What is Revival? Dr. David Hogg

Guest: Dr. David Hogg | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Hogg about revival. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. David Hogg serves as vice president of Academic Affairs at Phoenix Seminary, where he also teaches Church History. Dr. Hogg has many years of pastoral and seminary ministry, and holds a PhD in Medieval Theology from St. Mary’s School of Divinity at St. Andrews University in Scotland.



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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:18):

On February 8th 2023, reports came that revival fell on the campus of Asbury University. Following a regular chapel, students stayed, not to converse with friends or talk with professors, but to pray and repent. And for the next 16 days, people met nearly around the clock to worship, to pray, and, for some who traveled great distances—even from other countries—to have the smoldering coals of their faith rekindled. Stories from other campuses began to be told, and hope is high that we might be experiencing another awakening throughout our country. With revival, though, comes skepticism and questions about what constitutes genuine revival. Was this an authentic outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Or was this a manufactured phenomenon that was emotionalism unhinged? I, for one, am hopeful that this was an actual expression of revival. What I certainly don't want to be is guilty of praying for revival, and then being skeptical when God does it. Nevertheless, it stirs up a lot of questions about what revival is. So to talk with us about that today, we have with us Dr. David Hogg, who serves as vice president of Academic Affairs at Phoenix Seminary, where he also teaches in church history. Dr. Hogg has served numerous years in pastoral ministry, and has taught at multiple seminaries. He received his PhD from St. Andrews in Medieval Theology, and is published widely. Dr. Hogg, welcome back to the podcast.

David Hogg (01:39):

Thank you. It's great to be here again.

Brian Arnold (01:41):

So our big question for today is—what is revival? And obviously this is a lot of talk right now with what is going on at Asbury University just recently. And one of the first questions that I hear people talk about a lot when it comes to revival is—how do we define revival, and how do we differentiate revival from awakening?

David Hogg (02:02):

Yeah, that's a good question. You're going to find people, of course, on different sides. You know, you could go the etymological route—revival, what does it mean from the Latin, and so forth. And awakening. And it seems to me that no matter what term we might want to apply, so often the two things that we often look for and hope for in revival or awakening is, number one, that people who are not believers would become believers. And number two, those who are believers would be spurred on to greater faithfulness and devotion to their Savior. And so, whether, you know, revival tends to be used in terms of people coming to faith in Christ. We see that in, for example, the Second Great Awakening, and Finney, and so forth. Whereas awakening tends to be used a little bit more for believers who are already...people who are already believers, and then are spurred on to greater devotion.

David Hogg (02:55):

We see, you know, examples of that in the comments of, for example, Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening, when he and George Whitefield and some others commented on just how amazed they were at the increase in faithfulness, and even like family worship, amongst those who are already believers. So I don't know if that quite answers your question, but there are usually those two components. And in my mind, you know, we can fuss about some of the terminology, I suppose. But those are sort of the two things that we look for most when we're talking about either revival or awakening.

Brian Arnold (03:28):

It's interesting that you say that, because I've actually heard those terms used in the reverse. That revival is something that happens when you're already a believer, and the faith has grown cold and you need something to kind of stimulate it to get back. And awakening is kind of a conversion response. You can see even in this conversation there's different understandings of even how these terms are used. But lumped together, it really is this idea that the Spirit of God is moving in a unique way, calling people from sin—whether that's for the first time to salvation, or whether it's patterns of sin in their life, and they're repenting and turning away from those things and growing in godliness. And it happens to be that it is widespread. It's like the Spirit really just pours out and overflows into more people than we generally see happen, right?

David Hogg (04:13):

Yeah, absolutely.

Brian Arnold (04:14):

So when we talk about this, I think our minds immediately go to—and I think this is right, and this is where you kind of went too—was people like Jonathan Edwards. And we're going to talk about him, the First Great Awakening, but what about this idea, biblically? So if we want to see God move, we want to see him do it in ways that he's done in his Word, he's talked about this. Do we see examples of this in the Bible? Thinking about the Old Testament, thinking about the New Testament. Where would you point somebody to say—that is an example of what we're talking about here?

David Hogg (04:46):

Hmm. Well, of course the most obvious, I suppose, is Acts two. I mean, you can't miss that one for the trees. You know, the coming of the Spirit upon those who are gathered together on what we now call the Day of Pentecost. And, you know, there, I think it's interesting, because we have a both/and, in terms of—on that day there were people, you know...that those who were in the upper room continuing to pray after Jesus had ascended, and those are people who were believers. Those are people who understood, even in a nascent way, they understood that Jesus, in fact, is the Messiah. And they were excited about this, and the Spirit descended upon them, as we read, in tongues of fire. And then, at the same time, that because of that, they then are preaching, they're teaching, they're spreading the Word. They're engaged in what we now call "gospel conversations" with people. And it led to, you know, 3000 souls being saved. And then we continue to read in Acts about how that spread. So there's sort of a both/and there in Acts two. I think that's probably the most obvious place. I don't know. What would you...I mean, yeah.

Brian Arnold (05:49):

Obviously, Acts two is the one that the mind goes to. And you see this kind of outpouring of the Spirit. I mean, the whole point of Pentecost is the Spirit has come, he's indwelling his people, and new believers are coming into the fold. Why don't we see something like that in the Old Testament as much? I mean, I guess you get these periods, periodically, where you'll have some sort of a mass repentance, and there'll be sackcloth and ashes and things. I mean, do you attribute that to even the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as being different than the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, especially in regards to the indwelling of the believer?

David Hogg (06:27):

So I would say that, yes—I want to be careful here—so I would say, yes, there is a different working of the Spirit between Old Covenant/New Covenant...what we would call Old Testament/New Testament, perhaps. But I think the difference is not so much—again, I want to use my language carefully here—not so much in the...maybe the manner of the Holy Spirit's working, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. I mean, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really did change absolutely everything in history. I mean, the whole basis of new creation is founded upon his being raised from the dead in history. And so, in a certain sense, the work of the Holy Spirit, post-resurrection is of a different...well, it is a work that comes with resurrection power.

David Hogg (07:21):

And which, you know, in time could not have happened before the resurrection. That does not mean the Spirit was weaker in the Old Testament, or the Spirit was not active in the Old Testament, or under the Old Covenant. It simply means that the experience that we could have in history of the Spirit is going to be, I think, different between Old Testament and New Testament believers. The Spirit is required in both cases for someone to be saved. But that resurrection power really does change something. And I think that's what we see in Acts two, and the rest of the Book of Acts, and the unfolding of...I mean, the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world. Does that make sense?

Brian Arnold (07:58):

It does, it does. I would just want to really press on the New Covenant passages in the Old Testament. Things like Jeremiah 31, things like Ezekiel 36 and 37, where it does seem like the indwelling presence of the Spirit is going to be what differentiates it in many ways, is that the believer in the Old Covenant...I mean, you see the Spirit kind of coming in, especially with kings and things, where David will have the Holy Spirit, but whether or not he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit all the time, I think, is a matter of discussion. But it doesn't seem to be that the average Israelite is. Whereas, the New Covenant is—all of a sudden it's not going to be tablets of stone. It's going to be written on the heart. And even the picture that we get of the Valley of the Dry Bones, where the Spirit comes in and really animates, and brings life to that which was dead.

Brian Arnold (08:46):

So, yeah, I mean...and as we think about revival and awakening throughout the Church Age, it is something that we would often attribute, I think, to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through his people. So yeah. And I appreciate your caution there. We don't want to pretend like—or not even pretend like—we don't want to suggest that the Holy Spirit was somehow absent, and just like finally appeared in the New Testament. Which is not what I'm suggesting. But a unique way, post-resurrection, like you said, that now is in the Church Age. So I want to talk about the First and Second Great Awakening some. And even into the modern period. But you and I are church historians of an earlier period. So as I study the Fathers, as you study the medieval period, do we see these kinds of peaks of revival and awakening in the early church and in the medieval church, would you say?

David Hogg (09:46):

Yeah. You know, I think we do. But I think the other thing we have to bear in mind is we are not going to have the same records for these sorts of things, so it's a little harder for us to examine that. So, for example, you know, the First Great Awakening takes place in the early mid-18th century, when you have people writing about this, and writing letters, and we have their correspondence, and we have all sorts of information. Whereas in the ancient period, and then in the medieval period, not so much. We don't have nearly the levels of literacy, and so forth. So just as a cautionary aspect to this, we need to recognize the differences in the material that's available to us. But, you know, just think about the Middle Ages—you know, it's...when we think of the church in the Middle Ages, I think there's...we have to distinguish between the church as represented by the writings of those who were in power—which were not always good Christian people, dare I say it.

David Hogg (10:40):

But there were then...then there were those who were the average Jane and Joes of the church. And in that respect, like, I can think of the 12th century, and you have a group like the Waldensians. The Waldensians, you know, they had some of their quirks and so forth. But for the most part, that seems to be a movement in which we see God working to continue to call people to himself. They were labeled as heretics by the church authorities of their day. But to many people, they could pass for evangelicals, believing, for example, that, you know, that they should read the Bible for themselves, believing that they shouldn't...that recognizing the importance of the church in interpreting Scripture, recognizing that someone—now, not everyone's going to believe this...go along with this position even today—but recognizing that and believing that people should be baptized after they profess faith

Brian Arnold (11:29):

Only the right ones. Yes. Go on.

David Hogg (11:31):

<laugh> There is that side. So, but it's kind of intriguing to me. Like that, I would say, that's a movement of the Spirit that at that time took place in what we would now call Northern Italy in the 12th century. And that's God, you know, making sure that the apostolic succession rightly understood is actually continuing. And when I say apostolic succession rightly continuing, I mean those who are continued to be, like Peter in Matthew 16, the right speakers, the correct proclaimers of what is the gospel and the truth. And those who do that are in apostolic succession. And I think we see, therefore, that there are—this is just one example—but we see these movements in the church where the Spirit takes ahold of somebody and that person begins to—and this is almost always the case—begins to read Scripture far more fervently, and begins to reckon and to love God more, and to enter into longer periods of prayer with greater fervency. And the result of that is—cannot help but be—some sort of change that is Spirit-led. Whether it's a massive change that's been well documented, like the First and Second Great Awakening, or whether it's something that is less documented, like the Waldensian movement in the 12th century.

Brian Arnold (12:47):

And I think it's important to note what you said there about this greater fervency in reading Scripture, in prayer, in just this consciousness of who God is in your life. That happens on an individual basis. You know, as I think about conversion stories in church history, all the way from Justin Martyr up through John Wesley, and in my own life, of this heart that is strangely warmed, kindled for the things of God in a way that it wasn't before, that's really the miracle of the rebirth that's playing out. And what we're saying right now, I think, is when that happens on a large scale, at a fast pace, you have a revival that is happening. And, you know, even when I think about the medieval period, too, I think about some of those preaching orders that developed. Things like the Dominicans or the Franciscans, where they said—we need to preach the gospel in the vernacular of the people, so that they can understand and respond to God as well.

David Hogg (13:45):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's also worth noting that not all revivals or awakenings, depending on how you want to define those things, are geographically or population-wise massive. I mean, there are revivals, for example, in the 19th century in Northern Scotland, that unless you know something about Scottish history or British church history, most people don't know about. But, you know, for smaller geographic locations, massively influential in terms of what the Spirit did in a group of believers, and then, through them, drawing many to himself. So it's also worth noting that when we think about these things, it doesn't have...a revival, or, well, a work of the Spirit that is unusually powerful—it doesn't have to...we don't have to wait for it to be a certain size before we can say, "Oh, okay, so this is now a legitimate revival. Or a legitimate awakening." Sometimes they do happen on slightly smaller scales.

Brian Arnold (14:40):

It can happen in a church. It can happen in a ministry. Right? And even the time frame. I think when people think of the First Great Awakening, it's...they're thinking years of awakening and revival. When really, it's about 18 months. And just as surprisingly as it came, it kind of...it just went out. And you stopped seeing some of those kind of mass movements kind of happening. But there's a lot of people who are awakened during that time who continue on with that level of fervency. And then, of course, we could talk about the Reformation as its own kind of revival. And then from the Reformation of the 16th century, you move into the 17th century, and you get these great movements of the Puritans in England. And even one of my favorite, yet unappreciated, groups of the pietists on the continent.

Brian Arnold (15:26):

And there's some real, beautiful things happening amongst the pietists. Even things like small groups. I don't know if it was in the Pia Desideria by Jacob Spener, but...I can't remember who I read it in, but basically saying that they started small group ministry. So there's nothing new under the sun, folks. If your church is starting small groups, and you think, we're really on the cusp of something—they've been around for about 400 years. And then, of course, we go into the awakenings that people are most familiar with—the First and Second Great Awakening. So if we can just take a minute to kind of unpack what happened there, with the First Great Awakening figures like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield. So what really stands out to you from that First Great Awakening?

David Hogg (16:12):

A couple of things stand out to me. And I would...I mean, yes, you have Jonathan Edwards preaching on justification. Jonathan Edwards was preaching on sin, and doing so...now, some historians have now questioned this, but for the most part, we recognize Jonathan Edwards, amazingly, was probably the most boring preacher on the planet. You know, he read his manuscripts, and so forth. Some people are trying to now say—oh, no, no, no. He was far more exciting. But for the most part, it seems like he was not a pulpiteer, as we now use the phrase.

Brian Arnold (16:40):

Like David Hogg, correct, yes.

David Hogg (16:42):

<laugh> Or not. But yeah, I mean, so it's kind of intriguing that here's a man who's just simply preaching the Word. That's one thing that catches my attention. You know, he's not trying to manufacture something. But also what intrigues me is the kind of pre-Great Awakening and post-Great Awakening. And what I mean by that is like the awakening that took place with Edwards in the 1730s and 1740s, and Whitefield and Wesley, and so forth, depending on how you're going to look at...you know, define that. All of that was...the precursor was, for example, Edward's own grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, just faithfully preaching and ministering God's Word. And almost in a sense, I think, preparing the soil on which his grandson would then spread the seed of the gospel. So to some degree, there's something to be said for the continuing faithful ministry in between revival, or great awakenings, that simply is continuing to prepare that soil.

David Hogg (17:40):

The other thing I like about the...at least the First Great Awakening, as we often refer to it, is some of its broadness. You know, there was an interdenominational aspect. You've got Whitefield, who's an Anglican. William Tennant was a Presbyterian. Jonathan Edwards was a congregationalist. Eventually...the Baptists are always late to the party, but eventually they joined in the fray. So you get like a multi-denominationalism here, where people are so focused on the person and work of Christ, and the wonder of God in his triune nature, and the glory of salvation to sinful and fallen humanity, that to a degree, there's that recognition that—well, we're in this together. Well, we may have our differences over infant baptism, or, you know, church government, or what have you. There is a wonderful unity that pervades. And in a way, you've got to ask yourself—is this not the answer to Jesus's prayer in John 17?

Brian Arnold (18:32):

Oh, and I think in many ways it is. And we just see it manifest in so many different ways, even between the First and Second Great Awakening. But even with what God is doing today, that people aren't using the right labels for things, they could miss some of the great movements of God. So the First Great Awakening, I like to think of it as, you know, just this genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But when I talk about the Second Great Awakening, I like to use the phrase "recipes for revival."

David Hogg (18:59):


Brian Arnold (18:59):

Yes. So here we have guys like Charles Finney. It's out of the Second Great Awakening kind of era, and all this religious movement, if I can say it like that, that you get things like the LDS church. That you get things like Jehovah's Witnesses. You know, a lot of heresy was born out of the Second Great Awakening. So what do we learn from the Second Great Awakening, and how do you kind of juxtapose those?

David Hogg (19:25):

So I think...how I juxtapose them is the First Great Awakening, I would say was...I don't know. It is probably not the best term for it, but it's a bit of a surprise. I mean, even Jonathan Edwards, when things started to happen, I think rightly so, he said...he asked the question, "Is this genuine? Did the Holy Spirit really work in this way?" Now eventually he came to the conclusion—yes. And I think a healthy sort of cautious optimism—or call it skepticism, if you will. But I think that's...you know, there's a bit of a surprise, was the First Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a little more planned, in a way. You mentioned Charles Finney, and it's kind of interesting. Finny is famous for saying that "religion is the work of man, and the result of the right use of appropriate means."

David Hogg (20:12):

And he still believed that you...obviously, you can't plan for the work of the Holy Spirit, but Finney was very much a believer in—I can manufacture something here. I can use means that the Spirit will then honor, I suppose we could say, and many, many people will be brought to salvation. So we can actually, we can...if we want revival, we can bring it. And Finney was very much in that vein of thinking. So for him, mass advertising was important. Just protracted meetings, just on and on and on, until something happened. You know, there are aspects of that that I think were very different than the First Great Awakening. And I suppose one of my critiques...and that's not the only aspect of the...the Second Great Awakening is a bit more complex than most people think.

David Hogg (20:59):

But on that aspect of the Second Great Awakening, I think, one of the things we can...we should at least pause and think about is yes, I think there's...we need to think about—to what degree can we manufacture this? Now, I happen to be on the side of—I'm not sure we can. You know, but I do think there are certain practices, certain habits of grace that Christians ought to be practicing with greater faithfulness, that I think will lead to the Spirit moving, and so forth. But I think the Second Great Awakening just raises some of those questions. And what happens when you set some theology aside, as I would argue Finney did, in favor of some pragmatic things that you think you can just produce? Does that answer your question?

Brian Arnold (21:44):

Oh, it absolutely does. And, you know, just to give some tangible aspects of this for our listeners, I would point to things like the altar call. So Finney had what he called "the anxious bench," and if you felt like the Holy Spirit might be moving and calling on you during the service, you'd actually come up on stage where there was a bench, and people would be praying for you while he's up there preaching. You know, I know from a lot of the background I have, it is still very common to see altar calls, as though that's how Jesus did it. That's how Paul did it. That's how, you know, Justin Martyr did it, I mean, just for the ages. But really, it's relatively new in church history. Not meaning it's necessarily bad, but just I like to know the origins of things, and where they're coming from.

Brian Arnold (22:25):

And then, maybe on the other side of that, where I would press on people today—and this is kind of a unpopular opinion—is, man, if we get the lights just right, and just enough fog coming from the machine, and we amp it up in this room, but we got to make sure like we amp it up early, then we get the right slow song right before the message. Like, we can do these things, and manufacture an atmosphere in which we think the Holy Spirit will be more, you know, likely to work. Now we are humans, and we...our hearts do pull towards affections in certain ways. And that's not bad. And so I think we need to be thoughtful. So don't hear me, if you're listening to this, hear me just taking shots at everyone right now. I'm just saying we need to be very thoughtful about what we're trying to do, and are we trying to manipulate the Spirit to do what we want him to do?

Brian Arnold (23:13):

Or are we trying to really create an atmosphere in which we think worship can be done in a God-honoring way, where preaching's going to be heard, and we want that to pierce hearts? So. Well, I mean, there's so, so much more we could say about revival, and I wish we could. But I did want you to maybe tell us a couple resources that people could be reading if they want to learn more about revival. Maybe specifically about the 18th century revivals, but more, I just even mean broadly, and how they might be praying for it.

David Hogg (23:44):

Yeah, I think that's good question. There's...it may not necessarily be...well, there's a book that I think...I actually required my students to read it. Doug Sweeney's The American Evangelical Story is, I think, just a helpful resource in helping people place the Great Awakenings in a broader context. And to see that there are lots of other things going on. I think, you know, that's a helpful resource. There's a series of books that I think are also rather helpful—The Dominance of Evangelicalism with David Bebbington, The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark Noll, The Expansion of Evangelicalism by Wolffe, and so forth. There's a series of books there. 

Brian Arnold (24:25):

Fantastic books.

David Hogg (24:25):

Yeah. Great books. And I think all of them do what needs to be done, which is not to deny the work of the Spirit, as though they're going to turn around and say—oh, well the Spirit is not at work. But no, they accept that the Spirit is at work, and sometimes in wonderful ways, but they also want to say—but it's part of a larger history. There are other things going on, and you need to be aware of these things. So I would actually point people to those resources as a way of helping them ground what they're thinking in a historical context.

Brian Arnold (24:53):

I think those are really helpful works. And then, if I might just add one more, Lloyd Jones's, Martin Lloyd Jones's, book on Revival, as a way to really pray for, anticipate, expect. And folks, let's continue to do that. Let's hope that God is working at Asbury and other college campuses. Let's pray that he'll do it in our churches, and let's pray that he'll do it in our lives. Dr. Hogg, thanks so much for joining us today.

David Hogg (25:16):

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Outro (25:18):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.

Preparation for Proclamation

By Adam Bailie

In his first inspired letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)

Fellow preachers, I propose to you that the best preaching ends up with people who are meeting with God and who are amazed with the power of God through the message delivered to them, more than they’re amazed at a messenger or deliverer. I am convinced that applicational expository sermon preparation is essential to the aims that Paul embodied with the Corinthians. The sermon we must prepare can then be defined as “public, biblical proclamation that derives its message exclusively from the intent of the author and conveys implications specifically for the life of the hearer.” In order to help us toward that end of applicational expository preaching, I want to encourage you with five sermon evaluation questions that will directly inform your preparation for the next sermon you are entrusted to deliver. I will then give you ten steps to better prepare to preach.

1. Is the sermon accurate?

Was what I preached accurate? Did I get the text right? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it is the right one because we are heralds of the King’s words. Exegesis and hermeneutics are not the disciplines of the ivory tower, but are the constant tools in the herald’s hands in every sermon preparation engagement.

2. Is the sermon authentic?

Did the text get me right? Did I deliver this, having been moved by the Spirit with the meaning of the text and its direct impact on my life? Or did I merely deliver a lecture or disperse content detached and disengaged from the Spirit-intended implications on life? As Mike Bullmore has often reminded me, God intended to say something and get something done with every text we preach.

3. Is the sermon articulate?

Did I make the meaning and implication of the text clear? Simple and clear do not necessarily mean simplistic or dumbed down. Nor do complex and complicated necessarily mean deep or sophisticated. Clarity is an often-overlooked aspect of preparation. Think deeply, connect dots relentlessly, and tie the knots of logic and reason as tightly as possible so that the hearer has every opportunity to understand and be affected by the Word of God.

4. Is the sermon accessible?

Did I make the text contextually attainable? Did I know my audience? While preaching, did I assess and adjust to the hearers' non-verbal communication from the pews? The preacher who merely delivers a speech is far less concerned with accessibility than the shepherd who is feeding the flock, the discipler who is discipling the hearers, and the evangelist who is evangelizing the crowd. If accessibility is prioritized the most underdeveloped listener can grab the truth of the text, and the most mature will be shaped further by the text they have perhaps encountered on various occasions. Illustrations, humor, applications, and even delivery style will be the watermarks of accessible sermons.

5. Is the sermon applicable?

Did I connect the dots from learning to living? Having been trained in a deeply exegetical and explanation-weighted preaching context, I’m terrified of Christians erroneously thinking that they’re growing merely because they know more about the Bible. Knowledge without love (application) ends up pumping pride (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-3). Be sure to actually bring the text to bear on the lifestyle of the hearer.

With those evaluation questions weighing in on your preparation, now we begin the step-by-step process:

1. Prepare your heart.

Start with prayer and permeate your preparation, guys. Preparing a sermon should be a rich and powerful aspect of your walk with Christ. You’re with him, and the Spirit is with you. If you’ll engage that way, he is as much involved in the prep as he is in the proclamation.

2. Examine the text.

Exegesis is the observation and examination of the text. Find and record all that you see in the grammatical, logical, theological, and contextual connection points in the passage. See John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (chapter 6) and learn to query the text thoroughly.

3. Compile the truth.

Sketch out the formation of the argument and the elements. Determine the primary truth or the big idea of the text. You can ask, “What is lost if this portion of the Bible is removed from the Bible?” So the implication of that text ends up becoming central to the big idea.

4. Organize the structure.

You have an exegetical outline by examining the text. You have an explanatory outline—what the text is saying—by compiling the truth. Now move into an applicational expository outline by connecting this text to the life of your hearers. That’s organizing the sermon structure from What? to So what? to Now what?—which personalizes it.

5. Inspect the framework.

This is the first time in preparation where commentaries should be used. Technical commentaries help answer technical questions. Expository commentaries help answer explanatory questions. Applicational commentaries help answer applicational questions. Devotional commentaries help answer the devotional questions of what you’re supposed to feel and believe and what’s supposed to happen. Inspect with commentaries; don’t plagiarize them.

6. Confirm the sermon.

Take the sermon to a meeting to get feedback about how best to bring it home in the context where you will preach it. One voice should talk about the connections in the text. One voice should talk about the verbiage and what is said and how words are used. One voice should talk about applicational elements in the text and how it can come home to hearers. Do not come to that meeting hoping to get a sermon. Come with a sermon that the meeting is going to help make better.

7. Color the sermon.

Add to the sermon sharp hooks and tight buttons. Sharp hooks are introductions that create the need to listen. Tight buttons are conclusions that close loops and send hearers toward response and life. Illustrations, commercial breaks to discuss a pertinent topic, humor, and quotations can all be used to further color the sermon.

8. Construct the notes.

I’m not going to tell you how I do my notes. Work and rework notes until you figure out how your brain works so that your notes serve you. You are not a servant of your notes. Your notes are a servant of your brain. They’re there to help your brain.

9. Consecrate the sermon.

Pray it hot. Linger with the Lord for boldness, for tenderness. Consecrate that sermon to the King and His agenda. Devote it to him. Pray through the big idea with him. Pray that you would love the people listening. Pray for boldness that comes from a vertical engagement in your preparation with the Word of the living God.

10. Proclaim the sermon.

Proclaim it. Preach it. No biblical preaching is devoid of teaching, but there’s plenty of teaching that is devoid of preaching. Preaching is a heralding ministry that finds its heritage in the prophets. So preach. We are not having a talk, and we’re not having a conversation. We’re not welcoming everybody into a conversation. We actually are spokesmen for the King. Manage post-sermon interactions and sensations carefully. You are not as good as your highest praise, and you are not as bad as your harshest critic. Just don’t believe either one too much.

Finally, I’ve got some resources that have shaped my life as a preacher and might do the same for you:

Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson is the most influential.
Preaching by John MacArthur
Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I love, love, love that book.
Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
Preach the Word by Ryken and Wilson
Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hayes
Between Two Worlds by John Stott
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper
Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson

Adam is Senior Lead Pastor at Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. He planted Christ Church in December 2012. He earned his M.Div. from The Master's Seminary and previously served on the pastoral staff of churches in California and Texas. Before training with Harvest Bible Fellowship and coming to Phoenix, he planted and was the lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, CA. He and his wife Renee live in Chandler with their two daughters and a son. They are thrilled to be in the East Valley for the sake of Christ's fame.

Why the Puritans Canceled Christmas

By Nathan Tarr, PhD

In 1659, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony canceled Christmas. The purpose of this brief essay is to explore why they did so and what we—rightly looking forward to enjoying our Christmas traditions—can learn from their decision. We can work toward a helpful understanding of Puritan opposition to Christmas by reminding ourselves who the Puritans were, what they were like, and what was happening at the Christmas revelries to which they were opposed.

The term “Puritan” covered a motley crew of men and women, in both England and America, from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. It was perhaps not quite as broad as a term like “evangelical” is today, but it often carried a similar (and ironical) imprecision. Some Puritans, for example, focused almost entirely on political debates of the day. Others took church government as their primary area of concern. Still others were known for their intentional pursuit of piety. To say that “the Puritans” did any one thing—including canceling Christmas—is a bit like squaring the circle. It is hard to find a formula where everybody fits. We are focusing in this essay on the theological reservations that animated the Puritan discouragement of Christmas celebrations.

Some of us may not see a need to ask why the Puritans would take the step of canceling Christmas. Christmas is bright, and colorful, and filled with joy. Puritans being Puritans, of course, they opposed it for just these reasons. Were they not the well-known antagonists of delight, festivity, and fun? In a word, the answer is no. Scholars like Bruce Daniels, Leland Ryken and, more recently, Michael Reeves have done important work rehabilitating our imagination where the character of the Puritans is concerned. And more work is needed! The Puritans, in actual fact, took robust delight in colorful clothing, food and drink, art and instruments (if not in church), natural beauty, sport (though not on the Lord’s day), and marital sex. Their enjoyment of these and other of God’s good gifts resounds from their journals, letters, sermons, and even the accusations of their enemies. What was it, then, that they found so onerous about Christmas?

We begin to get an idea of their concern when, already in 1621, Governor William Bradford censured newcomers to the Plymouth Colony for taking Christmas day off from work. Nevertheless, Bradford wrote in his log, “If they made the keeping of [Christmas] a matter of devotion, then let them keep [it in] their houses, but there should be no gambling or reveling in the streets.” Taking Bradford at his word here, he is admitting a legitimate way to celebrate Christmas—in our homes, as a matter of religious devotion. He is also identifying the issue at the root of his resistance to the holiday, namely, a spiritually crass and socially disruptive celebration disconnected from the reason for the season.

Perhaps you are beginning to wonder at this point whether “Christmas” was something altogether different in 17th-century England (and New England) than it is in our experience today. That question comes from a good instinct! We should get the past clear before we critique it. So, if Puritans were not canceling carols, ginger bread houses, hot chocolate, and puppies, what kind of celebration did Puritan leaders believe we would be better without? We should imagine a scene less like setting up a manger and more like Mardi Gras. Known as "Foolstide," cross-dressing, heavy-drinking crowds would parade the streets singing bawdy songs and demanding entrance to upper-class residences. Those houses not sufficiently quick to open the door and provide the meat and drink demanded would be vandalized before the crowd moved on. Presided over by a Lord of Misrule, the street festival often took special delight in interrupting church services. It was a night neither silent nor holy. As Hugh Latimer wrote in the early half of the 16th century, “men dishonor Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas than in all the twelve months besides.”

Here was the heart of the Puritan aversion to Christmas as it was celebrated in their time. The social order was disrupted. Townspeople reveled in an excuse to “do what they lust and follow what vanity they will.” The devotion of true religion was ignored or antagonized outright. As a political minority, the Puritans resisted these expectations for decades, but to little cultural effect. Their convictions did not change when they found themselves in a position to influence policy. And so, in the colonies of the New World as in Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the Puritans exercised their political power to cancel or curtail the irreligious celebration of Christmas.

In his The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum has argued that the traditions marking our holiday season are relatively new and thus very different from those combatted by Governor Bradford’s prohibition on “reveling in the streets.” Even so, there is a caution in the Puritan stance that is worthy of our consideration. The most basic service that the Puritan example can perform is to (re)call our attention to the dual nature of our Christmas celebration. We enjoy this month both a cultural and a religious holiday. They happen at the same time, and are called by many of the same names, but they are very different. The cultural holiday is full of parties and candy, presents and decorations on everything from clothing to cookies. The religious holiday revolves around the myriad ways we consider afresh the news that God has come as our humble Savior and will soon return as our victorious King. The first celebration awakens the ache of acquisition. The second awakens the ache of advent.

Keeping these two holidays distinct in our hearts and minds is not easy, especially with mangers in front of malls and advent wreaths arriving from Amazon. But the Puritans thought it a safer course to cancel Christmas altogether than to risk confusing the holy truth of our Savior’s birth with self-focused, God-less frivolity. So how can we take steps to give both Christmases—the cultural and the spiritual—their proper emphasis in our lives? We should drink our eggnog, decorate our houses, and buy our presents, yes. But what would it look like in our families, and in our churches, to celebrate in a manner that makes it clear that Christmas, ultimately, is a “matter of devotion”? How does the way we engage the public holiday reflect the tempering of Advent’s truth? Each of us will, no doubt, answer these questions of priority and emphasis a bit differently from one another. The Puritans, as is often the case with examples from church history, do not give us the answer. But they do raise the question of Christian devotion. And being prompted to wrestle with such an important question is itself a gift.

Nathan Tarr (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology & the Doctor of Ministry Program Director at Phoenix Seminary. He has enjoyed many years of pastoral experience, first as the founding pastor of Christ Church in Knoxville, Tenn. (2005-2018), and then as the associate pastor of discipleship and missions at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. (2018-2020).

The Golden Age of the Church

As Westerners in the year 2022, we perhaps live in a golden age of studying church history. It seems every few weeks one publisher or another releases a new translation, reprint, or edition of a classic work. It is hard to imagine a time in the past when Christians had more access to the godly, life-giving books from those that came before them. We should learn from them—those so astoundingly devoted to taking every thought captive to the Word of God. Yet, we have to think about church history biblically.

The History of the Church Is Invaluable

Understanding church history brings about many benefits, four of which I will note. Firstly, church history reminds us that Christ’s church has prevailed since His life, death, and resurrection; and she will prevail until His return (Matthew 16:18). Second, learning from church history is an immense source of wisdom, clarity, and encouragement. We can turn again to the great books that have shaped the course of the church for centuries. We can still find comfort for our souls in the gospel insights of writers who remain mostly unmatched. Third, understanding church history provides an incredible ballast against the waves of fads and fashions in the life of the church. Fourth, church history can inculcate humility in us. 

The late David McCullough, one of the most influential historians of the past century, said in his book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For: “We’ve got to teach history and nurture history and encourage history because it’s an antidote to the hubris of the present—the idea that everything we have and everything we do and everything we think is the ultimate, the best.” This applies to the studying of church history as well. Few questions today have not already been addressed in some way by the church over the last two millennia. 

There have been periods throughout the history of the church that stand as faithful correctives to our own day. Consider the Puritans’ diligent, intentional, and patient focus on the ordinary means of grace in corporate worship. They focused on the Bible as the typical means by which God draws sinners to himself and conform us into the image of His Son. Contrast that with the revivalism reemerging in much of the church today. The Reformers themselves, to call the wayward church back to purity of doctrine and practice, looked at both the Bible and past theologians who faithfully taught the Bible. 

Church history is truly an invaluable source of encouragement. In the writings of those who have long been in the grave, we can find pastoral mentors. How did John Calvin think through and address a pastoral issue? How did Herman Bavinck understand the role of the people of God in the political realm? We can find great motivation to remain faithful and trust in God’s promises by reading George Mueller’s autobiography. We can learn from the godly pattern of rejoicing in the tender-care of Christ through the Letters of Samuel Rutherford

The History of the Church Is Imperfect

Nevertheless, in our right and godly quest to humbly understand and learn from church history, there is a simple pit-fall we must always avoid: We ought not think that there was some past "golden age of the church." The most Christ-like pastors, the most faithful evangelists, the purest churches—all these still bore the marks of indwelling sin. Godly pastors, even on their best days, are still imperfect shadows of the Great Shepherd to whom they point. The healthiest church is a faint glimmer of the purified Bride. It is imperative that we hold these truths together: the greatest figures and the most sanctified churches in history were flawed, and we can learn from them despite their insufficiencies and even their moral failings.

God’s Word itself recounts history in a way that reminds God’s people of past generations' faithlessness, to encourage faithfulness in the next generation. Moses, in Deuteronomy, reiterates the covenant and provides covenant motivations for ongoing faithfulness. He encouraged covenant faithfulness by reminding the Israelites of their forefathers’ faithlessness and failure (Deuteronomy 1:26–30). His pointing back to sinful distrust from the past stirred up greater present trust in God’s promise to give His people the land. 

No, the golden age of the church is not behind us, nor do we live in it now. Jesus implied as much in Matthew 18:15–20, when He instituted the practice of church discipline (binding and loosing). Jesus himself assumed that the local church would include those whose lives at times denied their gospel confession. Additionally, reflect on how many letters in the New Testament were written to address theological and pastoral issues. The apostles themselves did not live in an idealized era of the church.  

Pastor, if Jesus assumes an imperfect church and the apostle Paul ministered to churches who approved of a wicked sexual relationship (1 Cor. 5), seasons of frustration and hardship in your church should not surprise you. 

Augustine grumbled about distracted or noisy audience members who interrupted his sermons. Luther wrote the Smaller Catechism because of “the deplorable, miserable condition” of Lutheran churches he had visited. Many of the Puritans bemoaned the occasional faithlessness and hard-heartedness of their people. Examples like these abound throughout church history, and they remind us that the church has never been perfect. 

Don’t allow your heart to yearn for a fictionalized version of the church’s past. Instead, protect your expectations for what the church is and should be. You have been called to be a steward of your flock—not a flock in 1550s Geneva, 1600s Oxfordshire, or 1880s London. 

Yes, learn from the past. Grow as a shepherd. Learn from the scores of faithful shepherds who watched over Christ’s church before you—those men who “held firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). And yet, remind yourself that perfection has never been the mark of a faithful pastor or a healthy church. Walking in repentance and faith, seeking to grow in greater godliness and joy in Christ, and making clear who Christ is by our words and deeds—this is what we are called to.

The Golden Age to Come

Take heart, though: the golden age of the church is coming soon. The Lord’s return will usher in an eternal age wherein, as the classic hymn “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” observes: 

…congregations never break up and sabbaths have no end

For now, our Sunday gatherings are messy. Our victories, flawed foretastes of eternal joy. Imperfect shepherds will someday give way to reality. Then, Christ’s church will be presented to Him perfect and blameless—no longer merely declared righteous, but made righteous to enjoy Him forevermore.

Forrest Strickland (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is an Adjunct Professor of Church History at Boyce College and a member of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

Brian Arnold on Retrieving Cyprian

Retrieval from earlier epochs of Christian history seems to be all the rage these days, and for good reason. In the increasingly chaotic realm of evangelicalism, believers are looking for deeper roots and many are turning to the fathers. In this quest for retrieval, we need to take another look at figures like Cyprian of Carthage, who have valuable things to say to the church today.

Cyprian (c. AD 200–258) was born a pagan of high station and likely did not come to faith until his 40s. Not long after his conversion he became the bishop of Carthage and soon after that, Emperor Decius unleashed a major persecution. A plague followed the persecution and then another persecution followed the plague. Cyprian was able to flee from the first persecution, but he was not so lucky the second time around. On September 14, 258, he was executed by the sword.

Cyprian’s most significant legacy was his doctrine of the church. These persecutions revealed large cracks in the church’s infrastructure, which led him to write On the Unity of the Church. For Cyprian, the nature of the church is her unity. The church cannot be split as several factions had tried to do in picking up the pieces after the persecution. It is in this work that we find one of his most famous lines: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.” In a letter written several years later he even upped the ante, saying, “There is no salvation outside the church.”

Many evangelicals would have a tough time swallowing these words. It sounds as though Cyprian is adding to salvation by faith alone. While we would not want to add church attendance to a checklist for salvation, we should have enough concern for people who claim to be Christians but who are not connected to the bride of Christ to tell them that we do not think they are believers. To be a Christian is to be part of the universal church, but this should also mean being a part of the local church.

A lot of the problems in evangelicalism stem from a low ecclesiology. If we are going to secure that area of our theology, then we will need voices like Cyprian to help show us the way.

Further Reading

J. Patout Burns Jr., Cyprian the Bishop.

Michael Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church.

Brian Arnold, Cyprian of Carthage: His Life & Impact.

About the Author

Dr. Arnold joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2015 and teaches courses in Systematic Theology and Church History. You can read more about him at his faculty page here.