Spiritual Direction by Gordon T. Smith: review

“Spiritual Direction” by Gordon T. Smith is a thin book. Having read a few of the author’s books, I looked forward to this one. Particularly since the subject was something I was interested in. It was an easy read. It was obvious that the author, though an evangelical, is aware of different traditions of spirituality, but is appreciative of this Catholic practice. He is obviously a practitioner himself. I found the book informative and useful and practical. Here are the many things I learned:

  1. The aim of spiritual direction is to help the directee enrich his or her intimacy with God and to learn how God is present and at work in his or her life situation.
  2. The best form of training for spiritual direction is to have received good spiritual direction. The wannabe spiritual director (SD) has to be formed, not just skilled or informed. Some formal training will then be helpful.
  3. The SD focuses attention on the presence and movement of the Spirit in the directee’s life.
  4. Listening with empathy is an absolute must for the SD. It is good to have biblical knowledge, and some understanding of spiritual heritage but listening well is a premium.
  5. Pastoral work should include spiritual direction since the aim of spiritual direction is to help the person grow in his relationship with God and to learn to see things from God’s perspective.
  6. Ideally the directee should be teachable, hungry to grow, willing to submit to God and be of the same sex as the SD.
  7. Spiritual direction skills can be used in pastoral work, evangelism and friendship.
  8. It is better for the meeting to be formal and separate from a meal so that there is no distraction.
  9. One format of the SD meeting is:
  • Listen to the directee talk about significant experiences in relationships and work (30 minutes).
  • Comment of where God seems present and active, and response from the directee (20 minutes).
  • Final comments and suggestions (10 minutes).
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My Mister(My Ajusshi): a review and reflection

My Mister (My Ajusshi)

I have never written a reflection about a Korean drama series. My Mister (Ahjussi) will be the first because it depicted a painful process, that of a progression from being trapped and lifeless to being a free and breathing human being.

The series has completed its run and I was impressed. It was not a K-drama with the typical motifs: poor girl marries rich man; a lost child (now grown up) meets his or her mother; a hit-and-run accident; two characters initially at odds with each other later falls in love; the rich are arrogant, powerful, and evil while the poor and the common person is kind, resourceful and hardworking.

This drama is a breed apart; it has none of the abovementioned elements. It has qualities about it that viewers will find they can strongly identify with: the brokenness and fragility of the characters and their relationships; the hollowness and sourness of life; the burdens of living up to everybody’s expectations. This is very real and akin to our spiritual journey.

My Mister tells the story of three middle-aged brothers, who are enduring the weight of their lives, and a strong, cold woman, who has been living a hard life of her own, as they come together in healing each other’s past scars.

The hero: Park Dong Hoon

Lee Sun-kyun (actor) is Park Dong-hoon, the second oldest of the three brothers. He works as an engineer at an architectural firm and always has a safety-first approach to life. He is quiet and stoic, but also goes all in for the people he loves.

Lee Ji An

IU (singer-actor) plays Lee Ji-an, a woman who endures many hardships in life. She is paid for finding out Park Dong-hoon’s weaknesses and getting him fired, at the command of the CEO of the company she is temporarily working for, but soon ends up falling for Park’s integrity and kindness, and finally learning to trust someone (the synopsis here is adapted from Wikipedia).

The screenwriter, director and actors worked together to produce a beautiful, meaningful and multi-layered piece about the human journey. I recommend you watch the whole drama online.

The drama begins dark and continues dark and heavy. Many of the early scenes were in dim lighting, in streets and homes and bar. Then as the drama progresses, and as the main characters struggle towards finding their true selves, it got brighter and more cheery in the final two episodes.

The brokenness and misery is portrayed raw from the beginning. The three brothers, loyal but each one rotting in his misery: one a failed and divorced businessman who over-drinks; another a former film director plagued with guilt and a fear of failure; and the hero, bullied at work, disdained by his wife, with repressed frustrations and anger. His brothers moan, drink, wail, squabble, and lounge around but the hero numbly holds back his feelings.

The run-down poorly-lit streets and houses, dated bar and middle-aged friends of the neighbourhood, whose careers and fortunes had plummeted, give the drama a depressive sinking feel. The only flicker of hope is the serene acceptance of their present lot in life and their shared empathy.

However, it cannot be compared with the suffering and hardship and crushing poverty of the heroine, Lee Ji An. Bereaved of her parents while a child she grew up with her deaf grandmother, both living in fear of bullying and violent moneylenders (first the father, and then after the father was killed by the heroine in a case of manslaughter, the son) who pitilessly beat both of them up. They rent a small bare place and work relentlessly to pay back the loan, furtively eating leftover food while working in restaurants. Her heart has grown hard and cold. She cannot trust outsiders and thinks nobody understands her. She feel trapped in a bottomless hole of guilt, and feels totally numb to violence and bullying, and has no hope of ever getting out. She cannot get past societal condemnation even though she was acquitted in court. But she is a survivor, resourceful and quick-witted.

Ji Ann’s journey towards freedom began when she became a temp in the hero’s department. She was paid and tasked by the CEO, who was having an affair with the hero’s wife, to discover the hero’s weaknesses so that the CEO could fire him. She wiretapped the hero’s phone and overhears everything he says at work, on his phone, at home, when he is with his brothers and friends. The more she got to know him, the more her respect and admiration and empathy for him grew. Knowing, interacting with him, and trusting him led to her freedom.

SHE EXPERIENCED THE KINDNESS OF THE HERO. He helped her bedridden grandmother up steep hill to their home and bought food for he grandmother. He helped her grandmother enter a nursing home.
He tried to solve her debt problem and even fought against the moneylender. When her grandmother died, he arranged her funeral and his brother got the community to attend and pay respect. With so much kindness and goodness, the heroine’s defences were breached. She became appreciative and grateful and loyal to him. He even forgave her of her wrongdoing in wiretapping him.

HE WAS A PERSON OF INTEGRITY & TRUSTWORTHY. He was fair and protected her at the workplace. He invited her to join the permanent staff for dinner. He rejected her advances and almost sacked her for that. He treated her with respect. He never talked behind her back.

HE VIEWED HER POSITIVELY, AND THAT HELPED HER TO SEE HERSELF POSITIVELY. He said to her, You are good, after he saw how she worked so hard to care for her grandmother. He spoke up for her to the moneylender, in front of other directors, and when he was with his friends and colleagues. Thus she was able to shed aside her years of shame and condemnation. He asked her to confess her wrong to be forgiven, which she did and it brought her freedom from condemnation and self-hatred.

SHE IDENTIFIED WITH HIM IN HIS PAIN AND SUFFERING. She saw how was bullied and humiliated at work, cheated by the CEO and his wife, and the silent pain and agony of being betrayed. Their common pain and misery fused them invisibly. She felt he alone would understand and sympathize with her own personal suffering and pain too. She could only trust a man who has also suffered much.


All these gave her the courage to hope, to leave the painful past behind, and to reach out for a new, free, more human Ji An. At the last episode, she was shown with a new job, smiling and conversing with friends, well dressed with nice shoes, and the permanent job tag around her neck. She had moved. From being trapped to being free. From living in isolation and fear, to having a sense of belonging and hope. From one with cold dead eyes to being fully alive.

Isn’t this a picture of a person dead in sins being made alive in Christ?

What of the hero Park Dong Hoon? He was a wounded healer. Trapped and bullied at work and suffering silently in a dead shell of a marriage, the hero was miserable and sought to forget his problems in the company of his beer drinking brothers and weekend football. All his pain and anger had been repressed as he tried to live up to everyone else’s expectations of him. He had not attended to his own needs and pain.

Unknown to him, his movement to being alive and free from the expectations and constraints of society would be facilitated by an unlikely character: the temp he hired, the heroine.

SHE BROUGHT OUT HIS BEST & TRUE SELF. He had to boldly act with fairness and kindness on different occasions in the face of being misunderstood as being in love with her. He went against cultural expectations of workplace culture and community and family. The many steps of courage strengthened his muscles to leave the safety of the big corporation and strike out on his own.

HE FOUND DEEP SOLIDARITY WITH HER LIFE EXPERIENCES. He found that he could identify so closely with the heroine’s feelings of crushing burden and misery of life, feeling trapped and without power and hope. This was a great comfort and encouragement to him. If she could go on, so can he.

HER TRUST, GRATITUDE, & LOYALTY TO HIM WAS LIKE MEDICINE FOR HIS WOUNDED HEART. Meeting someone who understood him deeply(unlike his own wife), who was fiercely loyal to him(unlike his own wife), and who would sacrifice herself for him (unlike his own wife) was like medicine to a wounded soul. She knew when he felt depressed, defeated and discouraged and she encouraged him(unlike his own wife). She even rescued his marriage and helped him get promoted(unlike his own wife).

HE OWNED HIS FEELINGS & EXPRESSED THEM. He was numb to his feelings and could not name his submerged rage, shame, hatred and wounds of humiliation. But when he named them and expressed them and was later able to let everyone know he was a cuckold, he was set free from trying to keep secret his shame and to save face, and able to be his true self. What could be a worse shame for a man than being viewed as a cuckold? Freed from shackles imposed by a culture of shame, guilt and duty.

In the last two episodes, we see more smiles from the hero and heroine – rare sight in earlier episodes. We noice that the hero has moved. From being a flat, play-it-safe and bullied engineer, Park Dong Hoon became someone who dared to leave the chaebol and strike it out on his own, make lots of money, be freed from office politics, and enjoyed his work and new found happiness. When the heroine and hero bumped into each other we see both hero and heroine smile broadly, proudly and happily.


Fully human and fully alive – at last! The journey to be fully human is a difficult struggle, but very much worth the pain one goes through.

Here are some enchanting songs from the drama that grow on you the more you listen and read the lyrics:


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Pokemon Go : A Christian Perspective

A Christian perspective is needed and it has to be based on more comprehensive research and be balanced. The Pokemon Go game craze has hit Singapore’s shores. When I was exploring Cheung Chau island I asked a young person peering her mobile phone to confirm if I was walking in the right direction. She replied, “I don’t know this place. I am here because of Pokemon game.” When I returned from my retreat and two days holiday extension, I heard that the craze has come here. So what should a Christian response to this game be? I had been collating some materials to write an article but a pastor friend Rev Dr Lorna Khoo of Aldersgate Methodist Church had already written a balanced and well researched article about it. I received permission from her to reproduce it here. Hope you find it helpful. Simply click on the document below this sentence. Or go to this link: http://aldersgate.sg/about-pokemon-go/

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”http://www.blogpastor.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/pokemon.pdf”]

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Most pastors aspire to be good preachers and teachers. We know that the one meeting where the most members come together is the weekly worship service. A half hour or more from the start of the service, the preaching of the word takes centrestage. Even though pastors have different strengths and passions, there is a general expectation that he or she should be able to preach well.

One of my habits since I graduated from seminary was to read a book or two about preaching every year. I would glean some insights to incorporate into my philosophy of preaching. I would seize practical tips and methods and eagerly test them out. In the last decade, even though this annual readings has reduced, on the average, it is one book a year. This year I picked up Timothy Keller’s book on “Preaching”. I read it during a vacation to Bangkok. Now I am reading it again and writing my reflections on it chapter by chapter. Today I look at the prologue or introduction.

Prologue: What is Good Preaching

Keller gives his answers to the question, What is good preaching and how is this different from great preaching? Good preaching depends on the preacher’s gifts and skills – his ability to crystallise the truth, give it good organization and order, punchy illustrations and images, strong arguments and persuasive reasons, and applications that reach the heart. On the other hand great preaching requires fire from heaven, the Holy Sprit’s power to persuade and motivate and change. He gave the example of George Whitfield whose sermons were great and saved and transformed many lives but were sometimes poorly interpreted and structured. Great preaching but not good preaching. Great preaching is preaching with unction. Good preaching is sound interpretation of the word, with truths ordered logically, and delivered clearly and convincingly. Good preaching becomes great when the Holy Spirit takes it and open the heart of the hearer to heaven’s choir. However bad sermons can also become great when the anointing is present.

Keller says good preaching comes from loving the truth and loving people. This love makes the preacher exegete the text in its context and larger theological context to uncover the truth that needs to be proclaimed. Good preaching loves the people and knows them in the culture that influences them. It is able to analyse the culture and its counterfeit gods. It is able to show how God’s truth addresses the falseness of the culture, and how Christ actually fulfils the aspirations of the culture. Proper exposition of the text, and the transforming power of the Spirit, meet together, when Christ is revealed and proclaimed in the text..

How important is rhetorics, the art of communicating, in order to persuade and motivate people? Paul’s “I did not come with eloquent words or human wisdom” and “my preaching was not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Cor 1:22-24) does not mean that we reject all oratorical and rhetorical skills. Paul actually refers to “verbal bullying”, trickery and manipulation. Rather like Calvin, we need to acknowledge that rhetorics has it proper role: “Eloquence is not at all at variance with the simplicity of the gospel, when it does not disdain to give way to it, and be in subjection to it, but also yields service to it, as a handmaid to her mistress”.

Every pastor wants to spend adequate time and give proper attention to preparation of the sermon and its application to the hearers. However, I know from experience that its tough to do it week in and week out. The pastoral ministry is multi-tasked. Your days would be packed with planning, organising and evaluating. There are people and cell groups to meet. There are administrative and routine tasks from bulletin input to answering WhatsApp. In addition there are always interruptions and emergencies as well as the emotional drain of handling people. So the weekly ideal of ten hours allotted to the preparation of the sermon is often sliced away by urgent tasks that yelp for attention.

It would be great if churches had multiple staff or active and wise lay leaders who shield the pastor so that he can devote himself more to the ministry of the word and to prayer (Acts 6:4). Such churches are blessed indeed! For then the pastor can do justice to preaching.

However, I find the labels “bad”,”good” and “great” reminding me of the teacher’s frequent  remarks on my exercise book in primary school. Our assignments and exercises were marked, Good, or V.Good or Bad or Do Your Corrections! The better term to rule all the terms Keller used may be “faithful”.

Faithful preaching is what God calls us to do.  We have to be faithful to the text to bring out its true meaning, fulfilled in Christ, and to deliver it persuasively. We have to be faithful to apply the gospel truth to people in a culturally relevant way so that it changes lives in the long run. And we faithfully pray before, during and after sermon preparation for the Holy Spirit to guide and anoint us. And all this has to be done in time that is at times reduced due to the press of other responsibilities. However the final impact our sermons makes on people we leave into the hands of God. “Great” preaching cannot depend on quick polls, or members shaking the pastors hands and appreciatively saying Thanks pastor for that word. The label “good” and “great” are subjective and synthetic. We need to strive to be faithful preachers who preach Christ.

Chapter 1: Preaching the Word

Keller cites a seven volume history of preaching by Hughes Oliphant Old. Old names five basic types of sermons preached throughout the centuries. They are the expository (systematic explanation of scripture week by week based mainly on a single passage), evangelistic (conveying truths to nonbelievers), catechetical (teaching church’s confession and theology), festal (related to observances of the church year like Christmas), and prophetic (landmark sermons that addresses a juncture in history, event or culture).

To Old there are two main types of sermons: the expository organized around a single passage; and the topical or thematic which communicates a biblical idea from many passages or texts. Keller is of the conviction that “expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (32) even though both main types of preaching would be needed today as it has been throughout history. He gives several reasons for his view: 1) expository preaching is the best way to display your conviction that the whole Bible is true. 2) Such preaching “makes it easier for hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself” (36). 3) It enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community. 4) It also “lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well” (37). 5) It teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles and interpret the text. 6) It leads you to see the one overarching theme of Christ.

Expository preaching is not without its dangers. In the first 500 years the church used the lectio continua method, systematically working through whole books of the Bible taking years to bring the church through the Bible. This was followed by lectio selecta because of the increase in special feast and holy days. Selected texts covering large themes and special days like Christmas are used. In the last century great expositors have risen to revive the lectio continua and it has garnered quite a following. Even so Keller gives his warnings about this.

Times have changed and people are much more mobile. They do not stay their whole lives in one city like in the ancient days. And they do change churches for a variety of reasons. And they are various stages of maturity. Just going through a large book like Isaiah may take 2 years. So the pastor will have to ask himself: do I want to follow a rigid whole book approach or do I want to be more flexible and arrange a richer diet for the members and expose them to a greater variety of passages and themes from both Old and New Testament? Keller advises expository mini-series that cover various parts and genres of the Bible: Old and New, narrative, didactic, poetry, gospels in a reasonable amount of time.

The other danger Keller warn of is the tendency of expository preachers to dwell so much on sharing the gleanings of their exegesis and research that they neglect another vital area. “Neglecting persuasion, illustration, and other ways to affect the heart undermines the effectiveness of preaching- first because it’s boring and second because it’s unfaithful to the very purpose of preaching” (42).

The third danger is a too narrow definition of what constitutes “expository”. To some it has to be verse by verse. To others it is the one central truth and a streamlined outline. For others there is only one main point for any passage and only one!

I like what Keller says. More flexibility and creativity is to be welcomed. I believe that expository simply means bringing out the real meaning of the text. It could be based on a single passage or it could be based on many texts as when you preach about the Trinity. The main thing is that the texts should all be properly interpreted in their proper context. That is expository preaching: whether single or multiple texts were used. The benefits of the single passage exposition (stricter definition of expository), applies to the multiple texts exposition (topical) too, if a lectionary was used, or if one intentionally worked out a plan for a balanced coverage of biblical themes.

Let me end with a summary of Keller’s idea of expository preaching: “Expository preaching grounds the message in the text so that all the sermon’s points are points in the text, and it majors in the text’s major ideas. It aligns the interpretation of the text with the doctrinal truths of the rest of the Bible (being sensitive to systematic theology). And it always situates the passage within the Bible’s narrative, showing how Christ is the final fulfillment of the text’s theme (being sensitive to biblical theology).”(32)

Chapter 2: Preaching the gospel every time

I love this chapter. I subscribe to what Keller teaches here. However I suspect that applying it to every passage I preach may prove to be difficult. But I am willing to give it a shot. Here are some lovely extracts from this chapter.

“To see how the text fits into its whole canonical context, then, is to show how it points to Christ and gospel salvation, the big idea of the whole Bible. Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can. That means we must preach Christ from every text, which is the same as saying we must preach the gospel every time and not just settle for general inspiration or moralizing.” (48)

“To preach the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, from every passage. Only if we preach Christ every time can we show how the Bible fits together.” (57)

“If you don’t see how the chapter fits into the whole story you don’t understand the chapter. So preaching Christ every time is the way to show people how the Bible fits together”. (59)

“Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story (about Christ), we actually change its meaning for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to “try harder” rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done?”(60)

Keller talks about two dangers to avoid in preaching the gospel every time. The first is that of preaching a text, even about Jesus, without really preaching the gospel. He gives the example of a sermon he heard about the demoniac’s deliverance in Mark 5. Christ is painted as the liberator. Jesus came to set free those in bondage, isolated from people, and emotionally and mentally fragmented. Jesus liberates the demoniac. He can also liberate you of your low self esteem, addictions, bondages, loneliness, emotional and mental oppression.

Then Keller relates another sermon on the same passage. The preacher showed that the demoniac was a picture of all of us as sinners. Enslaved to sin and the powers of darkness, estranged from God, and from others, and from ourselves. The big question: Why can Jesus forgive and restore him? Jesus could forgive because He took the man’s place: he was naked, a prisoner, isolated as he was crucified outside the gate, crying out My God My God why has Thou forsaken me? Jesus became his Substitute. He bore all the sins of the demoniac, and all of our sins on the cross.

Both sermons were about Jesus but the latter sermon laid out the gospel clearly. The former sermon may give the idea that salvation is about being healed of addictions, demon possession and loneliness – which is short of dealing with the root problem of sin.

The second danger of preaching Christ is that we fail to preach the text itself: “There is another mistake into which we can fall. It is possible to “get to Christ” so quickly in preaching a text that we fail to be sensitive to the particularities of the text’s message. We leapfrog over historical realities to Jesus as though the Old Testament Scriptures had little significance to their original readers. Ferguson writes that this mistake “is likely to produce preaching that is wooden and insensitive to the rich contours of biblical theology.” The result will be this: because we have not spent time in the text itself, the way that Jesus is described will sound the same from week to week. Jesus will not be truly the resolution or climax of the particular theological theme and the answer to the specific practical problem. If he is that, there will be as many different ways to preach Christ as there are themes and genres and messages in the Bible. But if you don’t go deeply enough into the original historical context, you will have two or three stock ways of bring in Jesus, and they will sound the same every time.” (66-67)

Keller believes that legalism and antinomianism have the same root. They are “non-identical twins from the same womb” (Sinclair Ferguson). At the root of both is a distrust in God’s love. This distrust has gone into human bloodstream since inserted by the lie of the serpent at the beginning. The only cure is the gospel of Christ.

The legalist feels that God is a reluctant giver. He does not trust God’s goodness and generosity. God withheld one thing in the garden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He is a stingy giver unwilling to freely give us all that he has. So the legalist feels that he has to perform and jump hoops to deserve the Father’s blessing.

The antinomian feels that the law is given to restrict his personal freedom and growth. “God does not want you to be like god,” the serpent had said. He cannot see that God forbade the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because of the physical and spiritual death that would come on us. The antinomian feels that God does not want us to be like him or to grow into our full potential.

So at the root of both poles is a distrust of God’s love and His commitment to our well being and highest good. The cure to legalism is not to give a bigger dose of grace. And the cure to antinomianism is not to give a bigger dose of the law. The cure to both is to preach the glorious gospel which reveals, in immeasurable depth and richness, the great unconditional love of God. This will dissolve the distrust of God over time as the hearer believes the gospel and acts on it and experience God’s love to be true.

What a great insight. May the Lord help us to preach the gospel of grace in all its richness from all parts of the Old and New Testament to avoid the opposite poles of legalism and antinomianism.

Chapter 3: Preaching Christ from all of Scripture

Timothy Keller believes preaching the gospel every time is synonymous with preaching Christ every time. How can we like the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus, show other believers how Christ is in the text from Genesis to Malachi? Keller gives 6 handles to help us preach Christ from all of scripture. These are supplemented with references to books that are explained in quite extensive and useful notes at the back of the book.


EVERY GENRE AND SECTION OF THE BIBLE – Each part or section of the Bible point towards Christ in a particular way. Christ is the hope of the patriarchs and the angel of the Lord in Genesis. He is the rock of Moses in Exodus. The the fulfiller of the law in Leviticus, the true tabernacle in Numbers, and on it goes.

EVERY THEME OF THE BIBLE – Some themes of the Bible are kingdom which points to Christ our King; the covenant which points to the new covenant Christ enacted for us; the theme of home and exile, with Christ being exiled from the heavenly home in order to lead us back; rest and Sabbath, justice and judgment and righteousness and sin.

EVERY MAJOR FIGURE OF THE BIBLE – Christ is the better Adam who passed the test in the wilderness; the better Abel whose blood cried forgiveness; the better Abraham who left heaven to come to sinful world; the better Isaac whose sacrifice brought blessing even to Gentiles; and on and on it goes.

EVERY MAJOR IMAGE OF THE BIBLE – these could be impersonal objects like the bronze snake and the smitten rock in the wilderness, the tabernacle objects, the tree of life, the Passover Lamb.

EVERY DELIVERANCE STORY LINE – any narrative that carries a deliverance story line, a grace pattern or event, can point us to Christ. Examples are David’s defeat of Goliath which resulted in every Israelite partaking of the victory and benefits they never fought for. Then there are the stories of Naaman the Syrian general, the salvation of eight from the great flood, the story of Esther, the exodus from Egypt, the exile to Babylon and the return from exile, and many more.

INSTINCT – “Perhaps most outstanding preachers of the Bible (and of Christ in all Scripture) are so instinctively. Ask them what their formula is and you will draw a blank expression. The principles they use have been developed unconsciously, through a combination of native ability, gift and experience as listeners and preachers. Some men might struggle to give a series of lectures on how they go about preaching. Why? Because what they have developed is an instinct ; preaching biblically has become their native language. They are able to use the grammar of biblical theology, without reflecting on what part of speech they are using.” (Sinclair Ferguson)

I like what Timothy Keller has to contribute here. He has done a lot of research on how to preach Christ as can be seen in his extensive quotations plus his valuable summaries of what the authors of these thick books had said. Great stuff in the amplified notes at the end. Hopefully with the great respect and following Keller has more preachers will learn to preach the Old Testament the way Christ did it with his companions on that road to Emmaus. Preach Christ from every Scripture is a great chapter.

Chapter 4 – preaching Christ to the culture

“Preaching Christ to the Culture” is a heavy chapter. I find myself in unfamiliar territory. But vital to understand. I never had this kind of training or knowledge or approach in homiletics. All I remembered from my homiletic class by Rev Denver Stone was, “The whole purpose of preaching is to be understood” and “Make sure you preach 20 minutes, two minutes more or two minutes less.” The former seems to relegate preaching to lecturing, and the latter, was an impossible challenge for me personally. So preaching Christ to the culture, is welcome emphasis that I find in Timothy Keller’s book “Preaching”. Maybe that is why he is so effective, so virulent, so penetrating.

My apologies for procrastinating on this chapter’s reflection.

Keller begins by exploring the question, How can we be more persuasive in an increasingly post everything age? Some think changing the mode of communication will help. Modern people want interaction and to discover truths on their own. Yet today TED talks are highly popular. Some think the content should be changed to make it friendly to the secular audience. Dispense with the word “sin” and “sinner”. Or in the sermon start with the problem and show how the Bible and theology tackle the issue and give solutions. In other words, Should preachers change for the culture or challenge the culture? Keller gives his answer as YES, BUT NO, AND YES. YES: let us affirm whatever we can of the culture, even baptize and use it, as John used the concept of Logos (a Greek belief) in John 1. We have to be sincerely appreciative and affirmative in doing this and not fake it. Secondly, BUT NO:  we have to confront what is wrong about the culture: we have to defy unbiblical worldviews and values and morals. And finally, AND YES: we show how in Christ we can have what we actually were searching for in the first place. How do we do it? Keller shows six ways, some of which most preachers are familiar with, but a few are harder to explain without examples. So I recommend you buy his book and read these in detail to learn the ropes from this expert.

Here are the six ways:

  1. Use accessible vocabulary.
  2. Employ culturally respected authorities.
  3. Demonstrate and understanding of doubts and objections.
  4. Affirm in order to challenge baseline cultural narratives.
  5. Make gospel offers that push on the culture’s pressure points.
  6. Call for gospel motivation.

The elaborations and explanations in points 3 to 6 are excellent and he does go into detailed explanations and examples which are an absolute help.

This is where Keller excels and fills a gap. I have read many, many books on preaching over many decades but few have dealt with this topic in a detailed, helpful, practical way that preachers will appreciate. And because Keller is convinced it is highly important to understand this in order to be persuasive in this increasingly secular age, he devotes many pages to this matter. Good preachers must be able to unravel the “foundational cultural narratives of our time” underpinning such commonly accepted statements as “Everybody has a right to their own opinion” or “You have to be yourself”. This will equip us to challenge these slogans in our preaching with winsome clarity.

There are four more great chapters of this book but I have run out of steam trying to finish a summary and reflection on these chapters. Apologies. What I can say is this is a very good resource on expository preaching that you would want to read and keep in your library!

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“Unfolding His Story”: blogpastor’s book reflection

“Unfolding His Story” by Georgie Lee and Galven Lee tells the story of the Charismatic movement in Singapore through the flesh and blood of personal accounts and the skeleton of sound historical research. Like a kaleidoscope, the varied mini-narratives in the book form varied patterns and repeated colours from similar materials with the twist of time and circumstances. It is a must read if you want to gain prophetic insight into the times we are living in. You may not agree with the conclusion of the authors regarding the direction that the altars of the past are pointing to, but you cannot ignore this book.

I first met Galven in Dawson Place. He was an NUS history student doing research on the charismatic movement. My Hyundai Matrix was being serviced and he interviewed me to capture an account of the outpouring of the Spirit upon students that I was a part of. People had heard about the “Clock tower revival of ACS” but little was known about the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon students who were fasting and praying at the back of the science laboratories of Dunearn Technical Secondary School. Later I bumped into his father at a Love Singapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit. He was on fire about a school of discipleship that the FGB Gatekeepers have started. I did not know that at that time the idea for this book had already taken form. It was with some anticipation when I held it in my hands.

It is not follow a strict chronological account of the charismatic movement. In keeping with the living throbbing movement it seeks to describe, the best structure seems to be that of the authors weaving together all the testimonies of many witnesses who were called to the stand to recall their stories as accurately as they can remember them. Repetition, differing nuanced viewpoints and bias will inevitably be present in the integration of these stories, like in the synoptic gospels, but the discipline of historical research that forms the spine would keep that to the minimum.

I read the book during my Chinese New Year vacation in Bangkok. It was interesting, a page turner, and it helped me fill in the blanks in my knowledge of what happened, and I gained some insights as I reflected on what I read. Let me share several of the things I gleaned and some understanding of God’s ways I observed.

Firstly, God loves to use the most unlikely of people to glorify his name. Why was the Spirit poured out on secondary school students? Though they have time and energy, they have no power, position nor money to change the rusty machinery called church. Why was the Spirit poured out on Anglican clergy? They were drier than the bones lying in the valley of Ezekiel’s vision. And the two key persons he used: a mild mannered liberal Bishop, and a prickly social gospel minister. Yet the Holy Spirit saw what humans do not see: one was a stabilizer and the other a bulldozer, and both were needed for the spread of the movement. Then there was that multitude of bored, discontented, nominal, mid-life professionals and businessmen of denominational churches. When the breath of God went into them they became an exceeding great army. Finally even foreign talent were unlikely tools in God’s workshop: an Indian healing revivalist by the name of Edgar Webb; the ang mohs Brother Baker, white haired and mono-toned Rev Brian Bailey and long haired Rev Trevor Dearing.  You cannot help but see that it is God at work through these unlikely heroes.

Secondly, Georgie argued that the spiritual development of the church mirrored that of the development of a Singapore in its search of identity as it sought to shake free from colonialism, its rapid development, and its formation of external wings, and now a maturing and plateauing economy. This was a gem and his arguments were quite convincing.

Thirdly, he mentioned the interesting symbiotic and resistive relationship between the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It was with refreshing honesty that this was raised in the book. I do recall that each group would avoid the events planned by the other group. The Pentecostals tend to look down on the new kids on the block even though it was their faithfulness to the full gospel that was no small factor in the beginnings and the early nurture of the charismatic movement in Singapore. However, like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the Pentecostals generally stayed away from the charismatic party of fatted calf and joyful music that the undeserving denominational people were sovereignly blessed with.

Fourth, the authors rightly mentioned the three waves that revived God’s people and swept multitudes of Singaporeans into the churches. The first were the Pentecostals. The second wave was the charismatic wave. The third was the Third Wave. You get a better picture of what these are when you read the book. In addition there is a helpful glossary of these and other terms that are placed at the beginning of the book.

Fifth, the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit can be seen in many new converts in many new small churches begun, in church extensions or plants, and in the rise of several megachurches in Singapore. This is fruit of breadth. The revival also spawned many missionaries and full time workers and pastors. Out of the revival that birthed the church I serve, I can easily count 19 missionaries and pastors and full time ministry staff. Many other clergy and pastors I have met in countless conferences share a similar participation in the charismatic revival. This is fruit of depth.

Sixth, the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International (FGBMFI) was the platform that God used to rapidly spread the message of the baptism of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts for all. This platform was a catalyst for many great blessings. The organization’s incredible success bred its own decline.  As church members were strengthened and equipped by attending FGBMFI events and returned as revived members, their churches became more capable of doing what FGBMI did. Her revitalizing role suffered gradual erosion and she drifted into irrelevancy.

Seventh, the church today mirrors the maturing economy of Singapore. What is needed for the church to get out of the plateau is to make a paradigm shift and think kingdom of God and not merely local church. It has to focus on uniting to transform all the different aspects of society and culture. The FGBMFI has gone through a name change (now FGB Gatekeepers) to reflect their new cutting edge vision of wanting to transform and disciple all realms of society and culture.

What did I like about this book? It is interesting and chockful of facts and bits of history and testimony that helped fit in the missing jig saws in my understanding of what God did during the 1970s to 1990s. What happened at Jedburgh Gardens; and how the charismatic revival came to the Anglicans and Methodists; and who’s who in the leadership of the charismatic movement, were all puzzles that this book solved for me. It helped me connect the dots. It also gave a clue to the future. Connecting the dots of the past gives me a general sense of where the dots are prophetically pointing to. And of course I liked it that one of the many valuable photos in the book showed a younger me.

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