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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

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Someone asked me recently why my wife and I switched churches. "We prefer sermons, not personal essays," I replied. Of course, personalizing potentially rote lectures is essential to good preaching. But over-personalizing is plaguing preaching today, writes Alastair Begg in Preaching for God's Glory. Begg spoke last month at a conference at Covenant Seminary called "Salt in Our Preaching: Back To Basics," and his book was excerpted recently at byFaith Online.

Begg has three basic explanations for the disappearance of expository preaching (and since I was raised on three-point sermons, this approach works for me). First, the church is losing confidence in Scripture; chalk it up to postmodernism and Baby Boomer's distrust of authority. Second, preachers are placing the political allegiances and psychological needs of their congregation ahead of theology. Third, there are few role models for good expository preaching.

My wife and I were schooled on the systematic sermons of the Reformed tradition, so we know the opposite problem Begg identifies: preaching that is "lifeless" and "thoroughly boring." "I never cease to be amazed," Begg says, "by the ingenuity of those who are capable of taking the powerful, life-changing text of Scripture and communicating it with all the passion of someone reading aloud from the Yellow Pages!"

But somewhere between the Yellow Pages and Dr. Phil-type pep talks lies the kind of preaching Gustaf Wingren speaks of, as Begg quotes him: "The passage itself is the voice, the speech of God; the preacher is the mouth and the lips, and the congregation . . . the ear in which the voice sounds." Begg's essay inspires and worshipers to seek this kind of harmony.

Also from byFaith Online: Appreciating creeds


From the New York Times:

BAGHDAD* — For those entering or leaving Iraq by air, [scenes of violence] are often the first or last images. Nineteen months after toppling Saddam Hussein, the American military and Iraqi forces have yet to secure what is arguably the country's most important stretch of road—the five-mile umbilical cord connecting Iraq to the world, the transit point for diplomats, business people, aid workers, security contractors and journalists. The security vacuum along it is emblematic of the sheer inability to maintain control over key areas of the country. Like an initiation rite, they have to run a gantlet on the six-lane highway before they can even begin work here. … Over nine weeks last summer, the military recorded 200 attacks.

From the Washington Post:

SHAWNEE, Okla. — Three decades ago, the tribal council of the Potawatomi Nation … rarely met and when it did, members fought (sometimes with fists) over money the tribe did not have. Tribal holdings had dwindled to 2 1/2 acres of trust land. Cash on hand in the tribal checking account (after the ex-chairman had seen to his bills) was $550. Then came a revolution in Indian Country, what tribal leaders and academic researchers describe as the most fundamental, far-reaching and positive pattern of change in more than a century. It has nourished a remarkable period of growth in Indian incomes, resuscitated many tribal governments and helped generate the energy—cultural, artistic and psychic—that fueled the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian.


  • Tucked inside the New Yorker's election issue last month was an insightful story on how Manhattan is environmentally friendly. "Most Americans, including most New Yorkers, think of New York City as an ecological nightmare, a wasteland of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams, but in comparison with the rest of America it's a model of environmental responsibility," wrote David Owen. "The average Manhattanite consumes gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn't matched since the mid-nineteen-twenties," Owens says, and urban dwellers use about half as much electricity as suburban and rural residents. At the population density of Manhattan, Owens' small Northeastern Connecticut town would pile their cars and pools and septic tanks to the skies. At the density of Owens' small town, Manhattan would cover eight states. "Spreading people out increases the damage they do to the environment, while making the problems harder to see and to address," Owens says. Not that Owens is denying the drawbacks to urban life: "Manhattan is loud and dirty, and the subway is depressing, and the fumes from the cars and cabs and buses can make people sick." Meanwhile, he says, you can't make Manhattan an exemplar of urban planning, "because the city's remarkable population density is the result not of conscientious planning but of a succession of serendipitous historical accidents." For one thing, you can't put most other cities on an island. (Article is unavailable online; see this blogger's summary and response)
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