TOAM – Penetrating Leadership

OK, this is my final report on a talk from my day visit to Together on a Mission, unless I decide to write about what I hear in some of the teaching CDs I bought. I have actually found typing up my sermon notes a valuable excercise for myself, irrespective of whether any of my readers found it interesting.

I have already mentioned that Adrian Warnock has given us some excellent coverage of the conference. My friend Dan has now returned and got busy himself writing reports – there are five posts already on his blog.

The Thursday afternoon session was P J Smyth speaking on “Penetrating Leadership”, based on the story of Jonathan and his armour bearer attacking the Philistines. I’ll actually refer you to Adrian Warnock’s summary for the list of points, as the structure of three main points each with three sub-points is clearly outlined there.

The passage was treated as a lesson in leadership, with special focus on the type of risk-taking faith needed for church planting ventures. Killing Philistines was a metaphor for taking territory for the kingdom (no hand-wringing apologies for the nasty, mean and unkind bits of the Old Testament here!). He took time to specifically pray for prophets and preachers, and remind them of the need to be bold in proclamation. Overall it was more of an inspirational rather than informational message. The commitment to church planting cannot just be mentally assented to, it requires leaders to get out there and take bold steps of faith.

Having recently read his book critiquing churches such as those in newfrontiers, I wonder if Ian Stackhouse would have taken issue with last year’s message from P J which called for the building of some mega-churches (“juggernauts”). And maybe he would have considered this year’s message too ‘militant’. But I think that it was a timely call at what was after all a leaders conference, not to sit back and congratulate ourselves for the progress already made, but to be willing to take risks of faith to see the kingdom extended.

8 thoughts on “TOAM – Penetrating Leadership

  1. It is very useful and very helpful! Your objectivity is the perfect antidote to my subjectivity 😉

    Especially enjoyed reading about the seminar that I didn’t go to. I really enjoyed sitting with you in the Dave Devenish session and catching up.

    Hope you got the Bambelela dance perfected for the prayer meeting! 🙂

  2. Hi Mark – Having read your summary and the on by Adrian Warnock, I am interested in what you think about the hermeneutic of the Bible – and in particular the Old Testament – that produced this passage. Was it you who said in a comment once that the charismatic movement is more likely than others to read analogies and life lessons into/from the Old Testament? Is this one of those instances, and is this something that Stackhouse and others are concerned about given that many in the broader evangelical church think this kind of hermeneutic is off-track?


  3. Hi Ger,

    Good point.

    Also my concern is that idealistic ‘go getters’ then read, ‘taking bold steps of faith’ as, ‘you can’t make an omlette without…..’

    I mean why suffer trying to discern the body of Christ – Whenever you encounter trouble then Philistanise it!

    I understand the desire to ‘motivate’ (didn’t St Paul compare the Christian life to an olympic training course?!) But am concerned by the endless ‘Let’s just go!’ Imperative that flows from the Charismatic movement, especially when the result is the metaphorical ‘bull in a china shop’!

    All the best,


  4. Richard – that is a valid concern, but I don’t know enough about the talk itself to say if that would be a danger in this instance. My knowledge of NewFrontiers is that there is a good amount of balance to protect against these kinds of over-reactions.

    Although I thought the PJ talk had some excellent points, I just wonder if the sermon was expository in the evangelical sense or more devotional/inspirational in the charismatic sense, and if so – is this kind of preaching to be the norm or the exception?

    I only ask as I struggle myself in how to preach the Old Testament.


  5. Cheers Ger,

    I agree with you on the difficulty of ‘applying’ the OT.

    It seems to me that the NT provides the hermenuetical ‘key’ in reappropriating the language of the history of Israel and referring it to the greater/higher cosmic/eschatological realities within God’s creation.

    I’m just starting to come to terms with this mindset which allows the historical facts of Israel to stand (including Jesus’ fulfillment of Passover/Return from Exile in his death and resurrection) and – at the same time – allows universalisation of Israel’s history to make the ‘deeper point’ about the need of all humanity to experience ‘Passover/Return from exile’ from Sin, Evil and Death.

    If PJ was going to try to find a parallel between the Philistines and anything then the obvious target would be Sin and Evil.

    Our ‘enemies’ aren’t councils who won’t give planning permission for a building project, or troublesome church members who speak out against the leadership – but the deeper power of Evil which runs through each and every human heart and which we are required to ‘put to death’ even in our own lives.

    As Tom Wright points out, Jesus was constantly trying to point the Jews to the ‘enemy’ behind the enemy i.e. that Rome wasn’t the problem (or any individual Roman for that matter) but, instead, the more malignant power of Evil which used Rome as a puppet to achieve it’s darker purposes.

    It’s like that scene in LOTR – the Two Towers, when Gandalf rescues Theoden from the malignant force of Saruman which has ‘possessed’ him and forced him to do evil. Gandalf doesn’t just opt to destroy Theoden but ‘extracts the poison, as from a wound…’. In fact, Gandalf’s role here is very Christiform, ‘You did not destroy me, so you shall not destroy him….’. Gandalfs ability/authority to rescue comes from having defeated Saruman in a higher and previous battle.

    I wonder what it would look like to preach a bold, motivational sermon about ‘extracting the ‘Philistine’ from within the problems we face’, rather than the wholesale – ‘let’s go slay ’em’ message that might have come across.

    p.s. I’ve been at a good number of these sorts of talks within NFI (I must confess to also haven given some myself…) and insist that the ‘message’ that is communicated is a lot less nuanced than the position I’ve tried to put across above.


  6. Ger, I do remember discussing charismatic hermeneutics with you a while back. I think I said that while conservative evangelicals look for the cross (any mention of wood, blood, tree etc), charismatics are more likely to imagine themselves in the place of the OT characters, and consider what was the “key” to their success.

    To be fair to PJ, I don’t think he at any point suggested that the Philistines were analagous to people opposing us. Taking territory (i.e. church planting in new locations) was the controlling metaphor. The main focus of the talk was on Jonathan as a prototypical leader, stepping out alone and gaining a strategic victory.

    I am in the process of studying the early chapters of Joshua, and may even be preaching on it shortly, so the issue of OT hermeneutics is a pressing one for me. I suspect that some of the ideas I have come up with so far would fall foul of the hermeneutics police.

    For what its worth, my thoughts on this type of preaching are that there is some NT justification for looking back at OT characters and learning the principles behind their successes and failures. “Elijah was a man just like us…”, “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…”, “By faith, Moses refused…” etc.

    This means that for any given OT story, there are a variety of principles that might be detected. The one selected will differ depending on your wider theology. e.g. a charismatic might detect that a battle was won because they were “obedient to the prophetic leading of the Spirit”, while a non-charismatic deems it to be “obedience to the Word of God (i.e. the Bible)”. Another preacher might detect “faith” as the principle demonstrated, while another preacher interprets the battle as the individual soul’s battle against sin. As Richard pointed out, enemies can be interpreted as people who are opposing us, but also as the devil, our own sinful nature, general unbelieving resistance to the gospel, or even sickness. So I guess the quality of your overall Biblical and systematic theology will determine the quality and validity of the lessons you discern from an OT story.

  7. Hi Mark,

    Good points. I didn’t want to suggest that PJ was saying anything dodgy (I think he’s doing a great job in a terrible context in Zim/SA), but that his emphasis propogates a certain type of OT hermenuetic which can often be over-interpreted to great damage.

    The examples you cite are from Hebrews mainly, which is a particularly hard book for modern (and gentile) Christians to fully appreciate. The themes and images are soooooo 2nd temple Jewish that I think we often rush to 2nd base without spending some time trying to understand what the 1st base is about (it was actually our churches progressive preaching through Hebrews that led to my eventual ‘disassociation’ from charismatic/restorationist ecclesiology/theology!).

    The last time I heard PJ preach was at the 2003 Leaders conference. Interestingly I seem to remember the message was also about David/Goliath/Philistines etc and the applications were surprisingly similar as well….

    I agree with you that ‘Taking territory’ was the controlling metaphor, but would still state that this points the concept of ‘kingdom’ in a direction that I don’t think the NT allows. Paul is very happy to use militaristic analogies of the ‘Christian walk’ (i.e. battle and defeat of Sin and Evil and the ‘powers of the air’) but I don’t see him describing his missionary expansion in such terms. In fact, just running through my mental concordance I don’t see John, James or Peter speaking in this way either. Nor the gospels either, ‘Those who live by the sword, die by the sword being a sample saying of Jesus….’. This, then, leaves Hebrews which does make some VERY close comparisons between the Christian Way and the Life of Israel….but I would warn that our reading of the analogies of Israel through the lens of Hebrews requires a more nuanced hermenuetic than I think we currently possess within Western prostantism. The book of Hebrews does NOT justify the wholesale return to OT thinking just because it makes some pretty close comparisons…


  8. Thanks Mark – very helpful thoughts and clarification. Just so you know, PJ’s talk is simply a springboard for my thinking re hermeneutics. PJ himself is of course a great and godly man, and my comments don’t reflect my thoughts on his talk – which I haven’t listened to yet.

    It is helpful to remind ourselves that we do all impose our own wider theological framework on our hermeneutic of the Bible – there is no such thing as “neutral hermeneutics” – and this perhaps is most clearly expressed when we interpret the OT. Drawing spiritual and practical life principles from the OT is a common technique, and in fact, some preachers specialise in it. Paul Scanlon of Abundant Life Church in Bradford comes to mind, amongst many. I recall Gordon Fee’s classic text on hermeneutics ‘How to Read the Bible for all its Worth’, and his foundational principle is that the meaning of the passage must always stay within the boundaries of what the original human author was intending to communicate. This is dificult when reading the OT, and the more I read and study it, the more I think that drawing life and spiritual principles from the character studies is tricky. Yes, in some instances we can probably make a good argment that the author of the OT was intending to highlight principles through the examples of certain individuals, eg Abraham and David. But in these instances the Bible itself tells us that they are examples of principles, eg the Psalms talk about David, and Hebrews about Abraham. But I must admit I think we are often in danger of ‘over-reading’ some OT narrative, eg 7 leadership lessons from Nehemiah etc. The difference between faithful reading and over-reading is difficult and something I am trying to find my own way in. Your talks on Joshua are exciting as there is clear Biblically endorsed parallelism with Old and New Israel and Canaan/Kingdom etc.

    However, perhaps Gordon Fee may be wrong, and if we believe the Holy Spirit is the real author of the OT then surely the meaning of the passage can go beyond the cognitive intention of the human author? Or have I just committed evangelical suicide! But of course if we believe that then we enter the world of subjectivism and we allow anyone to read anything into the Bible as long as they feel it is ‘from the Spirit’ and within their broader Biblical framework. But that can’t be right – can it?



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