@Rob Bell — At least the goat on the stage was merely weird, not heretical.
Why preach if no one is going to hell anyway?
What did Jesus die for?
The old saying for pastors is “Always be ready to preach, pray, or die.”
Yesterday I went to the funeral home to visit a family in our church who had lost a sister to a sudden heart attack of some sort. She was 61 years old. On Sunday morning she got off her night shift as a nurse and went to her car. She drove only a few feet before it happened. Doctors worked on her until early afternoon but could not stop Death.
It was sudden. It was unexpected.
At the funeral home, I was asked if I would give a short message.
This too was sudden and unexpected, but obviously I agreed. Perhaps, sadly, I was more prepared than she was.
I had not thought about it at all until that moment, but I am always willing to help out wherever possible.
So I grabbed a Bible and spoke for about ten minutes about the confusion and questions that unexpected death often arouses. Life doesn’t seem to make sense when a 61 year old lady in seemingly good health with lots of great friends drops dead.
It is the sort of question addressed in Ecclesiastes where the Preacher tells us that there are a lot of questions and not very many answers about how to make sense of life in this world.
In the face of confusion, there has to be some way to find hope. That hope cannot be found in trying to make sense of the seemingly unexplainable.
I pointed us to Colossians 2 where we are told that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Christ is the only way to make sense of life in this world. He is the one who gives shape to the lives that we lead. He is the one who can give us hope in the midst of confusion.
That hope is found because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us to save us and give us eternal life in heaven.
The life that he gives will last for longer than 61 years. And it won’t end on Sunday morning after work in a parking lot, or on an operating table.
The bad part of the occasion was that five or six people approached me afterward asking about where our church was an expressing some interest in attending.
And I did not have one card with information about our church on it.
But perhaps some people will consider Jesus because of it.
I confess to you that I am sorely tempted by clear blue skies and 50 degree temperatures to leave my office today and go play a few holes of golf. I would do it solely for good reasons … to enjoy creation and see if I can still make contact with the ball.
Please help me with this intense struggle.
Is it okay if I promise to gain no personal enjoyment from it?
Afflicted and feeling the pains of withdrawal in the face of early opportunity.
There are a few blogs kicking around the idea of preaching Christ and the gospel from the OT. The Gospel Coalition will focus on this topic this year. Just this week, The Gospel Coalition announced a website devoted to this topic.
One blogger commented that he had preached five messages from the OT and mentioned Christ only once. Another blogger responded that such was appalling. But why was that appalling? I don’t know what the texts were, and until I do, how I can pass judgment on the content of the message? Can we automatically say that the absence of something in a sermon is “appalling” if we don’t know what the text was?
In my view, if one is committed to preaching the text, the question of what we preach is derived from the Scriptures, not from a precommitment to preach Jesus.
Just yesterday I saw a blogger talk about finding help in determining the Christological interpretation of an OT text.
Yet absent is any reason why one should look for a Christological interpretation.
If such interpretation exists, it should arise naturally from the exegetical process. It is found in the words of the text. Only when we study the text can we determine whether or not it is appalling to not mention Jesus.
I know this sounds like rank heresy to some, but I would simply ask, what warrant do we have to use a text to preach something that is not in the text. Everyone who reads this blog would say that there is no warrant to preach something that is not in the text.
Many critics of fundamentalism have lamented (and rightly so) the tendency of some preaching to “take a text and depart therefrom,”—ito use the text as a springboard for their personal topic.
If I were to stand up and preach that the story of Genesis 6-9 means that every “man of God” should have a boat, everyone would object that I am not preaching the text because that text says nothing about the watercraft ownership obligations of preachers.
Yet I would suggest that all some are doing is sanctifying that tendency by inserting “Jesus” or “our greater David” in the place of having a boat or “hairstyles” or “britches on women.”
Is it really okay to use a text to declare something the text doesn’t say? I don’t think so. And I don’t think that changes just because we have good intentions.
I think it greatly prejudices the study process when the outcome is decided. I fear that for some, the main study question is, “How do I get to Calvary from here?”
Spurgeon’s old quote about finding roads and jumping hedges is a great and powerful quote. It’s also bad exegetical method and worse preaching method.
You see, when you use the text to say something the text does not say, you ultimately undermine the authority of the preacher and often, the authority of the Scriptures.
When we study a text, we need to study it on its own terms.
Jesus never declared that everything in the OT was about him. What he said was that everything in the OT that was about him was actually about him. In other words, it wasn’t that the every OT passage spoke of a Messiah. It was that everything in the OT that spoke about the Messiah was speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.
The men on the road to Emmaus were not confused because they didn’t know the OT spoke of the Messiah. They were confused because they did not know that the OT message about the Messiah was about Jesus of Nazareth.
So in my view, we do not need a greater commitment to preaching Jesus and the gospel. We need a greater commitment to preach the text. Often, Jesus and the gospel will arise out of that. And often, Jesus and the gospel will be the answer to the problem presented in the text.
But we must not start there. We cannot start with “How do I find the Christological interpretation of this text?” We start with “What does the text say and what does it mean by what it says?”
Ed Stetzer writes on “The Myth of Teenage Rebellion.” It’s not earth-shattering and it’s not new. But it’s interesting.
The sound-byte of note is this:
Thinking it is normal for children to raise themselves and become well-adjusted in their teen years only in partnership with their peers often creates the problem, not solves it.
This should continue to challenge us (or start to challenge you if you are behind so far) about the way we do “youth ministry” in the church, and about the way we do parenting in general.
I believe that we all need friends in our own generation. We need people around our age and life context to do life with. The Bible often applies to teens in a way that it does not apply to young marrieds, middle-aged single moms, or retirees. We need to have contexts where each is addressed.
But if all your friends and relationships are within a year or two of your age, you are severely limiting yourself. You are damaging your potential for growth and ministry. You are ultimately hurting the body of Christ.
Most of us need to be much more intentional about cultivating intergenerational relationships, particularly in the church which, in my view, is the main building block of relationships in life. We need to purposely connect younger with older. It needs to be a building block of life as a church.
I am not against youth groups and I am not for family integrated churches. I think both approaches have some issues.
My encouragement is to remember that teenage rebellion is a fact of life because all ages are rebellious. It’s part of being in Adam. And it’s really no different than the rebellion of the “terrible twos” or the “mid-life crisis.” It is the expression of self-lordship in the context of our lives.
The question is, What is the best way to address rebellion?
I am convinced that we do not best address teenage rebellion by locking them all up in a closed room with each other and bringing them out when they are nineteen in hopes that Jesus still works miracles.
No, it will take much more than guarding the door of the youth room to make sure they don’t get out and mess up the real church.
We need to expect people to act their age, but that involves teaching them how to act, training their affections both by biblical counsel and by personal relationships of example. And that can only take place when we connect younger with older.
We should let kids be kids. But we should not let “kid-ness” continue past its “sell by date.”
Let’s help young people grow up by expecting more and cultivating more.
This week is the official beginning of hope. Spring training has started, everyone is a potential World Series champion, and warmer days are just around the corner.
In honor of baseball, here are a three bases and a home run from around the blogosphere.
At first base, Ben says, “Sometimes, the Bible doesn't say everything we wish it said, even if our wishes are motivated by our desires to defend it.” This is in response to a discussion about whether or not Genesis 1-2 teaches something about the length of the creation days and weeks.
This past week, I preached from Mark 10:1-12 about marriage. A thought that I had (and probably said) rings true here. Ben is right that sometimes the Bible doesn’t say everything we wish it said. But often, it says far more than we are willing to admit, whether about creation or marriage.
I think Genesis 1-2 is pretty clear. There is really no other way that God could have communicated six successive twenty-four hour days. There are, on the other hand, much better ways to communicate long periods of time.
At second base, Mark set off a bit of a firestorm with some comments about Christ in the OT. Here’s the funny thing: I think what Mark said about separation in the OT is far more controversial than what he said about Christ in the OT. Of course, I say that in light of Mark’s helpful clarifications both in the comments there and in this subsequent post. I post my “mostly agreement” with Mark here instead of at his blog so that no one will see that I agree mostly with Mark. There is no doubt that Christ is in the OT, in the Law and the Prophets. But I also think that there is no doubt that Christ is not nearly so omnipresent in the OT as many people seem to think. Perhaps later I will write a bit on my take on Christ in the OT, but suffice it to say that if we are going to preach the text as the text, Christ will not be preached as the meaning of the text all the time.
I think the whole “Gospel-centered preaching” from the OT is well-intended, but I fear that it adds a pious slant to old moralism, such as Dave indicates here. Interesting, a long time ago I started a post quoting the same thing Dave quotes because I was astounded that Tim Keller actually said this. I didn’t take time to transcribe it but you can read it for yourself. I think the lectures where Keller gives this illustration are excellent, and helpful in so many ways. Just don’t use his examples.
At third base, a couple of parables showed up on the internet this week, along with a complaint by someone that he couldn’t understand one of the parables. This included a demand for an apology for the parable. I think he means an explanation, but perhaps in a moment of sensus plenior, he actually means something else. I wonder if he holds Christ to the same standard, demanding an apology for His parables.
And for the home run, just when you think it can’t get any more bizarre, I happened upon a discussion about the KJV and Revelation 16:5. A commenter, ironically (or perhaps prophetically) using the handle of “Faith” says:
ANYWAY, this being the situation, the decisions of faithful translators simply ARE evidence equal to the manuscript evidence. OBJECTIVELY equal. This isn’t just an arbitrary thing I’m saying. There is very good manuscript and version support for Holy One in 16.5, including previous English versions by faithful translators, but nevertheless Beza chose against it and gave reasonable support for his decision, and the KJV translators followed him rather than the other line of evidence.
BOTH LINES HAVE TO BE CONSIDERED FAITHFUL TO GOD’S WORD because there is no objective way of deciding one way or the other. Beza COULD have been right in his conjecture that the verse once read as he corrected it to read. WE CAN’T KNOW.
What we learn is that manuscript evidence doesn’t matter so long as a “faithful translator” (apparently defined as someone who translated the KJV) inserted some words into the text. Of course, words inserted by someone other than a “faithful translator” don’t count. They are perversions and corruptions.
What we also learn (in what is perhaps a bit of a Freudian slip), is that two contradictory readings can both be considered “faithful to God’s word,” which destroys the whole movement this commenter is apparently trying to save.
I think what we learn most of all is that a segment of KJVOnly proponents have no clue what they are talking about, and regularly participate in and propagate beliefs and arguments that have the potential of destroying the Christian faith.
And now, in honor of spring training (and Jim Rome), I’m out.
This line sticks out to me:
How we got to this place is less important than how to move forward.
It sticks out to me because I think it misses one of the fundamental facets of change and that is asking the question, “Why are we here?”
A friend told me years ago, “Life is an accumulation of choices.”
And so it is.
We are where we are because of the choices we have made. The PC(USA) is where they are at (as described in the letter, which shows just the tip of the iceberg) because of the choices they have made.
To ignore that history, to refuse to ask how we got here, is to risk charting a course that repeats it.
If we want to be somewhere else, or go somewhere else, we have to make different choices. But until we study the choices we have made, we have no idea which ones to change because we don’t know the choices that got us here.
I liken this dilemma to current discussions about “how to move forward” in fundamentalism.
There are some, it seems, who want to ignore how we got here. They just assume it is right that we are here (wherever “here” is). And so they insist that everyone be “here” and if you are somewhere else it is because you are compromising, or at least in danger of compromise. They insist that any change is evidence of the jettisoning of Scripture. They are unwilling to accept that they may be the ones who have wrongly applied Scripture to the present day. They also fail to recognize that the very people they cite as authorities and patterns did not act this way.
There are others who also want to ignore how we got here. They just assume it is wrong that we are here (wherever “here” is). And so they insist that you must change, that if you continue to be “here” you are legalistic, uninterested in unity (whatever that is), and unwilling to obey God.
For some, their history is too short because it only starts 30-40 years ago. For some, their history is too short because it only starts 3-4 years ago.
I believe the way forward has to include a history that started 2000 years ago, and includes the events of the last century where scriptural doctrine came under attack. We have to understand the battles that were fought then against the present day situation now.
We have to return to the authority of Scripture rather than the authority of tradition.
I am reminded of the line by Brother G. I. Barber in his sermon on Hairology: “As fundamentalists, we know this is right because this is the way we have always done it.”
When you hear him say it, it is hilarious.
When you see people practice it, it is heartbreaking.
I wrote recently of failure on the part of some to take seriously the need to study the Scripture. They return only to their own recent history and in so doing, affirm that “How we got here is less important.”
I think we need a return to the authority of Scripture in practice, not just in word.
My friend Dave, in his usual way, cuts through the stuff pretty succinctly in this post which, to my way of thinking, is essentially about evangelism.
In it, he talks briefly of those who want to become experts on what other people believe. In my conclusion, we end up with people who know a whole lot about other religions, and don’t know any people who actually practice (or claim to practice) those other religions.
He closes with this:
The best apologetic is to know the Word of God well and simply dialogue with people who need Christ. What do they believe? Not in the sense of what most Christians "believe" on paper ... but what do they really believe in their hearts, about the world, themselves, where they've come from, and where they're going?
Perhaps if we want to know what people believe, we should not read books; we should go ask people.
Of course that requires getting out and talking to people. And that takes some boldness. And that’s why we read books about what other people believe. It’s easier.
I am increasingly skeptical about the value of knowing more about someone’s religion than they know. Of course, I think it helps to know about other religions. But how is my evangelism helped by knowing more than the other guy knows about what he is supposed to believe? Do I really need to refute something he doesn’t believe anyway?
Perhaps if we just go ask a few questions and then listen a little while, we can learn what we need to know about what other people believe, and then know how to point them to Jesus.
I recently saw someone applying Romans 16:17 using the claim, “That’s not what I was taught.”
The problem is that this surely well-meaning person has failed to do adequate exegesis on the passage itself. You see Romans 16:17 has nothing to do with what you or I were taught. It rather refers what the Romans were taught by the apostolic authority. And it doesn’t even really refer to all that the Romans were taught, but rather that part of the teaching that causes dissensions and hindrances. These, I believe, have very specific meanings that do not include what Brother So-and-So said.
In other words, the “what” of the “what you were taught” refers to apostolic teaching, not your Sunday School class, or your long time pastor, or your mentor, or your favorite blog (not even if it’s this one).
There is real confusion on the part of many as to what Romans 16:17 is teaching, and how it should be applied.
There appears to be some real resistance on the part of some to do real work on the text. Instead they jump to inherited application without much regard for what Paul actually said.
This, friends, is dangerous because it removes the authority of Scripture and substitutes it for the authority of tradition, even well-intended tradition.
One relatively prolific blogger, when asked to offer some substantive interaction with these types of passages begged off, claiming that he did not have the time to do such work.
Another person recently wrote an article posing the question of whether or not he should apologize for actions his church took more than fifty years ago.
Absurdity of the question aside, it misses the point because the reference point used was not the Scripture, but rather the actions of a church more than 1900 years removed from the apostolic authority.
As people of the book, we must be serious about what the book says.
We would do well to give Romans 16:17-18 more thoughtful interaction, such as Dave Doran did at the recent Preserving the Truth Conference where he dealt with this passage very carefully.
We must also recognize that there are various difficulties of application. We should stop short of claiming that those who disagree with our application (however well-intended it may be) are disagreeing with the Bible.
I was reading about a new cell phone I am thinking about getting. One person who owns it had the following to say about it:
The unit uses some weird propitiatory USB connector
It has a USB connector that satisfies the wrath of God?
That could be an attack on the gospel.
It’s more likely a guy who doesn’t know how to spell proprietary.
What the Bible itself teaches often differs considerably from the ways one uses the Bible to teach.*
How true it is that the Bible, for many, is a prop for a pet point. Preachers often run to texts because they seem to support a notion that they have already decided they want to preach. This is a dangerous mishandling of the Word of God.
I was reminded of this a while back when I was studying Romans 14. Many people run to Romans 14 in order to defend certain positions that they hold on "debatable practices."
While Romans 14 may give principles about how to make decisions, that is not really the point of the text. The point of Romans 14 is about how living sacrifices (cf. 12:1) relate to people in the body of Christ who view God-honoring things differently than they do.
So in preaching Romans 14, we must preach primarily about relationships, not about decision making. Decision-making is a key biblical concern, and Romans 14 certainly helps us in our thinking on that topic, but it is secondary in Romans 14.
As a preacher, to preach is to stand up and proclaim what God has said. Therefore, we must be careful to say what God has actually said. We must make the point of the message the same as the point of the text. This is the most basic definition of expository preaching.
Along the way, we may deal with implications, sub points, side points, assumptions built in to the main point, and like material. But we should be careful not to preach a side point as a main point.
Where there might be an exception is when a text is used for an extended series. In subsequent messages, a side point may be the main point of that particular message, but even in these cases, it must be conscientiously and constantly tied back into the main point.
*David C. Deuel, “Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition (by John F. MacArthur Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty; edited by Richard L. Mayhue; Dallas: Word, 1992), p. 285.