Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giving Basketball a Shot


If people have been listening closely to our elder interviews during Sunday School, there have been several consistent themes. One theme that I did not expect to come out, however, is my lack of basketball skill. But I actually think it may serve to get to the bottom of some of these things. I've shared this illustration several times, but never on my blog, so I'll give it a shot.

How critical is a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, Bible-driven ministry pattern to my desire to partner with others?

Here's the illustration:

I'm not a good shooter. At a very early age, I learned that my job is to set picks, irritate the opposition and go for rebounds. One reason I love basketball is that hustle can really make up for a lack of skill (as opposed to golf). But I know my place. If given the choice to shoot an open shot or pass to set up another guy for a shot, I will choose the assist every time.

Therefore, I never get on a guy's case for shooting. He can be 0-10 and if I pass him the ball and he is open, I'm fine with him shooting again. Even at 0-15, I always think the guy has a better shot of scoring than I do. I'll keep passing him the ball and will even keep encouraging him to take good shots.

However, what if the guys shoots at the wrong rim? Now I'll say something. Yet, I'm willing to accept the guy may not believe me at first. He clearly wouldn't shoot at the wrong rim intentionally, so you have to expect some confusion. He's probably going to assume I'm the one who is wrong. Added to the fact that he is mistaken, he is also going to have to deal with wounded pride when he suddenly realizes he's been shooting at the wrong goal. This may take more effort than a quick rebuke. I'm going to have to appeal to other evidence. Ask a referee. Notice that no one on the other team is guarding you. Point out that we get the ball back even though he just "scored." These things all serve as evidence he is shooting at the wrong rim.

But at some point, he's got to quit shooting at that rim. While I am willing to patiently encourage the guy to change goals, I can not keep feeding him the ball if the opposition is going to score every time he gets it. We run into a problem if his reply is, "Well, I make more shots at this rim so I'm going to keep shooting here," or "Can't you just accept that my motive is pure, why do you have to be so picky?" or "Hey, you shoot at the basket you want and let me shoot at the basket I want. I'm not telling you where to shoot," or "I've been playing a lot longer than you pal. Don't you tell me where to aim." At some point, I'm not going to want that guy on my team anymore. And if he is on my team, I'm going to quit getting him the ball; even if that means I'm going to have to start shooting (wince).

What does this have to do with preaching?

I have literally shot at the wrong basket in an organized game (Eighth grade versus Eaton Junior High). Fortunately, my lack of shooting skill meant I missed and did not actually score for the other team. But in all my embarrassing basketball history (and there is much to be humiliated by), that by far was the worst.

As a preacher, years of my ministry were spent shooting at the wrong goal. And even today, when I have a different aim with my preaching, I still throw up bricks and airballs from time to time. I'm never satisfied with my participation in the sermon on a given week. I care deeply about preaching (my own and others) and I believe some have misunderstood that concern. I do not listen to sermons with a fine tooth comb, just looking for an infraction. I listen for where the preacher is aiming. From time to time, their touch may be so off that you can't tell where they are aiming, but typically the next sermon can help clear that up. I don't think I have ever approached another pastor about a sermon of his (or posted my thoughts on a blog) on the basis of one sermon. In one particular incident, I think I listened to 8-10 sermons from a pastor before approaching him about his target.

I regularly sit down after the sermon and think about how I could have done it better. Part of this is healthy (it leads to refinement) and part of it is pride (it's an evidence that I far too often think I am responsible for the outcome). As one who graciously feels like God works in spite of my failures, I don't hold other pastors to a standard of perfection. Mercy triumphs over judgment and I certainly don't want my sermons judged in an unmerciful way. I know I'm not perfect and have never preached a perfect sermon, so I'm not going to demand that from anyone else.

Preaching matters. And preaching with the wrong aim can be disastrous. Since I've shot at the wrong rim before, I'm also aware that I need others to help refine me and remind me where my aim should be. I desire to enter these conversations with other pastors. But when you suggest that the Word of God requires a different aim and you are met with silence, defiance or tolerance for any aim, I'm not sure what to do.

I can partner with the guy who tries but fails in his pursuit to see Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture, for I too am that guy. I can talk with the guy who struggles to understand what I mean or doesn't necessarily see how that is our calling. I have no idea what to do when a guy refuses to talk or refuses to consider his aim.

If you don't understand what I mean by "Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture," please ask. I believe aim matters and I'm not asking you to set yourself up for the Inquisition. If you're willing to aim at the right rim, you'll find me not only feeding you the ball, but cheering you on each time you shoot.

21 comments:

Brad said...

Could you give us the three passages of scripture--just an arbitrary limitation for the sake of focus-- that you believe provide the best explanation of what is meant by "Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture" and which provide the strongest support for the notion that this is the approach for which every man in a pulpit should be aiming.

David Mohler said...

Ditto...plus, perchance, a brief explanation of whether you mean to say that:

1. The gospel is ON every page of scripture; or

2. That it can be inferred/extrapolated/exegeted/exposited FROM every page of scripture; or

3. In the sense that the Scripture is totally God's Word it is the Gospel entirely, but not literally on every page (i.e., some of Scripture provides an "assist", but other parts actually are the gospel, and "make the shot".)

Darby Livingston said...

I can hardly wait. Brad and David, are you really this curious, or do you just want to see if Danny can be tripped up?

Brad said...

Hey Darby,

Like Danny, I believe that preaching matters and that preaching with the wrong aim can be disastrous. So far I've only preached two sermons; it could be that both of them were shot at the wrong rim; so I am even more aware that I need others to help refine me and show me where my aim should be.

Danny desires to enter these conversations with other pastors. He can partner with the guy who tries but fails. He can talk with the guy who struggles to understand what he means or doesn't necessarily see how that is our calling. But he has no idea what to do when a guy refuses to talk or refuses to consider his aim.

So...I'm talking, because, yes, I actually am this curious.

danny2 said...

i'll take the challenge, with a few points of note (it is my blog, after all):

a) since this is only the comment section, i would ask that you not hold it to the level of microscopic dissection, but some clarification may simply be stated as "future post to follow." i'll try to continue to reply and clear up things i say in the comment section, but am not looking for 58 comments chasing down my lousy vocabulary, etc.

b) clearly i do not mean we have to hold to a literal "page" of Scripture since each of our Bibles probably have different portions of Scripture on each page. (do all our Bibles say the same thing on page 256?)

so here goes: (i'll post each of the three as a separate comment)

David Mohler said...

David, are you really this curious, or do you just want to see if Danny can be tripped up?For the record, Brad and I have not plotted or conversed one iota about this or any other thread in recent memory.

The answer is, I am curious, and we were invited to ask.

danny2 said...

1. John 5:37-47"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me"--v39

Jesus says the people who do not know the Father or believe in Him Son are the people who do not see that the Scriptures testify of Him. They choose to employ this hermeneutic because they do not have the love of God nor do they desire His glory. They study the Scriptures the way they do because they want glory from one another.

Now, the question we must ask is, If this is the way we are to study the Bible, under what circumstances would it make sense to present the Word contrary to faithful exegesis?

danny2 said...

2. Luke 24:44-53Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.Jesus instructs the disciples that the Scriptures (Old Testament) teach the message of the gospel. I do not think it incidental that He states "to understand the Scriptures" not to "understand portions of the Scriptures." This is the message found in the entire Old Testament (Moses/Law, Prophets/Minor & Major, Psalms/Wisdom). Jesus taught and modeled that He should be preached, specifically the message of the gospel, from the Old Testament.

danny2 said...

3. 2 Timothy 3:14-17...the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation...Paul told Timothy that the sacred writings were able to lead to salvation. He clearly means the entirety of Scripture, for he later reminds him that "all Scripture" is inspired by God. This faith from the Old Testament must point to Jesus Christ for Paul says so in verse 15.

________________________

So in short:

You are to read the Scriptures to see Jesus.

Jesus modeled for us that the Old Testament taught His death, resurrection and salvation by repentance and faith.

Paul verifies that this is the case for Timothy and that all Scripture has been breathed out by God.


Am I being manipulative or dodging the question to say that these are only 3 passages (we could unpack much more) which i think lay out this consistent standard, but i wonder instead:

is it possible to find me verses that suggest the pastor should NOT preach Christ and the gospel from whatever passage he is in.

Brad said...

As I see it so far, the passages you cite establish beyond any doubt that the scriptures, taken as a whole, both New and Old Testaments, set forth the gospel.

The next question, of course, is whether the function of the whole can necessarily be attributed to every part. For example, I can say that my house, taken as a whole keeps me and my family warm and dry, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this is also the function of the mailbox attached to my front wall.

Before you address this, however, I'll remind you (so that Darby won't think I'm just trying to trip you up) that in our last discussion, you said that there were portions of scripture, even just of the apostolic writings, that were not, in fact, gospel.

So I'll ask the question this way: is the gospel actually proclaimed in every portion of scripture, and, if not, how can the gospel then be preached from every portion of scripture?

danny2 said...

some pauline examples:

Genesis 1--Does the creation account "preach" the gospel? Paul certainly seems to think so when he states:

For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."Notice that Paul uses the creation account as a type of regeneration. God spoke light into existence. God speaks life into existence in our hearts. And this is not just vaguely pointing to God, but specifically to Jesus Christ. (As Paul reminds us in Colossians 1, is the active Creator in Genesis 1 & 2).

Genesis 16/21Paul sees the account of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac as a typology of faith/freedom, works/slavery. I can't find any clue from the Genesis passages that makes an easy "ah, this is how Paul got there" jump. I'm left simply with Paul reads the Abraham account through his lens of regeneration and sees its correspondence to the gospel.

Genesis 2I think Paul takes this one a step further in Ephesians 5. He no longer simply states, "Hey guys, here's a cool illustration we can see from the OT." instead, he takes the purpose of marriage, clear back in Genesis 2 and states that it was to model/display Christ and the church. Here he is not simply "making up" a type he sees from Scripture, but seems to have a deep seated conviction that this WAS the purpose of the institution of marriage from the beginning.

three text with which some might claim grammatically/historically have nothing to do with the gospel. however, as a regenerate person, what doesn't have to do with the gospel?

again, anyone willing to tackle my question:

If this is the way we are to study the Bible, under what circumstances would it make sense to present the Word contrary to faithful exegesis?

Brad said...

Well, your question still assumes that by showing a valid way to study the Bible (which I'll own you have) you have demonstrated the valid way to study the Bible, and that by showing a method of faithful exegesis (which I'll own you have), you have demonstrated the method of faithful exegesis to which all other ways are contrary.

I think you've proven the validity of this kind of exegesis. I don't believe you've proven the exclusive validity thereof.

Again, you did say that the apostles wrote some things in the scriptures that were not the gospel; some of these they got by exegeting the Old Testament.

Paul, for example, (some would say wildly) exegetes some OT passages to prove that ministers should be paid, and that women should keep silent in the church. Based on your argument, because he is not preaching the gospel from these passages, he would in these instances be presenting the Word contrary to faithful exegesis.

danny2 said...

you will not find me saying, under any circumstance, Paul wrote inspired Scripture in a way that is contrary to faithful exegesis. (ironically, i've had several claim that to me, however, from galatians 4...that paul was not being faithful to the Word.)

my sense is (perhaps my examples are to blame) you are confusing preaching Christ from every text with "making types from every text."

again in galatians, paul says the Law is a school master that leads us to Christ. the Law is not a type of Christ. it is a tool that is used to bring someone to the cross. i believe this is what paul means by using the law lawfully in 1 timothy 1.

soooo, if i preach exodus 20:16 and simply tell people that God doesn't like it when you lie, i may have made a valid point, but i have not used the law lawfully until i bring it to Christ.

but in each of the examples you provided, paul has already unpacked the gospel by the time he teaches these principles and do not believe he intends for us to isolate them from this gospel truth.

i don't see how John 5 doesn't say this is the only valid way to study the Bible. Jesus lays out two options:

love God/prefer His glory/see Jesus

choose an alternative.

and the judgment for those who chose an alternative was not pretty...so i find that one pretty compelling.

i'm still waiting however for an answer: is it possible to find me verses that suggest the pastor should NOT preach Christ and the gospel from whatever passage he is in.

Brad said...

is it possible to find me verses that suggest the pastor should NOT preach Christ and the gospel from whatever passage he is in.Sorry, this is the first time I remember seeing this question asked this way.

Yes, every time the apostles quote a particular passage of scripture without preaching Christ and the gospel from that particular passage, it suggests that a pastor should not preach Christ and the gospel from whatever passage he is in.

Brad said...

The rest of your latest comment, the part to which I've yet to respond, is giving me a better idea of what you're talking about. Let me see if I cannot collect my thoughts into an intelligent question or two.

Before I do, though, let me repeat one of my previous questions: is the gospel actually proclaimed in every portion of scripture?

danny2 said...

feels like you're treating the "paid pastor text" like the encyclopedia britannica instead of the Word.

if paul wrote a solitary letter to timothy only comprised of 1 timothy 5:17-18 and this two verse letter would have preserved as Scripture, perhaps i could see your case.

but...

a) paul quotes Jesus too. so he does take that argument to Christ.

b) the book of 1 timothy is full out saturated with the truth of the gospel. his direct statements to timothy are preceded (and followed) by affirmation of the gospel which i do not believe should be severed from the application.

We can get cute with our breakdowns, and perhaps you feel like i'm doing this. but please don't push this beyond a reasonable level.

should Genesis 1 be read and preached within the gospel? sure, paul shows us that in 2 Corinthians 4. Could I choose to break it down further and claim, yes but what about Genesis 1:1? (first, we must remember chapters and verses are men generated divisions and often do not correlate with divisions in the text itself) for the believer, certainly he would have to see the Triune God from Genesis 1:1 as well as passages like Colossians 1 and John 1 informing us about the Creator God. Then, passages like Ephesians 1 are going to help answer the "why" question. Therefore, I do believe Scripture teaches that all things were created by Christ, for Christ and unto Christ to display the kindness of God in His gracious work for our salvation to the praise of the glory of His grace. yes, i think a pastor who does not see the need to articulate this is doing an incomplete job (at best).

now, could i then argue, "well what about the first word of Genesis 1:1?" does "in" declare the gospel? well, now we're getting silly.

this is not formulaic. at times, the larger context that roots the message in the gospel may be within the paragraph. other times, it may be in an earlier part of the letter. we're not talking about throwing a dart at a Bible and you'll find a "1 Corinthians 15:3-6 type gospel statement" within 6 verses standard or something.

however, if i am to read the Scriptures through the lens John 5 lays out, then why would it be faithful preaching to not expose this lens to my hearer? i think if we're reasonable with paul, we see him doing this.

danny2 said...

a second note:

you're turning my phrase into:

"Christ glorified by every page of Scripture proclaiming the gospel"

i do not do this.

the statement is:

Christ glorified by CELEBRATING the gospel on every page of Scripture.

so this sunday i preach leviticus 23. i could point out the historic significance and the traditions of passover, feast of weeks, trumpets, etc. and i should unpack some of those things.

however, the New Testament provides rich texts for me to see Jesus is my Passover Lamb, He is the First Fruits, He is my Atoning Sacrifice.

until i've done that, i have not been completely faithful to the text.

why not? isn't it enough to just lay out what was happening historically and be accurate?

not once i've read colossians 2 and i see paul says all the above was just a shadow and Jesus is the substance.

so the question becomes, what faithful pastor simply gives his people "the shadow" because that's all he believes leviticus 23 reveals? is he not responsible to show his body the shadow (to instruct and edify) that helps us know the Substance better?

i gotta get to Christ from Leviticus 23 because paul told me i have to. but even in leviticus 23, some shadows are a clearer representation of the Substance than others. i'm not declaring they are all equal.

Brad said...

Yes, passage breakdown was on my mind. I now understand your meaning on that issue a little better.

As to my unclear understanding of “Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture,” the form of this phrase could just as easily indicate that the “celebration” is on every page of scripture or that the “gospel” is on every page of scripture. It was this ambiguity (not at all your fault, just one of the shortcomings of English prepositional phrases) that prompted my question. You’ve answered this for me as well.

With both of these clarifications in mind now, I’ll ask you this:

Take the Third Epistle of John. I think we could both agree that this is a complete text of scripture (nothing like the word “in” from Genesis 1:1). In this entire text, the closest John ever comes to making any actual statement about Christ is in verse 7, “For they have gone out for the sake of the name.” Nor is there, I believe, anywhere in this entire text, any clear statement of the gospel (by which I mean, the fact that Christ died for sins is not communicated by the syntax of any particular sentence). John writes of it going well with Gaius’ soul, but never says why this is the case; he writes of Gaius and other children walking in the truth, but never defines what this truth is; he mentions seeing God, but does not state how this is possible.

I don’t want to put particular words in your mouth, but I’m fairly certain you would say that the gospel can and, in fact, must be preached from this text. What I want to understand is, I think, the same thing David has asked:

by saying that the gospel must be preached from III John,

do you mean that the preacher must show how the actual words of the text declare that Christ died for sins?

do you mean that the preacher must show how the meaning of the actual words implies that Christ died for sins?

do you mean that the preacher must show how the meaning of the actual words relates to the fact that Christ died for sins?

or do you mean something altogether different?

danny2 said...

great question.

certainly, 3 john can be kind of problematic. this is possibly why some of the classic preachers don't touch the book and why others have questioned it's inspiration. (i affirm it is Scripture).

but john is a great author to preach from because so many phrases to go back to his gospel or other epistles. it gives you the chance to unpack what he does mean by "truth, testimony and walking in truth" (as some examples).

the rest of Scripture helps inform us as to how we should be reading 3 John.

not sure which preposition fits best, but i hope that helps explain it some.

Brad said...

I'll hazard a summary of your position for your yea's or nay's

Although it may be that not every passage of scripture actually proclaims the specific content of the gospel, every passage of scripture has some connection to the truth of the gospel.

For example, while certain passages give instruction about how believers are to live, these instructions are always at least implicitly rooted in the gospel, in that it is the gospel that gives the power and provides the motivation for obeying them.

Or with the example of historical passages, each one of these describes the unfolding of a different part of God's ultimate plan to save His people in Christ and so each has a preparatory or foreshadowing connection to the content of the gospel.

When any passage being preached does not explicitly make these connections in the text itself, it is, nevertheless, the pastor's duty to make them by bringing other passages of scripture to bear, from whatever book, to show how the passage relates to the particular content of the gospel.

If, in such a case, the pastor explains only the content of the particular passage and does not bring in the explicit gospel content from other passages, he has failed in his duty before God to bring the Word to the congregation.
Something like that?

danny2 said...

i can see no other way a man could say, "i preach Christ" like Paul did.

there used to be a day when pastors were referred to as "ministers of the gospel." i rarely hear that phrase today, and i think it's because this has been lost.