While the song is called “Doxology (Jude 23–24)”, it actually contains the doxology of Jude 24–25. So I’m not sure if it’s a simple typo or what. Additionally, while it’s listed on her store page as “Doxology (Jude 23–24)”, Spotify has it simply listed as “Doxology”.  ↩

Far Be It From Me: The Scandal and Sin of Pastoral Prayerlessness

There are many ways to fail as a pastor. Moral lapses, theological error, and spiritual apathy are just a few of the more obvious ways we can harm the congregations we serve. But there is perhaps one failure that gets overlooked. We can build successful ministries, influence people with biblical truth, and give the general appearance of faithfulness without anyone ever knowing that we are prayerless men. But this is to our shame. Do we truly believe that we can properly care for the people of God without bringing their names and burdens before Him in prayer? Our prayerlessness indicates we do. More than that it underlines the reality that we have drifted from the biblical and historical view of what it means to be a pastor.

Two stories from 1 Samuel demonstrate how seriously spiritual leaders (prophets and priests) took their responsibility to pray for the people in their care. The first comes from Samuel himself. After anointing Saul as king over the people, Samuel tells them they have committed evil against YHWH by asking for a king to rule them (1 Sam. 12:12–18). The people recognize their sin and say to him, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die” (12:19). Samuel’s response is telling, especially when he considers his role in their future obedience: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way” (12:23). For Samuel, prayer for the people is such a vital part of his role that to abandon the practice is unthinkable. More than that, to neglect this prayer is “sin against the LORD”.[1]

A second story comes later in the book after YHWH has rejected Saul and chosen David as king. David was on the run from Saul and came to Nob where Ahimelech the priest gave him the consecrated bread for food and Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 21:1–10). When Saul hears that Ahimelech has aided the fugitive David, he sends for all the priests and interrogates them on the charge of treason. In his paranoia, Saul accuses the priest of giving David food and arming him with a sword, as well as having “inquired of God for him”—that he sought to determine God’s will and seek His help for David’s mission against Saul. Ahimelech’s answer again demonstrates how essential this prayer was: “Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me!” (22:15). Ahimelech’s intercession for David was not unique, but rather a normal part of his role as priest that he was bound to carry out.[2]

Turning to the New Testament, we again see the central role of prayer when we examine the Apostle Paul’s relationships with the churches to whom he wrote. He tells the Romans, he “unceasingly” mentions them in his prayers (Rom. 1:9), as he does the Ephesians (Eph. 1:16) and Philippians (Phil. 1:3–4). That these prayers are made “unceasingly” indicates the importance Paul attributes to them—as if they are essential for the churches’ growth in Christ. Beyond Paul’s personal example, we have the instruction in James for the elders to pray for the sick that they might be healed (Jas. 5:14). The prayers of pastors for their people are essential to God bringing about His healing purposes in their lives.

With this quick biblical picture in mind, it is no wonder that, “For the majority of Christian centuries most pastors have been convinced that prayer is the central and essential act for maintaining the essential shape of the ministry to which they were ordained.”[3] Indeed, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg argue that it is the “principal and main work” of pastoral ministry since it is the first way we exercise care for our people and the first step toward an effective teaching ministry.[4] If Scripture and historical practice tell us prayer for our people is central to fulfilling the ministry to which we’ve been called, it is truly a scandal when we neglect it. Far be it from us that a day should come when we fail to lift up the names and needs of the people entrusted to our care. God help us all be men of prayer.

  1. See Ryan Fullerton, “A Call for Pastors to Pray for Their People,” 9 Marks Journal (Spring 2016): 7–11. I am indebted to this article for prompting my reflection on this topic. See the journal for other helpful articles on making prayer a priority in your life and church,–2016.pdf.  ↩

  2. Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 229.  ↩

  3. Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 26.  ↩

  4. Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 65.  ↩

The Distinctiveness of Christian Parenting

According to John Owen, parents will feel a “natural affection,” (i.e., an affection that is part of their nature according to God’s creative act) toward their children and work to provide for them. Owen notes that this is not unique to human beings, but they share this inner purpose with the other creatures that bear children. Elephants, frogs, clown fish (I’m looking at you Nemo), and humans all share this instinctual concern for their offspring. It is what he calls the parental “law of operation,” or what we might think of as the intrinsic purpose of parenthood. Yet, human parents do have one major difference from their animalian counterparts—they are created in the image of God and are responsible to Him for their actions. Consequently, they are not merely to provide for their children as an instinctual impulse, but as a humble act of submission and obedience to the God who created them.

This turns out to be quite a problem. Since human parents are as “naturally” opposed to the rule of God in their lives as they are “naturally” inclined to care for their children, there are bound to be conflicts. We see it on the news all the time: parents murder their children, mistreat them, neglect them. Even non-Christians are repulsed at these things, it’s unnatural! Sin’s power is so strong in the unregenerate person that it can overrun something as deeply ingrained as the parent’s instinctual impulse to care for his or her children. Owen puts a fine point on it when he writes that indwelling sin so powerfully works to disorder and suppress this instinct that some “deal with their own children as a good man would not be hired with any reward to deal with his dog” (Works of John Owen, VI, 306). 

But we can go beyond Owen’s profound insights to simply note one more thing: Christian parents are the only parents who can be parents in the true sense of the word. While non-Christians feel the parental “law of operation” and provide for their children, Christian parents surpass the fulfillment of this basic impulse and see their parenting as part of their own obedience to God. The apostle Paul commands fathers “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). This command is the revealed will of God for all people, but only those who live their lives in obedience to Him can fulfill it. Therefore Christian parents who live in obedience to this command are the only parents on the face of the earth who fulfill, not only the “law of operation” intrinsic to parenthood, but also their responsibility to God as the Creator to Whom they must give an account.