Several times a year, Dr. Swindoll preaches in chapel at DTS and engages in a question-and-answer time with prospective students. Here are some of the questions he answered recently.
Which book of the Bible is your favorite and why?
I don’t have a favorite. That’s like asking, “Which one of my kids is my favorite?” (Some days, I could pick one. . . .) The longer I live, the more I am drawn to 2 Timothy because it’s Paul’s swan song. It’s dripping with emotion, and the lines in it . . . like “come before winter,” which Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim 4:21, KJV). And “preach the word” (4:2). It draws me, pulls on me. I don’t have a favorite verse or favorite book of the Bible. But some of them are easier to deliver—they kind of teach themselves. Second Timothy is one of them.
Are you going to write any more character books?
I just finished Abraham. I happen to be a guy who really loves biography. I learned if you can “incarnate the truth”—a line I learned from Prof Howard Hendricks—if you can put meat on the truth with a life, it’s fabulous. If you’re dealing with rebellion, look at Saul, who rebelled against Samuel’s words—a classic example of someone who did not take God seriously. If you’re dealing with lust and adultery, rather than talk about lust (1 Thess. 4:3–8), it’s better to give an illustration. I’m working on a New Testament commentary series, and that keeps me occupied. But every once in a while, my wife, Cynthia, will suggest a biography. Incidentally, the first word out of Samson’s mouth as recorded in Scripture is indicative of his life: “I have seen a woman” (Judg 14:2, KJV). When you do a biography, it’s great to identify those lines, those moments.
Got any advice for preachers?
Let me tell you a story that Dr. Walvoord verified—so it must be true. Years ago Harold Ockenga was the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, and Donald Barnhouse was pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. They were good friends, so they decided to do a tour together during which they would preach nightly. One night one would go first, and the next night the other would go first. Ockenga brought a different message every night, but Barnhouse brought the same message night after night after b-o-r-i-n-g night. So on their last night, Ockenga—who had memorized every word of Barnhouse’s sermon—delivered his friend’s message word-perfectly—same introduction, illustrations, conclusion, everything.
When it was Barnhouse’s turn, he said nothing about it. He simply stood up to preach and brought a completely different message.
Afterward, when the lights were dimmed and they walked out together, Ockenga said, “They kind of liked your sermon I preached tonight, didn’t they?”
Barnhouse replied, “Not as much as when I preached it here two months ago.”
Keep a record of where you speak and what you said. And find out what the person speaking before you is going to talk about.
What has God been showing you lately?
To finish strong. I’ve thought about that a lot. I’m eighty. Most people in my seminary class have either retired or died. I don’t want to retire. I don’t play golf—the holes are too little. And I think I’d drive my wife nuts with all the energy I have. I plan to “go after it” until I can’t do it well.
So I’ve asked myself, “How do you finish well?” When I turned 80, I gave our elders a list of things I plan to go after hard in my life. And I told them to hold me accountable so I don’t get off course. I said, “If you ever sense it’s beginning to slip, tell me . . . so I don’t embarrass the church. I think my wife will beat them to it, but I’ve got a group a guys who are really honest—and loving. Moses finished at 120. I’d like to stay at this long enough to really say it was a lifetime of ministry.