Category Archives: Book notes

What’s in Aiming to Please?

Before I wrote Aiming to Please, I asked my Facebook friends what sorts of questions they’d like to see addressed in a book on Reformed worship.  Many responded.  I noted all the questions and tried to work them in.  Here’s a list of almost all the questions you’ll find answered:

  • 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 25?
  • Should we have liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent?
  • Does it make sense to have offerings in a church plant or other mission setting?

If you’re in Canada, you can buy Aiming to Please direct from the publisher here.  If you’re elsewhere in the world, it’s available via Amazon and other online retailers.


Christ-Centered Preaching

I read the first edition of this book in 1999, when I was still a seminary student.  It was probably the single most powerful influence on my development as a preacher.  One of Chapell’s emphases is the Fallen Condition Focus:  “the mutual human condition that contemporary persons share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him.”  More than once, the FCF has gotten me out of a homiletical pickle — you know, when you’re stumped about how to preach the passage before you.  This third edition is considerably larger than the first.  It contains a lot more nuance and takes into account further developments in homiletics.  For example, chapter 10 on “A Redemptive Approach to Preaching” has been expanded significantly.  I especially appreciated Chapell’s discussion of various redemptive-historical methods and how they ought all to be accorded a place in the preacher’s toolbox.  I can hardly imagine there being any Reformed preachers who’ve never read Chapell — especially since it’s now a widely-used seminary text.  But, like me, you may have read the first edition many years ago.  If that’s you, let me say it’s worth a few clams to pick up the third and give it another go.


“Go to sleep” Says the Sermon

In his Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon has this little ditty which has always amused me:

It is an ill case when the preacher

“Leaves his hearers perplex’d —

Twixt the two to determine:

‘Watch and pray,’ says the text,

‘Go to sleep,’ says the sermon.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I was re-reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ great classic, Preaching & Preachers.  He notes that a preacher who appears untouched by the truth he’s preaching is not really a preacher at all.  He goes on:

I came across a notable example of what I am condemning recently when I was convalescing after an illness.  I was staying in a village in a certain part of England and went to the local church just across the road from where I was staying.  I found that the preacher was preaching that evening on the prophet Jeremiah.  He told us that he was starting a series of sermons on the prophet.  So he was starting with that great text where Jeremiah said he could not refrain any longer, but that the Word of God was like a fire in his bones.  That was the text he took.  What happened?  I left the service feeling that I had witnessed something quite extraordinary, for the one big thing that was entirely missing in that service was ‘fire.’  The good man was talking about fire as if he were sitting on an iceberg.  He was actually dealing with the theme of fire in a detached and cold manner; he was a living denial of the very thing that he was saying, or perhaps I should say a dead denial.  It was a good sermon from the standpoint of construction and preparation.  He had obviously taken considerable care over this, and had obviously written out every word, because he was reading it; but that one thing that was absent was fire.  There was no zeal, no enthusiasm, no apparent concern for us as members of the congregation.  His whole attitude seemed to be detached and academic and formal.  (p.88)

Sad, no?  It reminds me of a time I visited a Presbyterian church somewhere.  This church had a seminary and their homiletics professor was on the pulpit that Sunday morning.  The poor man had just flown in the day before and was dealing with a bad case of jet lag.  He yawned his way through the whole sermon.  Maybe it was just a bad day for that brother…


The Glory of Christ — John Owen

I love the Puritans, but not all of them were great communicators.  Not all of their writings have travelled well over the centuries.  John Owen is often considered one of the most difficult Puritan writers.  He’s brilliant, but he demands a lot from his readers.  Thankfully, R.J.K. Law made some of Owen’s writings a bit easier for today’s readers.  The Glory of Christ is one of several abridged and simplified works of Owen published by the Banner of Truth in its Puritan Paperback series.

This is a fantastic little book — filled not only with solid biblical theology, but also warmhearted applications. One of the key things I took away from Owen has to do with how we will see God in the age to come. God is invisible *and* immutable. So, Owen says, “We see the glory of God only in the person of Christ” (12). Because Christ has a human body, our vision of God in the age to come is connected to our sight of him. In him all the fullness of God dwells (Col. 1:19). Seeing Christ and his glory is how we will see God. This is true in a spiritual sense now already, but it will also be true in a physical sense after the resurrection. I highly recommend this book!  If you’ve never read Owen before, this would be a great place to start.


Preaching in the New Testament — Jonathan Griffiths

I just want to drop a little note about this great study on preaching from 2017.  The Second Helvetic Confession famously said that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”  Those of us who’ve been preaching for a bit know the popular biblical supports for this statement, passages like 1 Thess. 2:13.  Jonathan Griffiths discusses those, but he also goes way further and deeper.  Exegeting the relevant passages, he deftly explains what makes preaching a distinct form of word ministry.  Along the way, he also implicitly makes a case for why only men can be preachers of the gospel.  It’s a book not so much about the “how” of preaching as the “what.”