Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When the Word of God Isn't the Word of God: The Danger of Taking Texts Out of Contexts (Part II)

New Testament Case Studies
A few case studies from the New Testament help us formulate a solid answer.
Philippians 1:15-18.

           Some might use this text as an example of why it does not ultimately matter what is preached; God can use it all. However, I find this to be against what the text is actually saying here. Notice Paul says that they are PREACHING CHRIST. That is, they are faithful to the Gospel. In fact, Paul himself notes that He is in prison for defending the Gospel. In other words, content matters. What did not matter as much was the intent of the preacher (note: this is a huge difference from the prophets in Jeremiah’s day—these guys had lousy intent and lousy preaching to boot). Many good preachers probably have really terrible intentions. Intent, while vital, is less important than content in preaching (although, to be honest, Paul in other places emphasizes the intent of the heart to great degrees). Or if we were to phrase it differently: you can be a really good preacher and a really lousy Christian.
Paul could rejoice in their message (though not their intent) because the Gospel was being advanced faithfully and accurately. In the end, God alone judges the heart. It is our responsibility now, however, to judge the message.
Acts 18:24-28

             This is a treasure trove of information concerning preaching. “Scriptures” is used twice in four verses. So is the word “accurately”. I think something important is about to be emphasized here! Apollos is described a few ways: 1) eloquent, 2) competent in the Scriptures 3) instructed in the way of the Lord 4) fervent in spirit 5) speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus but 6) he knew only the baptism of John.
This is quite the picture of a preacher! He is both passionate and educated (but to a point)! He was speaking boldly in the synagogue and clearly making an impact. However, rather than saying “Well, he has got it up to a point. He is pretty competent,” Pricilla and Aquila take him and explain to him the way of God more accurately. Don’t miss this: he was accurate—but not quite accurate enough…and it mattered enough that they pulled Apollos to the side and said, “Listen to a bit more teaching.” From there, he was commissioned and refuted the Jews from the Scriptures.

Doctrinal precision is essential. Sloppy exegesis was a concern back then and it should be a concern for us now as well.  However, I wonder how many preachers we have who are likely theologically sound but exegetically suspect? Eventually, exegetical sloppiness will produce theological sloppiness. I deal with this constantly in youth ministry. Never underestimate the ability of the congregation to formulate their own theology in light of the gaps in your own teaching.

A great example of this is the teaching on “once saved always saved.” I believe in the perseverance of the saints over and against “eternal security.” Why? Because doctrinally, it conveys more although the outcome, logically, is the same. Eternal security says, “you make a profession of Christ and you are saved forever.” Perseverance of the saints says, “If you are truly a believer, you will in fact persist until the end.” Perhaps it is a tautology, but I find it effective and useful to convey the thinking. So what is the big deal?
The big deal is that many people I meet with say, “I don’t have to be a goodie goodie to go heaven! God will accept me the way I am.” Now I can assure you that they are NOT hearing that from the pulpit. However, they are not hearing perseverance of the saints either. They are hearing eternal security and the pastor does not elaborate more than that. Perhaps the pastor goes on to describe the great power of God to hold on to us and God’s great love. Both are true. But rest assured that many within the congregation already have formulated a theology—I can do whatever I want, live however I want and I am just fine.

Now the pastor may go back to deal with this particular issue much later after he sees how his congregation is acting. Yet I have noticed that rarely will they connect the dots in their theology if the sermons are spaced out. They will hear “God loves you and will keep you” and that goes into a nice box. They will hear, “God cannot tolerate sin” and put that into a nice box. But come up with a consistent theology? Rarely.


  1. Very good again. Good point on Philippians.
    peri de the baptism of John... From Acts 19 it is clear that those baptized into John's baptism fell short of the gospel; they had embraced the message, Messiah is coming and the kingdom is nigh et al. So it would appear that they took Apollos aside and did what Paul did in Ephesus: "John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." As a result they he baptized them in water and they received the Spirit. So it would seem to be with Apollos, he was accurately preaching the truth of the soon coming of Messiah and as soon as he was shown the way of the Lord more perfectly (Messiah has come and his name is Jesus) he then "For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ." So in this case, I would say he was exegetically sound and theologically suspect! But it nevertheless supports your point.
    About this "once saved always saved" stuff. Good point on bringing out the modern twist of perseverance. The point we used to hear when I was in the Baptist church was "unconditional eternal security" which really does lead to singing,
    Amazing grace O blessed position
    Do what I want and still have remission
    When I left the fog lifted and I was able to see the Scriptures! Assured IN Christ, secure IN Christ Col 1:21-23.
    Amen. Good post

  2. Actually, after re-reading your post and my response, I would lean more toward Apollos was theologically sound and exegetically sound but as you said, "but not quite accurate enough"

    You should read Why God Used D.L. Moody by R.A. Torrey for a similar story, not about doctrine but about experience