Explosive Preaching: Letters on Detonating the Gospel in the 21st Century: Letters on Transformative Preaching for the 21st Century by Ronald Boyd-Macmillan

I have a ton of books on my shelf to read. Believe it or not I spent a few hours on vacation making up a list of the 200 unread books on my shelf and listed them. That is the list I am going to go through over the next year or so as I am determined to read them all. This book was on the list. I got it in 2009 and read a little bit of it. I decided to read it fully and I am glad I did.

While the style of the book (each chapter is a fictional ‘letter’ – similar to CS Lewis’ book “Letters To Malcolm”, although not quite as good as Lewis) is a little distracting, what Macmillian says is good.

He is angry at the horrendous state of preaching. Too many preachers are inadequate and too many church members are listening to and tolerating abysmal sermons. This book looks at why this is so and what to do about it.

This is not so much about training as gifting. You can train to some extent, on the external and minor things but the key to preaching, the communication ability, the passion the delivery is about gifting and calling. And to that I say Amen and Amen!! Preachers need to get back to the Bible – reading, devouring, loving scripture – immersing themselves into it and into God. This author was asked to create a Preaching Curriculum to Chinese pastors. They had no money for three years in seminary nor the books to read on an in depth homiletical course. These preachers pay $300 for a year, go away to some mountain cabin and eat rice. Here is the curriculum which Macmillian says he would, if he could, get western seminarians to follow – and the one he sent to the Chinese Church. I wonder whether those who have been to seminary would relish this course?

66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible.  This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China.  At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.

33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels).  His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!)  Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!

1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity).  The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view.

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Leaders And Yes Men….

I have been enjoying Jonathan Powell’s book The New Machiavelli: How To Wield Power In The Modern world. Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, as well as a student of Machiavelli. He skillfully weaves Machiavelli wisdom into his book and here is a taste of it:

Machiavelli argues that in resisting the temptations of flattery a prince must show that he is not afraid of hearing the truth. He therefore gives advice that holds good to this day, saying that ‘a prudent Prince should follow a middle course, by choosing certain discreet men from among his subjects, and allowing them alone free leave to speak their minds on any matter on which he asks their opinion, and on none other. But he ought to ask their opinion on everything, and after hearing what they have to say, should reflect and judge for himself.’ It is important ‘that each and all of them may know that the more freely they declare their thoughts the better they will be liked’

1776 by David McCullough

This is a re-read for me. C S Lewis says that you cannot understand a book if you have only read it once. I plan to re-read some books which have impacted me or that I enjoyed. McCullough’s book is not an account of the whole revolutionary war, which went on until 1786 – but focuses on the year 1776 – the year of the declaration of Independence but also a year of defeats for George Washington. I was astounded at how many battles Washington lost – and not just lost but was on the verge of annihilation. If the British knew just how close they were to wiping Washington’s rag tag army off the map…. ! And yet the British Commander, General Howe at least twice did not pursue and inexplicably stopped his army when Washington was at his most vulnerable. However, one of the characteristics of Washington was that he persevered – he won some small but important skirmishes and he had an amazing effect on his men. This is a great read and SO informative. As a Brit, I learned so much. McCullough expertly and skillfully lays out why 1776 was such a vital year for this war.

Generous Justice by Tim Keller

We have just finished our summer Adult Ed class – we studied Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice. There have been a number of challenging books recently released. By challenging, I mean exposing the often lethargy and indifference the church and many christians have to their society and the world – Crazy Love by Francis Chan; Radical by David Platt are just two.  Well, this book is to be ranked amongst such books. This is an ‘uncomfortable’ read to say the least. Not because it is badly written or it has bad theology; on the contrary it is very well written and is theologically strong. It is uncomfortable because it will cause you to consider what exactly YOU are doing with this issue. Keller redefines the parameters of justice. Justice is not just to help the poor. It is to provide relief, development and social reform for the poor. And he unpacks this biblically with some skill. Here is a powerful excerpt which I believe demonstrates the power of the book and the immense challenge it is for us as believers:

One of the more notorious practices of local banks is to ‘redline’ poor and nonwhite neighborhoods. That is they refuse mortgage and small business loans to applicants who live there. Their argument is that they simply look at the statistics and conclude that residents of those neighborhoods are more likely not to make good on the loan. God, however, says we are not to live that way in our relationships to the poor. He says, in effect, in Proverbs 19:7 “Don’t you  dare ‘redline’ people. Don’t look at someone and say “If I get involved with that person I might be taken advantage of!” I see a gift to the poor as a gift to me. I will in some way, make the loan good. I will give you value, trust me.