We need to be challenged and encouraged. We need hope as well as conviction of sin. Let’s do all we can, if we formally teach the Bible or informally meet with other Christians, to share the hope that we have. We need to hear the wonder of the gospel regularly to keep us going in a world where we don’t see a lot of hope anywhere else.
What do you expect from a sermon when you go to a church service? What is it that you need to hear, and what is important to be included?
I have been listening to sermons my whole life, preaching for over 15 years, and now help to teach others how to preach as well. I have also been visiting churches from other traditions and denominations in the past few years to get a sense of the variety that is out there. Of course, every preacher has their own personality and style; there will always be a large variety in how sermons are delivered. There is no one way to preach faithfully.
When Christians come to listen to a sermon, we need to be fed from the word of God. This means that the sermon needs to be based on the Bible (and not in a loose ‘this is a proof text for what I wanted to say anyway’ kind of way). It needs to explain how that particular Bible passage applies to the lives of those present.
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By David Mathis — 1 year ago
The resolutions about money, sex, and power aren’t all that surprising, or even probing. This deadly trio, while ruinous, does not represent the deepest sins of the heart. They are manifestations of unbelief and rebellion, but they grow in the soil of “the great evil,” as C.S. Lewis calls it: pride. So, it’s actually this third resolution — the one that many eyes might overlook — that may be the most preceptive and profound, the most searching, the most unexpected and significant of the four: to not talk down churches and pastors.
Ever heard of Elmer Gantry?
If not — or if the name only vaguely rings a bell — then you might, like many today, lack an important bit of context for understanding the origins of the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.”
The choice of the singular “Rule” also may represent two additional misunderstandings. Graham and his three closest ministry associates made four resolutions, not one — and importantly, they did not call them rules (to enforce on others) but resolutions (embraced for their own lives). Graham says it was an “informal understanding among ourselves.”
Just as He Was
In his autobiography, Just as I Am, published in 1997, Graham himself tells the story of the beginning of the now (in)famous “Rule” that bears his name. During a two-week crusade in Modesto, California, in October of 1948, the 29-year-old Graham found himself at a critical juncture.
He had been working as an evangelist for a large and long-established ministry called Youth for Christ. Now, he was beginning to launch out on his own, to begin a new work as an independent evangelist, and he and his team felt the weight of the public scrutiny they’d be under. And they longed not to become, or even appear to be, what characterized some evangelists in the first half of the twentieth century. They heard their share of stories, and personally knew evangelists whose “success” became devastating. Such men slid from one small degree of compromise to the next in their desires for money, power, and illicit sex, all under the cloak of Christian ministry and seeming fruitfulness.
Graham and his team were not the only ones aware of such stories. Twenty years before, in 1927, author Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) — the “red-haired tornado from the Minnesota wilds,” as H.L. Mencken called him — published the satirical novel Elmer Gantry, dedicated to Mencken, his fellow satirist. The title character was a narcissistic, womanizing evangelist. And the book was as a sensation.
On the one hand, it was banned in Boston and denounced by evangelist Billy Sunday, Graham’s forerunner, as “Satan’s cohort.” On the other, it became the bestselling fiction work of 1927. And this just two years after the 1925 “Scopes monkey trial,” reported on by Mencken, as part of the growing social critique of “fundamentalist” Christianity. (The fictional Gantry would make another pop culture appearance in the 1960 summer film bearing his name, introducing the character, and his notorious lack of character, to yet another generation.)
Hallmark of Integrity
In the fall of 1948, as Graham contemplated leaving the security of a respected and rooted ministry to found his own evangelistic association, he saw an imposing obstacle on the horizon: “the recurring problems many evangelists seemed to have, and . . . the poor image so-called mass evangelism had in the eyes of many people.” Then he adds, “Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character Elmer Gantry unquestionably had given traveling evangelists a bad name” (127).
Importantly, Graham says these resolutions among the four founders “did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles.” Yet the act of resolving, and doing so together, had purpose and effect. “It did,” he says, “settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry” (129). (The 500-word section in Graham’s autobiography on the four resolutions is available online at billygraham.org.)
First Up: Money
What, then, were these four resolutions (rather than one rule) that made up the “Modesto Manifesto,” as Graham and his team came to call it?
First, they renounced “the temptation to wring as much money as possible out of an audience.” I’m not aware of any public outcry then or today against this first resolve. Traveling evangelists had little accountability in those days.
By Brian Mattson — 10 months ago
This devotional aspect is perhaps uncommon in systematic theologies, but it is characteristic of The Wonderful Works of God. Christian families should have some reference work or guide to help make sense of the Bible and theology and to consult when confronted by confusing or difficult matters. Many books provide answers that satisfy the mind; better still is the book that presses those answers into the heart to elicit worship and praise.
Following the watershed publication of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics in English at the turn of this century, interest in Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) has sharply increased. Indeed, it almost seems as though Bavinck’s destiny is to influence the 21st century far more than the 19th century, during which he wrote most of his dogmatic work. A steady stream of new translations and editions of his other works has emerged (e.g., Saved by Grace, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, The Christian Family, On Preachers and Preaching, Philosophy of Revelation, Reformed Ethics, The Sacrifice of Praise, Christian Worldview).
But there is a book that has almost been forgotten in this flurry of interest and excitement. Translated by Henry Zylstra and originally published by Eerdmans in 1956 under the title Our Reasonable Faith, this single-volume systematic theology represents Bavinck’s own distillation of his four-volume magnum opus. Though available for more than half a century, it has remained fairly obscure outside the walls of Reformed seminaries.
The reasons for this obscurity are mysterious, for the book has a plausible claim of being the best single-volume Reformed systematic theology ever produced. It’s therefore welcome that Westminster Seminary Press has now restored the author’s title (Magnalia Dei, or The Wonderful Works of God), and re-released it in a format worthy of such a book.
By “format” I mean that the volume itself is beautiful, from its richly textured dust cover, to the cloth cover beneath, to its high-quality Smyth-sewn paper. Annotations will resist bleeding through the paper, and the book will lay open on your desk. The aesthetics are impressive.
Inside one finds an attractive new typesetting for Zylstra’s translation, along with much more. Westminster Seminary professor R. Carlton Wynne helpfully introduces Bavinck and the book’s background, and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto translates for the first time Bavinck’s original foreword, which Zylstra had omitted.
Most helpful of all is a massive subject and Scripture index compiled by Charles Williams, which will enhance the book’s usefulness for students and researchers.
As for the content, it is—as already mentioned—Bavinck’s own distillation of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics into a single volume. But that is actually misleading: it’s not an abridgment of the four volumes. It is, rather, Bavinck’s fresh restatement of his dogmatic work for a lay audience. In 1910, one reviewer put it this way: “None but a learned man could have written this book, but he has hidden his tools.” Bavinck has put aside the kitchen equipment and delivered the meal.
By Douglas Bond — 2 years ago
It’s God’s love to feeble me, not my love to him that gives me peace with God. Salvation is entirely by grace alone, God’s sovereign power alone, his effectual work alone, “No other work, save thine,” no human strength, or effort, or perceived ability can break my bondage.
For the first time in five weeks, I went to church on Reformation Day. Staggered to church would be more accurate. Hard hit by the Covid-19 virus, I spent two harrowing weeks in the hospital, and am recovering with excruciatingly slow baby steps as my lungs grope for oxygen, and as I try to learn how to breathe again. God has been very merciful to me, giving me the best medical and home care, and providing encouragements from so many people who have prayed and continue to pray for my full recovery.
In it all, God is teaching me many things: I’m learning more about God’s sovereign good pleasure; I was in good physical shape, healthy immune system, a great candidate for a mild case of the virus and quick recovery—so I thought. God had ordained a more difficult path for me. I’m also learning more about the frailty of life (in the early days of my hospitalization, my doctor said honestly that my case could go either way); I’m learning the comfort of being known and loved by Christ and being safe in his arms, come what may (during one particularly long wakeful night, it occurred to me I was going to die, but in that realization, I had an overwhelming sense of the presence of the Comforter, that I was safe in the arms of Jesus—and I was not afraid), and I’m learning what it means to be utterly dependent on others, to be able to do nothing for myself, to acknowledge with the psalmist that I am poor and needy—I have no strength, only weak knees and feeble hands.
And then my first Sunday back in corporate worship we sang one of my favorite hymns from one of my favorite hymn writers, Scots Presbyterian Horatius Bonar. First published in 1861, Bonar’s hymn, theologically undergirded and adorned by this gifted poet, laid hold of my heart afresh.
Not what my hands have donecan save my guilty soul;not what my toiling flesh has bornecan make my spirit whole.Not what I feel or docan give me peace with God;not all my prayers and sighs and tearscan bear my awful load.
One of the great advantages of having no strength, of having weak knees and feeble hands, is that my physical condition aligns with my spiritual condition. The fact that my hands have not done, nor are able to do, anything to “give me peace with God,” makes more sense to a man whose entire system has been ravaged by this virus, leaving me a wheezing wreck of an invalid. But we persist in thinking that there’s some work required of us, some contribution we feel able to make, some change of posture, or affection. Aren’t we supposed to seek him, come to him, choose him? Aren’t we supposed to love God? Surely we can’t expect to have peace with God unless we first love him. Bonar points us away from our delusions: