The best preparation for ministry is rigorously theological. Greek, Hebrew, hermeneutics, and theology are right at the heart of how a Christian leader does his work. I say this, not as an ivory-tower intellectual, but as somebody who’s got his nose bloody in the real world of pastoring and church-planting. There is no substitute for the training that you get in a good theological seminary.
Update: Graeme Goldsworthy, in his Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), appears to agree with Tony Payne (contra D. A. Carson) when he asserts, “In modern evangelicalism we could mention current usage of the words that are quite far removed from their main function in the New Testament. One classic example is the use of the word ‘worship’ to refer either to what we do in church, or to that part of the weekly congregational meeting given over to the singing, often repetitiously, of popular ‘spiritual’ choruses and songs. [fn. 20: “David Peterson, Engaging with God (Leicester: Apollos, 1992), shows how far the popular use of the term has strayed from its biblical sense.”] The problem is that lazy exegesis and unreflective usage end up by obscuring the gospel-based significance of worship. Other problems arise when a hermeneutical approach exalts doctrinal categories by muting the dynamics of biblical theology” (p. 180).
Carson wrote a communion hymn entitled “A Shocking Thing” that includes these convicting words:
A shocking thing, this, that we should forget
The Savior who gave up his life—
To turn from the cross, indifferent, and let
Our minds veer toward self-love and strife.
This Table, this rite, is habit—and yet
Christ’s words pierce our shame like a knife:
While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Enamored with power, surrounded by praise
We set out ecclesial plans.
Efficiency hums, and we spend our days
Defending, promoting our stands.
Techniques multiply, our structures amaze—
The gospel slips out of our hands.
Last month one of my close friends emailed me a link to a 14-minute video on Amazon.com that serves as a preview for the recently released Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (also available in HD DVD and Blu-ray). After reading more about this BBC series, I became aware of another BBC series released a few years ago called The Blue Planet: Seas of Life.
Jenni and I had the opportunity to watch these DVD series, and they are excellent! Over the last three years, we have checked out a few dozen nature DVDs from the library (e.g., many produced by IMAX), but none of those compares to Planet Earth! Wow. It includes five DVDs: the first four contain eleven 50-minute episodes, and the fifth contains three episodes on “the future” and environmentalism. The last ten minutes or so of the eleven episodes on disks 1-4 share interesting stories about what the film crew endured to secure such unusual footage. (Warning: Occasionally a crew member’s speech is a bit offensive.) The footage on the main episodes is stunningly majestic and detailed, colorful and brilliant. The vistas are breathtaking. I learned something new in every episode, usually viewing (1) fascinating animals and plants on God’s earth that I never knew existed and (2) behavior by well-known organisms that shocked me because I had never heard of such things (e.g., a pride of lions attacking an elephant). (Cf. Wikipedia’s overview.)
In preparation for watching these, we listened to John Piper’s sermon “The Pleasure of God in Creation,” which Piper later published as this chapter in The Pleasures of God, my favorite book by Piper. Thrilling! Moving! Worshipful! Watching first-class films about God’s planet is a worshipful experience—even if the people who make the films have entirely different agendas! How many more reasons do we have to praise God than did the authors of Scripture, whose knowledge of God’s earth was significantly limited in comparison to ours today? Piper calls Ranger Rick “a theological journal,” and I think it is appropriate to call Planet Earth a theological documentary.
Related: Piper on “Planet Earth”
Grant R. Osborne ends his section “Figures of Speech” with some concluding advice for preachers (The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [2d ed.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006], 130, emphasis added):
Figures of speech are especially rich sources of imagery. While the discussion primarily has centered on the hermeneutical aspects, I want to note also their value for the sermon. It is my contention that some of the best illustrations come not just from cute stories or clever repartee but from the text itself and specifically from the background behind figurative language. Ricoeur’s view of the world-referential value of metaphor is helpful in reminding us that our task is to immerse the audience not merely in entertaining anecdotes but in the Word itself. We are to help our congregation to live anew the message God has revealed in the text and to feel its power to change their situation as well. The startling reverberations of meaning inherent in the Bible’s figurative language is the best place to start, for it is alive with powerful, colorful ideas. In recapturing the vitality and forceful presentation of the language, we will help our listeners to place themselves in the shoes of the original hearers and both to relive and to apply anew that eternal message. Every figure of speech is an illustration waiting to be unlocked. All we have to do is contextualize the metaphor for our day, and it will be an exciting illustration.
“Expository lecturing is not the same thing as expository preaching; the Word must not only inform but also wound and heal, sing and sting.”
On the other hand,
“[P]ractical concerns can so control the text that no one hears the Word of God. Worse, the search for relevance frequently degenerates into the trite or the trivial.”