True to the Scripture: an email from a friend

Recently I wrote a post titled Industrial Christianity. My intention was to get all of us to ask why we do what we do, specifically asking how much our industrialized worldview impacts our church practices. The response I got for this post was wonderful. I really appreciate everyone’s feedback. I found it helpful and encouraging. I got one email in response to this post that I felt dealt with a lot of the questions/issues I have been thinking about, and I’m sure others have been as well. For this reason I thought it may be advantageous to share my responses in a series of posts dealing with each of the three points that my friend addressed in his email.

First installment: True to the Scripture

What makes the Bible … powerful and life transforming … is not the method or the packaging, the power is God’s Holy Spirit.

In much of Industrial Christianity I used preaching as an example of how we neatly package and market our faith. The quote I started this post with is from my friend’s email and it addresses an important question that I have: Does it matter how we teach the Scriptures? Isn’t it really the Spirit who changes people through the Word?

I think in a lot of ways we can say that it doesn’t matter. Paul himself says that even if someone is sharing the gospel for the wrong reason it can still change lives. I know this to be true from personal experience and I’m sure that there are lots of other people who can attest to this as well. What I think this misses though is that the person teaching or preaching for the wrong reason is still teaching or preaching in a way that is true to the meaning of the Scripture. To this point my friend clearly agrees:

To me, the issue is how true to the Scriptures the speaker is.

So then the question, specifically in reference to my blog post, is: are we being true to the meaning of Scripture when we present it every week in a certain cookie cutter or assembly line format? When we have to work every passage of the Bible we preach to fit into a certain structure does that harm the meaning of those passages? I can’t say for sure but I do want to bring up a couple points in regard to this.

There are different types of books in the New Testament: teaching letters, letters that give accounts of events, poems, proverbs, prophecies, apocalyptic writings, and so on. Can they all fit into the same model when we teach them? That would be very difficult. Poetry is not always perfectly literal, Prophecy is not always perfectly chronological, the events explained in a letter may not be nominative (how we should do it) but simply descriptive (how they did do it).

The books were written over 1000s of years to people in very different cultures. To deal with Job and Romans in the same fashion would seem pretty unrealistic. One book was written to a Jewish audience over 1000 years before Christ was born the other to a primarily Greco/Roman audience a couple decades after Christ’s death. Surely we can’t expect that the two letters were written in the same way and can be dealt with the same way.

Chapter and Versification are not original. When we take a passage of Scripture we cannot deal with it as a stand alone object. It was never meant to be used that way. Some verses do a good job of summarizing a more general point taught within the book they were taken from, others do not. You cannot expect to take a passage of genealogy or instructions on how to build a temple and expect that they capture a teaching for us in and of themselves without looking at the broader context they are in. I feel that chapter and versification have encouraged us to think of each sentence of the Bible as a separate unit, able to capture a teaching by itself, when in reality this is not always the case.

So does it matter if we use funny stories or give statistics when teaching? If they emphasize what the Scripture actually means then I don’t see why it would hurt, but when we try to fit every message we teach/preach into a 3 point outline I think that in some cases we will have a difficult time being true to the actual meaning of the passage.

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About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

4 responses to “True to the Scripture: an email from a friend

  • Bob

    Good phrase, “Industrial Christianity”. It’s interesting to look at the teaching ministry of Jesus. Somehow I don’t get the impression it was a monologue. He was “interrupted” by questions, “barged in on” from folks literally dropping in from the ceiling and what about those pesky children always wanting to get blessed or hear a story? It seems like Jesus did his teaching anywhere and everywhere, using whatever means were at his disposal. Jesus did his public preaching to the multitudes and the Pharisees, but the best stuff was shared around a meal or while walking, with lots of time for questions and answers. Most preaching/teaching is done in industrial meetings where output of information was king. In an informal setting, the sermon doesn’t work, you’ll just come across as a preachy conversation hog.
    Ask questions, have a dialog, don’t be afraid of tangents, if they lead to a deeper sharing of life and a broader understanding of His word.

  • Dan Allen

    Bob,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I definitely agree that dialogue is seen in the teaching ministry of Christ and the early church and I definitely see significant value to it: The Spirit may work through questions or “tangents” not to mention the simple fact that people able to ask questions about a teaching will understand it better than those who have to listen to it go on when they may be totally confused.

    -Dan

  • Mark

    Definitely it is the power of the Spirit that brings change in response to the message, whether it be written or spoken, and not just the word itself. I agree it is necessary to be true to scripture, and being true to scripture would imply that there are multitudes of people giving the message. This is as important to me as the message itself.

  • Dan Allen

    Mark

    Truly if we are being true to Scripture in the way that we teach Scripture then we will have “multitudes of people giving the message.”

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    -Dan

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