“Dear Lazy Preachers…” Sincerely, Martin Luther

Martin Luther regularly collected and published his sermons following the calendar of the church year. They were known as “postils,” and during his life they were some of his most read and beloved works. Luther himself was pleased with them but lamented that Luther-Preaching-in-Wittenbergsome “lazy” preachers read them word-for-word from the pulpit:

There are some lazy, no-good pastors and preachers who depend on these and many other good books that they can take a sermon out of. They don’t pray, study or read, pondering nothing in Scripture, just as if we need not read the Bible, using such books as a template and calendar to earn their living (LW 6281-85).

I appreciate Luther’s point, but I am conflicted. Let me explain.

On one hand, preaching verbatim another person’s sermon detracts from the essence of preaching: the pastor stands among his or her congregation and in the power of the Holy Spirit speaks the Word of the Lord as it is refracted through his or her unique humanity. That refraction, or mediation, is what makes preaching different, more even, than simply reading the Scriptures aloud. It affirms the goodness of creation as it is experienced in the preacher’s own humanity (docetism always lurks in the wings). So, beyond Luther’s point about the pastor’s engagement with the Scriptures through prayer in preparation for delivering a sermon (certainly right), there is also something distinctly human about preaching that is lost when a sermon from someone else is delivered.

Further, a sermon is spoken in the midst of the particular moment of a church’s life, a moment surely common to others but one that has never before occurred and never will again. The time in which a sermon is proclaimed is unique in the history of the cosmos: this pastor, in the midst of this congregation, at this moment in history!  The human and historical essence of preaching is depleted by preaching a sermon that is not native to a  community.

In Luther’s case the pastors forthrightly read his postils, but today it often happens without anyone’s knowledge. The son of a nationally known author and speaker told me that his father was once visiting a church and heard one of his sermons preached. Even the personal illustrations from his family’s life were used! I have also known several churches that removed their pastors for preaching sermons they found on the internet or borrowed from others. Pastors are under much pressure to perform in the pulpit, and the internet is an easy source of content.

On the other hand – hear me out – perhaps a pastor can rightly do what Luther lamented. Continue reading

Prayers for Those who Govern

Being in the midst of the election primaries in America, this prayer came to mind from the Protestant theologian Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918). Some of us are more jaded than others about the political process, which always makes his optimism more than a little jarring to me (maybe I need to be jarred a bit). Even so, his prayer for those who govern is as fitting today as it was in 1910.

God, thou great governor of all the world, we pray thee for all who hold public office Rauschenbusch, Walterand power, for the life, the welfare, and the virtue of the people are in their hands to make or to mar. We remember with shame that in the past the mighty have preyed on the labors of the poor; that they have laid nations to dust by their oppression, and have thwarted the love and the prayers of thy servants. We bless thee that the new spirit of democracy has touched even the kings of the earth. We rejoice that by the free institutions of our country the tyrannous instincts of the strong may be curbed and turned to the patient service of the commonwealth.

Strengthen the sense of duty in our political life. Grant that the servants of the state may feel ever more deeply that any diversion of their public powers for private ends is a betrayal of their country. Purge our cities and states and nation of the deep causes of corruption which have so often made sin profitable and uprightness hard. Bring to an end the stale days of party cunning. Breathe a new spirit into all our nation. Lift us from the dust and mire of the past that we may gird ourselves for a new day’s work. Give our leaders a new vision of the possible future of our country and set their hearts on fire with large resolves. Raise up a new generation of public men [and women] who will have the faith and daring of the Kingdom of God in their hearts, and who will enlist for life in a holy warfare for the freedom and rights of the people (Prayers of the Social Awakening, pp. 75-6)

It reminds me of another prayer. When Karl Barth prayed, he would often intercede for political leaders and those with influence over the political process and public opinion. Though the second world war had largely squashed the political optimism one hears in Rauschenbusch’s prayer, Barth’s prayer shares his request for God’s intervention. Here is one:

Let dawn continue to break a little in our hearts, in [our university], at home with those Barth lecturingwho are dear to us, in this city, in our nation, and throughout the whole earth. You know the errors and misdeeds of that make our current situation once again so dark and dangerous on all sides. Let a fresh wind blow through it, that might at least scatter the thickest fog from the heads of those who rule this world, but also from the heads of the peoples who permit themselves to be ruled, and above all from the heads of those who make public opinion (50 Prayers: Karl Barth, p. 2).

Let me know if other prayers from theologians come to mind during this election year. We can make it a running series.

Sanctified by Grace Blog Tour Wraps up

The blog tour for Sanctified by Grace wrapped up over the weekend. Here is a list of all the posts (most recent at the top). Thank you, bloggers, for participating in the tour and for giving our book such careful attention!

I still have some thoughts I would like to share about the ways I have used this text in undergraduate classrooms. But, you know, the semester-start is swamping me at the moment. Hopefully later this week I can set aside some time for that post.

Sanctified by Grace by Grace Blog Tour: Mortification (Mere Orthodoxy, 29 January 2016)

I needed to see more clearly that the mortification of sin in an individual believer’s life is something initiated by God in the Gospel and that our response to him is precisely that—a responseMy friends who have been to seminary have a simple phrase for summing up what Webster is describing here: “The indicatives drive the imperatives.” Because you have been crucified with Christ (indicative) you are now free from the dominion of sin and need not go on doing the things (imperative) that would kill you if left unattended by the kindness of God.

Sanctified by Grace: A Theology of Christian Life (The Scriptorium Daily, 28 January 2016).

In one sense, the whole book’s about sanctification, about the growth in holiness culminating in perfect, eternal fellowship with the triune God and his people. But it’s much more comprehensive than that,covering all the major doctrinal loc…This is a helpful way to think through the various doctrinal loci without trying to say everything, and the lens of sanctification is timely.

Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of The Christian Life (Marturo, 27 January 2016) [I love Nate’s description of our approach with a musical metaphor! It works, and I am going to use it in the future. Thanks Nate!]

The book is, using a musical metaphor, “an account of the Christian life that explores the full scale of notes and harmonic richness from Christian dogmatics. Different doctrinal connection points represent different tones within a scale. Many accounts of the Christian life stick close to a single tonal center, perhaps only deviating to the octave or interval of a 5th above, giving minimal melodic or harmonic variation. Here, the full range of tones and harmonies are brought into play, weaving together a more interesting melodic result.”

Sanctified by Grace Blog Tour: Election (Mere Orthodoxy, 26 January 2016)

Book Review: Sanctified by Grace (Out of Bounds, 25 January 2016)

What Am I Reading? “Sanctified By Grace” (Die Evangelischen Theologen, 20 January 2016)

Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of the Christian Life, A Book Review and Highlight of Suzanne MacDonald’s Doctrine of Election (The Evangelical Calvinist, 19 January 2016)

Sanctified by Grace – The Triune God (CWoznicki Think Out Loud, 19 January 2016)

 

Blog Tour for Sanctified by Grace: Mere Orthodoxy starts a week-long series

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador starts a week-long review of Sanctified by Grace with a post on Suzanne McDonald’s chapter, “Election”. Check it out here. (See previous reviews below).

Far from being a doctrine that should make us fear God or see him as a kind of moral monster, the doctrine of election reminds us that God cares for all of creation and that he is faithful to those with whom he makes covenant. It is, in other words, a deeply pastoral, comforting doctrine that helps individual believers understand the purpose of their salvation as well as the security of their salvation. The above is one example of what I mean when I say the book does a marvelous job of connecting Christian theology to the Christian life.

Two more stops on the Blog Tour

Two more reviews are in.

Adam Nigh at Out of Bounds (read here)

One of the great strengths of this book … is the rejection of any dichotomy between theological reflection and Christian practice, between the intellectual and the moral, between doctrine and life. That is signified in the title: not just our initial justification but the whole scope of our lived faith needs to be understood by reference to the being, character and gracious work of the triune God.

Chris Woznicki at Think out Loud has another addition to his multi-part review, this one on Willimon’s chapter, “Preaching” (read here)

One thing that I really appreciated about this chapter is the importance Willimon places upon the task of preaching. Nowadays many people tend to see preaching as superfluous or as belonging to a bygone era. But according to Willimon this should not be so. A primary way that the Christian life is formed and sustained is by preaching...Life with a loquacious God demands disciplines of listening.

Blog Tour for Sanctified by Grace, first stops

Sanctified by Grace_cover_March62014The blog tour for Sanctified by Grace has begun! T&T Clark has introduced the tour on their blog and is offering a 30% discount on the book while the blog tour is running (until January 29)! Check it out here.

Three stops on the tour were posted yesterday and today:

Bobby Grow at The Evangelical Calvinist (read here).

“The book, as envisioned by Eilers and Strobel, is intended to function, for one of its uses, as a volume used in college and seminary classroom teaching; i.e. as a textbook for a Christian theology class, or maybe even for a rigorous Sunday school class at church involved in Christian Education, etc. I would say, beyond a doubt, this volume achieves that mark and more! In fact I would go so far as to say that any thoughtful Christian ought to take this book up and read (tolle lege)!”

W. Travis McMaken at Die Evangelischen Theologen (read here).

“It seems as though a not insignificant portion of the Protestant theological community in English speaking countries has become increasingly concerned over recent decades in “sanctification” broadly conceived…It was therefore only a matter of time before we were given a book of this nature, which seeks to consider the loci of systematic theology through the lens of sanctification. “

Chris Woznicki at Think out Loud (a week long review; read here and here)

“[Eilers and Strobel] notice that there is often a divide between doctrine and theology on the one side and spirituality and ministry on the other. In this book they hope to help tear down that false dichotomy.”

A new book, slowly underway

I have been working now for several years – and will be working for a couple more – on a new book. It is an anthology. This is the first anthology project I have done. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, producing an anthology is a monumental task! It will include selections from across the history of the Church and from every major Christian tradition (90 entries). Without my two very talented and wise co-editors, Ashley Cocksworth and Anna Silvas, I can hardly imagine finishing! And even if I could, the book is far better because of their partnership; I increasingly realize this as I work with them. Collaboration is a beautiful thing!

The topic of the collection is the Christian life. Readers will encounter how the Christian life has been represented, preached and sung about, reflected on, and refracted from Christians in every era and from every Christian tradition. I can say without hesitation, producing this book is fascinating and invigorating work! I feel like a student all over again, pouring over primary sources as I immerse myself in the Christian tradition.

My last two books inspired this project. The book I edited with Kyle Strobel, Sanctified by Grace, confirmed the importance of re-invigorating theological attention onto the doctrine of the Christian life. And doing so through an anthology was inspired by my book with David Buschart, Theology as Retrieval. You might say that this new book is the fruit of my previous two. I am doing the work of theological retrieval by producing an anthology that inspires, fuels, and directs teaching, preaching, and theological reflection on the Christian life for the sake of the Church.

Huntington University (where I teach) produced a short video that gives a quick snapshot of the book as it is taking shape. Enjoy!