Why preach a longer or shorter sermon series? How do you prepare to preach a longer book like Acts? Does the church’s mission of gospel proclamation get taken for granted? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (introduction to Acts):
Tell me a little bit about deciding to do a longer preaching series through Acts, as opposed to the regular 6-12 week cycles you’ve done recently.
Part of the reason we’ve traditionally done shorter series is that, given the great biblical illiteracy that marks our time and culture, I’ve wondered about the wisdom of spending two years at a time in the book of Romans or the Gospel of Luke, as there is so much of the Bible that we need to convince people is valuable to their lives. The other consideration is that we live in a culture conditioned to sound bites, and I’ve been concerned about keeping the congregation engaged and my ability to be fresh over a long period of time. So that’s why, at Trinity, we’ve generally kept things confined to shorter series, maybe between 10-15 weeks. However, now that the congregation is three to three-and–a-half years old, some maturity has been established, and that, in combination with the emphasis of the book of Acts (Spirit empowered mission) and its essentiality to us as a congregation, we thought we would give a longer series a try. The other element that makes a longer series feasible is that we’re dealing with narrative, over against epistolary. I think it’s easier for people to hang in there for a longer period of time if they are watching a story unfold.
How do you begin to study such a large book? What do you do to get a feel for the whole thing before jumping in?
For the last six months or so, I’ve been reading Acts through over and over again from start to finish, starting to see the big turns in the story and get a feel for the structure. The other thing I find helpful is reading four or five entries in various biblical introductions, such as the Carson and Moo New Testament introduction, or the Acts entry in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. The literary guide to the Bible by Leland Ryken is also good. Reading those things is very helpful in getting a broad flow of the book and its main emphases. I think this has been my hesitation with the book of Acts in the past; i I have not studied it enough to get a feel for what the heart and soul of the book really is. I think for the first time in my life, I’ve really started to own it in my mind and become convinced of what the heart of the book is.
Are there any resources that have been particularly helpful in the book of Acts?
David Peterson’s commentary in the Pillar series is very good- it’s moderately technical without being unduly technical (not as technical as Bock), and it carries a biblical-theological emphasis. Dennis Johnson’s book, The Message of Acts, is good in terms of dealing with theological themes, though it’s not a commentary in the traditional sense. I also found F.F. Bruce to be good, and John Stott to be very helpful in the book of Acts.
Do you think the church’s mission of gospel advancement gets regularly taken for granted or subverted?
To use the language of the late Paul Ebert in another context, I think when we assume it, we’re one generation from losing it. And my concern is that we’re on the brink of losing the gospel. I find very few people talking about the mission of the church in any way that corresponds to what we find in the book of Acts. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert are great exceptions to the rule in their recent book. The amazing thing is that when we allow Acts to speak clearly and to stand on its own, our mission is so decidedly clear that it’s beyond all possibility of ambiguity. We would have to be predisposed against it to miss it. That being said, without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I do think there is always an ongoing attempt by the enemy to divert the church from its primary mission, which we will unpack as we work through Acts.