Monday, May 22, 2017

Langham Austria

I was able to get some fresh air during a break and hike a bit.

A few weeks ago, I headed off to Schloss Klaus for a great week of training and learning. If you read this blog really carefully you may remember me (Nate) attending a Simeon Trust workshop at my brother-in-law's church in Atlanta while we were on home assignment. Well Langham Preaching is a sister organization to the Simeon Trust through All Souls church in London.
the main session room overlooking the mountains

What is Langham? It is an interdenominational group focused on increasing the quality of preaching and teaching in the church. They focus on expository preaching - which means focusing on a specific text in a sermon/teaching versus a topical framework. Over 100 church leaders from all over Austria met at a beautiful castle retreat center called Schloss Klaus to focus on the way we interpret and teach the four gospels. It was a very special time of sharpening and encouragement. These leaders came from a pretty broad spectrum of backgrounds. We had BEG (our church association), Lutheran, Brethren, and non-denominational International churches represented. Just like my time at Simeon, I think it is tough to call this JUST a preaching conference. Ultimately, these conferences focus on the fundamentals of good teaching and preaching. We focus on good hermaneutics. 
Stairs were every where at the Schloss
staying there is a good workout - if only the
cooking didn't taste so good!
For many that is a scary or technical word. Who needs "hermaneutics"!? I just study the bible, they say. That word just means the "science and art of biblical interpretation."  If understanding the bible is a football game (to borrow a metaphor from some of my college text books), and the game itself is the act of studying the text, preaching would be the color commentary - the explanation of the game. Hermaneutics is just the rules of the game. When can I throw a forward pass? When do I score a first down? The rules tell us these things. 
The main speaker and his translator
For the bible the questions are things like, "how do I read this poetic text?" and "how is that different than how I should read a historical account?" 

These ideas aren't just important for preaching - though they can make or break a sermon. They filter down into how someone teaches in a youth group setting, with middle-schoolers or even how you teach Sunday school. It goes into the very core of how we communicate the scriptures.

Here are a few ideas I took away from our time there:
1. When we teach the gospels we have to avoid some key dangers. The stories are familiar to us, which is dangerous, and we have to key into the specific details of the story and how the gospel writer tells the story. We have to continually ask the question, "what is the gospel writer trying to emphasize here?" We can often give brief summaries of the stories but every time we study them we can unearth details that we may have missed before - details that are key to really truly understanding the text. Another danger is moralizing the stories. Jesus quotes scripture in the face of temptation in the desert and so should you. Except Jesus only quotes from one book in the Old Testament, and really just a few chapters. So is it possible that there is more going on there? It forces us to focus on the text and understand it, instead of making a list of rules. 

2. The New Testament is saturated in the Old. If our New Testament text refers to the Old, and we don't go back to that reference, we can't possibly hope to understand our text. So often the nuance of what Jesus is doing in a specific story is lost, because we don't go back and understand the Old Testament context. In a recent sermon, I wrote on Luke 7 the Old Testament context was the key to the passage. Without the Old Testament context the story is just Jesus healing a widow's dead son. That's pretty amazing, until you realize that they story parallels a story in 1 Kings 17 where Elijah also heals a widows dead son. The core of the text is then "The prophet Elijah needed to cry out to God for healing, Jesus is the prophet who proves his deity by healing with a word." The first statement isn't wrong but it is incomplete.

 3. Lastly, the gospels are not primarily a list of propositional truths; they are stories. We must learn how to tell those stories with all of their twists and surprises. Jesus often does unexpected things and we need to learn how to communicate that.

These conferences (and the concepts that undergird them) are really important and will lead to more faithful and relevant proclamation of the scriptures in our churches. Please continue to pray for all of those that faithfully teach God's word from the Sunday school children's hour to the pulpit.