Author Archives: Wes Bredenhof

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

Top Five Books on Preaching

I try to read at least one book on preaching each year.  So far, I’ve been in the ministry for nearly 20 years and I’ve read at least 25 books.  It looks like I’m keeping on track.  Some of the books have been mediocre, but most of them have had something worthwhile.  Some have really stood out in my mind and continue to.  If asked for my top five must-reads about preaching, this would be my list and in this order:

  1. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Bryan Chapell

A fellow student introduced me to Bryan Chapell’s book while I was in seminary.  I learned so much from this book about how to preach Christ.  I especially appreciate Chapell’s notion of the Fallen Condition Focus of each passage – often when I struggle to formulate a theme for my sermon, I go back to this notion and everything falls into place.  There is a second edition available, but I’ve only read the first.  I’m not sure about the differences between the two.

  1. Expository Preaching With Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson, Jack Hughes

I’ve always loved Thomas Watson.  He’s the most readable of the Puritans.  He has a style that’s stood the test of time.  Hughes demonstrates why and also how his approach can be appropriated by preachers today.  If you want to preach vividly, like Watson did, this book is priceless.

  1. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People, Joel R. Beeke

This large volume is all about reaching not only the minds of listeners, but also their hearts.  It’s solid on the theology of preaching, as well as on the practice.  It’s grounded in Scripture, however it also works extensively with church history.  If you’re going to read this one, also read the next one – they overlap a little bit, but also complement one another beautifully.

  1. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship, John Piper

Few people ever think about preaching as an act of worship.  But Piper convincingly argues from Scripture that both the giving and receiving of preaching are worship.  Then he shows how thinking about it that way makes a huge difference.  As with Beeke’s book, this one gets to the heart matters and also stresses the urgency of the preacher’s task.  I’ve read numerous Piper books and this is one of his best.

  1. Truth Applied: Application in Preaching, Jay Adams

I read this back in seminary, over one of my summer breaks.  More than any other book, it impressed upon me the need to have preaching that aims to change hearts and lives.  Even if you disagree with Adams’ approach to counselling, there’s a lot to glean from what he’s written about preaching.


Coming Soon: Aiming to Please

This new book on worship should be available soon from The Study.  Here are some of the questions the book will address:

  • What difference does covenant theology make for Reformed worship?
  • Do we hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship?
  • What do our confessions say about worship?
  • Do our children belong in the worship service?
  • When and how does the worship service begin?
  • Can someone other than a minister say “you” with the salutation and benediction?
  • Why do we read the Ten Commandments every Sunday?
  • Is there a biblical warrant for singing hymns?
  • Can we sing all the psalms?
  • Should we sing whole psalms or just selected stanzas?
  • Should we pray with uplifted hands?
  • Should the congregation say the votum?
  • Does the pastor lift one hand or two for the salutation?
  • Should the congregation say the “Amen”?
  • Does a sermon need to use words?
  • Can a woman lead in the reading of Scripture in the worship service?
  • Why do we have collection bags?
  • How can we do the offertory in an increasingly cash-less society?
  • Do we need to read the liturgical forms exactly as written?
  • If my neighbour becomes a Christian, can I baptize him in my swimming pool?
  • With baptism, should the sprinkling be done once or three times?
  • Should baptism be done before or after the sermon?
  • How often ought we to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
  • Should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at tables or in the pew?
  • Why do we have a supervised Lord’s Supper?
  • Do you need an attestation from a sister church to attend the Lord’s Supper as a guest?
  • Can we use non-alcoholic wine or grape juice for the Lord’s Supper?
  • Can we administer the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins?
  • Why do we worship twice on the Lord’s Day?
  • Is catechism preaching biblical?
  • What is the best way to do catechism preaching?
  • Does church architecture matter?
  • Should the elders sit at the front?
  • Can we use a projector in worship?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid instruments in worship?
  • Is the organist “a prophet on the organ bench”?
  • Should accompanists receive an honorarium?
  • What about drums in our musical accompaniment?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid holy days like Christmas?
  • Can we celebrate Christ’s birth on a day other than December 25th?
  • Should we have liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent?
  • Does it make sense to have offerings in a church plant or other mission setting?

Ten Most-Read Posts of 2019

As we get to the end of another year, let me share with you the ten most-read posts here on Yinkahdinay in the past 12 months.  Interestingly, only three of them were actually written in 2019.

10.  Position Statements on Reformed Churches and Sexual Abuse

9.   The Synod of Dort and the Sabbath

8.  Pastoral Q & A:  Vaccinations (always a contentious topic that gets a lot of interest — for better or for worse)

7.  Isaiah Reveals a Message No One Will Believe: A Good Friday Sermon on Isaiah 53:1-3

6.  The Case that Went Nowhere:  Willis De Boer in the CRC

5.  Can a Christian Eat Black Pudding? (glad that people continue to take an interest in this delicacy!)

4.  What’s Wrong with Hillsong?

3.  The ESV Study Bible vs. The Reformation Study Bible: A Comparison (fourth year running that this post has made the top ten!)

2.  Piper: No Desire to Read the Bible?

1.  Tetelestai:  It is Finished (this one always surprises me — one little Greek word gets a lot of attention!)

And with that, I’m taking my summer vacation beginning January 1 and so I’ll be taking my usual break from blogging.  Hope to see you here again in February!


That Time I Accidentally Preached at a Prosperity-Gospel Church

My policy has usually been to preach anywhere if given the opportunity.  Why wouldn’t you bring the gospel anywhere you can?  Still, I’m not sure if I would have accepted the invitation to preach at this church if I’d known ahead of time what kind of church it was.  I do have some limits.  But there I was and God made it work out in a surprising, almost funny, way.

It was 2008.  The church I was serving in Canada had a couple of members who were working at an orphanage in Mexico.  The elders had me go down there for a visit to see how these members were doing and provide some teaching/encouragement.  Also, a neighbouring congregation was interested in doing mission work in Mexico and they asked to scout out this particular city for opportunities to do Reformed church-planting.  This wasn’t going to be a holiday at the beach – the city in question is in the dead-centre of Mexico, about as far away from a beach as you can possibly get.

Before leaving, I’d been told by one of the members that I might have the opportunity to preach at a church or two in Mexico.  So I made sure that I took some sermon notes with me – just in case.  Pastors often have their favourite sermons – we call them “sugar sticks.”  Without thinking much about it, I just took one of my sugar sticks with me.

Towards the end of my stay in Mexico, sure enough, I was invited to preach at a church.  It was just a small congregation located in one of the poorest suburbs of this city.  As we pulled up to the building, it was hard to tell that it was even a church building.  Actually, it wasn’t.  It was just someone’s house and the church worshipped in a room at the back.  The “house” was just a rough brick structure.  By the time we arrived, the sun had gone down and a few electric light bulbs dimly lit the space.  In the worship space, the walls were painted a gaudy pink and a large yellow poster dominated the front wall.  At the center of the poster was a cross with the word “Cristo” running across the horizontal beam.  At this point, I thought this was just your run-of-the-mill Mexican evangelical church.

After everyone was seated in the white plastic chairs, the pastor took his place behind the pulpit.  Actually, if memory serves me correctly, he was the junior pastor, the son of the senior pastor.  The pulpit was just a little lectern sitting on top of a table with a pink and yellow table-cloth (nicely matching the walls).  That evening, the gringo contingent was not only me, but also a group from Manitoba volunteering at the orphanage.  To ensure that all of us could understand, there was a translator who could do both Spanish-English and vice-versa.  She’d also translate my preaching into Spanish.

The service started off with some singing in Spanish.  There was no band, no musical instruments at all, so the singing was done a cappella.  That’s how you know this was a super-poor church.  After the singing, the pastor started speaking.  Through the translator, we found out that there was about to be a collection.  This is where it became obvious.  The pastor said something like, “Do you want to know why you’re poor?  Do you want to know why you live in this neighbourhood and we have to worship like this?  It’s because you don’t have enough faith.  You have to sow the seed of faith.  You can do that now with the offering.  If you give five pesos, God will give you ten pesos.  If you give fifty pesos, God will give you one hundred pesos.  You have to give in faith and then God will reward you.”  Then I knew what kind of church this was.  Even though it was in a poor neighbourhood, this was a prosperity-gospel church.

What is the prosperity-gospel?  Though it started in the United States, it’s a global phenomenon.   I’ve encountered it everywhere.  It’s most well-known representatives are people like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland.  They teach that the good news of the Bible is that God wants to make us prosper here on this earth.  They teach that Jesus Christ is all about our prosperity here and now.  If you suffer, it’s because you don’t have enough faith.  If you trust God enough, you can name whatever blessing you want, and he’ll give it to you.  This is a total perversion of the biblical gospel.

And there I was in a prosperity-gospel church in Mexico.  The offering concluded and then Pastor Wes from Canada was invited to come up and share his message.  I hadn’t planned on what I’d preach.  I didn’t select the message ahead of time thinking that this would be appropriate for this particular church.  But there I was and I asked everyone to open their Bibles to the text for my sermon:  Psalm 73.

Psalm 73 has Asaph in a bind.  He sees a problem that confounds him:  the wicked prosper, while the righteous believer suffers.  He can’t make sense of it and it threatens to undo his faith.  After finally coming to the temple and seeing the sacrificial system in action with all its blood and death, he’s reminded that the wages of sin is ultimately death.  The wicked may prosper here, the righteous may suffer, but God is just.  The suffering believer can trust in him.  You can read my sermon notes on this passage here.

Well, as you can imagine, afterwards the pastor wasn’t just a little awkward with me.  He tried to be gracious, but my sermon had undermined what he said before the offering.  I didn’t have to mention the prosperity-gospel.  I didn’t have to mention the pastor’s error.  I didn’t plan on that ahead of time and I didn’t.  I just preached what I’d prepared and God’s Word spoke for itself.  There’s a lovely word that describes what happened:  serendipity.  It was pure serendipity.  Often that word is used for a “pleasant chance happening.”  But this wasn’t by chance!  God had it all marvelously planned out ahead of time.

Now I wish I could end the story by telling you that my sermon was the turning point for this little church being led down the garden path.  Truth is, I don’t know.  I often think about those poor people in that church.  They weren’t just physically poor — they were getting stones for bread from their pastors.  I pray that they heard something different from the Bible that night that made them think.  Maybe the pastor had second thoughts too.  Two things I know for sure:  first, God is providentially in control of all things; second, if change is ever going to happen with people deceived by the prosperity “gospel,” it’ll happen through the Word of God.


You are a Disciple!

How we think of ourselves matters for how we live our lives.  For many of us, if asked our religion, we’d readily identify ourselves as Christians.  But we live in a world where that answer can sometimes mean nothing more than I was baptized in a church and I used to go to church at Christmas and Easter.  Saying you’re a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean you have a true faith in Jesus Christ and walk in his ways.

Interestingly, the word “Christian” is only used three times in the New Testament.  However, there’s another term used to describe a believer in Jesus Christ.  This term is used nearly three hundred times in Scripture:  “disciple.”  A disciple of Jesus Christ is a student, but far more than just in the intellectual sense.  A disciple in the biblical sense not only imbibes information from his teacher, but aims to follow his life.  Our Lord said it in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  A disciple is like an apprentice.  Believers are disciples.

Yet it seems like Reformed people seldom if ever think of themselves as disciples.  They rarely refer to themselves as disciples.  Why is that?

Why Not “Disciples”?

The notion of Christians as disciples of Christ isn’t prominent in our Reformed confessions.  In its discussion of providence in article 13, the Belgic Confession refers to us as “pupils of Christ, who have only to learn those things which he teaches us in his Word, without transgressing these limits.”  The original 1561 French had “disciples de Christ.”  However, here discipleship is used mainly in the sense of taking data into our mind.  Something similar can be said for Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism where Christ is described as “our chief Prophet and Teacher.”  He is our Teacher in the sense that he has “fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption.”

It might seem as if Reformed theology is allergic to this biblical idea.  Yet if you go to the Reformers, they don’t have a problem with it.  For example, in his commentaries on the gospels, John Calvin acknowledges that Christians are disciples of Christ.  He works with the idea – if you take the New Testament seriously, it’s impossible not to.  So, it’s not as if there is an objection in principle in historic Reformed theology.  It’s simply the case that, more often than not, they used the word “believer” or “Christian” instead.

It could be that the term “disciple” has received more attention because of the modern mission movement.  I’m thinking here especially of the importance of the Great Commission of Matt. 28:18-20 and its key imperative to “make disciples of all nations.”  In Reformation times, the Great Commission was recognized by some (like Martin Bucer) as being an abiding call for the church to do mission.  However, it wasn’t until the late 1700s that it rose to prominence.  In more recent times, it’s become common to hear missionaries speak of discipleship as a focal aspect of their work.  Missionaries taught many new Christians to think of themselves as disciples – not just at the beginning of their Christian walk, but throughout.

The Benefits of “Disciples”

Regardless of the history, the Bible describes true Christians as disciples of Jesus Christ.  It’d be beneficial for us to think of ourselves as such and to identify ourselves as such.  I’ll explain why.

Thinking of yourself as a disciple is beneficial because it reminds you that there’s a goal in your sanctification:  to be Christ-like.  No, you can’t be him like in every respect, yet there are certainly ways you can and should (cf. 1 Cor. 11:11).  For example, you want to be humble and follow his model of servanthood (John 13:15).

It’s beneficial to identify ourselves to others as disciples of Christ because the word “Christian” is increasingly losing its true significance.  People often claim to be Christians while disregarding huge swathes of what Christ teaches in the Bible.  Identifying yourself as a “disciple of Christ” indicates that you aim to follow him and what he teaches – you want to be like him.  You aim to abide in his Word  (John 8:31).

Two Clarifications

Let me end with a couple of clarifications.

First, it’s important to distinguish between the practice of discipleship (while not necessarily using the term) and consciously self-identifying as a disciple of Christ.  Reformed churches, if they’re faithful, are actually good at discipleship.  For example, catechism instruction for the youth of the church is a fantastic discipleship program, even if it’s not spoken of in those terms.  My focus above is on how we identify ourselves and how we regard ourselves.  Do we ever consciously think in terms of being disciples of our Lord Jesus?

Second, the idea of being a disciple of Christ doesn’t exhaust the Bible’s teaching on who we are as redeemed people.  The Bible’s teaching on our identity is multi-faceted.  For example, another important aspect of our identity, often overlooked and underemphasized, is our union with Christ.  This certainly isn’t to say that we should abandon the word “Christian” either.  If we understand it properly for ourselves and clarify it for others, there’s no reason to abandon it.   What I’m simply suggesting is that we give more prominence to discipleship than we have in the past – just remember that if you’ve got true faith in Jesus Christ, you are his disciple!