Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A preaching memory: Ephesians 1 at Talbot Chapel

Last week, I read Ephesians 1 thanks to the M'Cheyne reading plan used by Carson's For the Love of God volumes. It stirred a fond, funny memory.

In my senior year at Talbot Theological Seminary, I was selected to be the kickoff chapel preacher. I was absolutely delighted, of course, to be assigned Ephesians 1:1-10 as my preaching assignment.

However, the years have made me pretty sure that the then-dean, the late Dr. Glenn O'Neal, didn't like me very much.

His introduction to me was... really odd. It was decidedly apologetic — and not in the van Tilian sense. He went on and on and on. The good dean basically said there was no explaining who got picked to preach. It was just a reflection of who was well-known, not who had any talent or abilities. What's more, who got to preach first really didn't mean anything either, it was random and insignificant... and, well, here's Dan Phillips.

The assemblage of ~600 students and faculty must have been watching me closely to see how I reacted. Mostly, I kept poker-face. But at one point he said something in his surprisingly extended jeremiad that moved me simply to cock an eyebrow. Just that. The place erupted in laughter.

So when Dr. O'Neal felt that he had sufficiently delivered his soul, I got up to preach. What do you say? What I said was: "After that, I'm not sure whether to say 'Thank you,' or try to live it down. So..." — and, after the laughter died down, I prayed, and launched into the text.

I absolutely exulted in preaching that section. I relished its truths, loving it and what Paul set forth, and lifted up the great apostle's rationale in starting this letter thus. I mean, think of it: he's writing this missionary church, and what does he open with? Simple truths? Pragmatic basics? A few happy how-to's?

No sir, no ma'am. Paul starts out with truths the likes of which pastors think they can't preach even after five, ten years of ministry: sovereign election and predestination!

The sermon was very graciously received. One young lady said a friend had suffered a serioius traffic accident, and the reflection on our spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ was a great comfort to her personally.

The Rest of the Story is that, at years'-end, the faculty met to decide who would get which awards and recognitions. One of the prizes was for the best chapel sermon of the year. A professor (I am told) immediately nominated my sermon for this award.

Dr. O'Neal just as immediately swatted down the nomination with, "No. Too doctrinal." And that, as they say, was that.

Now, do me a favor. Read Ephesians 1:1-10 sometime, and tell me how to preach it non-doctrinally, without running the legitimate risk of angels justly replacing me and my pulpit with a smoking crater.

And the really funny part was that Dr. O'Neal taught preaching, and had authored the book Make the Bible Live.

Ba-dum bum.

Oh, well!


JackW said...

My favorite passage of Scripture ... if you add verses 11-14 to it.

You were actually predestined to preach first, which Dr. O'Neal seemed to miss.

Moon said...

I've been using the M'Cheyney's Reading Calendar too, i like it so far because it allows me to read different portions of scripture and psalms as well!
I absolutely love Ephesians, I was having a discussion a few weeks back with a pentecostal friend of mine which left me flustered and confused about precisely predestination, all I had to do was turn to Ephesians and clarity came back to mind!
By the way I don't think there is any way possible to preach on Ephesians 1 (expositionally) and not be doctrinal...
Mr. Phillips you should've started your sermon this way: Dan Phillips, student at this seminary, disciple of Jesus Christ and preacher by the will of God...

Rachael Starke said...

As I've heard others say of men who clung so faithfully to a particular error until their homegoing...

I trust Dr. O'Neal is better persuaded now.

Sounds like great stuff. So, was this sermon preached in the era of MP3s, tapes, reel to reel, parchment, papyrus...? In a week where I have battled with not battling sin enough, I'd love me some reminders that God's goodness and power are exponentially and incomprehensibly greater than my stubborn sinfulness...

Susan said...

Wow, Dan, how very humble of you not to be too bothered by the sting of Dr. O'Neal's introduction and subsequent denial of your sermon award (you can tell from my tone that I would not have taken it well at all if I were you--but then that just means that I'm still very much of the flesh and self).

Mike Riccardi said...

Make the Bible Live.

Just like "Make the Bible relevant," "Make Christ Supreme," "Make Him Lord of your life," and the list goes on.

The Bible has some news for people who talk like this.

1. The Bible is already alive (Heb 4:12). It doesn't need the help of men and women who couldn't even make ourselves alive.

2. The Bible is already relevant (1Jn 5:12, Mt 16:15) by virtue of who is speaking. The very nature of the God speaking requires us all to give an account.

3. Jesus is already supreme (Col 1:15-20), and His supremacy comes from Himself, not from us "making" Him that way.

4. And He is already Lord (kurios) of all things (Ac 10:36, Eph 1:20-23), the Sovereign despotes of all people.

Now, think about the offense it is to God to say that we must do something that He has done, and has intended to get the credit for doing. We're telling Him (1) that His way wasn't good enough or effectual enough or decisive enough, and (2) that we can do it better, to a more proper effect, and more decisively.

Talk about being replaced by a smoking crater...

CR said...

I would pay real money to see the cocked eyebrow look you gave Dr. Neal.