Here’s a good book that gives practical lessons on how to read the Bible aloud: Unleashing the Word by Max McLean and Warren Bird. One section I appreciated was the list on how to prepare for reading the Bible aloud (I’ve edited to keep it brief):
1) Pray. …When I pray, I usually close with the phrase that God will use this reading ‘for God’s glory and our good.’
2) Make sure the print is readable. …You don’t want to lose your place or bury your face in the Bible as you read.
3) Understand your text. Good readers demonstrate a deep commitment to an understanding of the text. …Good preparation involves a personal commitment to understanding the passage.
4) Block out your assigned text. Most people are wired to only receive one thought or unit of information at a time. As you initially read your text…, divide it into natural thought groups.
5) Find the passion. Your delivery will be the result of preparation and commitment, but the key is to find your passion for the text – that emotional connection to the words.
6) Outline the emotional journey. When you read Scripture, you are taking your hearers on an emotional journey. Look for the ‘story’ in your text – a beginning, middle, and end based on your preparation (or look for the peaks, curves, and valleys).
7) Keep practicing! The entire process will involve reading the passage at least eight times aloud before your actual presentation. Stand up as you read.
8) Plan to have a verbally animated conversation with your audience. Prepare yourself with the right attitude – you have something exciting and wonderful that you are about to share with your listeners.
9) Remember the role of faith. …Believe that God will use his Word at it is spoken through people like you and me.
10) Rehearse the event. If possible, practice reading the passage in the venue where you will be speaking with the sound system turned on. Practice the entire process: step up to the podium; introduce the text; read it, giving any concluding comment (‘this is the Word of the Lord’); make eye contact; and walk away from the podium (p. 101-103).
While I don’t agree with everything McLean and Bird write in this book, I do believe it is a helpful one for seminary students, elders, and pastors to study since reading the Word publicly should never be done casually or flippantly. If you need some practical and biblical advice on reading the Bible out loud, you’ll want to get this book for sure.
In The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, David Merling has an excellent methodological chapter entitled “The Relationship between Archaeology and the Bible: Expectations and Reality.” In it, he questions the conclusions of those who believe that archaeology has disproved the historicity of the Bible’s events.
In my first class in archaeology I was taught that archaeology cannot prove the Bible, and I believe that there has been a general agreement that archaeology cannot prove the Bible. What I mean is that if we polled 100 Syro-Palestinian archaeologists as to whether or not archaeology could prove the Bible, I think we would find a clear majority that would reply, “No.” ….
If archaeological finds seldom impose on the biblical stories, how is it then that some have concluded that those stories are in error, based on the archaeological data? I would suggest that the logic of [Maxwell] Miller, as exhibited in his comments about et-Tell/Ai, contains within it a subtle acknowledgment of his belief that archaeology can prove the Bible. Miller’s logic: archaeologists did not find evidence of the biblical events of Ai at et-Tell; therefore, the Bible account has been disproved. The logic and corollary to this logic would be: the truthfulness of the biblical text has been disproved by archaeology; therefore, it is also possible that archaeology could have proved the truthfulness of the bible. If this is not so, then the Bible suffers from double indemnity, damned if it does and damned if it does not. In short, whether Miller and [William] Dever are willing to admit it or not, their acceptance that the Bible has been disproved is evidence that they believe that archaeology can prove the Bible. Those who think that archaeology has disproved the Bible have used a false concept of what constitutes evidence and have fallen victims to poor assumptions/expectations.
While I cannot go into depth, Merling does a nice job explaining the difficulties of relating texts to artifacts, using the case of Ai (et-Tell) in Joshua 8:28 as a hallmark of the ambiguities. He is not artificially separating out biblical history from real history, but is rather noting that reconstructing the past using the biblical narratives and archaeology is no simple endeavor. His point is that people should not be so quick to dismiss the historical reliability of the Bible just because an archaeologist has claimed to have found proof that a given biblical event is wrong.
Towards the end of the chapter, he sums it up nicely:
What archaeology often suggests is that the Sunday School picture of the Bible events might be wrong. Biblical scholars can be thankful to archaeology that they have been and are continuing to be forced to re-evaluate their interpretation of the text. An assumed picture of the Israelite conquest on the scale of modern military invasions, against cities the size of New York or Tokyo, must be modified. Dever rightly called this process of archaeology bringing the Bible to the real world of the past. On the other hand, disproving any or all of one’s preconceived ideas about the stories of the book of Joshua does not hint at that book’s reliability.
Archaeology cannot determine the trustworthiness of theology or, as again Dever has written, “create or destroy faith.” De Vaux made the same point this way: “This spiritual truth can neither be prove nor contradicted, nor can it be confirmed or invalidated by the material discoveries of archaeology.” It is precisely at this level where those who think archaeology has disproved the Bible live in a Sunday School world. Where the problem arises is in trying to separate faith from history. While some believe that is possible, the presence of those who say the Bible has been disproved belies that separation.
Pgs. 41-42. (bold emphasis added)
In the end, Merling reminds us that we must ask the right questions of archaeology and not expect too much of it. He suggests that the relationship between the Bible (properly read) and archaeology (properly interpreted) is not static: “Both can help us better understand the other, but neither can, nor should, be used as a critique of the other” (pg. 42). And while we must not give into the idea that artifacts are completely silent, we must not go too far in believing that they are self-attesting and perspicuous.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Around the turn of the 19th century, Christianity (and religion in general) was undergoing a change: it was becoming more and more democratic (a religion of the people, for the people, and by the people). Not only did this democratization affect doctrine, ecclesiology, and piety, it also affected Christian and religious hymnody. Here’s how Nathan Hatch explains it:
“What are the dimensions in the early republic of this popular gospel music – the ‘numerous ditties’ that the respected churchman Nathan Bangs claimed had ‘almost deluded’ the Methodist Church, and that Phillip Schaff decried as ‘a rude singing of the most vulgar street songs, so that it must be loathing to an educated man’?”
“A definitive answer is impossible, because this homespun, religious music began as an oral phenomenon, was taken up by scores of rustic and anonymous song-makers, and was only later compiled and printed. Yet the importance of the process itself has gone largely undetected by historians because its manifestations do not conform to regional or denominational boundaries and fall outside the normal purview of church music history.”
“One historian, in fact, characterized this period as the ‘musical dark ages’ – a time when ‘men of correct taste…let go their hold, and the multitude had the management of it and sung what and when they pleased.’ It is clear that this upsurge in religious folk music is yet another aspect of the democratic impulse in American Christianity. The same imperative that sent many ordinary folk into preaching and writing compelled some to express themselves in song. In all the populist religious movements with which this study deals – from Christians to…Mormons – people developed their own traditions of religious folk music. The public, in turn, seemed to have an insatiable appetite for new strains of spontaneous and lively gospel music” (p. 147).
We’re still dealing with the democratization of Christian music. Many churches sing what people like and want – hence Christian top-40 songs make it into the pews (even if they don’t have one ounce of clear Christian truth).
However, we must remember that Christianity is not a democratic endeavor. Choosing songs for worship isn’t a matter of what “we the people” desire. Rather than ask what we want and like in music, the primary and pressing question is this: what does God want us to sing? Music in worship has to do with the Regulative Principle of Worship (the RPW). In the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism, “The duties required in the second commandment are the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word” (Q/A 108).
On June 5, 1776, John Newton wrote the following in a letter to his friend, a certain Mrs. C.
As to myself, I have had much experience of the deceitfulness of my heart, much warfare on account of the remaining principle of indwelling sin. Without this experience I would not have known so much of the wisdom, power, grace, and compassion of Jesus. I have good reason to commend him to others, as a faithful Shepherd, an infallible Physician, an unchangeable Friend. I have found him such. Had he not been with me, and were he not mighty to forgive and deliver, long ago I would have been trodden down like mire in the streets. He has wonderfully preserved me in my outward walk, so that they who have watched for my halting have been disappointed. But he alone knows the innumerable backslidings, and the great perverseness of my heart. It is of his grace and mercy that I am what I am: having obtained help from him, I continue to this day. And he enables me to believe that he will keep me to the end, and that then I shall be with him forever.
For the entire letter Volume 6, page 53, of Newton’s Works.
rev shane lems
Confessional Reformed/Presbyterian churches don’t rebaptize a Christian who comes from another church to join theirs. The Westminster Confession of Faith (28:7) says “the sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered to any person.” For example, if a person was baptized in a Roman Catholic, Methodist, Brethren, or Baptist church, he or she would not have to be baptized again to join a Reformed/Presbyterian church.
Well, there are quite a few historical and biblical answers to the question. I don’t have the space here to discuss how the Reformers spoke against the Anabaptists who began rebaptizing Christians during and after the Reformation. You can read Luther’s 1528 treatise, “Concerning Rebaptism” for more information on this. The (short) historical answer to the above question (Why not?) is simply this: because we’re not Anabaptists!
At the heart of the biblical answer is the fact that baptism is primarily God’s sign and seal of his covenant of grace rather than an action we perform when we believe. If a person is baptized in the name of the Triune God, according to the command of Christ, it’s an objective sign that doesn’t need to be repeated – just like circumcision in the Old Covenant didn’t need to be repeated. Speaking covenantally, John Calvin said, “however the covenant might be violated by them [wayward Jews in the OT], the symbol of the covenant remained ever firm and inviolable by virtue of the Lord’s institution” (Institutes, IV.XV.17).
Robert Shaw, a 19th Century Presbyterian pastor, explained it like this:
“Baptism is not to be administered to any person oftener than once. This is plain from the nature of the ordinance. It is a solemn admission of the person baptized as a member of the visible Church; and though those that ‘walk disorderly’ are to be cast out, yet there is no hint in Scripture, that, when re-admitted, they are to be baptized again. The thing signified by baptism cannot be repeated, and the engagements come under can never be disannulled” (Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 370).
Of course, we should always be prepared to profess our faith before God’s people (Ps. 22:22) and we should continually repent of our sins (Ps 51), but we don’t need to be baptized more than once because it is God’s covenant sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Because his covenant promises never change and because he is faithful, baptism is something Christians only need to undergo once. (If baptism depended on my faith, I’d have to be baptized several times a year since my faith waxes and wanes!)
Baptism is a “one time” sacrament that benefits us our whole life. When we stumble, baptism reminds us of God’s promises and Christ’s shed blood. We flee to the Lord with repentant faith, plead his promises, and rejoice that his blood covers all sins. As Luther puts it in the above mentioned treatise, there is always something lacking in our faith. But there is never anything lacking in our baptism because it is God’s covenant sign and seal. That’s a short answer to the question of why Reformed and Presbyterian churches don’t practice rebaptism.
This short booklet, Listen Up! by Christopher Ash is a good one for churches to stock up on and hand out to members and visitors. I’ve mentioned it here before. I appreciated the very last page of the book where Ash discusses how church members can encourage good preaching in their own churches (I’ve listed 6 of his 7 – and the emphasis is his).
1) Pray for the preachers. Pray specifically that they will work hard at the Bible passages (1 Tim 5:17) and preach them faithfully, passionately, and in a way that engages with us.
2) From time to time, tell the preachers you are praying for them and looking forward with expectancy to the sermon. That will be a great encouragement and incentive to them to prepare well.
3) Be there. You may be surprised what an encouragement it is just to have you there, and what a discouragement to have you absent.
4) Thank them afterwards for things you learned. Don’t flatter or just give them very vague comments about how good it was (if it was). Try to be specific and focus on the biblical content of the sermon rather than just stories, anecdotes, or illustrations. Tell them if there was something in particular that you found helpful.
5) Be prepared to be constructively and supportively critical. Ask the preachers to help you see where they got a particular point from the passage; this will sharpen them up if, in fact, it didn’t come from the passage or indeed the Bible. It will encourage them to stick to the Bible more next time. Be humble and respectful in the way you do this; remember, it is much harder to preach than it is to criticize preaching.
6) Relate to your preachers as one human being to other human beings. Remember that the best sermon by a remote preaching hero, heard on an MP3 recording, is no substitute for the word of God preached by a human being face to face with other human beings in the context of trust and love.
Due to my academic training in Old Testament I have an interest in how issues in historical criticism should be approached by believing (or more narrowly, “conservative”) scholars. Because of this, certain books have wound up on my shelves that might not end up on the shelves of most other Reformed pastors. Since in the past few months I’ve pulled these down from my shelves on a couple of occasions, I thought I’d share my favorite four edited books dealing with Old Testament historical issues.
Though there are several more edited volumes than these that I could recommend, I’ve selected these because (1) they are either exclusively or mostly populated with essays by conservative, Christian scholars, and (2) I have them on my shelves, not just my wishlist! Though conservative, the contributors cannot honestly be called “fundamentalist,” though many in the academic guild would call them just that. I’ve arranged this list by publication date. (Note that all of these can be previewed by following the links through to Amazon or WTS Books.)
Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of “Biblical Israel.” Edited by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham. (Eerdmans, 2002.)
This volume is fairly short (ca. 200 pages) but contains some real gems. It was born mostly out of a symposium held at the Tyndale House, Cambridge, in 1998. Some of the essays are more hermeneutical/epistemological in nature (e.g., the introduction by Long, and the essays by Jens Bruun Kofoed, Nocolai Winther-Nielsen and Iain Provan), and some are more historical in nature (e.g., the essays by Richard S. Hess, Alan R. Millard and Kenneth Kitchen). My favorites are Hess’ essay “Literacy in Iron Age Israel” (since orality/textuality was a big part of my graduate training), Kitchen’s essay “The Controlling Role of External Evidence in Assessing the Historical Status of the Israelite United Monarchy” (where he situates the kingdoms of David and Solomon in an “epoch of ‘mini-empires’”, and Provan’s “In the Stable with the Dwarves: Testimony, Interpretation, Faith, and the History of Israel” (where he levels a significant blow to historical minimalism – though in the past 11 years, the minimalists haven’t really realized the damage approaches like those of Provan have caused to their case).
The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard. (Eerdmans, 2004.)
This book is longer than the previous one (xviii+385 pages) and features contributions by more writers. The papers originated in a symposium held at Trinity International University in 2001 and deal with the “crisis” of Biblical Archaeology. Addressing both the minimalists and those who no longer see “biblical” archaeology as a legitimate discipline, the book is a treasure-trove of conservative and evangelical essays exploring the following four sub-topics: 1.) Biblical Archaeology: The Recent Debate and Future Prospects, 2.) Archaeology: Approaches and Application, 3.) Using Texts in Biblical Archaeology, and 4.) Hermeneutics and Theology. Though I can hardly do justice to this volume in a post like this, I especially liked the following two chapters: Alan Millard’s “Amorites and Israelites: Invisible Invaders – Modern Expectation and Ancient Reality” (where he compares the continuity in material culture of the early 2nd millennium B.C. Amorite “invasion” with that of the Israelites between the LBA and Iron I periods), and Cynthia L. Millar’s “Methodoligical Issues in Reconstructing Language Systems from Epigraphic Fragments” (where she discusses the use of extant northwest Semitic inscriptions for understanding the grammar systems of their languages). The chapters by David Merling, Randall W. Younker and Richard E. Averbeck were also especially interesting.
Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? Edited by Daniel I. Block. (B&H Academic, 2008.)
I can say the least about this book, only because I just received it in the mail this week, but I have long been interested in reading it since it was published a few years back. When it was first published, I was deep in the study of the Iron II chronology debate and with a title like this, I was disappointed that this book was not focusing primarily on the low chronology debate from a more maximalist perspective. Since I am now at a point in my career where its breadth of topics is more helpful to me, I went ahead and picked it up. I’ve only read completely the essay by Alan Millard, “Were the Israelites Really Canaanites?” (which alludes to his essay I mentioned above in the 2004 volume), but have looked over the abstracts for the others and am quite pleased. The list of contributors is another veritable “who’s who” in conservative, evangelical Old Testament and Archaeological study and the topics addressed cover everything from ethnicity to inscriptions to chronology to textual issues to religion. I’m dying to work more systematically through this book! (Note: length is xxi + 346 pages.)
Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scritpture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. (Crossway, 2012.)
When I was first alerted to the publication of this volume, I didn’t look too closely at it. Though Crossway is a fine publisher, I have never associated it with Old Testament academic issues. Boy was I wrong! (I’m glad I took another, more thorough look!) Though many of the endorsements come from non-specialists, I think this has more to do with Crossway’s marketing than the quality of the work. After all, some of the standard figures are actually endorsing this volume (John Oswalt, Daniel Block, Duane Garrett, and David Howard). This is a lengthy (542 pages) and stellar collection of essays grouped loosely around a response to Kenton Sparks’ book, God’s Word in Human Words. Though it is not a systematic response to Sparks, it is an occasional one. The contributors write on biblical and hermeneutical topics within their specialty, suggesting that Sparks’ “believing critical approach” is actually more critical than it is believing. (I.e., Sparks has conceded much more to secularism than necessary.) Four main sub-headings are listed: 1.) Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology, 2.) The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority, 3.) The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority, 4.) The Old Testament and Archaeology. Essays I’ve read completely and enjoyed thus far are James K. Hoffmeier’s “‘These Things Happened’: Why a Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology,” Richard E. Averbeck’s “Pentateuchal Criticism and the Priestly Torah,” and Richard Hess’ “Yahweh’s ‘Wife’ and Belief in One God in the Old Testament.”
Rev. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)