12 March, 2015 Richard Coekin
In part 2 of Richards exclusive post we think about expounding the Bible, part one can be found here>>>
It’s crystal clear from the New Testament that God employed Paul to evangelise, plant and build up congregations throughout Turkey and Greece by teaching the Bible! He summarises his ministry in Acts as “declaring”, “teaching”, “testifying”, “testifying”, “proclaiming” and “declaring” the Word of God (Acts 20:20–27). But it’s a massive mistake to think that this just meant Sunday sermons! Paul says he taught “publicly”, evangelising unbelievers in the cauldron of the Jewish synagogues or jostling crowds in the city square. But also privately, “from house to house”, instructing attentive believers in house-churches with Sunday sermons and mid-week Bible studies, and the biblical conversations with troubled individuals which was so characteristic of Jesus’ disciple-making. In a whole variety of ways, the Spirit of God grew the churches of God through the Word of God.
Likewise, Co-Mission is a work of God’s Spirit through Bible teaching. Although the reasons people may give for joining our congregations may be expressed in terms of a warm welcome, exciting children’s clubs or compassionate community evangelism, it’s vital to recognise that these things are all the product of God transforming us through His Word. And we must remember that spiritual life comes, not from our teaching, but from the living God through His living Word when it is taught.
Paul’s teaching programme combined the need to teach all of God’s Word with the need to be sensitive to the particular age, maturity, challenges and opportunities of the people he was teaching. This is why we prefer real-life teachers, rather than beaming in a great preacher like John Piper on a screen from the USA. John’s a better preacher than any of us, but he can’t possibly know the spiritual condition of our congregations like a local pastor.
Let me describe what we generally find is spiritually most “helpful” for our churches, remembering that we adapt our teaching styles considerably for different communities. Our normal Sunday teaching is usually “expository” (explaining a Bible passage) rather than “topical” (collecting texts from all over the Bible that deal with an issue). This stems from a shared conviction that, although occasional topical talks are hugely valuable for addressing particular subjects, expository preaching provides a more varied diet of God’s Word in the form that He wrote it. This helps to avoid squeezing Scripture into our human theological “systems” and favourite “tribal” agendas. Some of our Sunday congregations enjoy having both short topical answers to current issues and a series of longer sermons expounding consecutive Bible texts. This helps to combine “whatever is helpful” in addressing current issues with hearing “the whole will of God” (Acts 20) in all of Scripture. Other churches offer these two kinds of teaching in different meetings e.g. regular Bible studies will discuss the application of Bible passages, and an occasional series of evenings will consider pressing current issues. However we generally prefer the dangerous, but thrilling, experience of hearing whatever the living Spirit of our Lord will say to us as consecutive passages are expounded.
Co-Mission preachers are hugely different personalities working in a wide variety of contexts with different styles of preaching. But it may be helpful to identify four welcome influences upon us..
First, most of us have been influenced through involvement with summer youth camps by the teaching principles of John Stott (and Charles Simeon before him). This is an emphasis upon allowing the structure and content of a Bible passage to provide the structure and content of our teaching.
Second, most of us have been influenced through the preaching conferences of the Proclamation Trust (and its Cornhill Training Course) by the teaching principles of Dick Lucas. His emphasis upon understanding any Bible passage in the context of its book has been massively important. He has urged our generation to carefully study the text to discern within it the main aim(s) of the author and the main theme(s) used to achieve that aim. A recurring theme being used for an evident aim helps to reveal the main message of a book, like the “melodic line” in a piece of music. Clarifying this main message can really help us interpret the details throughout the book.
Third, most of us have been influenced by the teaching principles of Sydney preachers like John Chapman, Phillip Jensen and John Woodhouse to use the whole Bible to interpret any part of the Bible. This awareness of “Biblical theology” is based on three simple principles:
• behind many human authors of the Bible books there is one divine editor, the Spirit of God; so the different books are consistent with each other and we can use one part to explain another;
• through various historical periods in the Bible there is one unfolding historical drama, the Kingdom of God; so we need to remember the background and the outcome of the story;
• among various characters described in the Bible there is one central hero, the Son of God; so every verse is related to understanding salvation through him. OT descriptions of judges, prophets, priests and kings and institutions like the Temple or the Sabbath and the theology of redemption from slavery in Egypt, all contribute to helping us appreciate Jesus.
Fourthly, most of us have been influenced more recently by the teaching principles of the “Gospel Coalition” preachers in the USA, such as Tim Keller, John Piper and Don Carson. In particular their emphasis upon careful application of the necessary implications of the Bible text to the lives of Londoners (heavily shaped by global urban cultures) has proved enormously helpful. And most recently, we have been hugely appreciative of the encouragement of Biblical Counselling UK to read the Bible with emotional intelligence, and draw out the deep personal impact of the Bible, as Jesus consistently did in his evangelistic conversations.
In all our teaching, we share a commitment to clarity. Paul wrote,
“pray that I may proclaim it (the Gospel) clearly as I should.” (Col.4). The great Evangelical leader, J.C. Ryle, once wrote, “I thought it my plain duty to crucify my style”. It was said of the great preacher, George Whitfield, “Whitefield’s preaching was singularly lucid and simple. His hearers, whatever they might think of his doctrine, could never fail to understand what he meant”. Co-Mission preachers all aspire to such clarity.
Above all, we share the conviction that the aim of Bible teaching is to help people hear the voice of the living God speaking to us powerfully through the text of the Bible as our wise Creator, awesome Judge, beautiful Saviour and loving Father. Prayerful Bible teaching is at the heart of Co-Mission.