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This was the way an American visitor described to me the preaching he'd heard across many UK churches: "It cuts like a hammer."

This is not how cuts are meant to be made, nor how preaching should feel. But there was something about the description that rang true. Have you heard preaching that 'cuts like a hammer'? I have.

Cuts are meant to be precise. The preaching this visitor heard, though, was occasionally forceful but rarely targeted. There was a kind of power but it was not incisive. The Bible's commands and examples were preached but the effect was merely to convict the hearer of a generic sinfulness—an ill-defined but pressing sense of unworthiness.

I recognise the dynamic. And I think I know some of its drivers. To uncover them I need to use a few key terms over a number of posts. First we'll think about the 'law and gospel distinction', then we'll think of the different uses of the law. In a future post we'll press into a third distinction: the difference between flesh and Spirit. In short, I'll argue that cuts-like-a-hammer preaching mashes up the first distinction, fudges the second and seems oblivious to the third.

Law and Gospel

The law and gospel distinction is the sort of thing laid out in Galatians 3 or 2 Corinthians 3-4. There Paul contrasts the promise and the law; the gift and the command; the Spirit and the letter — one brings life, the other brings death. Luther summarises it in the introduction to his Romans commentary:

“The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation."

These are different ways the word strikes us. In command-mode, God says "You must" and the aim is obedience. In promise-mode, God says "I will" and the aim is trust. Of course the two cannot be divorced (obedience arises from faith, after all, Romans 1:4), but they should not be confused either. The trouble is, they are very commonly confused. It's what Mike Horton calls "golawspel."

When the point of the sermon is simply explaining the next ten verses of Philippians everything is given the same weighting, purpose and tone. The victory of Jesus may well be referenced (or assumed, it's rarely preached), and the law is likewise brought, but not too heavily or specifically because we're aware of the dangers of legalism. Our antidote to legalism, however, is not a life-giving gospel raising us from the dead. Instead preachers give a generalised, "Gosh, it's tough isn't it? I struggle with this (in non-specific ways), don't you? Let's pray for the Spirit's help." It's golawspel. And it cuts like a hammer.

The Three Uses of the Law

Classically the three uses of the law are described as a curb (its civil use), a mirror (its theological use), and a guide (its pedagogical/teaching use).

So the law brings...

...order in the world,

...conviction to the sinner, driving them to Christ, and,

...guidance to the Christian, (though only the gospel can empower such obedience).

The preaching that 'cuts like a hammer' tends to have an ambivalent attitude to the third use of the law. It kind of believes that the law can teach us the good life. Certainly such preachers have no problem deriving 'applications' from their texts — "What this means for Monday morning, etc, etc." But these applications fall along well-worn lines (Bible reading, prayer, evangelism) that bear little relationship with the actual commands and examples of the text.

Such mid-level guilt is actually surprisingly popular. The praise of choice from congregants meeting the preacher at the door is still: "Thank you, that was faithful, clear, and challenging." That's the chilli sauce we like to have on our biblical expositions: application—challenging application. We like to put ourselves under the word, to bear its burden and accept its heavy weight, then we've done business with God.

In effect, such preaching falls between two stools. It avoids getting too specific in its 'third use'  applications and it avoids being too condemning in its 'second use' proclamations, so it ends up just making people feel quite guilty about their Bible reading, prayer and evangelism. It cuts like a hammer.

Next time we'll look at a third distinction: between the flesh and the Spirit. But for now, do you recognise the 'cuts like a hammer' stereotype? What do you think drives it?

I Gave My Life To Jesus - A video poem

"Stop giving your life to Jesus, He's the Giver delivered for you."

A Ton of Puns

100 of my least terrible one-liners.

Genesis 1 and Science

It's hard to think of a piece of literature more supportive of modern science. It affirms Laws Above, A World Out There and Minds Fit To Coordinate Both.

Preaching Judgement: Three Thoughts -

1) Our job is not to save God from the 'guilty' verdict;
2) We don't bring hell to the world, hell is here. We bring reality and then hope;
3) The quintessence of hell is not sin's recompense so much as mercy's refusal.

The Place of Apologetics In Our Proclamation

The summary of some lively discussions about apologetics and evangelism.

Quick Answers to Quick Questions

16 Twitter length answers to questions of faith (to prove that I do believe in answering questions!)

The Nature of God: Triune From The Beginning

In witness to Muslims, this is vital.

Cannonball feat. Given B - The Way Out Is The Way Down

Our Easter video including some stunning animation and an epic score from Josh Lucas and Guvna B.

Four Kinds of Christmas

Our multi-platform outreach this Christmas

Original Sin: What's Not To Like?

The doctrine of original sin is holistic, communal and authentic - everything our culture prizes.

Preaching Is Not Resourcing The Devout, It's Raising The Dead

The Sunday sermon is central to the church's missionary task. Here are some convictions that should revolutionise the way we approach it.

Little Child, For You

Why did we baptise our 6 week old daughter? Here are 21 reasons.

Selected Sermons:

Mission in Isaiah

Psalm 88: Can Despair Be Worship?

Shining, Sowing and Investing: The Nature of God's Outgoing Kingdom

David and Goliath: The Victory of your Champion

How Can God Forgive Paedophiles?

Promising Applicants or Little Children? To Whom Does the Kingdom Belong?

Various Other Creative Projects

BeLoved - our Valentines Day outreach

Jesus Our Risen Sun - a song especially for light parties.

A Poem For Trinity Sunday

8, I just realised that I'd announced our good news on every other platform except this blog so...

Ruby Hannah Scrivener was born happy and healthy on 2 January, 2015. She's been the answer to many years of prayer from many different people - not least us! - and we are so grateful to God for this gift.

Praise the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:17)


You Last
Girl praying in orphanage. New York, 1947

This is my 2669th post at Christ the Truth. Admittedly I used to blog a lot more (pretty much daily for the first 5 years). But I reckon I did enough in 2014 to rustle up this "best of".


1. I choose not to be straight - The most popular post of this year and the one I most hope Christians will take to heart.

It prompted these follow-ups. Again, I think these are issues we need to be crystal clear on if we're going to speak about sexuality.

Why I go after straight Christians

Focus on the Family?

Being heterosexual is WEIRD


2. You last - A response to some atheists complaining about the image above.

Some more engagement with atheists:

Twitter discussion with atheist pro-choicer which totally went fine!

Gullible Sceptics

Who has the burden of proof

The nature of nature

Faith, good and evil

Why the world exists

The People's Republic of #1PUN


3. HeForShe and the Spectre of Spectrums - Comment on Emma Watson's popular speech.


4. Grace aint a carrot, sanctification aint a stick - Some thoughts as Tullian Tchividjian was ousted from The Gospel Coalition.

We do NOT balance license and legalism


5. Thimgamy Jiggery Pokery - Here's what's killing your Christian life: thingification.


6. How to handle questions in evangelism.

And some more on evangelism:

Evangelism is not in our hands

Is that the Luke book?

Apologetics according to Peter

On preaching and not getting in the way


7. Corporate Prayer Performs Poorly Claims New Study - A parody. This is a PARODY. It's actually about preaching.


8. Church is heavenly. Church is where it's at.

So then, is there a place for other professionals in pastoral care...?

Counselling and the Church


9. Everyone knows, it's the cross or hell - That's not just a maxim of conservative theologians, it's just a fact of life


10. Videos



top13This year I've switched blogs. Unfortunately I'm not sure any of my readers have. The old site still has 300 subscribers and more join every week (in spite of the fact I don't post there anymore). Never mind, at this new site I have 2 subscribers. And you're both very welcome indeed.

My blogging output hasn't quite been what it was in previous years. But there are still some posts that got my blood pumping in 2013. If you missed them first time around, here they are again.

13. Emma's epic 4Thought went out and, inexplicably, received a record number of thumbs downs (as well as a record number of thumbs up). We responded...


12. An Imaginary Correspondence About Truth, Faith, Food (and, mainly, Sexuality)

Also on the issue of sex and sexuality:
Is God homophobic?
Sex / Love / God – An Evangelistic Talk
Behind Closed Doors: On God and Porn
Resource for Addressing Pornography in Church / Youth Group


11. Are you sitting comfortably? Then Let’s Do Science

Also on the topic: Hasn’t science disproved God?


10. Our Podcast has been a fun new resource. We're getting lots of downloads which is great - why not subscribe?

Most Downloads: What Atheists Get Right
Interview with Tim Chester
Interview with Gavin Tyte


9. Four Thoughts on Grace for Reformation Day

see also 10 misconceptions about grace
Law-Gospel: Not a Procrustean Bed
Law-Gospel in Isaiah


8. The Monstrous Evil of Balance: Or Why Nuance Is Always Always Wrong


7.  Not Nature and Super-Nature – Old Creation and New Creation


6. Ten Thoughts On Salvation


5.  Mission is NOT 'God's work and our work': Mission in 2 Corinthians

see also Evangelism, Proclamation and Treasure Hunts


4. Why be good? Part one

Part twothreefourfive


3.   Eating Disorders – A Carer’s Perspective


2.  Halloween: Trick or Treat?

see also Putting Halloween in Context
Santa vs Jesus
Christmas in Dark Places


1.  He shines in the dark


Ron Burgundy

...but today I had my 1 millionth hit.

So whether you come for the irenic spirit, the meek, self-effacing tone, the savvy political commentary, the cultured literary references or whether you simply googled "fat cats", "weird al yankovic" or "woman marries dolphin"...



Blogging-Help_The-Blog-MavenSo I have this blog. And I'm aware it's a bit ugly.

I also have The King's English.

And now 321.

I now have a self-hosted Christ the Truth blog here and I've just tried to import everything from here to there.  But here are some problems:

All the internal links are no longer 'internal' in that they point to this blog and not that one.

None of the categories and tags from 2012 seem to have transferred.

None of the youtube videos are embedding properly (the embed code here is [youtube= ] and there it's [youtube= ]

Even if I fix all these things, is it worth self-hosting? It's an expense every year.  Is it possible/desirable to better integrate my blogs - maybe into one site??  What are the benefits/costs to switching?

And how have I gotten through 5 years of blogging without knowing the first thing about it??





top-10This is my 369th post for 2012 and here are the top ten in terms of views.

But wait, before the big reveal... Here's the blog's new Facebook page. LIKE ME!


10. Jonathan and Charlotte – a Parable of the Kingdom

Here are some other responses to cultural phenomena:

What Jimmy Savile, Jeremy Forrest and Lance Armstrong teach us…

Living beyond the end of the world (a reflection on the Mayan apocalypse)

Bert le Clos's "Behold My Son!"


9. What is sin? Falling short? Rebellion? Something else?

This was probably my favourite post of the year.  I had a pop at some other evangelical shibboleth's in these:

It’s not about rules it’s about Working Hard at My Relationship With God…


 “God’s work and our work”?

Grace is not a cheese sandwich

Idolising idolatry

Genesis 12: Key to the OT?

Memorialist Communion (in church and in marriage)

Memorialist Preaching

Memorialist Prayer


8. Five minutes on the bible and slavery

Here were the others in that series:

Five minutes on the bible’s sexual ethic

Five minutes on the conquest of Canaan

Five minutes on the bible and gender equality


7. 321 – The Story of God, the World and You

Exciting things happening with 321, I'm looking forward to developing them in 2013.  Here's some of the philosophy behind it:

The importance of explaining Trinity and original sin and "union with Christ" in evangelism

321 and the Gospel EventsCreation, FallRedemption and Repentance (part onepart two)


6. The Road to Emmaus – Sermon on Luke 24:13-35

On the subject of preaching, here are posts on my three favourite preachers

Paul Blackham

Mike Reeves

Steve Levy


5. Legal recognition of marriage and the way of Jesus – by Paul Blackham

Paul wrote some other excellent guest posts for me this year:

Translating “Son of God” – Paul Blackham

The Insider Movement (a series of 4 posts) – Paul Blackham

Paul Blackham: A Sermon on Fear


4. Bible Read-Through in 120 Days – wanna join?

This read-through was very popular and Matthias also organised a Greek audio bible too. Download it for free:

Free Greek Audio Bible


3. A Trinity Sunday / Jubilee Sermon

Other more thematic sermons of mine:

Five Talks on Isaiah

Does God exist? How does He fit with Science?

What happens when we die?

Why is there so much suffering?


2. Stephen Fry offers good advice on depression – by ditching his atheism

This was a provocative post looking at the interaction between pastoral care and evangelism. If your "gospel" can't help you deal with life it's no gospel. And if you have to borrow Christian convictions in order to care for people, that might point you to the good sense of Christianity.

On the theme of pastoral theology, here are some posts that were close to my heart.

“This woman you put here”

Jesus is Utterly, Horrendously, Maddeningly Infuriating

Death because resurrection

Helping the Helpers


1. Fear and Faith: Derren Brown undone in 60 seconds by his own subject

I'm a big fan of Derren Brown but his claim to have shown God as the ultimate placebo was just silly.  Here are some more posts about atheism:

Not the God story, the Hero story

"Just show me the evidence"

An introduction to humanism – transcript and comment

“A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.”

Beginnings and Before Beginnings


There you have it.  Thanks for making blogging so enjoyable.  And don't forget to LIKE ME, LIKE ME, LIKE ME!


Nearly 2000 posts.

Over 10 000 comments.

Close to a million words.

Almost a million hits.

And if you're googling "Trinity sermons", "Adjectives for God" or "Santa is Anti-Christ", I'm your blog!

5 years ago life was pretty tough. Emma wasn't quite at her worst but she was far from her best. Blogging was a way of ministering (and being ministered to) when life was hugely constrained.

It's continued to be a blessing in my life, and now in Emma's.  And, praise God, I don't think either of us would or could be doing what we're doing without the platform it's provided.  I'm usually very blasé about blogging, but looking back it's been very significant.

Thank you to you guys for making it so enjoyable.  I always say the commenters are the best thing about blogging and I mean it.  Bless you!

For old times' sake, here's my first ever post: The Cruciform God.

And if you're interested, here's an interview I did at the start of the year about my hows and whys of blogging...

1. How did you get into blogging?
I got into blogging the way Aaron got into idolatry.   I just clicked some buttons at WordPress and “out came this blog.”   I wasn’t thinking about a long-term ministry at all.   At the time I’d been pestering Bobby Grow with lengthy comments and he suggested that I rant on my own site rather than everyone else’s.   Of course he didn’t say it like that, but I got the message.

This was four years ago when my wife was quite ill.   I think the Lord was kind in giving me an outlet and a ministry beyond the home when I wasn’t always able to get out.   The examples of Charles Wesley and BB Warfield have inspired me in this.   Both their wives struggled with illness and yet actually, as they cared for their wives, the Lord opened up incredible ministries for them where they were.   On a vastly smaller scale I’ve seen the Lord do something similar through blogging.

My first and main blog has been Christ the Truth.   But last year I also blogged at The King’s English which was my attempt at a daily devotional based on King James phrases.

2. Why do you blog? What is, if you like your ‘Mission Statement’ as a blogger?
Some people have an irenic tone and serpentine wisdom.   I have a nasal tone and bark like a dog.   Blogging suits me like that.  I’ve had the same strap-line since the beginning and it really has been the conviction that’s driven me: “Jesus is the Word of God.”  My mission is to keep that thought uppermost in all our minds – my own included.   It’s so easy to drift into a deistic view of God, a mechanical view of salvation, a moralistic view of the Christian life – even within evangelical circles.   I’m always trying to think about what it would mean if Jesus Himself defined God and salvation and daily living.   It should be unthinkable to even imagine Christ-less conceptions of these truths… and yet I encounter them all the time.   In myself and in others.   My blogging is a faltering and feeble attempt to shout “JESUS” on a website.

3. What do you see as the strategic benefits of Christian blogging?
Maybe it’s just me, but some of my deepest theological convictions have been shaped by a single conversation – even a single phrase.   Perhaps that exposes me as shallow!   But I think it’s easy to poo-poo blogs as a poor substitute for books and journals.   And in many ways they are.   But we’re not always shaped by digesting lengthy treatises.   We can be changed profoundly by deep truths, simply put. I hope that my blogging is a drip-drip of gospel thinking that – cumulatively, or even as a one-off – can open eyes to the glory of Christ.

4. What are some of the problems and weaknesses you see as you survey the Christian blogging scene?
I wish there was more theological wrestling on Christian blogs.   Too many sites strike me as theology-lite pastoral epistles – full of ministry philosophy and best practice.   But where’s the meaty discussions of doctrine of God and christology, etc?   I guess it’s a reflection of a broader evangelical anaemia.  But I often find more substantial Jesus-shaped theology on non-evangelical blogs.   Maybe I’m missing all the great evangelical sites though, I don’t really keep up with ‘the scene’.

5. Is there a gap in the scene; an area of Christian life or ministry that is not being adequately addressed?
I’m going to sound petty or ranty or both but… I think the way that question is framed is part of the problem!   If you ask me, “Christian life and ministry” is not where the “gap in the scene” lies.   There’s all too much about Christian life and ministry.   All the while, radical Christ-centred reflections on God and the gospel are thin on the ground.   More of those please.

6. What advice would you give to someone considering starting blogging?

There’s loads of good advice out there but one thing I’d highlight is to love and serve your commenters.   It’s fantastic to interact with people from all over the world and to get to know them in a bloggy kind of way. So   answer questions, take their points seriously and try to write in a way that opens up discussion rather than shuts it down.   I’m not very good at any of that.   And with time pressures I’m becoming even worse.   But interact with your commenters – that’s my big tip.   It’s the most fun aspect of blogging and if you’re not going to do it – don’t open comments!

7. What are your favourite 5 Christian blogs?

My wife’s blog is gob-smackingly good.   Not just saying that: A New Name

Theology Network is the very best antidote to the evangelical anaemia mentioned above.

The 48 Files by Dave Kirkman is a proper blog – doctrinal, pastoral, deeply gospel-ly

Peter Leithart will always provoke thought and take you deeper into Scripture and trinitarian reflection.

Dan Hames is blogging rich, trinitarian, Christ-centred fare at High Over All.

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