Monday, April 11, 2011

Bresee's Sermons from Matthew - Review

As part of an effort to reconnect with the founders of our tradition (in the Church of the Nazarene), I’ve started reading through some of the works of Phineas Bresee and John Wesley.  Phineas Bresee started the first church to bear the name “Church of the Nazarene” in the late 1800‘s, and he was a key mover in the mergers of 1906 and 1908 which pulled together the various “holiness” groups around North America into one unified body, which also took the name Church of the Nazarene.  (Actually the first name was “The Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.”)
In the winter, we were preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, so I read Bresee’s Sermons from Matthew's Gospel, most of which is based in the Sermon on the Mount.  I mixed reading it as my devotions and reading it as sermon study, when the texts overlapped.  Here are a few things I learned by reading this book. 
About half of Bresee’s sermons were not expository, and might not pass the muster with some modern fundamentalists.  About half the time, he picked a small text (1-2 verses) and then went off on a topical tangent.  It was all good stuff - don’t get me wrong - but it wasn’t an exegesis of the text.
Bresee reminded me again that it is possible to blend social justice and the traditional evangelical emphasis of personal transformation through Christ.  I think I always knew this, but reading his sermons encouraged me to  keep making personal transformation an important part of my preaching.
Bresee might not be so popular in many churches today.  For someone who preached at the turn of the century, he was a surprising mixture of liberalism and conservatism.  On one hand, he was a prohibitionist.  On the other hand, he affirmed female preachers.  On one hand, he was firmly committed to the primacy of personal transformation, which empowers even the most unlearned with Spiritual Power.  On the other hand, he affirmed the need for the highest level of scholarship.  On one hand, he was firmly committed to the Church as an institution.  On the other hand, he was deeply critical of the common shape of the Church in his era and was deeply open to structural and stylistic changes.
Reading Bresee encouraged me to view sermon crafting as an art.  He employs beautiful images and well-shaped phrases.  He clearly invested great time and care into his sermons.

Although some of his words or points seem a bit out dated, I see much in Bresee that I want to emulate.  I hope to find more of his works to read.  The Josh rating, partly because of its own merit and partly because of its value to anyone in the Nazarene tradition: JJJJ.
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