Preaching Festival 2010

 1910 ~ The Centennials ~ 2010

William Holman Hunt  – Louis Klopsh – The Fundamentals F. F. Bruce

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 20120Preaching Festival.  The 201o weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Introductory Lecture

 William Holman Hunt     April 2, 1827 – September 7, 1910

In 1854, 27-year-old William Holman Hunt unveiled his first rendering of what eventually would be three versions of his painting, “The Light of the World”.  It was an instant classic – enthusiastically received by both the art world and the general public.  The painting depicted the text of Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and I will sup with him and he with me.” Read more →

“Ye Olde Postmodernism”

The first in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

“Ye Olde Postmodernism”

Prefixing “Postmodernism” with the quaintness of “Ye Olde” and its visions of English village shambles and whiffs of ale and Cheshire cheese, isn’t as anachronistic as “Ye Olde’s” pseudo 16th-century affectation, itself.  And digging through ancient layers of human history to find traces of today’s pop jargon isn’t as out-of-joint as it may seem.

Way back in the mists of Eden, a pontificating snake strikes the pose of a primeval postmodernist.  Not yet cursed to crawling around in the dust, the snake struts its stuff.  The snake sneers at what it dogmatically disdains as a dogmatic God.  It’s judgmental of what it judges to be a judgmental God.  It pretends to push a participatory pluralism but betrays its postured tolerance for a diversity of truths by slithering into its own “grand narrative”: It, alone, is right and God is wrong.  It exchanges the truth of God for it’s own lie and labels that, the “truth”.  It tries to replace God’s revelation for us with its own revolution against God.  Discarding God’s clear meaning, the snake hisses rationalizations that the meaning of any author, including God, is secondary while any recipient’s reading, and especially the snake’s own reading, is primary.  This trickster tells the humans: “Words mean what you say they mean.  There’s no inherent meaning in words, you idiots.”  And with a serpentine “truth” of its own, presented in the guise of a simple question – “Hath God said?” – it proceeds to trap its prey in a wily postmodernist deconstruction of God’s word of love. Read more →

“The Good News: It’s a Whole Lot More!”

The second in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

 “The Good News: It’s a Whole Lot More!”

Luke gives us this report: “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were approached by a slave girl who had a spirit of fortune telling on which her owners made a great deal of money.  She trailed after Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God.  They’re telling you how to be saved.’  She kept on screaming this, day after day.  Finally, Paul became so troubled by the screaming that he turned around and said to that spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!’  And at that very moment the spirit left her.”  (Acts 16:16-18)

The Greek term that Luke uses for the source of the slave girl’s fortune telling “talent” literally means “a spirit of puthona”, or Python – the ancient mythical sentinel snake at Gaia’s navel, the supposed “center of the earth” at Delphi.  Was this girl a pawn of con men?  Maybe she did ventriloquism and the peasants took her strange sounds as “secrets from the spirit world”.  Read more →

“The Light of the World”

The third in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

“The Light of the World”

In the biblical book of Revelation, at 3:14-22, we read Christ’s letter to the messenger of the congregation at Laodicea in Asia Minor.  Here it is:

   “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either one or the other!  So, since you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

   Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 

   To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

A 19th century art critic referred to Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World”, as “a painted text, a sermon on canvas”.  And, so it has been since it was first displayed.  Jesus is knocking at a door in the dark, a door all overgrown with weeds and dead flowers.  His lantern shines the light.  As he knocks, he calls out:  “Listen!  If anyone in there hears me and opens this door, I’ll come in and we’ll dine together.”  (Rev 3:20)  And remember that, in the biblical culture, dining together wasn’t about just grabbing a quick bite.  It was evidence of most intimate fellowship. Read more →

“Anointed – or just Annoyed?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote at the GCN Conference in Seattle, Washington, January 4-7, 2007

At first, they were impressed – a bit surprised, but impressed. But when the guest preacher began to “reinterpret” Scripture, they were confused.  As he went on, they were shocked.  Finally, they were furious.  They knew their Bible.  And, for starters, they knew he’d stopped short in his reading.  They’d wanted to hear that part about God’s vengeance on the gentiles, the goyim, those filthy outsiders.  But he didn’t read that part.  He’d stopped just short of that part. And then things got worse.  He defended the faith of some of the outsiders and he denounced unfaithfulness in insiders. Who did he think he was? What authority did he have to speak this way?  But when he hinted by whose authority he was speaking in assumed Messianic identity, they were outraged.  They got themselves so outraged, they wanted to kill him – literally.  And they tried to kill him.  But somehow, he slipped away.

That was a long time ago, at the synagogue of the Nazarenes.  The guest preacher was a son of the congregation.  But he was also the Son of God!  His name was Yeshua – Jesus – because the angel had told Joseph: “He will save his people from their sins”.  Well he wasn’t going to save them, if they had any say in it!

The Bible reading was from a Messianic passage from Isaiah.  And, by convention, Yeshua read it out loud: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to people in bondage, sight to those who are blind, release to the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18,19; Isaiah 61:1,2)

He stopped just short of that lip-smacking part about God’s alleged vengeance against the goyimRead more →

Keeping Faith with the Faith of Our Fathers

Introductory Lecture for the Jonathan Edwards / John Wesley

Tercentenary Preaching Festival of Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove, New Jersey September 26, 2003

The evangelical movement sailed forth in the fervor for the gospel of Christ in 18th century “Great Awakenings” on both shores of that ocean out there. As it’s been said, “Evangelicalism emerged precisely on the trailing edge of Christendom and the leading edge of modernity.” (D. Bruce Hindmarch) Between the demise of the world of ecclesiastical power and the rise of Enlightenment power, the renewed power of the gospel broke forth.

Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and his circuit riding preachers had their work cut out for them. The religious landscape of Colonial America was anything but the stereotype of white steeple devotion to Christ. And it was no better in England. Most Colonial Americans did not go to church. Eighty-five percent were unaffiliated with any church. (Robert C. Fuller) By contrast, today, only around 35% of Americans are unaffiliated with organized religion. Edwards and Wesley and the Wesleyans faced what we do today: people who are, as they say today, “spiritual but not religious.” Early Americans engaged in magic and occult practices – astrology, divination, fortune telling – as so many do these days. They were “spiritual but not Read more →

On Evangelical Faith and Homosexuality

A Lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary
March 21, 2003

What’s so immediately evident is this: Of all Christians, Evangelicals have perhaps the most difficulty integrating any expression of homosexuality with Christian faith. But here’s what’s not so immediately evident: Of all Christians, Evangelicals should have the least difficulty integrating at least some expression of homosexuality with Christian faith.

Why do so many Evangelicals have such difficulty? Perhaps it’s because they tend to take neither sin nor the evangel as seriously as they say they do? They would not have such difficulty if they but took sin and the evangel as seriously as they ought.

Evangelicals say that sin is so horrible that it cost Jesus his life on the cross. And it is so horrible. And it did cost Jesus his life. Jesus went to the cross to atone for the horror of this Read more →

The Best Parent and Friend of Lesbians and Gays

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Remarks to Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, September 8, 2002

Turning to the Bible in a discussion of homosexuality, we don’t have to begin with those few verses that are misused to abuse homosexuals. (You may read my analysis of those verses in The Bible is an Empty Closet.) Instead, we can begin at the beginning.

For Christians, it all started when the Trinity of Love we Christians know as the Triune God said: “Let us make human beings in our image.” [Gen. 1:26] That’s when we were given the gift of life and life together – life with God and life with one another. So, as a Bible scholar puts it, “The Trinitarian sociality of God is the basis for true creaturely sociality. The desire we have for union … — whether the union of solidarity, or of friendship, or of intimacy, or of sexual intercourse – is a desire which expresses the divine nature within us.” [Stephen Barton] That Divine Team who is the Trinity creates us for teamwork, too. And the gift of desire for a teamed togetherness is given to homosexuals no less than to heterosexuals.
Read more →

The Matchless Match: How to Achieve Sexual Intimacy

A Workshop Presentation for the Western ConnECtion2002 at Chapman University in Orange, California, July 26, 2002

Half a hundred summer connECtions have come and gone since that first one in 1980. My keynote address that summer was entitled: “Getting Close: Steps Toward Intimacy.” I said: “I am going to begin with a neglected passage from Ecclesiastes 4.” And I read this Scripture: “Then I looked again at all the injustice that goes on in this world. The oppressed were crying, and no one would help them. No one would help them because their oppressors had power on their side. … Here is one who lives alone. This person has no children, no sister or brother, yet this person is always working, never satisfied with the income. For whom is this person working so hard and denying self any pleasure? This is useless, too – and a miserable way to live. Two are better-off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help the person up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? Two can resist an attack that would defeat one alone.” [Ecclesiastes 1:1 and 4:8-12]

Those old lines are poignant. And even with the intervening millennia and all the cultural changes from the ancient Middle East to the advent of Western romance from the Middle Ages Read more →

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

An expanded version of a lecture by Dr. Ralph Blair to Courage Trust at the Anglican Church of St. James the Less, Pimlico, London, November 2, 2001

When it comes to the subject of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians, most evangelical Christians agree with most gays and lesbians. Just as Grape-Nuts is neither grapes nor nuts and Christian Science is neither Christian nor science and Therapeutic Touch is neither therapeutic nor touch, to most evangelicals and to most gay people, a gay evangelical Christian is neither truly gay nor truly Christian. For most people, you cannot be both an openly evangelical Christian and an openly gay man or lesbian.


Actually there are all sorts of evangelicals – from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t. And there are all sorts of gay men and lesbians – from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t.

According to an evangelical history professor: “Once past a shared commitment to a supernatural gospel, evangelicals are all over the place theologically.” [Mark Noll] The president of Southern Baptist Seminary joins a church historian at Westminster Seminary to declare that “No single evangelical tradition exists.” [Albert Mohler, Jr. and D. G. Hart] A Regent College Read more →

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