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There is no measured reciprocity in YHWH’s mercy as this is sketched out in the book of Isaiah. The logic of quid pro quo has no place here, in this landscape of abundant pardon.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6–9 ESV)

The call not to let the opportunity of experiencing YHWH’s mercy—forgiving and restorative—is based in part on the perhaps limited window of its availability. One should seek him ‘while he may be found’ and call upon him ‘while he is near’.

But the other motive for such questing after YHWH in this season, when he is unusually close at hand, is that his compassion for those ‘wicked’ and ‘unrighteous’ people who will forsake what they have become and return to YHWH is articulated as ‘abundant pardon’. In fact, it is the disproportionate mercy with which YHWH will embrace those who return that sets the context for a passage which is usually quoted in the abstract, as though it simply marked a generic difference between how YHWH reasons and how people think. In reality, the prophet is getting at something far more concrete and specific than that:

‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV)

The ways and thoughts that are so patently superhuman (if one may use that term without trivializing its subject) are the ways and thoughts of abundant pardon. That is, there is no restrictive calculation, no reductive logic, no parsimony about the forgiving mercy with which YHWH embraces the evil man who returns to him.

Those familiar human measurings-out of grace with which we are so damningly familiar are as low in altitude as a fetid swamp at sea level is over against a soaring bank of cumulus clouds. One can speak as though the two can be compared, but in point of fact they can only be contrasted. The former is very much unlike the latter. The two are not even close to each other in scope and scale.

To hew to verse nine’s precise cadence, neither the way YHWH thinks about pardon nor the way he acts to forgive can be captured in the small bowls and measly cups of human reckoning.

There is no self-help in the prophet’s insight, no tawdry bootstraps to be yanked up, no pathetic morality to be offered as bait to a god who is reluctant to forgive but might just be persuaded if one is sufficiently sad and sincere. YHWH is not like that, does not play that game.

If human forgiveness is our starting line, our point of reference, we can know nothing of divine pardon. The one is not a suitable analogue to the other. At our best, a very good man might forgive an evil man who is sorry. YHWH is not like that.

With him, abundant mercy is like nothing we have ever seen.

Few of the book of Isaiah’s statements about the ‘servant of the Lord’ are as densely packed as the image-rich section begins at Isaiah 49.1.

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.’

And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ (Isaiah 49:1–6 ESV)

First, we have the expression of profound intimacy between the servant and YHWH. This is made explicit throughout the passage, but the reader should not miss its implicit expression in the passage’s first words. The opening summons (‘Listen to me … give attention’) is sometimes offered in the book of Isaiah by the prophet with the immediately following declaration that ‘YHWH has spoken’. At other times YHWH himself seeks to use this convening expression himself.

Here, remarkably, it is the servant who both calls hearers to attention and delivers the content of the declaration: in this case, that YHWH is the initiator of the servant’s existence and his purpose. The effect of this transfer of a familiar and authoritative convening expression to the servant’s lips seems to effect an elevation of his status.

Second, there is an unwavering focus in this passage upon the plight of the coastlands, the far-off peoples, the nations, and the farthest end of the earth. Although some would argue that these expressions pertain to Jews who are found in those places, it seems to me that the traditional understanding that these are non-Jewish people(s) enjoys the preponderance of support from the data. The conventional view also enjoys the support of the juxtaposition in verse 6, where the comparatively ‘light thing’ of the servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and bringing back ‘the preserved of Israel’ stands over against what is by implication a weightier achievement: enlightening the nations and extending YHWH’s salvation to the end of the earth.

It appears that the developing profile of the servant, strengthened in this passage in measure that must not be overlooked, includes genuinely redemptive activity and achievement in the interest of gentile nations.

Third, one notes the juxtaposition of word and weaponry. That is, both here and elsewhere the servant’s principal occupation seems to be announcing YHWH’s redemptive purpose and calling people to participate in it. Yet the servant affirms in these verses that YHWH has made (both for deployment and for safeguarding, perhaps in the latter case until the appropriate moment) him to be like a sword and an arrow. These two poles come together in the exquisite detail that …

(YHWH) made my mouth like a sharp sword.

The implication is that the servant’s verbally centered activity serves to change fates and destinies in the way that battle changes the status quo of warring nations in one direction or another. His role is here not consoling or affirming, but rather one that intends deep change. That is, he does not consolidate and strengthen what is; rather he transforms it into something new.

Fourth, we should not overlook the note of wearying labor in the servant’s commission. The book is not sparing with the vocabulary that here comes into play once again, with a Hebrew verb like יגע carrying the reader’s mind to an arguably more famous passage like Isaiah 40.27-31.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.’ (Isaiah 40:27–31 ESV)

There, as in chapter 49, it is Jacob/Israel who contemplate the tragedy of final weariness and find that YHWH’s strength (כח) becomes the effective counterpoise to their fatigue in the face of unrelenting demands.

Finally, this passage insists upon what emerges here as part of a developing theme in the book of Isaiah: Jacob/Israel (here identified also as the servant) and YHWH find themselves in a mutually glorifying relationship. Honor and glory (at times complemented by ‘beauty) flow back and forth between YHWH and the servant as the former pursues his purpose and the latter his commission.

Jonathan Wilson’s intimate look at this most enigmatic artist is just the introduction a non-specialist like this reviewer needs for moving from a first encounter with Chagall’s work to a deeper understanding of his life and person. I suspect the veteran Chagall watcher will also find more than a little in Wilson’s pages that will enrich his understanding or throw fresh light on ambiguities that are worthy of further inspection.

51Tg6-LCzQLWilson’s method is to follow Chagall around from city to city and lover to lover. Evidence for this is seen in the titles of the book’s seventeen chapters. All but three of them simply present the name of one of Chagall’s places or one of his women. So, for example, ‘1. Vitebsk, 2. St. Petersburg, 3. Paris, 4. Bella … 12. New York, 13. Virgina (Haggard), 14 Orgeval …’ The three exceptions (6. Yiddish Theater, 15. A Problem of Conscience, 17. Blessings) explore matters of deep thematic importance that lie close to the soul of Chagall and his art.

So does Wilson periodize Chagall’s life in helpful ways. We travel with an artist as he moves from context to context in a world where it seemed impossible for him to own any one of them completely or to deny any one finally. Chagall emerges as a conflicted human being, unable fully to rank the places and the people that have shaped him, unable to leave any place behind, certain to live simultaneously as Russian, as Jew, as Frenchman, as quasi-American, as on-again, off-again Zionist, as an artist who was himself never other than a work in progress.

If Chagall failed to integrate these stages-of-residence, he at least combined them. For example, Wilson writes that …

Chagall, whether he believed that he was doing so or not, sneaked Yiddish culture into twentieth-century painting through the back door. Hardly anyone, with the exception of the odd French anti-Semite, noticed what was happening because the vibrant visual expression of his paintings carried the stamp of the modern and not the stigma of a dying language. Sadly, Chagall’s genius spawned a host of artists who specialized in Jewish kitsch, whereas Picasso’s had an impact on almost every great painter who came after him.

And again …

It was Chagall’s great talent as an artist to absorb influences without becoming a slave to them. He was not an intellectual, and he powerfully resisted ideologies and theories while, magpielike, stealing what he fancied from the various isms that surrounded him. This characteristic preserved Chagall’s artistic integrity in Paris but inevitably got him into trouble in Russia after the Revolution.

Along the way, Wilson touches repeatedly upon Chagall’s fascination with Jesus, this crucified Jew who frequents the artist’s canvas in a way that has generated multiple explanations, sadly none of them coming directly from Chagall’s own lips or pen.

Here is Wilson himself on the question:

Chagall, in what was perhaps an even more radical gesture, appeared to reach back to a pre-Christian Jesus, a man who has not yet been granted the powers of miracle and redemption, and is rather an ancient Jewish martyr presented as a symbol of contemporary Jewish martyrs. In so doing Chagall risked alienating those members of his Jewish audience for whom the simple presence of Jesus Christ in a painting signaled betrayal and oppression rather than their opposite … Chagall’s appropriation of the Crucifixion of Jesus as an icon of Jewish suffering is not entirely uncommon among Jewish writers and artists in the twentieth century. It occurs, for example, in the work of the Yiddish novelist Pinchas Kahanovich (known as Der Nister, The Hidden One), in Scholem Asch, to chilling effect in Elie Wiesel’s Night, and in Yehuda Amichai’s remarkable poem ‘The Jewish Time Bomb’. Whatever its degree of surprise to a Jewish audience, Chagall’s decision to paint a Crucifixion scene in 1938 is hardly out of keeping with his own obsessions, for, as has already been noted, his relationship with ‘Christ as a poet and prophetic figure’ was deep and long-lasting.

Wilson does not elevate the great man more than the evidence allows. He is wry about the massive and vulnerable ego that does not so much distinguish Chagall from his peers as it identifies him with them. He can just as easily register Chagall’s well-earned reputation as an attentive and caring teacher as he can quote this observation by one of the artist’s wives:

‘(H)e painted love but he didn’t practice it,’ Virginia Haggard remarks of Chagall in her memoire, more in sorrow than in anger.

Writing as he does for the Jewish Encounter Series, Jonathan Wilson is particularly perceptive on the dynamics of Chagall’s Jewishness, both as the artist lived this identity and as others (both Jews and non-Jews) perceived and interacted with it.

In the end, Wilson’s life of Chagall appropriately humanizes the man, recording in his final pages Chagall’s wistful observation in a speech before the Israeli Knesset that ‘I tend to look with some sadness at everything—friend or foe.’ Wilson has done us the service of introducing us to an artist who tended more than he declared, who brought his abiding enigma into his art and so illuminated our own unshakeable paradoxes, nuances, and mixed identities as we engage the very bright and deeply brooding blue art of Marc Chagall.

Easter is becoming a rough time for Christians in lands where Islam is the dominant religion. It’s likely to become still rougher, as this preeminent Christian holy day packs the elements that most enrage Islamist sensitivities into one dense cluster of hours.

A poignant and stirring pair of paragraphs closes today’s Wall Street Journal coverage of the pain and anger that follow upon this weekend’s double massacre in Egypt.

The Journal‘s Maria Abi-Habib and Dahlia Kholaif introduce us to Hoda Ibrahim, a 20-year-old Egyptian university student, who says with a grim determination that is familiar on the lips of Christians in the Middle East these days:

We no longer see a future for us in Egypt, but we won’t leave … Yes, we’re very angry at the government. After each attach, they make the same promises only for it to happen all over again.’

Yet the article’s enduring resonance takes shape in its final paragraphs, which signal that this mess is not nearly as easy to figure out as Muslim-v.-Christian rhetoric suggests:

Youths sobbed on the sidewalk as they waited to enter the church, some clutching white flower wreaths shaped like crosses. Others had come immediately from class, textbooks in hand.

Ms. Ibrahim showed photos on her phone of 11 friends killed on Sunday. Her Muslim classmates also attended the funeral, women wearing the hijab embracing friends donning crucifix necklaces, crying alongside them.

However we may choose to come to grips with the pluriform shapes, convictions, and impulses of Islam as a religion, it is a mistake to indulge the feel-good language that lays such evil violence at the feet of all Muslims, let alone those of my Muslim neighbor.

Those hijab-covered friends of Hoda Ibrahim accompanied her into a Christian holy space to mourn the violence that their co-religionists have once again perpetrated upon the innocent.

There is no blood on their hands.

We may in good faith ask them what holds them to a religion that appears to engender such horrors at its margins. But we must not demonize them or suppose that theirs are crocodile tears.

The Middle Eastern man whose resurrection is celebrated this week would not have done so. Probably, he would have looked them in the eye, taken them at their word, found his heart moved by their grief and confusion. Likely, his tears would have mingled with theirs. In time, he would have taken their hands in his and shared with them some good news.

 

I never blog about stuff like this.

But the reports and video coming out regarding a passenger’s forceful removal from an aircraft at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport yesterday have me incensed.

Let me clarify my modest credentials for expressing my opinion: I am a Million Miler on United Airlines. My butt has been in a United Airlines seat more often than I care to remember. Sadly the incident that’s hitting the news today is the logical conclusion of the contempt for its passengers that United displays far too often. Many of us fly this airline only because we must.

I was safe at home in Indianapolis yesterday. But I feel like I’ve been on that plane in Chicago, minus the dragging of a passenger down the aisle, the bloody face, and most of the screaming.

With some regularity, United flight attendants, gate agents, and pilots show extraordinary human kindness and patience, often in the face of stunningly belligerent passengers. The ones who do know who they are and they are likely almost as embarrassed and upset about this incident as the passengers on that plane at O’Hare who were forced to live through what happened.

According to news reports, United needed to get four employees from Chicago to Louisville and could persuade no paid customers to defer their travel for a day in exchange for $800 in highly conditioned and caveated United travel vouchers (I’ve got enough of them to know) and a hotel voucher. I’m not surprised.

In regular life, this is a company problem, not a customer problem. United, true to form, chose not to find a way to solve its problem by itself (offer the passengers $2000 if that’s what it takes; get their employees to Louisville by another way, just as the four passengers who were forced to abandon the aircraft would need to find another way; good grief you can drive to Louisville).

Take some responsibility, United. And, please, turn off the ‘friendly skies’ music until you do. Is that too much to ask?

A lot went wrong here. An awful lot. Clearly, United could not have anticipated the behavior of the security officers charged with removing (forcibly if necessary) four ordinary passengers whose day went badly south in an instant.

I hope Mr. Muñoz, by all accounts a decisive and highly relational CEO, is on this. I hope he’s doing nothing else for the next week but fixing this problem and then getting in front of a camera to explain that this will never happen again at United Airlines.

Meanwhile, United Airlines, be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

Isaiah is not so much the herald of unlikely beginnings as he is the prophet of unpromising re-starts.

His signature is not the tale of origins, but rather the anticipation of dead things springing quietly to life. In chapter 11 of the book that bears Isaiah’s name, the prophet assumes the destruction of the Davidic monarchy. Having done so, this compelling oracle goes back to Jesse, the father of David, the shepherdly antecedent to kings and kingdoms. It is as though a fresh start requires a radical retreat to the moment before the long trajectory of Israelite disappointment in its kings had set off upon its tortuous arc.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:1–5 ESV)

This unnamed scion of the house of Jesse emerges from a dead tree, cut down to stump and left to rot amid the leveled forest of kingdoms that did not pan out.

His intimacy with YHWH is breathtaking. In this closest of relationships lies his capacity. Indeed, he is saturated with YHWH’s enabling Spirit, which rests upon him in the way a dense fog takes virtual possession of the valley upon which it descends. In consequence, this new David—if that is how we are to understand this Jesse’s son—is not hobbled by Israel’s eventual blindness and deafness. He sees and listens through appearances, through posturing, through the national hypocrisies which make claims to rightness and inevitability that fool all but the most perceptive watcher.

As a result, justice rather than sham manipulations of the powerless by the powerful takes its life-generating place at the core of the nation’s shared life.

As so often in this long book, we are moved to deep yearning by such lines. And then left to ask in something close to interpretive exasperation …

But who is this … ?

 

 

Langham Partnership Vision Weekend

March 2017

I’ve had the privilege for nearly fifteen years of being a ‘fellow traveler’ with the people and mission of the Langham Partnership.

I’ve sometimes felt like an adoptive member of the family, sometimes a bit like odd Uncle Harry who turns up at holidays and bellows his opinions too loudly from a corner of the living room, sometimes a strategic collaboration partner, sometimes Langham’s very own Serial Party Crasher, and quite often the recipient of that beautiful surprise we call friendship. Along the way, I’ve come to love and admire the people and the mission of Langham.

Now I have no official authorization to coin the phrase ‘The Langham Tripod’. But old friends usually tolerate the liberties that old friends take, or at least overlook certain foibles. So I’m going to do it.

I love the thing after all, this ‘Langham Tripod’ with its scholars, its preachers, and its writers. I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

What, after all, could be more organically aligned with the work and the vision of John Stott … more importantly, what could be more attentive to the deep needs of the global church, with its odd mix of strengths and poverties than a sustained engagement with:

  • the study of Christian Scripture and Christian theology at the most rigorous, most generation-shaping level?
  • the conscientious proclamation of the Christian gospel?
  • the dissemination of books that emanate a careful engagement with Scripture and a love for the Lord of his church?

I love this tripod thing, and over many years as a fellow traveler of Langham … a Langham Watcher of sorts … I have come to admire and now to applaud Langham and its newly named (by me) Tripod.

In my view, it’s just the thing. Just the thing for the Global Church that has come of age in our generation … just the thing for tending to areas where that beloved Church suffers some of its deepest impoverishment … just the thing for a Western Church that is groping and seeking to come to terms with this question:

What is the core of our mission in a world where the center of gravity of Christian faith has, as is so often said, migrated away from its old keeps and strongholds and into the heart of the Global South?

It’s just the thing, and I’m honored to speak of it from my angle of vision.

LANGHAM SCHOLARS

When you’re a guest, you don’t pick favorites. So I won’t do it.

But I will say that Langham Scholars is the program I knew first and have known the longest.

It’s an odd thing about the now formidable armada of Langham Scholars who occupy positions of responsibility and influence around the world. As I interact with such people and become impressed by them—a not unusual occurrence—it’s often something late in the conversation that triggers the question from me …

Are you by any chance a Langham Scholar?

Very often the answer is ‘yes’.

Frankly, I’m impressed.

In not all that many years, Langham Partnership has managed to leverage and extend Uncle John’s extraordinary gift for recognizing outsized talent and uncommon gifting … and then has got behind these people to offer them the opportunity to develop that gifting to the highest level.

Some doctoral supervisors in the UK and North America have learned along the way that many of the most inquisitive minds, the most compelling scholars-in-the-making have been honed not by the high schools, preparatory colleges, and universities of the West, but rather by hard-pressed families and fraying institutions in places like the Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and countless other nations of what we’ve come to call the Majority World.

Thankfully, most of those Langham Scholars who have studied in the West return to their places of origin and serve diligently over the course of a lifetime with fruitfulness that would have not been imaginable if there had been no John Stott … and if there were no Langham Partnership.

When I was at Overseas Council, we typically worked along side of 130 Majority World seminaries in 70 countries at any given moment. Some of them were regional powerhouses. A few of these schools had long and honorable trajectories of service to their region and beyond it. Many had known bumpy transitions between missionary leadership and national leadership, a transitional chapter that is now a decade or two or three behind them. Lots of them were peppy, entrepreneurial outfits with a God-sized vision, a minuscule resource base, and an attitude of ‘if the Lord is not in this, we’re toast.’

Here’s what I want you to hear:

Many of these schools would be a shadow of what I know them to be if it had not been for the Langham Scholars among them.

These are women and men who are comfortably global in their skin. At the same time, they are deeply rooted in a given context … able to speak from it and to it and—on important occasions—able to speak as representative voices from that place they know so well. Either of the two famous post-colonial maladies—that sad, low self-esteem of the colonized on the one hand or the defensive aggression of the almost uncolonized on the other hand—are usually absent from such people. I tend to lay this virtue at the feet of John Stott himself, for his combination of strength and astute humility lives on in Langham Scholars everywhere. Sometimes legacy is a beautiful thing. It certainly is when you hang around Langham. Happily, when this kind of virtue goes all the way down to the core of the organism—as it does at Langham—this virtue becomes a shared aspiration. It becomes contagious.

The story gets even better in recent years as our brothers and sisters in the Global South have stepped up to prepare and launch doctoral programs of their own …. partly to reduce the calamity of ‘brain drain’ to the West but mostly to root the training of a generation’s finest leaders in the soil where they will in fact do most of their leading. Langham Partnership has been a key player in putting some robust wind in the sails of this movement. It’s one of the most encouraging developments I’ve seen in my entire life. If you gather the movers and shakers of this historical phenomenon in a room, the number of Langham Scholars on the roster would be jaw-dropping. A number of them sit with us in this room today.

And as a result of this daring initiative from the Majority World, more and more Langham Scholars are being honed and polished in Majority World doctoral programs. I hope we’ll hear more about this during this Vision Weekend.

I hope you can sense that, after 30 years in Majority World theological education and 13 years of fairly constant presence in Global South theological seminaries, I’m a true believer in the uncommon potency of the Langham Scholar … and in the catalytic influence of the Langham Partnership.

LANGHAM LITERATURE

And yet … the story gets better.

Because there are books

And not just any books …

You see, a good book is not as good as a live conversation with a wise author. But it’s the next best thing.

I like to think of a book-less life as an existence where the only wisdom that is accessible comes from (a) people who are alive right now and (b) people who are alive right here (where I am).

But if I’m going to escape my time-and-space bubble, I’m probably going to read.

And if I’m going to read, I’m probably going to read the work, sadly, of people who look and sound a lot like me.

Or, if I’m a Majority World church leader trying to make sense of my world and of the gospel as it infiltrates my world, sadly I’m probably going to read books that have been written by people who have never set foot on my soil and who know nothing of my people and my context. Because those are, by and large, the only books that are going to be available to me.

Unless, that is, a Langham Literature battles its way forward against the headwinds of a thousand economic and institutional gales and actually gets books by superb Majority World authors into print and then into the hands of eager readers.

Which, happily, is exactly what these crazy people do!

Take a look at their booklist or their book table or talk this weekend with the be-scarvèd Pieter Kwant or one of his minions. The work of Langham Literature is extraordinary work and makes it possible for our brother and sisters in the Global South—as it makes possible for us!—to take up and read … superb books by Majority World authors who, much more often than not, wield their pens as mature disciples of Christ who are canny as snakes and gentle as doves.

Our Langham friends are also developing skills in encouraging their Langham Scholars along the mine-strewn path that leads from the conclusion of doctoral research on to the publishing of accessible reads for a broader public. This is huge, but I’m not going to talk about it, except to say that Langham Literature stands there, ready to make the best output of their Langham Scholars available in writing to the wider church. If you want to know more about this highly effective, low-profile endeavor, talk to Dr. Ian Shaw, who is with us this weekend and up to his armpits (if I may use such a Pennsylvania farm boy term on such an august occasion as this …) in that very work.

Talk about synergy …. This is genuine kingdom-of-God synergy!

LANGHAM PREACHING

And then there’s Langham Preaching.

It’s probably no secret in this company that the Church as a whole suffers from a Famine of Biblical Preaching. Frankly, it’s awful. People shrivel up and die under its leaden sky.

And if you think it’s difficult to find biblically rooted, culturally aware, gospel-saturated preaching in San Diego or Chicago or Hayward, Wisconsin or Sunnyvale or Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania … I dare you to walk with me in Lagos or Moscow or Buenos Aires or Lahore.

The state of preaching … is … truly … awful, whether we understand it as a famine of biblical preaching or an epidemic of Silly Pulpiteering.

Sometimes the whiff of heresy floats in the air, but far more often we’re talking about good people—sinners saved by grace and well-intentioned servants—who simply do not know how to find their way to the kinds of preaching for which our hearts and minds yearn.

I was a in Medellín, Colombia a few months ago. The seminary in that city that Karen and I are ramping up to serve had recently said goodbye to a small army of some 200 preachers who had recently swarmed the modestly sized campus for the annual Escuela de Predicación Transformadora … School of Transformative Preaching. That’s what we know as Langham Preaching, rooted now in Colombian context, lives, and language.

These South American preachers are not the same population as Langham Scholars. These are, in the main, grassroots, self-taught gospel preachers. Some of them will be consumers and readers of Langham Literature publications. Most will not.

These are the men and women who are shepherding the numerical majorities of God’s people in Colombia and in many other places in the world. They are preaching Sunday upon Sunday, but also—many of them—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and … well, you get the picture.

They are the foot-soldiers of gospel proclamation.

You see, I cut my teeth in Latin America alongside this kind of person. Mario was an auto mechanic and a bit of a drunk until a street preacher in a park caught his ear. He found himself sobbing and loving the forgiving Jesus he met in the evangelist’s words before he had words to explain what was happening to him. Within months, his extended family and a bunch of neighbors—not all of them, mind you—had responded to his testimony and had become his little flock.

He was such a genuine pastor because he knew intimately the hard-scrabble life of his people. It was his own life, too.

Mario spoke with such a frictionless empathy with his people. He loved the Bible, but as he moved beyond his first-generation proclamation, he simply didn’t know how to connect the Bible he read ceaselessly with the people he loved so zealously.

He could not connect the dots … he had no hermeneutical method … he knew neither a reliable route from text to context nor from context to text. Beyond simple evangelism, he could not speak for his people the reality that he knew from his bones outward.

The potential upside of people like Mario, to whom the Lord has entrusted deeply embedded proclamation ministry, is huge … if only someone can help them find a toe-hold into life-long development as preachers of the gospel. Someone who knows their context and the fire in their bones in the way that they know it.

This is exactly what Langham Preaching is doing, exploring various modalities, figuring out what works and what does not when providing intensive preaching training to veteran practitioners.

Honestly, Langham Preaching looks to me like the logical next step after Langham Scholars and Langham Literature. I mean, what else would you do but this …

I was delighted to find myself speaking with our brother from Lahore, Pakistan last evening and to learn that Langham Preaching is thriving in … (You heard it here first!) … Pakistan! Just great stuff.

WRAPPING THINGS UP

The Langham Tripod …

  • If careful thinking and the scholarship that turns it into a life-long discipline means anything for Christ’s church …
  • If making hard-won wisdom available to expanding circles of Jesus disciples means anything for his people …
  • If the astute and loving proclamation of the best news ever is the heart and soul of a thriving global church …

… then it’s no wonder that a guy like me can take a long gander at the Langham Partnership and know that these fellow travelers have stumbled upon—no, rather, have been lovingly led into—one of the single most cost-effective, scalable, God-pleasing, church-empowering ministries that I’ve ever known.

So that’s my story … and I’m stickin’ to it.