Critique My Deuteronomy Sermon

critiquePlease critique my sermon for this Sun (Jan 12, 2014) entitled Sin (Dt 1:1-46). [Don’t follow the picture’s advice. I am thick skinned enough, I think.] Since I preach extemporaneously, I do not read my sermon but preach freely by following the three part outline based on my preperation. When I recently studied this lesson with others, a group at West Loop liked the Bible study, while another group felt that my explanation of sin was simplistic and narrow. I learned much from the critique. Nonetheless, I thought that the theme of sin (Dt 1:41) was faithful to the text and not eisogesis. What do you think? I may incorporate your thoughts and comments if I am able to fit it in with the flow of the sermon on Sun. Thanks.


  1. Here is my reaction: I’d give this a 1 star at the moment. I just can’t follow the vague logic.

    I need some answers to two important questions to be able to give any detailed feedback.

    My questions are:

    1. What do Christians obey?
    2. Why does sin happen?
    3. Where is the effervescent gospel in this lecture?

    In #2, you mention: Not trusting in God (Dt 1:32) and Not following God wholeheartedly (cf. Caleb in Dt 1:36). That is a weak answer. Certainly there is a far more rich reason? There is sin that is so ingrained in us that we cannot remove it this side of Heaven.

    For #3, you will only be lecturing on sin unless you add the new wine of the gospel Jesus preached. Surely the “repetition of the law” book will have a narrative about Jesus? Surely a sermon that hits on sin will result in tears of joy over godly sorrow that leads to repentance? That’s a big thing missing for me: godly sorrow. We cannot just jump into repentance. And also we should talk about the alarm, the indignation that results from turning to God (repentance) in spite of our sin?

    2 Corinthians 7:10-11 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

  2. Ben, here is some good advice from Chris:

    Because you are technically preaching in the ubf context, I would say it would be highly important to explicitly denounce the ubf definitions of “sin”. I’m not saying to name names but unless you denounce things that have been the norm for 50 years and draw people to the supremacy and sufficiency and necessity of Jesus, some may slide back into ubf bondage.

  3. Joe Schafer

    Ben, because you preached extemporaneously, it’s hard for me to get the full sense of your message based on the outline alone.

    But if I had been there, I think I might have sided with those who thought the explanation of sin was simplistic and narrow.

    I understand your desire to be faithful to the text of this passage and not go too far beyond it. But if you take that approach with a passage like this one, then you’re almost guaranteed to end up with something that’s simplistic. A faithful Christian understanding of sin cannot be built on this passage; it comes from the whole sweep of Scripture, from the testimony of Jesus and the apostles, and many centuries of reflection by great thinkers of the faith. If you put most of that aside and try to build a sermon about sin inductively from a passage like this one, then unless you have an incredibly gifted and creative mind, the message is going to sound primitive.

    To my ears, much of the preaching about sin that I hear coming from evangelical circles today (and essentially all the preaching that comes from UBF) sounds misdirected, hollow and weak. The understanding of sin is weak because it tends to be legalistic, based on a deficient (usually nonTrinitarian) picture of God, an overly individualized picture of humankind, and little or no reflection whatsoever on the nature of love. Sin is a departure from the three-in-one God who is love. If the preacher doesn’t paint any picture of the ravishing beauty of God and his love (not an easy feat, mind you) then sin doesn’t seem like a big deal, and certainly not the existential cosmic disaster that it really is.

    Ben, my suggestion is: Eisegesis is unavoidable, especially with the Old Testament. Everyone does it all the time. It’s not really dangerous unless you are unaware that you are doing it or unless you are pretending that you are not doing it or unless you do it so excessively that you mangle the Bible passage. Embrace eisegesis and make it your friend and use it creatively as Jesus and the apostles did in service of the gospel.

  4. Thanks, Brian, Joe. I love your comments! I’m not sure if I will know how to incorporate your very useful comments into my extemporaneous preaching, but it is certainly helpful for me to seriously think about.

    This is my spontaneous thought. I acknowledge that it is the trinitarian God and his attributes of limitless love, mercy, grace, compassion, beauty, mystery, etc., that move a sinner’s heart (my heart) to embrace the gospel with gratitude and tears. Perhaps to many, that is more than sufficient to realize the utter depravity of our sin, and how much we ourselves fall short and miss the mark (sin).

    Yet, being a Calvinist who embraces Reformed Theology, what also appeals to me is to frontally confront the horror and destructive consequences of my sin. That humbles me to the dust when I realize the depth and profoundness of God’s love for me, in spite of my sin.

    What I think is not helpful or healthy today is an avoidance of the mentioning sin, which then results in a hollow shallow cheap grace that Bonhoeffer and recently Billy Graham and virtually all the New Testament authors mentions in one way or another.

    I acknowledge that UBF paints a legalistic, moralistic, traditionalistic view of sin that causes conformity to UBF’s core values, which many churches also do to whatever degree based on their own traditions, resulting in a discordant, unhealthy and unbiblical Moral Therapeutic Deism.

    In the past, I enforced fishing, writing testimonies, and never ever missing meetings, Sun worship services or conferences, which I no longer do. But I knew then that in my heart I believed and taught the gospel, even if it was deficient.

    Joe, your comment on eisogesis is great and reassuring!

    • “I’m not sure if I will know how to incorporate your very useful comments into my extemporaneous preaching, but it is certainly helpful for me to seriously think about.” – See more at:

      I like when preachers just spend some time talking plainly, telling about what happened to them that week. That levels the playing field and adds a human touch that helps me listen to what message the preacher has to give.

  5. Good points, Ben. I am confident that you are predestined to turn this into at least a 3 star sermon with your excellent, exemplary, extemporaneous exhortations and seasoned wit! See you Sunday afternoon by the way.

  6. Thanks again, Brian, Joe. I think I tacked on to my typed sermon based on some of the useful comments that both of you made:

    Since I will be preaching extemporaneously, I never quite know exactly what I will say until the moment I preach on Sun. This is always kinda fun and quite unnerving at the same time! What if I forget? What if my mind goes black? What if I fall into sin before I preach? Etc!

    Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday Brian. Not sure if you might want to watch the Golden Globes together as “movie sinners”?

    • Nice Ben. I think the your message thoughts are more robust now. I have to admit that I need to Google “Golden Globes” to find out what that is. Anything you want to watch is fine with me (except the 2013 ISBC videos :)

  7. If you have a few minutes and would care to critique my extemporaneous preaching, here is the video:

  8. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I listened to your preaching and was pleasantly surprised. It was very easy to listen to. The written outline covered the same points but conveyed none of the personality, humor, sincerity or faith. You have a gift of storytelling. And your relationships with the audience set the context that made it effective.

    This is a great case study in the power of the spoken word versus the written word. Preaching is not the same as writing. The preacher animates the text and breathes life into it.

    Some observations about the content of the message: Your primary picture of sin was the Israelites disobeying God’s command to enter the land of Canaan. Your primary examples of sins were certain individual behaviors (looking at pornography, overeating, overspending, etc.) that get people into trouble. Your message was about taking sin seriously and dealing with it in a Christ-centered manner. It’s accurate to say that your message was about substitutionary atonement and management of personal sins through faith in Jesus. That is an observation, not a critism. Substitutionary atonement and sin management are important components of the gospel. Given the text you were expounding on, it seemed appropriate to focus on those things.

    However, substitutionary atonement and management of personal sin has been the primary (maybe the only) way that ubf members have understood the gospel for the last 50 years. That is how we have framed the gospel and the story of the whole Bible. It’s the standard evangelical Moody-esque presentation that has helped lots of people oer the years and brought them into a relationship with Christ, but in recent years for various reasons the message has been losing its edge. This is what ubf leaders inevitably fall back on; it’s what we’ve always meant when we said that we preach the gospel. If one hears this same message ad nauseum, it loses its power and effectiveness. Many of us have been left wondering, “Is that all there is?” We sense that there’s got to be more to what the Bible and the gospel is all about. But we’re not quite sure what that is.

    Last month, a friend (your son Paul) asked me, “How would you present the gospel to a nonbeliever?” That question really perplexed me, and it continues to perplex me. I tried to articulate this in a sermon that I delievered at Hyde Park a few months ago, a sermon I based on Romans 1:18-32. I’m not satistifed with a formula “the gospel equals substitutionary atonement.” The gospel does contain substitutionary atonement, but it is not equal to it. Since the beginning of the new year, I have been intesively reading and thinking and praying over this. This is why I’ve been relatively silent. I want to write some articles about it, but I’m not ready yet. I don’t have a key verse for 2014. I just have a key question. “What is the gospel, really?”

    • Joe you asked a good question, “What is the gospel, really?”

      The Korea UBF webpage asks that question too, but gives no answer. Anyone see an answer? Must be top secret and need a login to find out…

  9. Thanks so much, Joe, for taking the time to listening and writing out a very insightful and helpful comment. It is greatly appreciated.

    I wish that UBF people may learn to and be encouraged to do more and more of such honest and irenic critiquing of UBF sermons. I think that this is not done hardly at all because of the horrible implicit thought that critiquing the sermon is equivalent to “not humbly listening to and accepting the word of God.” Until such a horrid implicit sentiment is gone, UBF sermons as a whole will not change, I don’t think.

    I am still reflecting on your comments about “(penal) substitutionary atonement.” My first thought is that many if not most UBF people really do not know what this phrase actually means, because it is NOT in any UBF Bible study materials.

  10. I think this is a fair overview of the various theories of the atonement:

    “There are many ways of viewing (the atonement). We are left in no doubt about its efficacy and its complexity. View the human spiritual problem as you will, and the cross meets the need. But the NT does not say how it does so.”

    “Through the centuries there have been continuing efforts to work out how (the atonement) was accomplished. Theories of the atonement are legion as men in different countries and in different ages have tried to bring together the varied strands of scriptural teaching and to work them into a theory that will help others to understand how God has worked to bring us salvation.”

    “To this day no one theory of the atonement has ever won universal acceptance.”

    “…most can be brought under one of three heads: the essence of the matter as the effect of the cross on the believer; a victory of some sort; and the Godward aspect. Some prefer a twofold classification, seeing subjective theories as those which emphasize the effect on the believer, in distinction from objective theories which put the stress on what the atonement achieves quite outside the individual.”

  11. Joe Schafer

    Ben, thanks for pointing out that resource.

    I agree that the NT does not offer one single unified theory of atonement. If you see how the gospel is preached throughout the book of Acts, there is declaration that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord of all, but essentially no theory of atonement. The message of Jesus in the four gospels is not atonement theory but the kingdom of God. And the epistles describe atonement in various ways. It’s quite clear to me that is someone understands and preaches the gospel as “on the cross, Jesus took the punishment for all my sins,” and never goes beyond that, then that kind of preaching is not truly biblical. It may help some people to establish a relationship with God, but it cannot bring us to maturity or fullness of faith, because it is only a small slice of what the Bible says. And yet I hear that same message all the time being presented as “the gospel”, not just in ubf but in many places. This past Christmas, I heard a Christmas sermon that mentioned Jesus’ birth only very briefly and then jumped to Romans 3:3-24. A few weeks later I heard a sermon on an amazing passage from the New Testament in which the preacher skipped over many of the rich aspects of that passage and again jumped to Romans chapter 3 and made penal substitution the main point.

    That last paragraph you quoted is very revealing:

    “…most can be brought under one of three heads: the essence of the matter as the effect of the cross on the believer; a victory of some sort; and the Godward aspect. Some prefer a twofold classification, seeing subjective theories as those which emphasize the effect on the believer, in distinction from objective theories which put the stress on what the atonement achieves quite outside the individual.”

    Do you see what’s happening? So much of our discussion of atonement is framed as something that happens between God and an individual person. There’s no consideration of God’s redemptive plan for societies, for nations, for all humankind, or the created world; at best, those things are an afterthought or a consequence on individual salvation. There’s little understanding of the kingdom. The kingdom is reduced to heaven, to my inner state of being, or to the set of all individuals who are saved. When I compare those individual-centered atonement theories to how the gospel is presented in Scripture, the differences are stunning.

    For example, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Here the Greek word for world is kosmos, which refers to the whole universe.

    Another example is Ephesians 1:9-10: “…he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Paul’s understanding of the gospel is collective and cosmic.

    Where can I hear that kind of gospel being proclaimed today? Much of what passes for gospeling today is about the sorting of human souls into two piles, one bound for heaven, the other bound for eternal destruction. It’s about classifying and dividing the saved from the unsaved. About separating the true disciples from the false ones. I cannot be a universalist; the Scripture doesn’t allow it, Yet I can’t help but notice that somehow we’ve gotten wrapped up in a message of dividing and judging, missing the fact that the Bible’s message is about gathering and uniting and healing and restoring and blessing and loving. With the kind of gospel message we hear today, Is it any wonder that the vast majority of churches end up being theologically narrow, politically narrow, divisive and monocultural? To paraphrase Scot McKnight: The kind of churches we have is a direct result of the kind of gospel we preach.

    • Joe, I agree that in many Christian circles the gospel is defined as “Jesus died for your sins” or only substitutionary atonement. But I’m wondering if this is the real problem. Of course, the scope of what the gospel is and does is perhaps infinite because it is meant to permeate every intricate bit of our existence and eventually the whole universe. However while it is necessary to rightfully define (if possible) and unpack the gospel, I think that this all starts with a orthodox and detailed view of the atonement. When we really understand what’s going on in that event, what God went through to get to that point, all of the history behind it, what he gave up, what he suffered through, the pouring out of both infinite angst as well as joyful, sacrificial incomprehensible love and the sundry implications contained therein, we can’t help but to be both drawn to and infinitely humbled by such an event.

      John Stott’s The Cross of Christ helped me to understand how important it is to understand the atonement from a biblical point of view. He shows how heresy and aberrations of all sorts arose through misunderstandings of this. Conversely he explains that the foundation of God’s work in the Christian community, it’s healthy furtherance and the final consummation of all things hinge on his salvific work at the cross. It’s very telling that God mentioned the atonement as far back as Genesis (Gen 3:15).

      For me personally, I can’t imagine having a robust Christian world view and subsequent orthopraxy without meditating on and mining the depths of what happened at Calvary.

      In Chicago we’ve been studying the epistles as of late. I believe we’re focusing on these in an effort to promote spiritual maturation in our community. I was profoundly moved when we studied Ephesians because it brought to life the “cosmic” aspect of the gospel, as you put it. But one thing I’ve noticed as we continue through the epistles is that a robust explanation of the atonement is beginning to take a back seat with the result being that the sermons sound more like moralistic messages. You can summarize the sermons as this: Now that God has saved us and given us his Spirit, we should grow into and live up to what he has called us to do. This is a biblical message, but where is the unpacking of the impetus? Perhaps this communication of the epistles has roots in other issues, but for me one of them is a lack of revisiting the atonement.

      You make a valid point about salvation being too individualistic rather than communal or cosmic. But I also believe that you have to preach both; each individual must necessarily understand God’s redemptive work on a personal level but they must also comprehend that we are redeemed into a community of believers. And in addition, that this will be extrapolated further as he redeems the whole of creation. But an individual must know that he or she is personally and deeply love by God, even to the point of shedding his own blood for them, in order to appreciate all of this.

    • Joe, a few years ago, Christian blogger Trevin Wax wrote an article on this issue, i.e. cosmic vs. individual salvation. Eventually he calls for a both/and view. Look at this snippet:

      It seems that two opposing camps are forming. The first camp believes we have truncated the gospel by only focusing on individual salvation at the expense of the cosmic dimension of Jesus’ lordship. Furthermore, by neglecting the biblical teaching about the coming Kingdom of God, some worry that we have embraced a gospel that is so heaven-centered as to render it ineffective to speak to earthly realities.

      The second camp fears that historic evangelicalism is rapidly being replaced by a resurgent “social gospel.” Alarmed at the growing number of self-professing evangelicals who are rejecting or diminishing the penal substitutionary model of the atonement or downplaying the necessity of personal faith in the finished work of Christ, these pastors and scholars choose to reaffirm their commitment to personal salvation through Christ’s atoning death. They worry that cutting out penal substitution and neglecting the importance of individual salvation will leave us with a new form of liberalism whose gospel is powerless.


  12. Thanks, Dave. I do dimly remember Trevin Wax’s concern/argument about a salvific gospel vs. it’s cosmic/kingdom implications, which has been fairly widely articulated and argued about. Like you I am inclined with a Both/And rather than an Either/Or stance.

    It reminds me of the Calvinist/Emergent argument between John Piper and Tony Jones: They were both talking to each other, while both reported on the same conversation differently, since they were likely talking past each other, rather than trying to embrace and understand the perspective of the other side.

    • Dr. Ben, that article makes a good point. It’s understandable that both groups, being leaders of their respective movements, would come to that conversation with their own views loaded and ready. They are so committed to what they are doing because it has changed people’s lives and made sense to them on a deep, personal level. But because they are committed to their respective visions they cannot truly hear what the other is saying. When you throw religion in the mix, it’s not just their vision anymore but God’s. But it’s funny how we cement certain views about God when the Bible and experience shows that his wisdom is often both frustratingly and serendipitously variegated or multifaceted. Would I dare to put him in a box perhaps of my own making?

      I often have to catch myself in the things that I post here because usually my knee-jerk reaction is to write something that strongly advocates for the point I want to make. In my experience, the best conversations that I’ve had is where I keep my comments to a minimum and instead ask questions which clarify what my fellow interlocuter is saying while listening intently. My advice to myself these days is to, no matter how much I think I know or how deep my commitments to a particular view are, come to a given conversation as a novice seeking to learn something new about the other person or party. I often want to correct people’s views when I feel as though they could be dangerous to others. But now I’m inclined to think that stopping and always correcting or even agreeing with others (without truly understanding their point) can be more dangerous because it prevents critical thinking, a truly charitable attitude toward others and deep relationship building. It necessarily creates an “us vs. the others” mentality.

  13. Joe Schafer

    Hi David and Ben,

    Regarding some of the discussions and debates that you mentioned: I keep thinking about the adage that “generals are always fighting the last war.” The liberal versus conservative battles of the 20th century were so divisive, so deeply etched in evangelicals’ collective memories, that every discussion gets force-fit into those terms. This saddens me. Moving away from the notion that “the gospel equals individual penal substitution” is not necessarily the same thing as moving toward a mid 20th-century liberal social gospel. If people characterize this as a liberal versus conservative thing, they’ll miss what the discussion is about.

    David wrote: “But one thing I’ve noticed as we continue through the epistles is that a robust explanation of the atonement is beginning to take a back seat with the result being that the sermons sound more like moralistic messages.” That surprised me, because in my experience, UBF has never had a robust explanation of the atonement, and the messages have always been moralistic. Perhaps they are getting worse.

    Reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight challenged me at a deep level. That book, and the many books by N.T. Wright, point out our tendency to frame everything in terms of (a particular understanding of) Paul’s letters to Galatians and Romans. We’ve taken the Romans Road as the overarching theme of the whole New Testament. When fit everything into that mold, it becomes very hard to appreciate what the four gospels and Acts are saying. It’s not a question of whether we preach the cross first or the kingdom first, or whether we give equal weight to both. It’s a question of seeing how the two fit together. Because, from the standpoint of the gospels, the cross is all about the kingdom, and the kingdom is all about the cross. You cannot understand one without the other.

    Wright gives a great discussion of this in this lecture. It’s a bit long (one hour) but its well worth the time.

  14. When I read it, this seems right regarding what the various NT authors emphasize:

    * The 3 synoptic gospels: The kingdom of God/heaven
    * John’s gospel: Eternal life.
    * Paul’s epistles: Justification/Atonement/being in Christ.

    In the synoptics, eternal life and atonement is hardly mentioned.

    In John’s gospel, the Kingdom and atonement is hardly mentioned.

    In Paul’s epistles, the kingdom and eternal life is hardly mentioned.

    In Acts, the preaching is not primarily what to believe, but what happened (You killed him. God raised him from the dead.)

    How do we mere mortals try to encompass all of this in a 30 min sermon on Sun?

    My simplistic answer is stick as faithfully to the text as one can (with warts and biases and eisogesis and all) and pray that the Spirit uses our limited exegesis, hermeneutics and homiletic to present Christ by the Spirit to our audience.

  15. After the sermon, several people confessed their sin to me privately in person and via email. (One of my practical application points was Jas 5:16.) I can’t remember this ever happening before right after the sermon! God encouraged me through this.

    Perhaps I need to seek your feedback more before I preach on Sun–if I am able to finish my written draft early. I’m going to start now on Fri morning to draft an outline of my initial thoughts.

    • My criticism is freely available at any time :)

    • Bonhoeffer would be proud Ben! His chapter 5 of Life Together is an often mis-used but highly insightful discourse on confession.

      “It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

      Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

  16. Thanks, Brian, for reminding me of this great quote by Bonhoeffer (It is worth repeating!): “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” – See more at: