Yes, Preaching Really Does Change People

Mike Bullmore: If you’ve been in pastoral ministry for any length of time at all you’ve asked the question: Is my preaching actually doing anything? Is it having any effect? The question could be addressed on several different grounds. It could be addressed on historical grounds, pointing to the powerful effects of preaching in various times and places in the history of the church, notably, from the beginning in the book of Acts. It could be addressed on personal grounds by means of collected anecdotes—“Let me tell you about Joe and Mary Black and what God did in their lives through the faithful preaching of God’s Word.” But without question, the most compelling response is going to be a theological one, grounded in the realities presented in Scripture regarding who God is, what he is doing, what his Word does, and what he fully intends preaching to accomplish. AN UNDER-CELEBRATED CHARACTERISTIC We rightly celebrate the authority, the trustworthiness, and the sufficiency of

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How Could Jonathan Edwards Own Slaves?

Wrestling with the History of a Hero John Piper: When I gave the inaugural biographical message of the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1988 on the life of Jonathan Edwards, I had never heard that Edwards owned slaves,1 nor that he pushed back against those who opposed slaveownership while themselves benefiting from slavery.2 I had read Edwards diligently for twenty years — all of his major works and many sermons and smaller treatises and letters, plus at least three biographies — but had never noticed anything suggesting he owned a slave. I was surprised. Some have argued that his slaveholding is not surprising, but rather fits with his view of hierarchy in society — that is, that some people properly have more authoritative roles, while others have more servant roles. George Marsden says, in fact, that “we can consider Edwards’ attitudes toward slavery in the context of his hierarchical assumptions. Nothing separates the early eighteenth-century world from the twenty-first century more than this issue.”3 So in

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Male and Female He Created Them

Maleness and Femaleness Are Essential for Image Bearing Sam Allberry: There is an important way in which we humans are like every other creature God has made—he is the Creator and we are his creation. We depend on him and are subject to him. We tend to think too highly of ourselves and quickly feel that we might know a thing or two more than God does about how to run the universe, but at the end of the day, we and the universe fully belong to him and not he to us. But there is also an important way in which we are quite unlike all other creatures. The text in Genesis 1 has already shown us. We are made in his image: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all

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The Forgotten Insight

The Difference between a Theologian of the Cross and a Theologian of Glory Carl Trueman: One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. At a meeting of the Saxon Chapter of the Augustinian Order in the city of Heidelberg in 1518, a monk called Leonhard Beier presented a series of theses which Luther had prepared, whilst Dr Martin himself presided over the proceedings.  The Heidelberg Disputation was to go down in history as the moment when Luther showcased his radical new theology for the first time. At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect.  The

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What Does It Really Mean to Be the Salt of the Earth?

Andrew Wilson: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt. 5:13) Few things in creation are more ordinary than salt. Most of us have interacted with it in the last couple of hours, whether we realize it or not. We use it to make leather, pottery, soap, detergents, rubber, clothes, paper, cleaning products, glass, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. It sits largely unnoticed on hundreds of millions of café and restaurant tables around the world. Unlike pepper, which is often sitting next to it, salt is essential for our health and has always been eaten by human beings wherever we have settled. We add it to so much of our food that many languages simply distinguish between sweet and salty flavors. We spread it across roads when it snows. More than half

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If We Read Our Bibles, Why Do We Need Sermons?

John Piper: Let me try to answer this question in two stages. First, I’ll try to show from the New Testament that it is God’s plan and design that, besides the infallible word of God in the Bible, the church is to be led, underneath that infallible word, by fallible elders — sometimes called pastors or overseers or teachers — who are gifted to lead and to teach the flock. And then second, we ask the question why: Why did God set it up that way, so that the ordinary members of the church, who have in their hand an infallible Bible, should listen to and respect and esteem and follow and rejoice in the ministry of the word through fallible preaching? Shepherds for the Flock So, step one: God’s plan. Just this week, I was preparing a Look at the Book session on 1 Thessalonians 5:12–14, and I was compelled to address this very question before I knew that this question would be

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Preaching is Indispensable

By David Prince: Preaching is not optional to the life and health of the church. A church that does not emphasize and value preaching is not simply a different style church, it is an unfaithful church. J.I. Packer warns, History tells of no significant church growth and expansion that has taken place without preaching (significant, implying virility and staying power, is the key word there). What history points to, rather, is that all movements of revival, reformation, and missionary outreach seem to have had preaching (vigorous, though on occasion very informal) at their center, instructing, energizing, sometimes purging and redirecting, and often spearheading the whole movement. It would seem, then, that preaching is always necessary for a proper sense of mission to be evoked and sustained anywhere in the church. 1 Preaching is uniquely the God-ordained means for the proclamation of His gospel message and the nourishment of His people. Edmund Clowney critiqued the contemporary fascination with drama over preaching. He wrote,

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Navigating Worlds

James Eglinton: In the West today, many of the great questions faced by Christians deal with our place in a culture that was molded by Christianity, but that has now rejected it—not merely in a passive sort of indifference, but in an active effort to undo the faith’s historic formative influence on our world. This is the context in which a constellation of homegrown “cultural Christians” has gained such influence. In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman helps us understand their rise to prominence. He does so by bringing the work of Philip Rieff, the outstanding Jewish sociologist, to the table. Rieff argued that the history of the West is the history of three worlds. The first was a supernaturally charged, pre-Christian pagan world in which life and death were governed by fate. This gave way to a second world reshaped by Jewish and Christian thought, able to advance scientific knowledge and social order, looking to expand on the basis of

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The Real Difference Between Sheep and Goats

Hayden Hefner: I love the music of Keith Green. I love the intense, heavy-handed piano. I love the wordy lyrics. I love that it’s so early-1980s. I love that it’s Jesus People-ish. I love its passion.  My dad originally introduced me to Green—often during our drives home from school. In my opinion, there is no better example of a Green song than “The Sheep and the Goats.” In this song, Green sings through Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25:31–46. In the passage, Jesus describes the final judgment of the world as a shepherd separating the righteous sheep from the unrighteous goats. The way the shepherd distinguishes between the two groups is by examining the sacrificial love they have shown toward the “least of these, my brothers” (Matt. 25:40, 45). Green stays remarkably close to the text. However, in the song’s last line, Green gives this final commentary on the passage: “And my friends, the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

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The Benefits of Preaching through Books of the Bible

Paul Alexander: There is a widespread assumption in many churches that preaching through books of the Bible is not enough to sustain a pulpit ministry over the long haul. Granted, there is a place for the occasional topical sermon that draws on multiple passages of Scripture. But as a steady diet for sheep and shepherds alike, the benefits of consecutive, expositional preaching through books of the Bible are too many to ignore; maybe too many to count. Here are nine.  It honors God (2 Timothy 3:15–17).  We consider it a mark of respect when others listen to what we’ve said, from beginning to end. It’s a mark of disrespect when others tune in late, tune out early, cut us off, or take our words out of context. How much more does God deserve our attention to every word he says? Context, storyline, structure, and typology matter if we want to honor God by understanding his words. All Scripture—all of it—is

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Why “Abba” Does Not Mean “Daddy”

Justin Taylor: We are sometimes told that the Aramaic word Abba in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 indicates that we are to address God the Father as “Daddy” as an expression of  reverential relational intimacy. The New Testament scholar Murray Harris—who has been called one of the great Greek minds of our day—talks about why this is not true. The following is an excerpt from his book Navigating Tough Texts: A Guide to Problem Passages in the New Testament: It is true that in the Jewish Talmud and other Jewish documents we find statements such as “When a child experiences the taste of wheat (i.e., when it is weaned), it learns to say ’abbā and ’immā” (Berakot 40a in the Babylonian Talmud) (= our “dada” and “mama”). However, even if the term abba began as a childish babbling sound (and this is far from clear), at the time of Jesus it was a regular adult word meaning “Father” or “my Father” (as terms of address) or “the Father” or “my Father” (as terms

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Three principles of the Christian life

Sam Storms: One of my spiritual and theological mentors was Russ McKnight. Not many will have heard of that name, but Russ’s influence on me and numerous others, including a dozen or more men now in full time ministry, was monumental. Russ was a layman who served as an Elder at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. I first met Russ in 1969 on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Russ was teaching a Bible study on Romans every Saturday morning in the Student Union building. Russ was the first man who taught me about the doctrines of sovereign grace, or what is more commonly known as Calvinism. I was a thoroughly convinced Arminian at the time, and Russ’s love, patience, and remarkable gift at unpacking the truths of the Bible eventually led to my embracing the doctrines of grace. Russ sold his business in the late 1970’s and moved to Dallas where he studied for his master’s degree

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Providence and the Counterintuitive Wonders of God

Sam Storms: It’s only one word, Providence, but it is indescribably rich and complex and challenging and comforting. It is also the title to John Piper’s most recent book (Crossway, 2020, 751pp.). Piper defines providence as God’s “purposeful sovereignty.” In other words, it is more than mere sovereignty. It is more than power or oversight. It is the way in which God directly and intentionally brings about his ultimate aim of glorifying himself. One of the things that you will read from John is his emphasis on what he calls “counterintuitive wonders” (14). These wonders of how God governs the world “are not illogical or contradictory, but they are different from our usual ways of seeing the world – so different that our first reaction is often to say, ‘That can’t be.’ But the ‘can’t’ is in our minds, not in reality” (14). Right from the start of this massive and important work, Piper encourages his readers to “let the word of

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Following the Faithful

John MacArthur: Nobody wants to be led off a cliff. But that’s a very real possibility for anyone who follows the wrong leaders. Jesus said as much concerning the religious leaders of His time on earth: “They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Following unfit leaders is a sure road to ruin.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in the church. Scan the evangelical landscape for all the proof you need of the severe damage that unqualified and untrustworthy leaders can do to their congregations. Biblical discernment is nonnegotiable—it is an essential quality for church leaders and critical for those of us who sit under their teaching. Believers need to follow and emulate those who demonstrate godly discernment, and carefully avoid the leadership of people who are themselves “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians

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Is the Reformation Over?

R.C. Sproul: There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting. Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is

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How Do I Know That God Is for Me?

Sinclair Ferguson: God has promised to work everything together for the good of His people. If God is for us, it follows that, ultimately, nothing can stand against us. That is logical. Otherwise, God would not be God. If something could rise up against God and overcome Him, that other thing would be God. God would then prove to be a false god—no God at all. But on the contrary Paul is saying that in the last analysis, nothing can be against us if God is for us. But this raises the million-dollar question: “Is God for me?” Perhaps even more pointed is the personal question: “How do I know that God is for me?” Well, do you know that? How do you know? Satan is very insistent about this—indeed, he has been insistent on this question from the beginning. He asked it in the Garden of Eden. In fact, his first recorded words are an assault on God’s gracious character (will we never

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

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His Nearness to Us, Our Dearness to Him

Sam Storms: One of the more precious passages in all of Scripture to me is Psalm 16:11. Here David speaks of the presence of God and the inimitable pleasure and power that flood the soul of those who experience it. Knowing this ought to instill in us a ravenous hunger for intimacy with God. What surprises many is to discover the immense practical benefit of such desire. I first saw this in something said by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. In the opening verses of chapter thirteen we are exhorted to love each other (v. 1), to be hospitable (v. 2), to be compassionate to the oppressed and needy (v. 3), to pursue sexual purity both inside and outside of marriage (v. 4), and perhaps most difficult of all, not to love money but to be content (v. 5). A formidable task indeed! How can God possibly expect such behavior from people as self-absorbed as we? The answer,

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What Does It Mean that Jesus Is Prophet, Priest, and King?

Jonty Rhodes: The Full Canvas We’ve all been there, whether as a preacher or listener. The drama of the story of Daniel in the lions’ den builds throughout the sermon. The conviction of sin as you walk through the Ten Commandments grows almost overwhelming. The depths of emotion expressed by the psalmist as he cries out for deliverance stirs and unsettles your soul. Where are we going? Will we leave inspired by the courage of Daniel, crushed by the law of God, disturbed by the misery of the psalm? But no—here it comes. Sound the klaxon: it’s time for “The Jesus bit.” We all knew it was coming. We knew we had to get there. Every bit as surprising as Tuesday following Monday, the final five minutes of the sermon remind us again of the penal-substitutionary death of Jesus. I’ve heard hundreds of sermons like this and preached nearly as many. And, frankly, thank God for each and every one

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