Top Ten Books of 2013--# 8--Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit - R. Bruce Bickel

We are marching on with the Top Ten Books that I read in 2013.  The next several books that I will review all had a tendency to be lumped together.  The reality is that all of them could have been ranked anywhere from 4th-10th and I have chosen to put this one in the eighth place.  I purchased this book when I went into “enemy” territory in the fall of 2012.  I attended a workshop on expository preaching that was a two-day event.  In fact, two of the primary speakers at the recent conference that took aim at the Pentecostal/Charismatic were at this one I attended last fall.  As for the recent conference that put their sights on us, my personal thoughts is that a very broad bush was used to characterize what I would refer to as classical Pentecostals which is the category that I would fall into.  Some of the things that they dealt with I have never been in a place where such practices took place and my exposure to them has primarily been media related.  However, once you get past all the noise and prejudice that surrounded the event, there were some very valid questions and criticisms that were raised.  I would also note that the workshop that I attended that I was treated with great hospitality even after they discovered my doctrinal views.  So I would gather that the majority of the rank-and-file men do not have the same reactionary behavior that some of the leaders do. 

This book was a purchase that I bought because I judged the cover.  I know that you aren’t supposed to do that but it has a compelling cover and the title is also very stimulating.  It is also a relatively short book that comes in at around 175 pages.  Do not confuse this author with Mike Bickel who is one of the leaders in the Charismatic movement who is attached to the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.         

Author:  R. Bruce Bickel
Publisher:  The Northampton Press, 1999.

The hook that caused me to purchase this book was because it deals with the nature of the preaching that the Puritans practiced.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you have discovered that I have a tendency to read after the Puritans.  If you are ever turned on to their works, you will find much inspiration especially when you see the sermons and how they went at Scripture from all angles.  I always feel like I have to add this disclaimer when I am recommending books and I will add it again.  You must read with a filter and take the good and toss the bad.  Such is the case with the Puritans and their works. 

Here are the opening introductory paragraphs:

Protestants (Pentecostals?), for the most part, have lost their confidence in one of the greatest assets of their tradition:  the mysterious, creative power of the Word of God proclaimed in the pulpit.  The desire to preach the Word in the pulpit has not endured in current evangelicalism (Pentecostalism?) because of the lost sense of the Word creating either situations or people who become doers of the Word.  The picture of the pulpit is a clear picture of how many Protestant (Pentecostal?) ministers see their task and function.  Their time is dictated by the vision they have of the pulpit.  Many “share” rather than “preach,”. . . . and perform under a clouded vision of their ministry because they have no clear conviction about the nature of preaching.  They do not see clearly the unique and supernatural nature of preaching because they do not see clearly the unique and supernatural nature of Holy Scripture.

Many ministers allocate their time accordingly.  More time is spent in motivational discussions, program planning, and church administration than in sermon study and preparation.  Both pastors and congregations alike organize the minister’s schedule based on his or their view of the pulpit.  Demands or expectations are placed upon the minister based upon a job description that reflects a weak view of the pulpit. 

Those two paragraphs left me breathless and convicted!  As usual the great question came to me as a pastor; what kind of ministry will I give myself to?  Will it be one filled with social outlets that please men or will it be one that has a God-focus that pleases Him?  Will I cave in to the American expectation of what a pastor should be or will I seek out what Scripture says a pastor looks like and then follow that pattern?  I would tell you this, the closer you find yourself to the Word and given to prayer the more you will look at the Church and the necessary work it does in a whole new light.  This is what these sorts of books always do to me. 

Bickel noted that there were three main motivations or factors that caused the Puritan pulpit to have such a powerful impact on Europe (primarily Scotland and England) in their time:

·        A New Testament pattern of piety.
·        A high regard for sound doctrine.
·        A properly ordered church life. 

He noted that Puritan preachers gave themselves to this “great business of Godliness.”  Personal holiness was a big deal to these men.  It is very, very rare to find a book at Lifeway (or your favorite bookstore) that has an emphasis on ministry dealing with the necessity of personal holiness.  In fact it is almost as if we are embarrassed by the word “holiness.”  I realize that in the past there were some abuses that took place and some were quite legalistic in their approach to it.  But there were also some of the old saints and preachers who took holiness quite seriously and when you were in contact with them there was such a cleanliness and purity about them that two things would take place.  First, you felt very ashamed at your own sense of worldliness without a word ever being spoken.  Furthermore they did not have a condescending spirit about them.  I have been around some of those before too!  You never felt that sense of holiness but you felt a sense of condemnation.  Secondly, whatever it was that they had, you wanted it.  Gathering only what I can from their writings it appears that these old Puritan preachers were God-focused and their ambitions were only toward God.  Some say those days are forever gone because of modernity and its effects which was followed by the post-moderns who don’t believe anything.  I don’t believe it because we have both Word and Spirit to help us to be the men God has called to preach. 

Bickel also noted that they had a commitment to sound doctrine.  There has to be doctrine in the Christian (Pentecostal) church because the absence of doctrine relegates us to what United Way, the Red Cross, and the Kiwanis are doing in our communities.  Don’t confuse humanitarian aid with something spiritual!  Humanitarian aid of any kind without doctrine will fall short of any eternal benefit it is hoping to meet.  We have to promote sound doctrine and this book works toward inspiring you to do such. 

Lastly, Bickel notes that the Puritans had an organized church life.  There was nothing left to chance with what they commonly refer to as catechizing their members.  We have access to all kinds of resources these men never had available to them and they sometimes are wasted on entertainment purposes.  If our Sunday school programs ever needed to make a comeback it is now!  We cannot afford to entertain our apostolic kids when they show up on Sundays or their youth services.  Pastors must take an active role in looking at what the formats being used and the curricula being implemented.  The Puritans believed the church was a spiritual organism and it had to have spiritual life put into it to function. 

The chapter titles:

·        Introduction
·        The View of the Pulpit
·        The Direction of Preaching—Divided into three areas:  The Conviction, the Character, and the Content of Preaching
·        The Demands of Preaching
·        The Duties of the Pastor—Catechizing the People, Counseling the Perplexed, Comforting the Person, and Communing in Private Worship
·        Conclusion

The second book deals with the focus of the gospel in Puritan preaching. 

There are many very thought provoking quotes that are written in this book and Bickel supplies very good references so if you choose to follow-up, you may do so.  With the coming year approaching in just a few days, I think that any man who is called to preach would greatly profit from the reading of this book.  I also believe it will supply some valuable introspection for the soul which can lead to some adjustments as to doing the will of God.  I also think you will find some very valuable seed thoughts that can be the beginning of some productive messages for you to preach in 2014.   

Thanks for reading. . .       


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