Teaching With a Medium-Sized T image

Teaching With a Medium-Sized T

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After all the comments I have had for my Big-T / little-t teaching distinction over the last few years - critical engagement, humorous digs, occasional outrage - it was quite something to open Tim Keller's new book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Scepticism, and find Keller proposing three categories, rather than two. We could call it medium-t teaching:

We can discern at least three levels of “Word ministry” in the Bible. Paul calls all believers to “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” and to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col 3:16). Every Christian should be able to give both teaching (didaskalia, the ordinary word for instruction) and admonition (noutheo [sic] - a common word for strong, life-changing counsel) that convey to others the teachings of the Bible. This must be done carefully, though informally, in conversations that are usually one on one. That is the most fundamental form of the ministry of the Word. Let’s call it level 1.

At the more formal end of the spectrum are sermons: the public preaching and exposition of the Bible to assembled gatherings, which we could call level 3. The book of Acts gives us many examples, mainly drawn from the ministry of Peter and Paul, though also including an address by Stephen that probably summarises his path-breaking teaching. Acts gives us so many of these public addresses that we could almost say that, from the point of view of Luke (the author), the development of the early Christian church and the development of its preaching were one and the same.

There is, however, a “level 2” form of the ministry of the Word between informal, every-Christian conversation and formal sermons ... It includes personal exhortation or counselling, evangelism, and teaching individuals and groups. Biblical scholar Peter Davids concludes that when Peter writes of the spiritual gift of “speaking” he is “not referring to casual talk among Christians, nor ... referring only to the actions of [pastors] or other church officials” but rather to Christians with “one of these verbal gifts” of counselling, instructing, teaching or evangelising. In this category of ministry, Christian men and women aren’t preaching per se; they prepare and present lessons and talks; they lead discussions in which they are presenting the Word of Christ.

I should say: I don’t see this distinction between “teaching groups” and “presenting a talk” (level 2) and “formal sermons” (level 3) in the New Testament, and nor am I quite clear on exactly how the difference would be framed today (although I assume, for Keller, the Sunday meeting is the key factor). Regular readers will know that, for me, the Sunday meeting cannot be the distinguishing factor because of 1 Corinthians 14:26, which envisages a gathered Sunday meeting in which “teaching” can be brought by pretty much anybody. But the fact that Keller goes even further than I do in parsing out the different levels of preaching/teaching, and the fact that so many in the Reformed community have endorsed his book so warmly, makes me feel a bit less isolated in maintaining my Big-T / little-t distinction. Even if I think the medium-t is a bridge too far.

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