Book Review: The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida

Merida, Tony.  The Christ-Centered Expositor: a Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers.  Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016.  300 pp.  $29.99. Paperback.  ISBN 13-978-1433685743.

Preaching displays the glory of God as faithful men point others to the Lord Jesus Christ by expounding the Bible in the power of God’s Spirit. To faithfully proclaim Christ and His Word, the preacher must both cultivate personal devotion and stir up a gift for teaching.

Tony Merida is well-qualified to help preachers consider their character and mission. Since 2001, he has acquired substantial experience and training in the ministry of the Word, including a Ph.D. in preaching and service as a pastor and a preaching professor. The Christ-Centered Expositor is a revision of his 2009 book, Faithful Preaching, and maintains the same methodology while refocusing and adding material.

The book defines the task and goal of exposition, engages the preacher about heart issues, overviews the process of sermon preparation and delivery, and provides several practical tools as appendices. The two major divisions of the book focus on the expositor’s heart and his message. Appendices include a historical sketch of preaching, advice for preaching in non-pulpit contexts such as weddings and funerals, a sermon outline sheet, and a sermon evaluation form.

The expositor is one who seeks to “responsibly, passionately, and authentically declare the Christ-exalting Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God” (12). The expositor must draw personal nourishment from Christ and the Word, pursuing Christlikeness through the spiritual disciplines such as Bible intake, prayer and repentance, and living in community with the church. He must love the Scriptures, which testify to Christ, and love to preach Christ from the Scriptures. He must rely on the Spirit’s power and cultivate a vibrant prayer life, since he must receive power from God for a life and ministry that please Him. The expositor must be shaped by an all-consuming desire for God to be glorified in his life, including his preaching and teaching.

To preach expository sermons, the preacher must not only cultivate his relationship with God, but must also labor in his study of the Word. Merida writes, “Expository preaching involves explaining what God has said in his Word, declaring what God has done in his Son, and applying the message to the hearts of people” (16). To preach in this way, he gives five steps for one’s sermon preparation: 1) study the text; 2) unify the redemptive theme; 3) construct an outline; 4) develop the functional elements; and 5) add an introduction and a conclusion.

Faithfully preaching the Bible starts with carefully studying the Bible. As the preacher digs into the text of Scripture, he must not only locate it in its immediate historical and literary contexts, but in the bigger picture of God’s plan of redemption in Christ as it unfolds throughout the Bible. He must find the main point of the text “through careful exegesis of the selected passage” and then develop the main point of the sermon “in view of the meaning of the text, the redemptive elements in the text, in light of our particular audience and occasion” (152). The outline should flow from and support the main point of the sermon while also reflecting the structure of the text. Explanation, application, and illustration further augment the outline by demonstrating the clarity, relevance, and authority of God’s Word. Having a clear grasp of the sermon’s point and outline, the preacher is ready to develop an introduction to raise interest and orient hearers to the text and a conclusion that calls for a proper response to the Word. Through these steps, the preacher’s study yields an expository message from which he may prepare a manuscript or brief notes. Regardless of what written aids one uses, the expositor needs to pray over and internalize the message before preaching. While each preacher has his own personality, he must avoid distracting behaviors and seek to clearly and passionately communicate the unchanging gospel while addressing challenges of diverse worldviews and biblical illiteracy.

The Christ-Centered Expositor is a strong addition to the multitude of preaching handbooks. Merida effectively integrates and balances the spiritual life of the preacher with the mechanics of preaching, keeping the focus on Christ in both areas. This integration distinguishes the book, since many preaching books focus on the technical aspects of preparation and delivery of the sermon, while assuming or ignoring the preparation of the preacher and the “Christocentric emphasis” present throughout the whole Bible (54). The preacher must be continually transformed by the gospel and His relationship with Christ, and must continually proclaim Christ as he studies and shares the message of the text. The book effectively breaks down a five-step method which beginning preachers can use and from which experienced preachers can learn. Chapters conclude with summaries followed by study questions or exercises which can be used to practice the concepts. By including a substantial bibliography, a sermon outline template, and a sermon evaluation form, the book offers further help for preparing and assessing one’s sermons. While Merida interacts with other preaching books, cites sources, and uses theological terms and categories, he still writes in an accessible, clear style. These features make The Christ-Centered Expositor suitable for a preacher’s self-study, useful as a discipleship resource for mentoring, and commendable as a potential textbook, supplemental reading, or book review option in a formal preaching or ministry class.

While the book follows a helpful flow and organization, chapter fourteen, “Contextualize the Message,” seems out of place after the chapters on sermon preparation and delivery. A treatment of contextualization might have been better located near or integrated with chapter eleven, “Step 4: Develop the Functional Elements,” especially since it intersects with the element of application, requiring serious consideration of how Scripture speaks to modern cultural challenges. Such consideration should influence the message before the expositor stands to preach.

In any age and culture, the faithful expositor must be one who seeks to glorify God through preaching Christ and His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christ-Centered Expositor provides fresh encouragement and instruction for such preachers and deserves to be widely read and used.

Douglas Smith, MDiv graduate (2016), ThM student, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Originally published in the Midwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 2017), 148-150.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Recommendation: Is Genesis History?

IGH - Cover
Film Recommendation:  Is Genesis History?

Is Genesis History? is two hours well-spent.  It is an exploration of a clear question through dialogue with credentialed experts, presented in a beautifully shot and edited film.

The Exploration of the Film

Is Genesis History? is indeed the question the film sets out to explore.  To explore this question requires investigation into several more specific questions, primarily focusing on events and figures in Genesis chapters 1-11, a portion explained by some as figurative and by others as false.  To answer whether Genesis is history requires answering more focused questions such as the following:  Does Genesis present Adam and Eve as historical figures and the originators of the human race?  Was there a historical entrance of human rebellion against the Creator God?  Does Genesis present a worldwide, catastrophic Flood as a historical event?  Does the Tower of Babel account preserve trustworthy history?

The Experts of the Film

To investigate these specific questions, the filmmakers pursued the twin areas of the intended meaning and the accuracy of the text through interviews with experts.  Del Tackett leads the viewer through the movie with a series of monologues and dialogues with a variety of credentialed authorities, each, including Tackett, holding at least one terminal degree.

IGH - COL
Boyd demonstrates the repetition of the Hebrew word “kol” to highlight the universal, global nature of the catastrophic Flood in the historical narrative of Genesis 6-8.

A study of the biblical languages, literature, and theology are essential to discovering and confirming whether Genesis purports to be history.  Hebraist Steven Boyd brings out clues from the text of Genesis, in contrast to the contemporary literature, to demonstrate its genre and intended meaning, while George Grant, pastor, discusses the interpretation of Genesis as history by the other biblical authors.  He also breaks down the influences and implications of theological approaches that seek to deny the historicity of Genesis and its importance as a foundation for accurately understanding for all other disciplines.

Genesis presents itself as history, but does modern science disprove that claim?  Can it be accurate?  Tackett interviews a swath of other thinkers and scientists, from philosophy of science (Paul Nelson) to biology (Kevin Anderson, Paul Nelson, Robert Carter, Todd Wood), geology (Steve Austin, Andrew Snelling), astronomy (Danny Faulkner), archaeology (Douglas Petrovich), and paleontology (Marcus Ross, Kurt Wise).  These experts point to evidence that fits well with the record of Genesis, and interact with alternative interpretations of the common data in each of these disciplines.  For example, Faulkner discusses the problem posed by the distance of starlight.  Carter distinguishes minor adaptations and changes in living things with one kind becoming a different kind over massive amounts of time, arguing that the complexity of life supports the historical narrative of Genesis.  Austin and Ross show that phenomena like the Grand Canyon and the fossil record can be understood in the paradigm of the historical account of Genesis, particularly in light of the Flood.  Petrovich argues for a likely site for the Tower of Babel, in the same geographical area and consistent with the biblical description.

IGH - Tackett Petrovich.PNG
Tackett interviews Petrovich about the likely location of the historic Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

The Excellence of the Film

The film’s presentation and pacing make it a delight to watch.  The production quality of the audio and video is excellent.  Some of the scenes feature breathtaking drone footage of gorgeous landscapes, while others reveal close-ups of life forms small.  Spectacular time-lapses fascinate.  Professional graphics and transitions break up the segments and help explain concepts.  The interviews are substantive enough to inform but succinct enough to avoid tedium while inviting further exploration.

 

IGH - GC.PNG
Tackett speaking with Steve Austin at the Grand Canyon.

 

The Extras of the Film

Since the film is now available on physical and digital media, one can obtain an edition with the extras, which I recommend.  These include further Ph.D. testimony from scientists, such as mechanical engineer Stuart Burgess and atmospheric physicist Larry Vardiman, and theologian Douglas Kelly, who traces the history of the interpretation of Genesis in the church, revealing that the overwhelming view until the mid-eighteenth century was that Genesis presents actual history.

An Evaluation of the Film

Is Genesis History? is suitable for any teen or adult, and would be great for classroom and church settings as well, especially if done in tandem with discussion, a research assignment, or further reading.  I found the film to be useful as an introduction to the issues, providing challenges for those who deny the historicity of the book and encouragement for those who defend it.  Both types of viewers should be stimulated to further study of God’s Word and God’s world.

The film is available in DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital streaming/download.  Church and group showing licenses are also available.  To purchase or for additional resources, visit isgenesishistory.com and click on the resource tab, which includes

  • Film guide (downloadable PDF), pictured.
  • Scientist takeaways
  • Video Devotional Bible Study
  • Church and family resources

 Check out the trailer here:

UPDATE: THANK YOU TO THE FILM PRODUCERS AND LEV3L FOR SPONSORING A DVD GIVEAWAY, AND THANK YOU FOR THE ENTRIES.  CONGRATULATIONS TO DAVE MITCHELL FOR WINNING!

Book Review/Recommendation: Reviving New England

000rne
Reviving New England

Book Review: Reviving New England by Nate Pickowicz; foreword by Steven J. Lawson

Paperback
Kindle

Nate Pickowicz’s call for Reviving New England may surprise you, and in a good way.  When I contacted Pastor Pickowicz to request a review copy, I expected to read lots of practical tips, hopefully derived from sound theology, but like a how-to manual, complete with a schematic for a detailed program to accomplish the goal.  Although the book does not lack practical application, Reviving New England is not ultimately about what any of us can do to ensure revival in a land no longer known for the love of Christ, the preaching of the gospel, and holy living.  Instead, the book defines revival as something that is an extraordinary and “surprising work of the Spirit of God” (112).  This work produces an increased number of conversions, a regathering and strengthening of backslidden believers, and a deepening devotion in faithful believers (16-17) and is to be distinguished from revivalism, which reduces revival to a mechanical consequence of human manipulation.

Summary

The Northeastern United States were once alive with a vibrant Christian witness, which liberalism, rationalism, and Unitarianism significantly eroded.  Pickowicz chronicles the birth and decline of Christian influence in New England and gives a prescription that may seem overly simplistic to some:  expository preaching.  It is the primary task of a faithful preacher to “stand before the people of God to faithfully discharge his ministry of reading, teaching, and exhorting with the Scriptures” (33).  Churches need pastors who will passionately and clearly proclaim the gospel of Christ as they continually expound the message of the text of the Bible.  New England needs individuals and churches to hate sin and vigorously pursue holy living.  They must have an accurate view of God, which entails a healthy understanding of and opposition to sin.  “If God were to fail to oppose and punish sin, He would be guilty of aiding and abetting sin, which would impugn His righteous character” (42).  Rather than a common cultural independence and extreme self-reliance, New England needs churches that understand the glory and beauty of unity in a local body that seeks to enjoy fellowship, service, intergenerational discipleship (cf. Titus 2), biblical counsel, and church discipline.

Churches must understand that revival is not about preserving tradition or historic buildings, but about the glory of God.  God is glorified as Christ is preached, sinners are converted, and believers grow.  The church must proclaim the gospel, make disciples by teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20), and bear witness for Him as living displays of His ongoing work.  “Our testimonies give powerful evidence that God is still intimately involved with this world to the praise of His own glorious grace” (82).  Personal rededication, church revitalization, and church planting are needed in New England, solidly based on the foundation of God’s Word, seeking to conform ourselves to His character and our local expressions of His body to the pattern laid out in His Word, including attention to standards for church leadership and membership.  The book ends with a call to pray for the Lord of harvest to send laborers who will work side by side, focusing on their area and then helping others, to be a faithful gospel witness who look for God’s gracious blessing.

Evaluation

Reviving New England lays a robust foundation of history and sound, Christ-centered theology for its practical application.  At 140 pages, the book is concise, but meaty enough for a good discussion group or church class to study.  The author selectively and intentionally sprinkles helpful quotes and explains theological language.  His calls for expository preaching, discipleship, and prayer are firmly grounded in biblical mandates and an awareness of the present need.  These features make the book both clear and convicting.  I came away spiritually enriched and encouraged by it.

The bulk of Reviving New England focuses on true revival and what a genuine work of the Spirit produces in people and churches.  The book is certainly flavored by its overview of Christianity in the region and the historical and cultural comments presented throughout the book.  If I could make a suggestion for revision, I would love to see some stories of what God has done in particular individuals and churches.  Whether intermingled in the chapters or added as an additional appendix, such testimony could further illustrate some of the points in the book and witness to God’s continuing work in New England and the potential for what may be yet to come.  

The message of Reviving New England is applicable to any individual, any church, and any place in need of revival, and that was a good surprise.  The need for good theology, a clear presentation of the gospel, repentance, faithful Christian living, biblical ecclesiology, and a reliance on God in prayer are clear and are desperately needed in New England and throughout the world in every place and every generation.   I highly recommend this book for all who long for the Spirit’s surprising work to send forth a mighty renewal in the land.
PERSONAL NOTE: My connections to New England prompted much of my interest in the book.  I greatly desire to see revival there.  I am from rural Appalachia (Northeast Tennessee), but my wife is from Massachusetts, so we travel there regularly.  I spent three months as an intern with the New England Center for Expository Preaching in 2008, meeting many New England pastors and church members at various church meetings, conferences, and tours of historic sites, and had the privilege of preaching each week in a different pulpit throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I hope to be of encouragement to those who are continuing to labor for the gospel there, encourage others to consider going there, and, if the Lord so directs, join them myself one day.  Let us pray for the Lord to bring revival to New England and raise up laborers for the fields that are ready for harvest.

DEAL ALERT: Logos Bible Software $25 Code

Logos Bible Software has a free $25 code (no strings attached).

You don’t even have to have a paid version of Logos (they have a free version).
One very worthwhile option would be to get Steve Runge’s High Definition Animated Commentary on Philippians (https://www.logos.com/product/50323/animated-high-definition-commentary-philippians) — this is a Logos exclusive and consists of very helpful videos.  But make sure you do your study of the text before jumping to any commentary!

10 Questions to Consider for Accountability Groups, Accountability Partners, and Self-Examination

Exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13 NKJV

Many Christians have benefited greatly from accountability partnerships. These partnerships often involve asking pointed, specific questions to one another about areas of sin that are common and serious pitfalls.  However, if we are not careful, we can become deceived by our sin to such a degree that we may unconsciously begin thinking of sin in terms of those pointed, specific questions.  It’s the checklist mentality, and we must avoid it!

While we should certainly zero in on problem areas, we should be sure our strategy doesn’t allow “respectable sins” to loiter without notice.  To help us get at the root of sin in our lives, sometimes we need to dig a little deeper. Here are ten questions to help us do just that. As we ask these questions, let us remember that God calls to confess sin, forsake sin, and embrace and enjoy the forgiveness of sin offered to us in the gospel by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Have I been seeking to live for God’s glory or my own?

2. How does my life (thoughts, desires, and outward actions) measure up to the 10 Commandments and the 2 Great Commands to love God with all my being and my neighbor as myself?

3. What have I set my affections on, worshiping in the place of God?

4. What sin has been crouching at my door — a sin that I think I can tame?

5. Have I harbored bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart?

6. Have I been living my life in a manner worthy of the gospel?

7. Have I allowed myself to become complacent and careless in my relationship with the Lord and in seeking to please Him?

8. Have I sought to live independently of God in some way, failing to properly fear and acknowledge Him?

9. How have I sinned this day/week, both in commission and omission?

10. Have I consciously sought to rejoice in the Lord or has my attitude been colored by sinful desires and circumstances?

These questions are not mutually exclusive, as some certainly overlap.  Certainly, others could be formulated as well.  Nonetheless, I hope they are helpful to spur us on to forsake sin and pursue our joy in Christ and live worthy of His good news, as we find our joy in Him.

Jesus’ Humble Service in John 13 & Philippians 2

Two of the most beautiful passages in the Bible share this theme of Jesus as an example of humble service.  John narrates the details of a key episode of Jesus’ ministry, when He performed an act to give an example, and Paul points to Jesus as the supreme pattern to imitate for unity through humility that springs from Christian love.

John 13

Philippians 2

v. 1: Jesus’ actions sprang from faithful love  vv.1-4: Our actions should spring from Christian love
v. 3: Jesus knew the Father had given all things into His hand, that He had come from God and was going back to God v. 6: Jesus is God, and He knew so, but would not use this to His own advantage
vv. 4-5: Jesus laid aside His outer garments, girded Himself with a towel and performed a lowly slave-duty of washing feet.  This was about a day before He would go to the cross (ch 18-19). vv. 7-8 Jesus gave up privileges and humbled Himself as a slave.  He became a man and was obedient even to the horribly shameful death of the cross.
vv. 13-14, 16: Jesus is rightly acknowledged as Master and Lord, and those who serve Him and are sent by Him are under Him.  vv. 9-11: Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
vv. 15, 17: Our Lord set an example for His disciple-servants to follow.  “ For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” v. 5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

 

Add in the quarreling disciples about who was greatest (Luke 22:24 records an instance that is likely very close on the heels of the events in John 13) and Euodia and Syntyche’s prominent disagreement (Phil. 4:2-9), and we see the absolute need for following Jesus’ example of humble service, if we are to show true Christian love and unity.

New CAPS Class in Bristol, Tennessee at Liberty Baptist Church

The Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply is partnering with Liberty Baptist Church to offer a 12 session, monthly course in studying and preaching the Bible. The first meeting is from 6:30-10pm on Thursday, Feb 2 at 112 Walnut Hill Road, Bristol, TN 37620. CAPS director Doug Smith will teach the Bible study component and Associate Pastor Roger Daugherty will teach preaching. Pastor Stan Anderson will also assist with the class. The cost for each student is $50 and includes all textbooks (Doriani, Getting the Message & MacArthur, ed., Preaching) and notebook materials. For more information or to sign up, click here to contact us.  For more information about CAPS, visit capsministry.com.