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preaching the bible like the new testament authors did? – jonathan robinson

Paul preaching on Mars Hill

In a pastors cluster I used to be part of we would take it in turns to bring some study or discussion topic to the group. Before I left the group to do some further study I used my turn to ask them about the way the New Testament (NT) interprets the Old Testament (OT) and also to what extent they felt comfortable using the same methods the NT authors used in their own preaching of scripture. 

They were all familiar with the way the NT applies some forms of allegory, typology, and analogy, the way it seems to take passages out of context, uses different meanings created by translation of the Hebrew into Greek, its habit of reading into Bible passages messages about Christ and the church when the passages were about something else, and so on. All these things, of course, are exactly what we are taught not to do at seminary/Bible college! 

My friends in the pastors group felt, in general, that while it was ok for the NT writers to do these things they were not comfortable to do them themselves. The assumption, and I think it was a fair one, was that we don’t fully understand why and how the NT authors arrived at these interpretations and so imitating them would be dangerous. 

At the same time, I can’t help but feel that there is something inconsistent with following the NT authors in what they preach and proclaim, but not following their methods. Not least, this creates issues for us because we then want to arrive at the same conclusions they do, but we have to take a different route (and this is not always possible). 

This is what I have spent that last two years studying (one more to go) and I’d like to say things were becoming clearer. In a way they are, my own opinions and understandings are beginning to form, but I also have to acknowledge that not every expert would agree with me. I could tell you what I think, but the next thing you read might argue for something different. Equally, most preachers do not have the time to become experts on the how 1st century Jews read and interpreted the Scriptures and the way those are present in the NT. Besides – is that necessarily the way forward?

What I do think we all need to face up to is that the modern Western, methods are not the only way, or even the best way to read Scripture. It carries with it all sorts of assumptions about Scripture and interpretation that are not necessarily Christian and often miss out interpretations that we find in the NT. Evangelicals have often emphasised historical meaning and the author’s intent as a way to safeguard against error in interpretation. But in doing so they subtly argue that the NT is in error in its use of the OT. Additionally, because grammatical-historical study (studying the meaning of the original language and what life was like in ancient Israel and Palestine) is reliant on our scientific understanding of the ancient languages and historical contexts; that meaning is always liable to change. It doesn’t truly safeguard that we get it right any more than any other method.

I’m not advocating a slide into interpretive chaos, or that we give up discussing how to apply the Bible for today so that the Bible can mean whatever we want it to. I do think we have lost a great deal in our interpretation and therefore preaching if we only apply modern approaches to interpretation. The riches of interpretation within the Bible and in the apostolic, early church, and medieval church should not be ignored, but explored studied and employed. Resources like the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and Beale and Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament would be a good start (although only a start). The same is true of forward looking resources like Journal of Theological Interpretation.

I’m wondering, what would it look like and sound like, if we preached and taught from Scripture the way the NT authors did?

encouragement, sincerity and love – jonathan robinson

One of the criticisms I sometimes received during my last stint as a pastor, was that I wasn’t encouraging enough. Ouch! I certainly wanted to be an encourager. I thought I was. I tried to be, but from time to time the criticism came up

This criticism often went alongside the more positive observation that people appreciated my sincerity and lack of hype. They trusted me to tell them the truth. So perhaps the two things were different sides of the same coin? Is this just my no-nonsense personality?

As preachers we should not be in the habit of saying things we do not mean. I often felt the desire for “encouragement” was an expectation I would be enthusiastic and unrelentingly positive at all times, regardless of reality! However, as I write this, I remember Charles Hewlett’s (former principal of Carey Baptist College) advice to me when I left college for a pastorate: “always find ways to tell the church you love them.” Was the perceived lack of encouragement really a feeling that I didn’t love them?

At present I am not a pastor, and only an occasional preacher. But one thing I have been trying to do, whenever and wherever I preach, is to say something encouraging to the church. The idea is not to say something enthusiastic just for effect, but to reflect on the scripture’s message and the congregation and find something encouraging to say to them as a church. That is, not just speaking to them as individual Christians but also as a body, to recognise the corporate life of the church and affirm something good in it.

This can be simple, “this church has done a great job supporting so-and-so through the recent problem, what a loving church you are,” to something a bit more theological, “do you know you are God’s chosen people to bring his love to this community?”

For me this doesn’t come naturally. I’m wary of the way I’ve seen some people in some churches hype up and promote the church as if it is a brand to be marketed. Blurgh! Instead, I have to change my paradigm of encouragement.

I know as a parent that I have to affirm and tell my kids I love them no matter what they have done or said that day. As a pastor you can spend much of your time focusing on, praying for and trying to deal with the things that are wrong in the church. It can make it hard to be sincerely enthusiastic about the church when the church is the cause of 90% of the stress in your life! But the preacher, like the parent, has a duty, not to express their personal feelings in the given moment, but to affirm and build up the life of the church. That encouragement shouldn’t be superficial but rooted in a deeper love for God’s people that sees the beauty even through the mess.

I hope in the future people will experience my preaching as sincere AND encouraging.

What ways have you sought to encourage the church in your preaching?

Have you ever noticed a preacher who is good at encouragement? How did they do it?

the pursuit of clarity – jonathan robinson

I have now done 9 months “cold turkey” without preaching. I didn’t expect it to be this long. It is officially the longest I have gone without preaching since I began as a pastor in 2000. Anyway, it has been good for me to be a listener instead. On top of sermons at my local church (when I’m not in creche), as a born-again student I have been attending various lectures and seminars at the university as well.

My one critical constant from both ecclesiastical and academic listening has been a growing appreciation of the power and importance of clarity.

I’ve always thought I was clear. I write and speak well. In my last pastorate people who had English as a second language often commented on how easy they found my sermons to follow. However, time spent listening to others speak clearly this year has made me appreciate there is so much more to learn. Conversely, I have endured a number of sermons and other talks which were not clear and as a result were confusing, tedious and by-and-large a waste of time for this listener.

Clarity leads to conviction

To be really clear, you have to have really understood your subject. You can be clear because you own appreciation of the topic you are sharing is not confused. For a listener this is very compelling. Your clarity in delivery allows them to have confidence in what is being shared but also to grasp the subject for themselves.

Clarity needs to be present at every level

Clear speech so we can make out each word. Clear sentences, so we know what you are trying to say. Clear links between sections, so we can understand how this connects to that. Clear thought progression through the sermon so when we arrive at the end we understand how and why we have got there.

Clarity shows respect to your audience

I think the Sunday sermon is often undervalued. Let’s say you have 100 people in your church. If they listen to you for 30 minutes, what is that time worth? $30 per hour per person? (about the going rate for a Baptist pastor I think). That’s probably too low. 100 x $30 x 0.5hr makes your sermon worth, in cash terms, $1500. Obviously in spiritual terms it is going to worth a lot more. So, if you as a pastor spent 50 hours that week (impossible for most of us) on your sermon you wouldn’t have overdone it. My point is, even if you do spend 50 hours on the sermon, if it is not clear your time and the congregation’s will be wasted. So, some of your valuable sermon prep time must be spent pursuing clarity.

You are not as clear as you think you are

No one gets up to give a sermon or a presentation thinking it is not clear. They assume that what they are about to share will be as intelligible to others as it is to them. I can tell you, in the local church and in the ivory tower there are many people who speak without clarity. Even if you think 99% of the congregation understand what you preach 99% of the time, shouldn’t you be going after the 1% (I’m sure there is a parable about that?).


Let me know what you think.

can the show pony become a horse whisperer? – jonathan robinson

We’ve just moved to a new church. After 6 years of being the “main preacher” it’s been interesting to enter a church as the new family, and not the new pastor. Firstly, that has meant I can now take my turn in the creche, meaning I hear half as many sermons as are preached. Secondly, that has meant a change of gear. I am no longer responsible for the preaching team and their messages.

Our new church home is interesting in this regard. They have been without a pastor for a number of years and now have a large roster of “lay” preachers who take turns (after 6 weeks we haven’t had a repeat). There seems to be some attempt at planning, but the overriding impression is that each preacher is expected to pray and gain inspiration as to what message to bring. Usually a theme or thought is presented with a number of Bible passages mixed in. Each preacher’s idiosyncrasies and personality can come shining through. There have been some really interesting messages and it is clear those who are preaching take their responsibility seriously and put a lot of effort into bringing someone to edify and bless the congregation. The congregation seems to really appreciate that the preachers are not “professionals” and are encouraging, supportive and, dare I say, tolerant.

Of course, it hasn’t taken long for some people to sniff out that I am a “professional”, a trained and experienced preacher. Some have even told me that I am the answer to their prayers. Clearly not everyone thinks the current situation is ideal. There is something missing, the authoritative voice of God speaking through the scriptures. It is tempting for me to jump into the role of “anointed preacher” and show them how it is done. If I dug out some of my greatest hits from 16 years of preaching I’m sure I could knock their socks off.

But I am reluctant. One of my ministry regrets so far is that I have spent too much time doing, showing how it is done, and not enough time helping, teaching, and encouraging others to do it. (Don’t get me wrong, I have done some.) Because I learned to preach by imitating the preachers around me I’ve always assumed the best way to teach is to do, and do it well. But I’ve had to realise that I am unusual, and most people do not pick things up like that but need it broken down and explained, usually more than twice. So, my forming dream now, for this church, is not for me to be a great preacher, but to work out if and how I can help this church’s preaching team to grow in Biblical preaching.

There comes a point as a preacher when by being the show pony, you are really minimising your impact. If you are the main one who demonstrates and performs the preaching you quickly enter the myth of the “anointed preacher” where only you have the special gift and ability to minister God’s word to people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying some people aren’t more gifted than others, nor am I saying a church shouldn’t have a main preacher, but isn’t it better to see many people ministering the word well than one who does it spectacularly but then leaves a big hole when they (inevitably) go?

And there’s the rub. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the situation in my new church is rapidly becoming the norm for New Zealand. Professional preachers are getting harder to come by, and anyway churches are finding them harder (read: too expensive) to support. I love the work of Langham Preaching in teaching Biblical preaching in the developing world. But I think increasingly we need something similar here in NZ. Maybe the best way to serve God now is to focus my time on seeing others become Biblical preachers who can faithfully minister in their own churches, or maybe I should just start with this one and see how it goes, not that anyone’s asked me yet. And come to think of it we could do with some better biscuits in creche . . .

how original is your sermon? – jonathan robinson


I remember a comment from years ago by R.T. Kendal (former incumbent at the famous Westminster Chapel, UK) who admitted that he felt tremendous pressure to always have something original to say when preaching. He realised he needed to be careful with this, novelty is not a criteria of orthodoxy, and that preaching the Bible faithfully was more important that impressing his listeners with previously unheard of insights. I have to admit I have the same tendency, I love finding angles and interpretations that people haven’t heard before, my favourite comment from a church member is, “I’ve been hearing the Bible taught for 50 years but you always bring something fresh out for us.”

On the other hand I know of a pastor who supplements his income by writing sermons for other preachers. He finds sermons “easy” to write and doesn’t see any harm in what he does. Personally I could never preach another person’s sermon and I don’t think anyone else could preach from my notes. Sometimes in moments of dire urgency I have been tempted to download something to fill the gap but I have discovered I am pathologically incapable of preaching someone else’s words as my own. Recently Scot McKnight, among others, took exception to the practice of Pastors using ready-made sermons. He admits, though, that sermon content usually draws from many sources:

“To be sure, nearly every sermon emerges from books and sermons and ideas and all sorts of things that were used. But it is bricolage, it is quilting, it is convergence — it is precisely those things and not simple usage of others. It brings together other people’s ideas and says so if it is substantial; but it is a uniquely personal, local, and temporal bringing of those things together. Taking someone’s sermon destroys the bricolage and turns it into a canned, deceitful act of creating a false image in front of God’s people.”

I’m not so sure McKnight is right to be quite so condemnatory. Of course we shouldn’t convey other people’s anecdotes in the first person – that is deceptive. Of course pastors are expected to be spending time in study preparing sermons and if they are not doing that then what are they doing with their time? Of course we should not present other people’s insights and work as if it were our own unique thoughts. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. (Phil 1:18) Is borrowing another person’s sermon, something I have never done, really so bad in itself?

In Preachers and Preaching by Martyn Lloyd-Jones he recounts two stories about Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher of 19th C. London. In the first Spurgeon admonishes a student preacher for stealing one of his sermons, on closer investigation it turns out that the plagiarised sermon is by one by William Jay, and that Spurgeon is also guilty of, unintentional, plagiarism. In the second story Spurgeon, under an attack of depression, hears one of his own sermons preached by a lay reader in a small Essex chapel. The preacher is mortified to be found out but Spurgeon replies,

“I don’t care whose sermon it is,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “all I know is that your  preaching this morning has convinced me that I am a child of God, that I am saved by grace, and that my sins are forgiven, that I am called to the ministry; and I am ready to go back to preach again.”

I like McKnight’s idea of a quilt, and this is the sort of preaching I aspire to and would like to receive. But I wonder if the academic paranoia about plagiarism is misplaced. I love Spurgeon’s response to plagiarism. Who cares who wrote it if it brings God’s grace and truth to the hearer?

What do you think?


should we be using greek and hebrew in our sermons? – jonathan robinson

opened old book with flying greek letters on black and white background

Teacher of preaching Paul Windsor, founder of this blog, is remembered by many of his students as opining, “Your knowledge of Hebrew and Greek should be like your underwear, important for support but shouldn’t be shown off in public!” It is a pithy adage and I think an important warning to two types of preachers,

  1. Those with impressive knowledge of the original languages of scripture who might be tempted to display this knowledge without any benefit to the sermon.
  1. Those whose poor knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are tempted to sound impressive by using Strong’s, or E-sword, or some such, and make idiots of themselves.

Exegeting the passage in the original languages is very important for both nuance and accuracy and the original languages can often suggest illustrations or images which are less explicit in the English text but can powerfully communicate the message. Often there is no need to “show your working” when you are preaching and doing so is either in the realm of showing off or of revealing your ineptitude.

However, I am not wholly happy with the underwear analogy (and no doubt, like all analogies and underpants, it was only intended to stretch so far!). From time to time I think there is a point where it becomes appropriate to explain the original language of a text in order to persuade the congregation of the interpretation of the passage that you are preaching, or even of why another interpretation might be wrong. Often the understanding of a word or idiom in the original language provides an interpretive crux without which your explanation of the passages meaning is incomplete.

Not only this but no translation is perfect, while the scholars who produced them are usually of the highest caliber the editorial process and pressure from publishers not to stray too far from tradition mean that there will always be translation decisions that a preacher will want to push back on or at the very least nuance (a classic example might be 2 Peter 3:10).

Many English speakers who have grown up with the Bible often have a sense of over familiarity and it good for them to be reminded that this is not a text that arrived from Heaven in English but that they read it through a good but fallible translation. I think N.T. Wright’s famous complaint that “reading the New Testament in  English is like drinking wine through a tea bag” unhelpfully undermines people’s confidence in their ability to read scripture for themselves, but without going as far we can certainly encourage some (often much needed) humility. At the same time in most of our congregations now there are many languages present, it is important that the Bible is not understood to be an English document or that its interpretation is only for those with excellent English. I can’t think of a better way than referring, occasionally and judiciously, to the original languages.

Finally, as preachers we find great joy and insight from knowing the original languages, even if we are not yet experts on them. Why would we deprive the congregation of that. Are they not smart enough to understand?

What do you think? What are your experiences of giving or receiving sermons that refer to Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic?


is it wrong to preach on tithing? – jonathan robinson

In my experience and discussion with other pastors in Auckland there are two types of churches in the city, those who treat tithing in a legalistic or pagan (read, prosperity gospel) way and those who avoid the subject for fear of being associated with the first kind. Especially among some ethnic minority churches, but also some neo-Pentecostal ones, tithing is taught and enforced in a spiritually abusive and destructive manner. I understand and sympathise with the position of the latter group but feel that they may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If we choose not to mention tithing, and often that means we don’t talk about money at all, a helpful and life giving spiritual discipline is sidelined and people are deprived of part of the Biblical teaching on wealth. (Yes, I am aware the Biblical teaching on money goes way beyond tithing!)

I have tried to carve a third way. Firstly, I am emphatic (perhaps overly so) about the fact that the Old Testament (OT) tithes do not apply as law to New Testament (NT) Christians and that living in such an unequal society means we cannot expect everyone to give the same. Secondly, I try to highlight the principles behind the OT tithes and relate them to NT theology, and the ways in which they can help our relationship with God (and our relationship with money, etc) today. Tithes may not apply as law but they may have much to teach us about being God’s people.

I’ve preached two sermons on the subject so far. The first was on Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek (Gen 14:17-20), the second was on the three different tithes in the Mosaic Law (Lev 27:30, Num 18:21, Deut 14:22ff). Based on limited feedback and the unscientific “preacher’s sense” both messages were well received by the congregation and people appreciated exploring some unfamiliar passages of scripture.

I think if we are going to preach on tithing it is important for such sermons to be expositional because that helps keep the legal practice of tithing located in the particular historical and covenantal epoch to which it relates. It is also important to frame our response (application) to those OT passages from a NT perspective. Any sermon on giving easily turns to the gospel, because of God’s great gift to us in Jesus Christ.

As a pastor I am often very aware of the church’s need to make budget and of the detrimental effect of poor cash flow on the church’s ministries. However, by preaching expositionally I avoid the temptation to make the sermon about the church’s budget (not a Biblical concept) and have to focus instead on themes like holiness, trust in God and worship, etc. This makes for sermons which direct people to examine their hearts towards God rather than their support of the church. Of course the two things are not unrelated but it is important not to have the tail wag the dog or we could end up with a church rich in money but poor towards God! (cf. Luke 12:21)

I’m not sure about preaching on Malachi 3:6-12 though. In many ways this is the source text for most abusive and false teaching on tithing. People are so used to it being used in a certain way, even reading it aloud could be hurtful and unhelpful for many. But then again, avoiding it probably isn’t the answer either, isn’t it better to confront those wrong interpretations and educate the congregation against the false teaching?

What do you think? Do you or would you preach on tithing? Or is it just too tainted by the abuses of others?

plan to be spontaneous? – jonathan robinson


I have always had a preaching plan. In theory I have also always had the flexibility to be flexible about the plan if something comes up or the Lord leads me differently. I plan the next year’s preaching calendar in October/November. This means I know the congregation are getting a balanced diet of scripture from different testaments and genres. But it also makes me reluctant to mess with the plan. After all, if I cut in on that series on Philippians to do a special message I then either mess up that series or have to impose on another series to make up the time. Compounding the issue is working with a preaching team, as they need to be given their instructions in plenty of time. Last minute changes to the plan don’t go down well. (In this respect sole pastors have an easier life!)

Probably once or twice a year I will scrap the plan, either to preach on something that is pastorally necessary, e.g. responding to a tragic story in our community, or to share something that God has particularly burdened my heart with. Without fail those messages seem to impact the church the most, they seem to especially love the narrative: “I was planning to preach on X, but I feel I must preach on Y.” (I have to be careful not to overuse it.)

What I’m wondering is if I should actually plan in some spontaneity? I would be exhausted (and the congregation bored) if I had to pull a sermon out of nowhere every time I preached, but on the other hand planning the whole year seems to leave me overly restricted. So for 2015 I am planning more space for one off “unplanned” sermons. The bulk of the teaching will still be planned. We will still spend time in the law, the prophets, the gospels, the epistles, but I also want to – every now and then – be forced to pray: “God what am I going to preach on this week?” Not because the Holy Spirit doesn’t work in advance, my testimony from years of planning a whole year at a time is that the Holy Spirit seems to spectacularly arrange for the right message at the right time; but because it helps to keep me fresh and the congregation on their toes.

What do you think? Should we plan to be spontaneous?


preaching and leadership, leadership and preaching – jonathan robinson

I must confess I am rather new to conversations about “leadership”. However, as my own ministry has demanded more leadership from me in recent years I have been forced to reckon with the topic more. The following observations are offered from the humble vantage of a leadership rookie. They may appear rather sophomoric for the more seasoned leaders reading. I’d love to get your additions or criticisms.

Preaching and Leadership

  1. Preaching is the most visible part of your ministry. If you do it consistently well, then the church’s principle impression is of you doing something well and they will be more confident and receptive to your leading in other areas. However, good preachers need to be careful not to transfer authority from something they are expert in (e.g. the Bible) to something they are not (e.g. finances). Conversely, if you are sometimes seen to be struggling, incoherent or out of your depth confidence in you will be diminished. As pastoral leaders preaching is the principle expertise that gives us credibility before the church we lead.
  2. Preaching allows you to affect the character and disposition of the church by regularly presenting a calm and faithful presence. When we respond to crises in the church and local and global situations with a God centred biblical perspective we can help to reduce the anxiety and increase the faith of the congregation.
  3. Preaching allows you to show that where you are leading the church is not your own personal agenda but is in line with God’s word. Of course this is a danger area, we all know the scriptures can be manipulated, but that is not a reason not to do it, that is a reason to do it more diligently and ensure we are faithfully handling the word of God.
  4. The key to all the above is surely good exegesis. It is the only way we can be sure of knowing what we are talking about when we preaching, of reassuring the church of God’s faithfulness in troubled times, and the only way to protect against our own (well intended but false) agendas.

Leadership and Preaching

  1. If you preach well but never put it into action then the congregation will likely imitate that in their own lives. As you demonstrate leadership that is not satisfied with the status quo but demands change to conform to the will of God you create a culture in the church whereby we realise the word of God needs to change our lives.
  2. It is not enough to tell people how they ought to live or what they ought to do. For them to put it into practice the leader must shape a community that will create opportunities and pathways for them to do so.
  3. Just as the public nature of preaching means it can add or diminish credibility depending on how it is done, so does your leadership affect the reception of your preaching. Once when I had failed to adequately respond personally to someone who I knew was struggling with the direction of the church I then had the unpleasant experience of them erroneously taking something from a sermon as a personal attack and going on the warpath. They had missed the message of what was supposed to be an encouraging and uplifting sermon and instead our relationship was further damaged.
  4. The church doesn’t just listen to the preacher’s words but looks at her or his life to judge the message they hear. If our leadership is not gospel integrated, grace filled, and an illustration and outworking of the message we preach then the impact of our preaching will be lessened by our hypocrisy.

I am not suggesting that you cannot preach without being a leader, or that you cannot be a leader without preaching. However, in a church setting the two usually go hand in hand and I would argue that both have the potential to enforce or undermine the effectiveness of the other. Let me know what you think.

apologetic preaching – jonathan robinson


In the preacher’s task of equipping the church and helping it grow towards maturity in Christ one of the things we must not neglect is the work of apology – defending the faith. Two scriptures clearly instruct the church to be prepared to respond to any question or opportunity to share the gospel with unbelievers (1 Pet 3:13, Col 4:2-6). What are the topics that are most likely to come up for our people in their everyday conversations? For an initial incomplete list I would suggest,


Reliability of the Bible

Christian hypocrisy

Church History

The Resurrection

The divinity of Christ

Truth vs pluralism

Sexual morality (esp. homosexuality)

Church divisions

The Trinity (especially if you know any Muslims)

I do not think the apologetic task should be limited to those occasions when we know we are speaking to those who don’t yet believe. These topics should appear regularly in our preaching to the church. As I wrote that list I realised I have done a better job in some areas than others. I don’t think it is necessary to have dedicated sermons or a series on these topics, although it could be helpful. However, if these issues don’t get mentioned and explained from time to time in your preaching how is the congregation supposed to know how to respond when these issue come up in their everyday life?

John Dickson, in his excellent book The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, points out that the emphasis in these scriptures is not on what the believer’s say (although that is important) but on how they say it. He writes, “Church preachers have a special role here. They set the model for the congregation in a way that occasional courses cannot. Sometimes I hear preachers (in the safe environment of church) thundering against this or that moral departure in society or some outrageous argument from Richard Dawkins & Co., and I worry that the average Christian in the pew might try to take this mode of speech into their world. This is potentially disastrous. Just as bad, other believers know full well that such an approach will never work in their work, family or university environment and so they just keep quiet, unsure of the best way to speak up for Christ. But if congregations consistently hear in the weekly exposition a thoughtful, gracious engagement with the moral and intellectual viewpoints of society, they will be receiving the best kind of training possible for their daily conversations about Christianity. Preachers: please arm your people not just with what to say but how to say it.” (p186, 2010, emphasis original)

We preachers actually have it easy, we get to say this stuff to an audience that wants to hear it and it (by and large) is likely to agree with what we say. The temptation to sound off and lambast an absent critic of Christianity is a very real one. It makes us look good and feel good. Dickson is surely right that this needs to be avoided as a bad example of what defending the faith should look like. After all if we cannot present a reasoned, clear, gracious, gentle and respectful defence of the faith (1 Pet 3:13, Col 4:2-6) when preaching to the converted how can we expect the church to do so when they share their faith with an unbelieving world?

Let me know what you think.