The Priority of Preaching – A Book Review

Every once in a while there is a special book that captures my attention and grinds me to the throne of Grace with a thankful heart and a greater appreciation for my Great God and Savior and for the calling that He has put on my life to be a “faithful shepherd” of His flock.  A few titles that have gripped me are “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” by John Piper, “D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Vol. 1 & 2″ by Ian Murray, “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges ( and complementary volumes) and many more.  Now, to add to that growing list is a short but powerful defense of the role and function of preaching in the local church by Christopher Ash – “The Priority of Preaching”.

R. Kent Hughes, Senior Pastor Emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, IL gives this rousing endorsement that should suffice any Christ-Adoring Gospel-Centered pastor to pick up and read this book:

“A compelling apologetic for expository preaching from the wells of Deuteronomy.  This little book is so seminal, so convincing, so winsome, so bracing and salutary–that it should be commended as an indispensable read to all who aspire to preach the Word.”

I have to agree with Kent.  I read this book with a jaw dropping eagerness as I saw my calling rooted in the text of Deuteronomy and in the role and function of Moses the prophet…the first prophet.

The book is divided as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 – The Authority of the Word Preached
  • Chapter 2 – Preaching that Transforms the Church
  • Chapter 3 – Preaching that Mends a Broken World
  • Appendix: Give God the Microphone (Seven blessings of consecutive expository preaching)

1. The Authority of the Word Preached (Deuteronomy 18:9-22)

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him.” Deuteronomy 18:15

“I will put My words in his mouth.” Deuteronomy 18:18

“This is my Son, whom I love, Listen to him!” Mark 9:7

In this chapter Ash roots the authority of the expository preacher in the forth-telling role and function of the prophet Moses and all subsequent prophets, The Prophet (Christ), the Apostles and then those given the ongoing task of proclaiming the new covenant in Jesus Christ, the Pastor/Teacher.  This authority is such that the preacher speaks with authority when he is speaking the very words of God…and that the preacher can speak the very words of God, and that Christ exercises His authority over His church not by the written word, but by the written word preached.  Such preaching is one of great toil and pain and keeps the preacher on his knees.

2. Preaching that Transforms the Church (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)

In this chapter Ash presents Moses as the prototypical preacher who carries out his bestowed responsibility with a healthy understanding of the reality of God, the stubbornness of people, the urgency of faith and the wonder of Grace (his outline of Deut. 30:11-20.  Ash contends that Moses understands the culture of Egypt and of Canaan – the seductions of money, sex and power…and that Moses presents the reality of God “a consuming fire” to God’s people in that context.  Moses also appeals to their hearts by identifying their fears (7:17), their pride (8:17) and stubbornness (1:32; 9:4-24).  He then emphasizes the urgency of “today” throughout the book of Deuteronomy (1:21; 4:4; 5:1-4; 26:3; 27:9) and beyond (Josh. 24:15; Psalm 95:7-8; Heb. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; James 1:21).  Finally he urges every preacher to follow the example of Moses and be clear, urgent and passionate.

3. Preaching that Mends a Broken World (Deuteronomy 4:5-14)

In this chapter Ash identifies the importance and relevance of the assembly (aka – the church).  He contends that the church is the assembly called together by, and under, the Word of God.  He stresses that “preaching and assembly are inseparable” (pg. 80).  He states,

“Only the preached word of Christ, the word of grace preached again and again and again, pressed home with passion and engagement, only that word will create God’s assembly to rebuild a broken world.”

Again he says…

“Our identity is defined not by our achievement but by redemption, not by what we have done, but by  what has been done for us, just as Israel was defined as those who were slaves in Egypt and had been redeemed with a strong hand and a mighty arm.”

Ash continues to press home that “the goal of the Bible is Bible performance, not Bible interpretation.”  In saying this he is pressing home the need for us to “live out” by belief and obedience what God says in His Word.

Finally, he notes that…

“By and large we who are preachers do not reach the word with the word.  Mostly the world will not listen to the word.  Christ shapes his church with the word, and the church reaches the world…If a preacher is to act on the world he must, as a rule, do it through his church…He is to preach to the church from the word, so that with the church he may preach the gospel to the world.”

I would recommend any and every pastor to read this short text and rekindle God’s calling to be a preacher and teacher of His Word.  The centrality of the pulpit ministry is under attack.  Programs are presented as alternatives, Bible Studies are heralded as sufficient, worship in song has tended to eclipse God’s central focus from its proper place.

I suggest that we all fight to give God the glory in honoring our time gathered as an assembly under the delegated authority of the preacher who is exercising the gift and satisfying food of the word of God with passion urgency and clarity so that all God’s children can believe and obey in such a way as to spread the glory of the Gospel.

I have been convicted that there have been times in my pastorate, especially in the past five years, when, in a desire to be understanding and relevant, I have allowed myself to drift from this calling.  It is an understandable drift that comes from the pressure of time constraints, perceived cultural acceptances, and the tickling ears that tend to be very vocal in ministry.  In so doing, at times, I have deprived God’s church of the spiritual food they need.

Thank you Christopher Ash for the seminal confidence that I have to serve God  in the most responsible role as prophet/preacher/forth-teller of His very words to His beloved flock.

I will leave the appendix for another blog article…but I would suggest you just get the book and read it for yourself.

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T4G – Day 2 – Evening Session

This evening John Piper preached a message which many will be talking about for a long time.  The best thing that I can say is that you can read it here.  He sought to answer the question “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?” In other words, are the Gospel that Jesus preached and the Gospel that Paul preached one in the same Gospel?

Let me try and summarize in simple fashion (which is very hard to do) what he was saying.

First he took us to Luke 19:9-14, the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee and asked the question, “What do people look like who are trusting in themselves – their own righteousness?”

1. His righteousness is Moral – vs. 11

2. His righteousness is Religious – vs. 12

3. He believed that his morality and religiosity was a gift from God – vs. 11 – he was “thankful” that he was not like the Tax Collector.

The problem here is not that he was a legalist, but that he was trusting in his righteousness.  It wasn’t that this man was wrong in his assessment of himself – no, it was a true assessment.  But it was a trust in “self” and not in Christ!

His problem was that he was looking at the fruit of justification rather than at the source of justification which is Christ.  And this is a very dangerous tendency for the believer and for the church, namely, to trust in the fruit – i.e. our giftedness, morality, ceremony to the neglect of trusting in Christ.

The main point that he drove home was this…

“You can keep all the commandments in the Word of God and you will still be lacking – because you need Christ!”

It is true – we can so easily drift into an adjusted gospel by allowing the fruit of our justification to be the focus or our perceived contribution to the gospel to get the glory when salvation is totally and thoroughly Jesus Christ and Him alone.

T4G – Day 2 – Morning Sessions

Convicted, confirmed and confident are three words that I can describe how I am feeling right now.

I am convicted about my preaching, in particular that over the past few years I have abandoned the faithful expository preaching through a book, in particular the setting aside of my study through Mark’s Gospel.  It was purposeful, but looking back I should have gone right back to it.

I am feeling confirmed regarding my focus as a pastor who faithfully shepherd’s the flock through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word rather than through the pragmatic methodologies (i.e. Church Growth strategies, running the church like a business, etc.) so prevalent in our American Christian culture which, by their abandonment from Scripture, try to adjust the Gospel to meet their own preconceived and distorted goals and objectives.

I am feeling confident because I serve a Sovereign God who is totally in control of my life and is at work accomplishing his plan in and through my circumstances.

All three of these are direct applications to what God has been teaching me through the messages at this years T4G conference.  This morning was worth the conference trip.

Thabiti Anyabwile – “Fine Sounding Arguments: How Wrongly Engaging the Culture Adjusts the Gospel.

This was truly one of the best messages that I have heard in a long time that was rooted in Scripture and faithfully addresses the difficult subject at hand.  Thabiti pastors in the Cayman Islands (I know, the pastor’s dream pastorate, right…) and being African American has much to say on issues of cultural and ethnic importance.  With all the present emphasis on ‘engaging the culture’, ‘redeeming the culture’, ‘winning the culture’ Thabiti asks, “How do we know if and when we have ‘won’ the culture?”  His main points from Colossians 1:24- 2:23 are as follows:

  • Paul’s Pastoral Purpose – to make Christ fully known & present every man complete in Christ (1:24, 28).
  • Paul’s Cultural Philosophy – that his elect would walk in Christ being rooted and established in the faith (2:7)
  • Paul’s Religious Practice – Let no one pass judgment (i.e. based on their faulty self-made religion) (2:8, 16) and Let no one disqualify you with a faulty measuring stick (their adjusted gospel)
  • Paul’s Pastoral Perspective  – look up at Christ…Look out at His coming

This is all Christ Centered!

He then likened much of the church to professional football players playing at an all star game.  They each wear the uniform of the team but their helmets reflect what team they are really playing for.  So, in the church too many people are wearing the uniform of the church but are really identifying with their cultural preferences – ethnic, sociological, etc.

That’s why he says…

“It is not my purpose to engage, win or recapture the culture.  That language is a drift toward an adjusted gospel.”

Paul writes to the church to affect the culture…he didn’t write to the culture.  He is calling us to engage the church to be the church so that we can affect the culture through the church.

John MacArthur – The Theology of Sleep (Mark 4)

John began his message with this statement:  “Fleshly thinking is always behind any adjustment to the gospel.”  (the gospel is adjusted when we think that it is not enough, needs help, we need to manipulate to get it to take root, etc.)

The bulk of the sermon answered the question “How do we approach evangelism?”

1. Humbly – Because it is not within our power to do the work of Salvation, that’s God’s job.  He took us to the parable of the sower and reminded us that there are no adjectives to describe the sower.  Why?  Because it is not the giftedness of the sower that is the focus but the divine power of the Word of God which is the seed.

2. Obediently – Because we know that we possess the light.  We are entrusted with the Gospel and we should not cover the light, but expose it for all to see.

3. Diligently – Because, although we are not the cause, we are the means God uses, and our faithfulness to the task means that we will reap bountifully.  There is an eternal reward (Mat. 13:12)

4. Confidently – Because the seed planted has exponential implications.  It is like a mustard seed that grows into a huge plant.  Therefore, we can be confident knowing that what seems little to us will have lasting kingdom implications.

Both of these sermons were faithful expositions of God’s Word and clearly clarified the importance of not adjusting the Gospel to fit into a man-made methodology or philosophy.

God is working on my heart and I am thankful for the way He is using the different sermons to do fashion and soften my heart for what He is doing in my life.

Clearly, the Gospel is not about me, it is wholly about Christ.  Any attempt on my part to try to improve on the Gospel or manipulate its reception is to be guilty of adjusting the gospel.

“Lord, help me to be a faithful servant of God.  To reflect your heart in exposing the glories of the Gospel before mankind and to simply exercise faith that the Gospel is sufficient by itself.  Lord, help me fight against the tide of human thinking that wants to empty the Gospel of its power by forcing man-made methodologies and practices to get results.  Lord forgive me for listening to man rather than to you.”

T4G – Day 1 – Conference

I had joked with a few of my pastor friends that since my plane travels to Louisville were taking me through Minneapolis that I was likely going to have John Piper sit next to me on the plane.  Well, all joking aside, I was nearly accurate.  He was in row two and I was in row sixteen of a pretty small jet.

Now on to the conference day.  I had arrived alone in a hoard of 7000 pastors so I made my way close to the front where I bumped into Eric Mock from SGA who invited me to sit with them as most of the seats were taken.  Of course, in T4G fashion I was greeted with a stack of four books on the seat (which I will blog about separately) and Bob Kauflin leading worship on the piano.  There isn’t much to say, but just imagine 7000 men singing “And Can It Be”, “Before the Throne of God Above” and “Come Thou Fount”…a truly glorious experience.  Then came the preaching…

Mark Dever – “The Church is the Gospel Made More Visible”

Mark Dever was the first to speak and he honed in on the question, “How does your church make the gospel more visible?”  As he laid the foundation for this message he took time to walk through the Gospel and presented it to those in attendance recognizing that there may be some Pastors and Elders in attendance that heard about the conference but truly don’t know the message of the gospel.  I found that to be refreshing and a very discerning step on Dever’s part.  He then made the statement that “A healthy church reinforces the gospel, but an unhealthy church undermines the gospel.”  So a healthy church will make the gospel visible through clearly and faithfully presenting four truths:

  1. The nature and character of God (His holiness, love and authority)
  2. The nature and character of Man (Made in the image of God, a knowledge of human depravity)
  3. The person and work of Christ (Fully God/Man)
  4. A right response to the Gospel (Repentance and Faith)

Dever closed his session by emphasizing that the church is acting on a collection of things you cannot see, yet we do see Christ through the life and ministry of the church and through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  One day faith will give way to sight, but not yet…

R.C. Sproul – “The Defense & Confirmation of the Gospel: What I have learned in 50 years.”

Due to health reasons R.C. could not be in attendance so he was linked to us via video from his pulpit in Florida.  He limited his comments to two dangers:

The Danger of Messing with Mr. In-between – Here R.C. emphasized the tendency of the church to syncretistic in areas of theology and doctrine.  He stressed that we have example after example of this kind of synthesis of religions presented to us in the O.T. where attempts to bring Judaism and Pagan worship together always turned out disastrous and is an example of what it means to be “unequally yoked.”  He took time to trace the syncretism which resulted in Liberalism (theologically speaking) and then in Neo Orthodoxy.  The point is that one of the dangers we are always facing is a compromise of God’s truth with that of the paganism of this world.  When that happens we begin to see heresies pop up all over Christendom.

The Danger of Messing with the Gospel – He stressed that it is God’s gospel, not ours, and that we can never improve it.  It stands alone and if we attempt to adjust it (improve it) it is no longer the gospel.

He also stressed by means of application that “If I am a pleaser of men I will never preach the gospel,” as it will be adjusted to fit man’s desires.

And finally…

Albert Mohler Jr. – “How Does It Happen?: Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel.”

Dr. Mohler took time to share eight trajectories or concerns that will strain the Gospel and adjust it, thus making it no gospel at all…  He stressed that too often we are careless in our study of the origins of weak/false doctrine.  This happens because of the following:

  • A Modern Trajectory (reason, the scientific method, facts and proofs)
  • A Post-Modern Trajectory
  • A Moral Trajectory (“God is a selfish monster”, “a divine child abuser”)
  • An Aesthetic Trajectory (“God/Cross is beautiful” but lacks the gospel)
  • A Therapeutic Trajectory (“I don’t know much about myself, but what I do know is that I am sick”, and “If you don’t believe you are sick then you are in denial.”)
  • A Pragmatic Trajectory (“We have a problem, let’s solve it”, “this explains the Manager/CEO revolution within the church that adjusts the gospel.”)
  • An Emotional Trajectory (Our emotions and affections are not an adequate source of measuring truth.)
  • A Materialist Trajectory (“Your best life now” is only for unbelievers.”)

Then He left us with two application points:

  1. Beware of succumbing to doctrinal fatigue – where you get tired of preaching and teaching doctrine over and over and over again.
  2. Beware of embarrassment – i.e. “Are you really telling me _____________? (that all my ancestors are going to hell..)

Add to that seeing some brothers from California, Michigan and meeting new friends has been a true blessing…

That’s all for now.  When I figure out where you can listen to these I’ll be sure to link them to my blog.

T4G – Day 1 – Travel

Well, the week is off to a good start.  I had a great time with my family at Wellspring Church on Sunday where Pastor Sam Shin preached a Gospel Centered message on Hypocrisy that I needed very much – at least that’s what my kids say…hmmm…anyway.  Now today I am sitting at the San Francisco International Airport waiting to board my flight, a red-eye leaving at 12:40 a.m. that will get me into Lexington, I mean, Louisville, Kentucky, at 9:50 a.m.  A red-eye – you are probably thinking, “Rod, you must be crazy taking a red-eye.”  Yup, you are right, but it isn’t so crazy after all.  Taking a red-eye gives me a little more time with my family, helping with rides to and from school and also saves me about $150 on food and a hotel if I didn’t…so, I am happy to red-eye it as there is no way to leave the same day and be present for the start of the conference.

So, why the Together for the Gospel Conference?  What makes that such a special event or gathering of brothers in Christ?  Well, simply put, it is a gathering of pastors from a variety of denominations that are committed to the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the Gospel of the reformers, the Gospel expressed often as the doctrines of Grace.  One of the problems with American Christianity has been its sectarianism.  I have grown up in a Christian culture that tended toward sectarianism and separated from every Tom, Dick and Harry (which means brothers like John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, John Piper, etc.) not so much because of doctrine, but because of secondary issues that became tests of fellowship, i.e. Contemporary Christian Music, association with certain schools or seminaries, and everyone’s favorite the superiority of the King James Version (KJV).

Well, let me just say that the men of T4G are a breath of fresh air.  First there are the two Southern Baptist Pastors, Mark Dever pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.  Next is J. Ligion Duncan, who pastors the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi.  Finally, and not least there is C. J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a mildly charismatic fellowship of churches.  But as diverse as they are on a number of issues, i.e. infant baptism, cessation, eschatology and a theology of hair (that’s a funny for those who understand) they are united unequivocally on the centrality of Christ, the Cross and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

O.K. so it is confession time and gratitude time…  The gratitude is for all the people who are part of CVFirst Baptist Church who have graciously provided this trip for me.  I am humbled and truly thankful for the opportunity to be encouraged and strengthened at a conference like this.  Well, the confession has to do with getting to the conference.  When I was given the “go-ahead” to register for the conference I found that it was sold out one week before the registration was to close.  All I could say was one word – “aaaarrrrgggghhhhhhh” (I think that’s in Webster’s Dictionary as “you got to be kidding” – that’s the abridged version as I think the unabridged has a few more expletives as examples).  Well, my fiendish mind began to spin and a web page that said “sold out” wasn’t going to stop me…so I thought…and I thought…and then it hit me…  Two years ago our church had registered for six attendees, but at the 11th hour I and another pastor couldn’t make the conference.  Certainly there had to be other churches out there with the same situation…a registration was out there ready to be snatched up…but how could I find it.  Then it dawned on me – the T4G Map (It’s the Map, it’s the Map, it’s the Map, it’s the Map, it’s the Map!) which is a listing of all the attendees in 2008.  Well, this was a time for risks, to stick ones neck out and experience rejection and the possibility of being rebuked…but it was all worth it.  Well, if you went to T4G  in 2008 and you live in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona,  Texas, Michigan or Georgia you probably got an email from a desperate pastor trying to get a registration for T4G – that was Me! (shhhh, please don’t tell)  And, thank you to Robert Davis from Rome, Georgia who decided not to attend and offered his ticket for me… “and there was great rejoicing in the camp and merry were the hearts of men, especially the ones going to T4G!”

So, a little persistence paid off…and tomorrow I arrive with enough time to check into my room (I hope) and then attend the first session at 1:00 p.m. (that’s 10 a.m. Pacific Time)

Now, for a restful plane ride…and compassionate neighbors who can put up with my snoring…