What is the Fallen Condition Focus?

31 03 2009
Simon Sky Diving
Image by GoGap via Flickr

Bryan Chapell in his book “Christ Centered Preaching” has a helpful concept which some of you might have heard of, but some may note. Even those who have heard of it, often haven’t grasped its value in unifying and directing a sermon.

The FCF or Fallen Condition Focus is basically a way of distilling the point being made in the passage to its first audience in terms of their problem (or fallen condition). This then becomes a bridge for connecting with today’s hearer. Chapell says: “An FCF need not be something for which we are guilty of culpable. It simply needs to be an aspect or problem of the human condition that requires the instructing, admonition, and/or comfort of Scripture.” I have found it best to say to students, “look for one word if possible.” So it might be guilt, or hopelessness, or fear. In Mark 4:35-41 (“the Calming of the Storm”), the fallen condition of “fear” seems central (contrasting faith for Mark). In Matthew’s account of the same incident however, “reluctance to follow” fits better with his purpose and the context in which he uses this incident. Do you realize that the same incident in different synoptic gospels will likely have different FCFs and thus be complete different in their aims?

In John 10:1-18 (the “I am the door/good shepherd” passage), I take the audience of the gospel to be people in the synagogue who are thinking to turn fully to Christ, but are reluctant (c.f. Carson’s John, p91). Thus the FCF of this passage might be “weariness with false saviors” and a resulting evangelistic talk could center on showing an audience how the supposed saviors of their world have never been more than thieves and robbers. Jesus as the door etc. is different, bringing salvation, security and life.

One more thing to note : When you have decided what the FCF is, the opening illustration must be about this point, it must be on this subject, so that in people’s mind they know immediately what the sermon will be about. So the intro to John 10 might be something like: “One of the great slogans of today… Try before you buy. Problem is, that even when it doesn’t work, people rarely send things back … so it is with life! For the next ½ hour I want to encourage you to consider sending things back. Sending back the broken solutions to life and consider someone who brings a real solution.”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Evangelistic Preaching (06)

27 03 2009

african-elephant2jpg6. The big idea.

It really pays to know what your big idea is. If the preacher doesn’t know what it is, there’s no chance his hearers will work it out.

Being clear on the big idea of a talk is not just a neat communication technique. The reality is that most carefully chosen texts will contain a key concept to which most of the other elements of the text contribute or point.

So, if a talk doesn’t have a clear big idea, there may be one of two reasons for that: 1. the preacher doesn’t know what the big idea of the text is; 2. he has not crafted the talk so that it reflects the big idea. If the problem is 1, then the preacher needs to go back to the text and do more work (see my last post on this issue). If the problem is 2, the preacher’s sermon-craft needs work.

Here are a few suggestions to help with problem 2:

1. Chappo is helpful in suggesting that for every talk you should be able to write the big idea of the text in one sentence. If you can’t do that, you probably have more work to do (and sentences with 32 clauses do not qualify!).

2. The structure of the sermon and its subordinate points can each be employed to point out/establish the big idea. In that way, the whole talk supports and helps to communicate what the text is really about.

3. I think that clutter in a talk is one of the great enemies of the big idea. Without dumbing-down nor sacrificing nuance, talks need to be culled time and time again so that everything in the talk has a role to play and does not get in the way of the clarity of the message.

4. It’s also worth mentioning the obvious, that the big idea of the talk should be the same as the big idea of the text. For example, the big idea of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 is not that ‘your biggest need is the forgiveness of sins’. While that might be deduced from the text, the big point is ‘Jesus has the divine authority to forgive sins’.

Posted by Con Campbell

Coversation with an Athiest Friend 02

26 03 2009
Karl Marx 1882 (edited)
Image via Wikipedia

Here is a continuation of the answer I wrote to my friend addressing some things about the nature of science…

“Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.

Science is firstly about establishing positive truth. In the process it debunks other false ideas when the establishing alternative contradicts previously held notions. Many scientists (Christian or not) don’t see any contradiction in anything yet found and that’s because they are biased by their upbringing, lingering primitive thought patters and/or a need to affirm themselves (poor Tim Keller). I.e. they have bias, which is exactly what Descartes was about eliminating (more power to him!). But reading Descartes, the first principle in his method is equally applicable to hard-core atheists as to hard-core deists – assume nothing you cannot be absolutely certain about. You cannot be certain there is no God, and you kid no one to suggest otherwise. What you can be certain about is that you are no more objective than the next Joe (plumber or not). You also think in paradigms which like to accept what fits with them and affirms them, and reject what doesn’t. So I will look for things, in science, the world, and my own experience that fit with existence of God and try to dismiss things that don’t. You will look for things that fit with disbelief in God and seek to dismiss things which don’t – which is exactly how your responses so far have read. E.g. an honest reading of history doesn’t show that individual belief (note carefully) in God leads to any more immorality, bigotry, hatred etc. than a belief that Manchester United is better than Liverpool, or Marxist humanism is the solution to all political woes. Your accusations about Keller misrepresenting science is equally applicable to what you’ve done with social history. Let’s discuss this thing sensibly like two well educated blokes who both hope Australia might win the return leg in South Africa – but have their doubts. [but of course Australia did win 2-1!]

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Advanced Greek (01)

25 03 2009
learngreekin25years1This year at Moore College, for the first time in our 153-year existence, we have offered a fourth year elective on Advanced Greek. It’s called ‘Advanced Topics in Biblical Greek and Exegesis’. While I was expecting a small enrollment, I have been delighted to have a decent-sized class, comparable to several other fourth year electives.

I thought I’d share some of what we’ve been doing in a little series of posts.

1. Pronunciation

First, we have adopted a Modern Greek pronunciation. There’s no question in my mind that this much more closely resembles how the language was pronounced in the Hellenistic period. Moreover, a Modern pronunciation (or variations of it) is unquestionably the preference of ‘the cool kids’ in Greek scholarly circles right now. I hope that we will see an abandonment of the Erasmian pronunciation, the adoption of which was one of the (several) colossal blunders in the history of Greek studies.

Posted by Con Campbell

Conversation with an Atheist Friend 01

23 03 2009
Category:Atheist Wikipedians
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I have been having a very lively conversation with a childhood friend who is an atheist. We have known each other for over 30 years… so you will see that we have speak quite freely on things. I pick the conversation up with discussion of evidence:

[Why don’t you believe in God?]

[My Friend]

If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.) The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the Jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence


OK I’m back…

If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is rubish, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn would put it (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1992]). Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

[To Be Continued…]

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Evangelistic Preaching (05)

22 03 2009

pharisee-and-tax-collectorjpg5. Exegeting the text.

It may sound obvious, I know, but it’s worth saying. If you’ve worked out what text you want to use, it really pays to do the proper work on the text (d’uh!). Why bother saying something that is second nature to most preachers? Because I suspect that when it comes to evangelistic talks, some preachers will approach the task something like this: ‘I don’t need to do much exegesis of the text, because I already know what it’s about, and besides, I don’t need all the details of text, since it’s an evangelistic talk anyway.’ Right from the start, then, what the text may really be saying doesn’t get a look-in. If you ask me, that’s one the reasons that many evangelistic talks end up sounding same-ish, and why some talks really lack depth of insight.

We need to go to work on the text. Here’s an example. Take the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18.9–14). It’s obviously a great text for preaching about the sheer mercy of God, and how the repentant sinner is right in God’s sight, whereas the self-righteous religious person is not. OK so far.

But here are some points about the passage that I have rarely heard preachers acknowledging (i.e. I suspect they don’t know these things about the text):

1. The setting is likely one of the two daily atonement services at the temple.

2. The Pharisee does not ask God for anything, but his prayer is really a declaration.

3. Because the setting is likely an atonement service, there are other people present, which means that the Pharisee’s prayer publicly denounces the tax collector (v.11).

4. Because the setting is public, the tax collector’s standing far off emphasizes his shame (v.13).

5. It was extremely rare for men to beat their chest in public, and they would only do so in an instance of overwhelming grief (v.13).

6. The tax collector asks God TO BE PROPITIOUS toward him (λάσθητί μοι, v.13).

7. And thus, the tax collector is justified in direct connection to propitiation at an atonement service (v.14).

I think that those things—which can only be understood through really working on the text in its historical and literary context—bring the passage to bear in a way that few evangelistic preachers would allow.

Posted by Con Campbell

Evangelistic Preaching (04)

18 03 2009

pauljpg14. Epistles.

Preaching evangelistically from an epistle can be great. For one thing, you can select a passage that deals directly with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and by-pass the whole issue that I touched on earlier: whether or not to ‘import’ ideas from outside the text. So if you want a talk to focus on the cross, you can choose something that gets right at it. Likewise Jesus’ resurrection.

But, there are a number of potential drawbacks when preaching evangelistically from epistles. First, the talk may end up being a bit too conceptual, since some things will require explanation. Second, epistles usually lack characters, story, plot, etc., which means the preacher needs to work hard to keep people engaged. Third, it takes extra effort to show why the text relates to normal people. As such, I think a decent rule of thumb is that preaching from epistles may require more illustrations and application than preaching from narrative.

There’s also the issue of plucking a few verses out of their context. This doesn’t need to be as concerning as it sounds, however. I remember Peter Jensen once saying in a class that it wouldn’t hurt us to preach evangelistically from one verse every now and then. He said that he understands the importance of handing the verse appropriately according to its context, but there’s no reason why the full context needs to be part of the evangelistic talk. I think that’s good advice!

Posted by Con Campbell

Vale Ken McKay

14 03 2009

Kenneth L. McKay was the grandfather of Greek verbal aspect. First writing on the subject in 1965, he published numerous articles over the following thirty years, and was the author of A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An Aspectual Approach. Without a doubt, his was the major influence behind the ‘new aspect era’, launched by the works of Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning in 1989/90.

Ken died yesterday morning in Sydney of a sudden heart attack.

Ken was a lovely Christian man, who for 26 years lectured in classics at the ANU in Canberra, and was for many years the area chairman of AFES in that region. He leaves behind his wife Margaret, seven adult children, and a tribe of grandchildren.

His contribution to the study of New Testament Greek will, in time, be seen as one of the most important of the twentieth century. He will be greatly missed.

Posted by Con Campbell

Evangelistic Preaching (03)

13 03 2009

Bible3. Old Testament texts.

One issue that relates to my previous post is that of preaching evangelistically from the Old Testament. I take it for granted that any Old Testament text needs to be read within a biblical-theological (or canonical) context, which means that one’s preaching of an OT text will ultimately point to Christ, one way or another. But in parallel with my thoughts in the previous post, some texts are going to be better for this than others. While the whole OT points to Christ, some texts obviously provide a more direct ‘path’ to Christ than others. I think for an evangelistic talk it would be well advised to go for one of those more direct passages.

Having said that, I think it is very difficult to preach evangelistically from an OT text, and to do it well. Not because the OT doesn’t point to Christ (since it does), but because of the extra leg-work that’s required to handle the text faithfully, and then to show its biblical-theological framework, and then to speak of Christ as saviour and Lord. In fact, I’ve only ever heard one evangelistic talk from the OT that I thought ‘worked’: Ray Galea on Psalm 2, about 9 years ago. I’ve heard other talks that have led me to think, ‘wow that was clever’, which is probably what other preachers who heard the talk thought. But I suspect that many non-Christians who heard the talk thought, ‘what the heck was that about?’.

Posted by Con Campbell

“I want you to know brothers that” 04

12 03 2009
Temple of Apollo -- Ancient Corinth
Image by John & Mel Kots via Flickr

2Corinthians has been a tough letter to understand, particularly in terms of structure. Not only does Pauljump around in his account of events, he also seems to change tone dramatically near the end. This has led people to think that more than one letter has been spliced together!

But it is worth noting that the strange structure parallels a strange purpose statement. Could there be something to this ? Check out what I mean:

2Cor 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.  9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead;  10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.

If we add the thanksgiving prayer which is also about suffering and what can be learnt, I offer you this thought: Paul’s purpose is to recount his hardships to teach them to trust in God not people.

The reason why this might work is that the structure of the letter is very much tied to Paul’s experiences. Note too that he ends by challenging them about trusting in the “super apostles”. Lastly, “we” reflections occur almost twice as often in 2Cor as either Romans or 1Corinthians!

Any thoughts?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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