Faithful to the Original

November 7, 2009

I saw the new Disney movie, “A Christmas Carol,” last night starring the voice talents of Jim Carey, Gary Oldman, and others. I took my wife to see it as sort of a little date out and about on the town. My wife grew up with a great love for classical literature and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of her favourites. She has read it a number of times and is very picky about how movie adaptations reflect the original work of Dickens. I of course simply wanted to go because I like animated movies! Thankfully we were both happy with it since the language they used in the movie was almost exactly the language of Dickens from the novel. She had some quibbles about somethings that were left out but what was there she felt was faithful to the original.

That got me thinking after the movie about how we as Christians are to be faithful to the original. This phrase has a number of concepts that can be attached to them. For instance, two thoughts came to be about how we are to be faithful to the original in:

1) Following Jesus

1 John 2:4-6 reads, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” It is made quite clear here that one of the assurances we have that we are in the faith is that we walk as Jesus did. John is discussing walking in the truth which is more than just words but action. Jesus was truth not only in what he said but in how he lived. Not to embrace the social gospel or anything but the reality is, if we are Christians we are to be faithful to the original, that is Christ, by walking as he did. Our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our behaviour, our teaching should be just as Jesus’ was.

2) Teaching the Word

2 Timothy 3:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” One of the things that a teacher/preacher of the Word of God must be is faithful to the original. We are called to “rightly handle the word of truth.” We are to know the Word and proclaim the Word. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ our job is not to create our own message but to accurately proclaim His message. Every preacher and teacher of God’s Word must know it so as to proclaim it accurately being as careful as possible to be faithful to the original.

There are many other aspects of the Christian faith and ministry that force us to consider how faithful we are to the original. The reality is our lives and ministries are to be faithful to the God that has both created our lives and providentially put us into our ministries. Every thought we think, every action we perform, every word we utter, is to be in conformity to the image of Christ. An image is an exact representation of the original. The question becomes how faithful to the original are you? Are you an exact image or only a reasonable facsimile?

The new “A Christmas Carol” was pretty faithful to the original. I only hope and pray that my life and my ministry might be also said to be faithful to the original when it is seen by the world and the church.

Is Too Much Bible Teaching the Problem or the Solution?

January 29, 2009

“We don’t need more Bible teaching. We’ve got so much Bible teaching that people cannot put it all into practice. We need help with application of that teaching.”

Have you ever heard this or a variant of this? I hear this kind of comment more and more in churches. And on the surface, it seems to make some sense. While some churches are down to one service on Sunday’s, many still have the typical big four: Sunday School, Sunday AM Service, Sunday PM Service, and Mid-week Prayer and Bible Study. Add to this a possible small group and you could have up to 4–5 teaching times from the Scriptures every week. This is a lot of Bible! Perhaps there is much to be said for those who claim that we have enough Bible teaching and what we need to do now is live it out.

I beg to differ.

Now, I am not a wise experienced church leader. I’m only 29. I have some theological education under my belt, I’ve preached and taught a lot, I read a lot, but I’m not in any way a mover and shaker in the Christian church today. But, I think I’ve been around long enough to notice a few things. Now I shouldn’t have to do this, but you all recognize I am not speaking to all people in every church but am broadly generalizing here.

1)      People Know Nothing About the Bible

Now, this may sound harsh but if you have been in most churches or even on a number of Bible college campuses you would have to admit that many people can hardly articulate the basic fundamental core teachings of the Scripture let alone something more complex like issues of perseverance and falling away. People could not explain to you why they believe the Scriptures are without error, why Jesus had to die on the cross, how the Holy Spirit operates in the life of the believer, and any other thing you can think of.

This is sad! With all our Bible teaching we should be able to quickly name the major themes of every book of the Bible, trace the progress of redemption from Genesis to Revelation, and articulate the core teachings of our particular local church. Yet, for the most part, your average Christian could hardly do any of this. This failure to know anything about the Bible shows how people are blown away by every form of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and cannot discern truth from error as in The Shack phenomenon.

2)      People Do Not Grasp the Connection between Knowledge and Obedience

Talk to most people in the pew and they will tell you that they need less head knowledge and a greater pursuit of God. At first, this seems to make sense and seems very spiritual. But at the base of it all, there is a failure to grasp a simple point: knowledge leads to obedience.

There is a process here. We know that the God of the universe revealed Him to us through the Scriptures. Apart from the Scriptures we have only a vague knowledge of God that is testified to us in nature. This is a non-saving knowledge, only a condemning knowledge. God gave us the Scriptures to teach us about Him and teach us about the way of life through Jesus Christ. Without knowledge of God we would have no love for God. Instead, our love for God grows in proportion to our knowledge of God. I remember my systematic theology professor in Seminary say, “you should love God more after a systematic theology exam than after you read some daily devotional ditty.” There is a lot of wisdom in this statement. As we know more of God, His character and his work, we grow in our love for Him. If we only knew God existed our love for Him would be rather blah. But when we know of the greatness and goodness of this God our love grows greater. As we learn and grow in our knowledge of Him, His word, and the Word, Jesus Christ, we grow in our love for Him. And out of love for God flows obedience to God. If we love God we will keep his commandments (1 John 5:3). Therefore, we need knowledge of God and His Word to move us to obedience.

3)      People Focus on the Lowest Common Denominator

Most of us have met these people. They are “all about Jesus.” They reduce the complete teaching of the Scriptures down into some sort of quasi-evangelical spiritual belief that the only thing that is important is Jesus and that should unite us together. We can unite together in all denominations because we all believe in Jesus.

If you know anything of history this is the same argument used by theological liberalism. Theological liberals knew that any kind of systematic document like a confession or a doctrinal statement could be used to prevent them from having control in the churches (think the fundamentalist-modernist controversy). They knew that if they could throw off the shackles of a systematic belief in theology and the Word especially manifested in a doctrinal statement, they could participate with any evangelical. So the mantra of “no creed but the Bible” became key in many denominations who are now bombarded with theological liberalism. This mentality that it is all about Jesus is a misnomer. Even theological liberals believe that and they deny the core teachings of the Scriptures. While Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, there is more to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) than “just Jesus.”

So what do we do? Where is the culprit?

The culprit is in most preachers and teachers of God’s Word.

Wait a minute! They’re the ones who are actually trying to teach their people! Why is it their fault?

The haphazard way of teaching and preaching in most churches is to blame. The failure of pastors and teachers to teach through the whole counsel of God so people can get a grasp of both the big and little picture is lacking. There is no scope and sequence in how we do our teaching. We go from one message to the next without much thought. Even if we do preach expositionally though books of the Bible we fail to think about where we are going with it or where to go next. We preach our favourite book and go onto another favourite without thinking how they all go together in the larger redemption story. We fail to teach and preach on issues affecting our churches today. We are for the most part the problem. So what do we do?

We teach and preach with scope and sequence. I mean that there is a logical formula for teaching people the whole word of God and integrating it together as a whole. Do not get lost in details but make sure you focus on the forest as well, especially on the forest of the whole progress of redemption. Do not hesitate to teach through and talk about issues like the Trinity, penal substitutionary atonement, the sovereignty of God, and other issues. Deal with issues going on around us like abortion, same-sex marriage, the economy and such. The Scriptures all deal with these issues and more. Expositional teaching and preaching is the main foundation of fixing this lack of Biblical knowledge of the people in our pews but not without thought and consideration as to how it all fits together into the story of redemption. Make sure you not only look at details of the text but you bring it into that grand metanarrative of redemption. Sure, apply the text in your teaching and preaching. That’s a given. But what we don’t need is less teaching and more application. We need more and more thorough and thought-driven teaching and preaching so people have the wisdom and the discernment to learn how to apply the Scriptures themselves to their lives.

Where does the solution start? It starts with pastors and teachers faithfully teaching the whole counsel of God (both the OT and the NT), teaching through systematic theology (if it was important for you to learn to systematize the truth in seminary then it is important for your people to learn it too!), address issues of the day and show how the Scriptures apply to it, and pray for your people and yourself in the process.

We don’t need less Bible teaching. We need more of it in a better form. I’m going to start today with my own teaching and preaching and hope I will be a reverser of the lack of biblical knowledge not a contributor to it!