Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In the Library: Matthew

While I usually only have 3-4 commentaries per book of the Bible, I admit to having about twice that when it comes to the gospels. That being said, I don't have one, favorite volume for the Gospel of Matthew nor do I have a commentary that tackles Matthew's Greek in much detail. Here are four Matthean commentaries that I turn to most frequently.

Craig S. Keener's A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 1999). I have the older edition. I've noticed that it has been reissued as a part of Ben Witherington's Socio-Rhetorical Commentary series. I really like Witherington's series, so it makes sense that I would like this.  While a very detailed commentary, Keener's work does not do much work in the Greek.  If you are looking for that, you need to look elsewhere.

Ben Withernington III's Matthew (Smyth & Helwys, 2006). Witherington is one of my favorite scholars. His writing is clear and helpful and his work is thorough. The Smyth & Helwys series is nice and includes many of my favorite authors. The added CD-ROM for each volume is helpful as it comes with a searchable PDF of the commentary.  My main issue with this series is the price.  If I didn't have a decent book allowance, I probably would find less expensive options.  But if you have the money, these are generally, very good commentaries. You can save some money by getting on their standing order list.

David E. Garland's Reading Matthew (Smyth & Helwys, 2001). Dr. Garland was one of my professors at Truett (where he now serves as dean). I buy any commentary he publishes, not because I know him, but because he writes excellent commentaries.  This brief volume is no exception. The Reading the New Testaemtne series from Smyth & Helwys employs literary criticism, so it reads differently than other commentaries. You get less verse by verse commentary and more attention to the movement within the overall text of the gospel.

Stanley Hauerwas's Matthew (Brazos, 2006). The Brazos Theological Commentaries on the Bible are not your average commentary set. Instead of Biblical scholars, they invite theologians to engage a specific biblical text. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Hauerwas's volume is one of the ones that works. I don't always agree with Hauerwas, but his commentary always makes for lively encounter with both the church and the text.

What's on your shelf that you find helpful?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Quote of the week: Defining the faith vs. Proclaiming the gospel

"Definers and defenders of the faith are always needed, but it is bad for a church when its ministers count it their true work to define and defend the faith rather than to preach the gospel."

- Phillips Brooks

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Links: What is good preaching?

Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., asks the question: What is good preaching?  I like her answer. You can find more from Amy at her blog Talk With the Preacher.

CBF Oklahoma had their Fall Gathering back on October 15, 2011, but the videos from that day have just made the web (thanks to Bruce Prescott).  Preston CleggMeredith StoneKyndall Renfro, and Lavonn Brown preached on the four freedoms (Church, Bible, Religious, and Soul). The sound on the video isn't great, so you'll need to be in a quiet spot to listen, but the sermons are good.

Preston's sermon is especially inspiring for the the preacher working in a local church. His opening illustration, "The corner of Benton and Plumb," did everything an opening illustration should do. It hooked me into the sermon and had me contemplating the truth of his main point without even realizing that he had gotten me to do some deep thinking. Preston and I were at Truett Seminary at the same time, it's no surprise to see him doing so well. I've included his sermon below. The actual sermon starts around the 4:30 mark.

Preston Clegg on Church Freedom from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the Library: Psalms

Since, most of my preaching peers tend to buy commentaries that have been recommended by a friend, I've always thought it would be helpful to have a working list of our favorite volumes.  Let this be one attempt at such a list. I'll try to post on one or two books of the Bible a week.  I'll list one or two of my favorites commentaries with a brief description and invite you to do the same in the comments.  First up - Psalms.

My go to commentary if I have a short week: 
Mays, James L. Psalms. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox, 1994.

I've had Mays' commentary in my library for over a decade. The commentary is concise but still includes enough information to be useful. His writing inspires even as it educates.

My favorite commentary that looks good on the shelf and is actually helpful:
Goldingay, John. Psalms. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Wisdom and Psalms. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

At around $32 a volume, this three volume set is pricey, but it delivers. Goldingay gives every Psalm its fair due, exploring language and theological issues in a way that is incredibly thorough but still accessible to those who have not kept up with their Hebrew.

What's on your shelf?

William Willimon - "God on the Prowl" from 30goodminutes

William Willimon, "God on the Prowl" - PG5316 from 30goodminutes on Vimeo.

I like Willimon's sermons because 1) they're usually brief 2) he does an excellent job of keeping God as the subject of his preaching. This isn't as easy as it sounds. The subject of most of our sermons (mine included) tend to be ourselves. Willimon's sermons reinforce his statement that I quoted earlier in the week,"Preaching that is boring is preaching that talks first about us and then only tangentially about God. Preaching that is faithful is preaching that talks first about God and then only secondarily and derivatively talks about us. The God of Scripture is so much more interestingly than we are."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Choosing the Best Commentaries

Do you have a strategy for buying commentaries?

I am always on the lookout for good commentaries, but it's not always easy to know where to find them.  With limited resources, you hate to burn $30, $50, even $75 dollars on a commentary that ends up being of little use to you. What I usually end up doing is buying commentaries by authors I already know and trust (I'll buy any commentary I find by Walter Brueggemann, Will Willimon, Fred Craddock, David Garland, Scott McKnight. . . ). This is a fine strategy in some regards, but it leaves holes in my library in both scope and the number of perspectives represented.

My ideal library would be the size of a university library.  In my actual library I'll settle for having three exceptional commentaries for each book of the Bible. First, I like having one really thorough, technical commentary that can take me through all the ins and outs of the biblical language and the major historical critical issues. I prefer this to be a more recent publication as that hopefully ensures coverage of the most recent scholarship. Dr. David Garland's volume on 1 Corinthians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an example of what I'm talking about. Then I like to have two or three less technical but still thorough commentaries. I want these to be from different theological perspectives (moderate/liberal/conservative, Anabaptist/Mainstream Protestant/Catholic, etc.). The idea is to hear different voices as they read the same text. I find my sermon preparation deeply enriched by the variety of voices within the church including and sometimes especially the voices with whom I disagree most often. These diverse voices help me think of familiar texts in new ways.  

The nerd in me would love to churn through 7-8 commentaries a week in sermon prep, but the full time pastor in me has learned that 3-4 good commentaries are enough.  

What about you?  What do you look for in a commentary?  Who are some of your favorite authors?  What are some of your favorite volumes?  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eugene Peterson: What pastors have that Madison Ave. doesn't

The good folks over at www.workingpreacher.org have posted several new videos.  They're worth checking out.  Here's a wonderful one from Eugene Peterson on the advantages pastors have over all the other voices that compete for our people's attention.

Minimize fear (and pride) in the pulpit this week.

Like most preachers, I spend some time in prayer every Sunday morning. I pray for the obvious things. I pray for the service that's about to happen. I pray that the people in the service will come face to face with God. If I'm honest, I mostly pray for my own part in that process. This week, thanks to a tweet by a fellow pastor, I added something to my prayers. I began praying for other ministers in town and their sermons.

Now, I realize that many of you have probably been doing this for ages, but I'm a little slow on the uptake.  It's not that I've never prayed for other churches or their ministers, I have, but not on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning is crunch time. When the pressure is on, I admit, my prayers become a little bit more me-focused than they are on other occasions. Which feels normal. I am, after all, about to go lay my week's efforts (not to mention my soul) in front of a few hundred people. Preaching always feels dangerous to me.  When I find myself in a dangerous place, I have no problem admitting that my instinct is to pray for myself. God, help me. God, save me. God, don't let me look like an idiot up there.

But doing what feels natural isn't always the best course of action. Just ask the armadillo. His natural instinct when threatened is to jump straight up into air (sometimes up to four feet!) before sprinting away. That might work well when facing a bobcat. It doesn't work well when facing a Ford F150 on the highway.  So this week, I did something unnatural. I took time out of my Sunday morning routine to pray for other preachers in town. I called them by name. Some of these guys I really like. Others not so much. Either way, I asked God to speak through them and to bless their sermons.  

Something remarkable happened as I prayed for others, I found myself sensing God's presence in a new way. Praying for other preachers connected me to the larger community of faith and reminded me that my part, which can feel so big on Sunday mornings, isn't as big as I think. Don't get me wrong, I still think my part is important. It's just not the most important part. It's not the decisive part. Yes, I need to be prepared. Yes, I need to be faithful. The most important part, however, is that God is faithful.  

These prayers for others exposed some unflattering truths about me. Most of my prayers are rooted in either fear or pride. The two go together. When I think about preaching, I often get caught up in how I'm doing. Am I preaching well? If I think I am, well, I'm usually pretty proud of that fact. But what if I'm not? I begin to worry about what people will think of me then? Enter fear. Both sentiments (pride and fear) come from focusing primarily on my own efforts.

When I pray for others, I instinctively believe that God is the decisive part in their ministries, not their own efforts. After all, I'd hate to give those guys too much credit! Which helps me realize, I don't need to give myself too much credit either. Praying for other preacher's sermons brings me back to the truth that the decisive part in my own sermon will be nothing less than the gracious activity of God.

Obviously, I've only done this for one Sunday, but it really did make a difference in my outlook. So, thanks to @markbatterson for praying for other preachers in your city and tweeting about it. I think I'll make praying for other pastors a regular part of my Sunday morning routine, as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Preaching Quote of the Week

"Preaching that is boring is preaching that talks first about us and then only tangentially about God.  Preaching that is faithful is preaching that talks first about God and then only secondarily and derivatively talks about us.  The God of Scripture is so much more interestingly than we are."

Will Willimon from "My Advice for Preachers" in Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers (edited by William J. Carl, III)