Clarence Jordan and the God Movement

In 1958, Clarence Jordan was invited to give a series of lectures in Montgomery, AL. The lectures were to focus on “The Church and the Kingdom of God.” The invitation came from Martin Luther King Jr. Both King and Jordan were in agreement that “Jesus had not come to start a religion but a revolution.” To support that emphasis, Jordan had even begun to translate basileia as “movement” rather than “kingdom.” (Jordan was the author of The Cotton Patch Version of the Bible).

In The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From the Civil Rights Movement to Today, Charles Marsh tells how Jordan preached a “God Movement” that was greater than the Civil Rights Movement.

He once preached a sermon about “the white southerner’s responsibility to the Negro.” His text was Galatians 5.23 and he emphasized how we all are one in Christ Jesus. Unfortunately, the response was what one might expect.

“At the conclusion of the service, an elderly woman made her way down the aisle… the woman was furious with Jordan for his harsh words for the South and his irreverence towards its time-honored customs. ‘I want you to know that my grandfather fought in the Civil War’, she told him, ‘and I will never believe a word you say.'”

Clarence Jordan responded “‘Well ma’m, I guess you’ve got to decide whether to follow your granddaddy or Jesus.'”


Questions for Preachers

Just a few questions for preachers during a hot political climate (and during any other political climate).

1)    what are things related to politics that should be said and what are things related to politics that should be avoided?

2)    Should we preach differently when we like the president than when we do not?

3)    How do we make room in our preaching for those in the body who have different political views than we do?

4)    What does it mean to be a faithful voice to the world regardless who is president?

Goodbye Eugene Peterson

You have probably heard by now that Eugene Peterson died last month. Ever since my friend Dale told me to read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction I was reading everything from Eugene Peterson I could find. Peterson’s contemplative exegesis helped me at a stage when I was struggling to make connections between a biblical theology and a practical pastoral theology. I suspect it was the same for many. Peterson will not be remembered primarily as a preacher. Instead, he will likely be remembered as the guy responsible for The Message or as an author of many books. Yet, as evidenced by As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, a book of sermons that were preached by Peterson, he was a preacher. I suspect there is a long list of preachers who considered Peterson to be their pastor.

As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire can be read as a devotional or as a sermon primer. It certainly helps us to understand a little how Peterson thought about scripture. It helps us understand a little bit about this one who desired to be like a kingfisher “catching and reflecting sun brightness.” It helps us to understand a little about this one who desired Christ to be “playing through our limbs” in ways that we can live the Christ life “almost in spite of ourselves.” He calls these written sermons “kingfisher sermons” because he knows that capturing a sermon on paper is like trying to “sketch a kingfisher in flight.”

I love what his son Leif Peterson said about his father at his recent funeral. “The writer of Genesis tells us that at the end of each day of creation, God looked around the world that He had done, and saw that it was good.” He goes on to say “I think my dad did that a lot. He was always looking around at the mountains, at the flowers, at the birds, at the relationships forming and playing all around him, and you could tell from that signature twinkle in his eyes, what he was thinking ‘oh man that’s good, that’s really good.'”

He continues by saying that he used to joke with his father and tell him that he “only had one sermon, one message… It’s almost laughable how you fooled them, how for 30 years every week you made them think you were saying something new… They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them… They didn’t know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret.”

Leif Peterson said that he knew his father’s secret, however, as he had been telling him for 50 years. “For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It’s the same message over and over: ‘God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless.’”

I love that. Thank you, Eugene, for a life well lived.

Most Effective Preachers

Baylor Seminary’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary surveyed almost 180 sermon experts belonging to the Evangelical Homiletics Society and the Academy of Homiletics. And the results are in! According to the Spring 2018 national survey the most effective preachers in the English speaking world are;

1 – Dr. Alistair Begg, senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

2 – Dr. Tony Evans, founding pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas.

3 – Dr. Joel C. Gregory, George W. Truett Endowed Chair in Preaching and Evangelism at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

4 – Dr. Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York.

5 – Dr. Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Director of the Early Career Pastoral Leadership Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia.

6 – Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois.

7 – Dr. John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

8 – Dr. Haddon Robinson, previously Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

9 – Pastor Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church.

10 – Dr. Charles Swindoll, senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

11 – Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, professor, author, and theologian.

12 – Dr. Ralph Douglas West, founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas.

Preach Like This

  • Do not clean up the text. Spill it all. Spill the messy contents and the parts that are hard to explain. It is God’s word. You do not get to pick and choose the parts to be reported.
  • Be honest with the struggles you have with the text. Listeners will have similar challenges. It will be helpful for them to know that you do as well.
  • Tell people about how great God is. Not how great they are or how great their cause is. Preaching is more than self help or social action. It is about a great God.
  • Preach your own sermons. If you regularly preach sermons you find online, stop. This does not benefit you or your listeners. Work with the text and share the message God gives.
  • Preach to people that you know like you know them.
  • Take a biblical stand. This is not the same as a partisan political stand. And especially do not be mean about politicians you disagree with.
  • Preach grace. Acknowledge problems. Acknowledge shortcomings. Acknowledge sin. But preach grace. God is into grace, we should be also.
  • Spur listeners to behave differently. Encourage action. People want to do something for God. You do not have to tell them what to do, but inspire them to do something.

Like Living in a New Country

Raewynne J. Whiteley is tired of sermon prep becoming a burden and intrusion for preachers. She desires to reclaim sermon prep as a time for preachers to engage with God in ways that strengthen their preaching. That is why she wrote Steeped in the Holy: Preaching as Spiritual Practice. Before I talk about it any further I cannot help but mention what Ellen F. Davis says about the book on the back cover. “Preaching like this is serious, holy fun for both preacher and congregation.”

Whiteley proposes that when we open our bibles in preparation for preaching, we need a new way of reading, “one that enables us to find our home in this world of God’s.” That is the primary emphasis we find in her chapter titled “Finding Our Way Home: Scripture.”

She talks about entering the bible as entering a new world. In the bible, we find a world where angels appear, healings take place, visions are common. This is a world where the primary focus is on the relationship between God and humanity. In this world, the intervention of God is expected.

This world exists as a world parallel to another world. A world of computers and friendships and quarrels and cars. A world that is populated with the desires and the fears of our hearts. When Lucy stepped beyond the wardrobe into Narnia, she discovered, not an imaginary world, but a world as real as her own. A world that became more real the more time she spent there. So it is when we enter the world of scripture. It “is not a retreat from reality, but an entering into deeper reality.” A reality that helps us gain perspective on our ordinary realities we live in day by day.

Whiteley suggests there are at least three ways we can approach this world of scripture. The first is as a tourist. When we arrive to a new country for the first time, we might want to visit the famous sites. We want to see and hear the greatest hits. We might memorize details about key places. We are reliant on guides and interpreters. We might gain some new perspectives temporarily, but once we return home our new perspectives are overcome by everyday living.

Approaching scripture as a tourist is no different. We visit the well-known sites, we read about the main characters and well known places. We learn enough of the language to talk about the basics. But we leave the rest to experts. We might talk excitedly about where we have been, but the excitement soon wears off and we return to life the way it has always been before.

The second approach she talks about is the scientist. When we approach a new country as a scientist, we approach it objectively. We may intentionally avoid the tourist attractions. We are more interested in the details. We are observers. We catalog. We define. We analyze. We dissect. We rely on input from our professional peers. We look for patterns. We form a plan to write papers and share knowledge and become experts.

Approaching scripture as a scientist is no different. We are interested in knowledge. We are interested in history and social structure and textual reliability and translation issues. We rely on concordances and dictionaries and commentaries. While there may be some gain from this approach, we can also recognize the danger of becoming an uninterested observer.

A third approach Whiteley gives is that of an immigrant. When we approach a new country as an immigrant, we expect things to be different. We might have to learn new vocabulary, if not a new language. We learn new social norms and expectations. We adopt new lifestyle in order to belong. We do not lose the influence of where we have come from, but we do become more aware of the differences. We develop new relationships and begin to call this new place home.

Approaching scripture as an immigrant is like this. We explore it like new residents. We learn the culture and the language through participation. We become invested in it out of necessity. Such an approach demands a commitment to be people of scripture and faith. We are challenged by this world of scripture. It makes new demands on us. We cannot approach scripture in this way without being changed. And then, as we become more at home in this place, we discover it is our ancestral home. This is our place of origin. This is where we belong.

There are no doubts what approach Whiteley is pointing us toward. In fact, she does come out and say “The third approach to Scripture – and the one that I believe is most useful for preachers – is that of the immigrant.” Whiteley wants to help us to do more than travel to the text and back. More than investigate it for the sake of knowledge. She wants us to live there, to become residents in the land of scripture, to call it home.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham died last week. He was 99 years old. During his lifetime of nearly a century he demonstrated influence in arenas where preachers do not usually travel. Graham preached a simple evangelical message—give your heart to Jesus, and you will be “born again.” It is likely Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history, a claim that we may not have data to prove. But who could argue?

In 1945, at age 26, he addressed 65,000 in Chicago’s Soldier Field. The 1949 crusade in Los Angeles had a cumulative attendance of 350,000. (A interesting footnote to that tent crusade, one night he preached Jonathan Edwards’s sermon “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” nearly word for word). In 1957, a May-to-September rally in New York had attendance of 2.4 million, including 100,000 on one night at Yankee Stadium. A five-day meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 1973 drew 3 million.

In fact, we may think of Billy Graham when we hear the word crusade. He was likely the most well known preacher on the planet during our lifetime. I remember my parents watching him on primetime television. I remember attending a crusade in Cleveland, OH. Billy Graham made preaching part of culture unlike anyone else.

Not many preachers attain the title of knight. But Billy Graham did. He was knighted by the British ambassador in 2001. He was known to be good friends with Queen Elizabeth. Not many preachers are given a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Not many preachers serve as spiritual advisor to presidents. Graham offered counsel to all of them from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Upon learning of his death, the presidents began to speak. George H. W. Bush said “I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend.” And Bill Clinton “Billy Graham lived his faith fully, and his powerful words and the conviction they carried touched countless hearts and minds.” Barack Obama stated “Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many – and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.” Even Donald Trump chimed in “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

Billy Graham was known for a strong stance on segregation. He insisted on racial integration at his crusades. He told a Mississippi audience in 1952 “there was no room for segregation at the foot of the cross.” In 1953, he personally removed the segregating ropes at a Chattanooga crusade. In 1957 he invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach with him at a revival meeting in New York City. Later, he would post bail for King when he was arrested.

Graham simply preached the Gospel; he did not worry about intellectual challenges to the faith. His own claim was “I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the Gospel in the best way I know how.”

Billy Graham’s success had little to do with skill or showmanship. He preached a simple message and had influence because he believed what he said. That he believed this message is evident from a line he borrowed and adapted from another great American evangelist, D. L. Moody, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead, Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”