The smartest thing that any church leader can do is to surround themselves with smart people. We do tend to be influenced and energised by the people we choose to have around us. CS Lewis reminds us that:
“The next best thing to being wise yourself is to live in a circle of those who are.”
I am grateful for wise friends, who are willing to speak honestly into my life so that I can walk wise paths rather than wander foolishly.
Since I became a Christian 50 years ago, I have been grateful for the circle of the wise that I have encountered through Christian books. I have spoken about the value of the sermons and book of Timothy Keller to my life and thinking over the years. One of the wise men he steered me toward was Jonathan Edwards. Most people seem to associate his with his famous, some might say infamous sermon:
Sinners in the hands of an angry God. In think that many critics of the sermon have never read it, or any of his sermons. In the late 20th Century the more appropriate sermon title would be God in the hands of angry sinners, or more accurately in the 21st Century, God in the hands of indifferent people.
Preachers need both to move with the times by reading our culture carefully and learning to articulate the gospel in terms that contemporary people can understand. Preachers also need to have a sense of what is timeless about truth. Sometimes I am taken aback by how fresh a sermon from Augustine, John Owen of Jonathan Edwards can be. Set free from the constraints of the tyranny of the urgent this circle of wise men can speak in ways that address me and my times with astonishing accuracy.
One of the things I appreciate about Edwards is how he has an ability to paint a vivid visual picture in a handful of words. In one of his sermons he speaks of Alexander the Great who conquered much of the known world but now occupies a few square feet in his grave. In another sermon Edwards talks about how there are two ways to discern that honey is sweet.
The first is to have a detailed description of its sweetness. The second is to take a spoon, plunge it into a jar of honey, and them place it into our mouths. The first way gives us information about the sweetness of honey, the second gives us an experience of its sweetness.
Such vivid language provides pictures of biblical truth, clear windows that help us to see clearly what God is seeking to communicate to our hearts. Many people have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, they remember what they have heard, and could perhaps repeat it to us, but they have not begun to feel it. Christianity is a felt religion. It is the aim of the preacher to help people to feel the truth. That is what Paul says to the Thessalonian Christians:
“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)