“Reading the Bible for Preachers and Home Group Leaders”

 

Preamble

As a pastor/teacher one of the sad things for me is the sheer lack of biblical literacy in today’s Church.  In fact, it would be true to say that this even persists among those that have grown up in Christian homes, become Christians at a young age, have attended services for a number of years, have been educated in Bible Colleges, who preach and even carry senior leadership positions in congregations of vast influence.  This is made worse by the fact that the Word of God, particularly in its preached form, is the primary means by which a person is saved and sanctified.[1]  Therefore, this short help is not given as a way to discourage the use of books and video curriculum in our home groups, or to produce preachers and teachers that sound like me, but that the Word of God may prevail; for, as the Pentecostal pioneer Smith Wigglesworth prophesied,: “when the Word of God was wedded to the Spirit of God we would see the greatest revival that the world has ever known”.[2]

 

Coupled with prayer, when approaching the Bible, these 6 questions must be asked:

 

Q1. What does it say? Here you are looking at taking a text and placing it into your own words.  You must stay as close as you can to the original meaning.  Please remember the text can be as long or as short as you want.  Normally though, the longer the text the more difficult it can become.

 

Q2. What does it mean? Since there is no truth outside of context, here you are required to look at the immediate and general context.  If this is unfruitful, or if it is a particularly difficult or controversial text, you must go further afield, beginning nearest the text and working outward (ie. immediate context, general context, book, all books by this author, all books of this genre, the testament and the whole Bible).  Please remember that the Bible often presents truth in tension and therefore we are not permitted to hold firm to the texts that validate our opinion and ignore the ones that don’t.  We hold these together in paradoxical tension.

 

For Further Study: Here you might want to consult concordances or notes (found in Study Bibles), Commentaries, Topical Bibles, Bible Dictionaries, systematic theology, looking at words in the original language or sermons from reputable sources.

 

Q3. What might be the objections?  Since Christianity is a reasonable faith it is able to stand up against doubts and objections.  Identify some of these and then try and answer them; this is invaluable for preaching and teaching but particularly for mission.

 

For Further Study: Whilst all that is needed can be found within the Scriptures, added to the above resources a beginners guide to apologetics might be useful.  These books basically answer difficult questions on topics and texts.  I would also add, for the more seasoned theologians, a perusal of atheistic literature and the rebuttal from Christian apologists.[3]  I normally ask myself how would this sound to Joe average in the pub, a theologically astute convert of the contrary opinion and the highly educated and biblically literate sceptic.  Note to reader: these are not real people but personifying them can be extremely helpful.

 

Q4. What does it teach about God?  Scripture is the self-revelation of God and therefore teaches explicitly and implicitly about Him.  This does not mean that we see what is not there, like reading New Testament theology into Old Testament texts, but it means that even though it might not teach about God per se, the text might illustrate Him.  So, David’s victory over Goliath is not about Christ but could serve as an illustration, in the same way that Samson’s sacrifice helps illustrate Christ’s.  Also the “us” used in Genesis 1:26 cannot be the Trinity (in its original use) because the author and his audience knew nothing of the Trinity nor is this mentioned by any of the New Testament authors.  Nonetheless, in light of the whole counsel of God it serves as a good illustration even though it is not straight from the text and therefore would not be neither authoritative nor convincing to an informed non-Trinitarian.[4]

 

If this is done within preaching, the audience must be made aware of this fact or they will either see your preaching as non-biblical, as it places your imagination over the text, or identify you as someone of great mystical power who is able to see what nobody else (including any of the biblical authors) can see.  The early Church had a name for this, Gnosticism; which was a great heresy.  We, however, can only reinterpret texts or add additional meaning if another biblical author does so.  For an example compare Genesis 19:1-29 and Ezekiel 16:49-50.

 

Q5. What does it teach about man?  Since the Bible has been given to man by God we can find within its pages man’s origin, man’s destiny and what God requires of man.

 

Q6. What are the implications?  We are called to be doers of the Word and not just hearers and therefore, in light of your findings, what are the implications or practical applications in your personal life, family, work or Church?  What might help here is what preachers in the Black Preaching tradition call “experiential exegesis.”  The process in which we find out the meaning of the text is called exegesis.  However, if we place ourselves in the text and look through the eyes of the characters and record how they might feel, or if we take a concrete situation like a person suffering from terminal cancer or a Church suffering from the loss of a key leader, how would they experience the text and how can the Good News of text address their situation.  This is “experiential exegesis” and is a useful process in allowing God to speak from the text.

 

[One paradigm that you might find helpful is the one found in 2 Timothy 3:16 – seeing what truth the passage might “teach,”  or how it might “rebuke,” “correct,” and/or “train in righteousness.”  It would also be helpful here to pray through the text.  The reason this is not included in my exsample is because this was added at a later date.]

 

Here is an example:

 

Q.1 What does it say?  the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  1 John 1:7c NKJV

It says that sin can be washed away by Jesus who is God’s Son.

 

Q2. What does it mean?  Well, it appears to mean that the Christian can be free of all sin, and so I have heard it preached, but when we begin to look at the immediate context we find that in the next verse it says “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.  So I begin to look at the general context and I read everything before or after it that seems to relate.  Here is an outline I got online.[5]

  1. Introduction: The Reality of the Incarnation (1:1-4)
  2. The Christian Life as Fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:5;2:28)
    1. Ethical Tests of Fellowship (1:5;2:11)
      1. Moral likeness (1:5-7)
      2. Confession of sin (1:8;2:2)
      3. Obedience (2:3-6)
      4. Love for fellow believers (2:7-11)
    2. Two Digressions (2:12-17)
    3. Christological Test of Fellowship (2:18-28)
      1. Contrast: apostates versus believers (2:18-21)
      2. Person of Christ: the crux of the test (2:22-23)
      3. Persistent belief: key to continuing fellowship (2:24-28)
  1. Christological Tests of Sonship (4:1-6)
  1. The Christian Life as an Integration of the Ethical and the Christological (4:7;5:12)
    • . The Ethical Test: Love (4:7;5:5)
      1. The source of love (4:7-16)
      2. The fruit of love (4:17-19)
      3. The relationship of love for God and love for one’s fellow Christian (4:20;5:1)
      4. Obedience: the evidence of love for God’s children (5:2-5)
  1. The Christological Test (5:6-12)
  1. Conclusion: Great Christian Certainties (5:13-21)

 

From this I notice that everything seems to relate to the topic.  Gladly this is not always the case (for example, if you were looking at creation you would only need to look at Genesis 1-3), so I read the book and I see that it is written so that people might test their faith and be sure that it is genuine – this seems to concur with the introduction in my study bible.  I can therefore conclude that Christ frees us from the penalty of sin but the power of sin will not be fully broken until we die or He returns.[6]

 

Further Study:  I identify the topics within my text.  This relates to sin, salvation, the Gospel, the cross and sanctification.  I then read the other passages in my topical Bible and confirm my findings through a systematic theology, sermons from reputable preachers and my commentaries.

 

Q3. What might be the objections?

  1. As a Free Methodist you may have been taught doctrines like sinlessness, entire sanctification and Christian perfection. So, how do you reconcile them here?

 

  • Biblically speaking, we must wed together the Christian perfection teaching with the fallenness of man. This means we arrive at a position that shows Christ has purchased entire sanctification and we must strive for Christian perfection, but in a fallen world, and wrestling with a fallen nature, this will not be a reality.

 

  1. Does this kind of teaching not produce legalism?

 

  • In some groups guilt and condemnation are the order of the day but the Gospel is based upon a new heart and a new Spirit in a new community saturated with God’s grace. Gospel holiness, therefore, moves from “have to” to “want to.”

 

  1. How can Christ be a real man with real blood if it has the power to do this?

 

  • Christ was like us in every way, yet without sin. His blood was human but was taken by God as the payment for our sin and the absorption of His wrath.

 

*Of course we could look at countless questions here, like how can someone know if they’re cleansed from all sin, is it not proud to be assured etc, but these are just examples.

 

Q4. What does it teach about God? It teaches that God has the power to forgive all sins.

 

Q5. What does it teach about man?  Well, since the verse is followed by a verse that says iif we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”, it shows us that man has a problem with sin and that the blood of Jesus is the answer.  This problem not only separates us from God but from one another so the text is preceded by a verse that says “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  This shows that Christ’s sacrifice helps overcome not only the sins we have committed, or the sins that we are capable of, but also the sins that have been committed against us.  In short, man is riddled with sin and the potentiality of sin, which ruptures His relationship with God, with others and, if we read it in light of the whole Bible, with creation and with ourselves (Genesis 3).

 

Q6. What are the implications?  There are many so I will just give a few:

  1. Man is sinful and prone to sinfulness and, therefore, we must be wise when dealing with others and with ourselves. Do not be fooled into thinking that you are not capable of great evil; ALWAYS put safeguards in place.

 

  1. Since Christ dealt with “all sin,” which includes the sins that have been committed against you, this means that you can move on from bad experiences and not let them dictate who you are or how you feel. The universality of sin helps show that, in some ways, you have to bear some responsibility too.  I was always told that, when conducting marriage counselling, to remember that regardless of the issue and whilst it may be disproportionate in its effect, both parties contribute to a breakdown in marriage even if one person is guiltier than another.

 

  1. As an agent for Christ I am compelled to raise my concerns against injustice within the workplace. I know that this might require me to be covert and blow the whistle on illegal and immoral practices, but if Christ cleanses from sin am I not to do my part in eradicating it in my life, family, workplace and world?

 

Conclusion

While so much more could be said, these 6 questions should be able to help guide your sermon preparation, your home groups or your personal devotions.  I have found they have been able to transform my life and I pray that they would do the same for you.[7]

 

[postscript] I would like to add that one resource I have found helpful is www.freebiblecommentary.org – it’s a little dated but it contains PDF, audio and 30 minute video commentaries through much of the bible and has been personally invaluable for me.

 

[1] Romans 10:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:16 (most people were illiterate so Paul’s charge to Timothy and this verse come before a passage on preaching 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

[2] Prophesied in 1947.

[3] Here are 20 of the best known apologists http://crossexamined.org/top-20-apologists/

[4] Therefore, if you are speaking to an atheist or non-Trinitarian who has been trained in reading the bible look at other texts but use this as an illustration or they could easily pick your argument apart.

[5] http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-john/

[6] The text also deals with Christ’s Sonship but I do not have the time to deal with this.

[7] For sermon preparation I would add illustrations or examples to each of these questions.

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Read the Bible 101 [from a reflective essay]

1

[free video, audio and pdf commentaries by my favourite evangelical commentator, Dr Bob Utley]

Introduction

Having both been a Christian for a number of years and having ministered in various capacities, I have come to hold the scriptures as the highest authority for the life and witness for both the believer and the church.  Nonetheless, one of the great concerns I have held over the years is the way in which scripture is to be interpreted and therefore after completing the module 406.3.4, “Using the Bible in Theological Reflection,” I began to reflect upon a hermeneutical model which presents an easy way to understand and interpret the bible.

 

1. Theologically – [it means “study of God” and is used to mean in a systematic way]

Within the Wesleyan Reform Union, the denomination in which I am a minister, one of the articles in the statement of faith reads:

“That the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, as originally given, are of divine inspiration and infallible, supreme in authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”[1]

Therefore, I would teach firstly that the initial aim of biblical interpretation would be to go back to the original meaning of the original author to his original audience.  This means that the literary and historical context and the composition for particular types of literature must be treated in a particular type of way (no-one would read a poem and an encyclopaedia in the same way would they?) and the content of a passage must be understood before it can be interpreted and/or applied.  This means that passages that have been plucked out randomly are not of “divine inspiration” because they are not “as originally given.  Fee and Stuart write:

The first task of the interpreter is…the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the originally intended meaning.”[2]

Secondly, I would add that no text of itself is inspired.  No!  It is the whole of scripture that is inspired and therefore the reader must not only look at the references which bolster his particular view but those that detract from it.  The reason for this is that many biblical truths within scripture are held in dialectical tension.  So the same bible that teaches that salvation is based on grace is the same bible that teaches the importance of works.[3]  Moreover, the same bible that teaches God’s sovereignty in salvation is the same bible that teaches of man’s responsibility.[4]  If these great truths are held in biblical tension it would not only bring balance to the Christian life but it would go some way towards providing a comprehensive and holistic understanding of biblical theology.

 

2. Christologically – [it means “study of Christ” and is used to mean in reverence of and in light of the Saviour]

My next stage would be to read the bible Christologically.  Hence, I would deem the bible as merely a literary work and spiritually closed unless one has a personal saving faith in Christ.[5]  This does not mean that we must be arrogant and see that nothing can be gleaned by the non-Christian’s study of scripture nor that non-Christian commentaries may not contain some insightful truth.  What I am saying is that the scripture is of no salvific or revelatory value unless a man has yielded his life to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through a personal relationship.  Without this study is of little or no value and may even be doctrinally detrimental.[6]

Secondly I would teach that the birth, the life, the message, the death, the burial, the resurrection, the mission and return of Jesus (sometimes known as “the Christ event”) is fundamentally the essence of all Scripture.[7]  Therefore, the words of Christ and the teaching of the New Testament church fulfills the Old Testament.  This does not in any way mean that we can read full-blown New Testament doctrine into the Old Testament, unless done so by the New Testament authors themselves, but neither does it mean that the Hebrew Scriptures are of a lesser value or that they should be discarded or seen as substandard.  It means that God’s revelation should be seen as a multi-layered lens made up of the written and the incarnate word which must always be held together.[8]

 

3. Pneumatologically – [it means “study of the Spirit” and is used to mean in total reliance upon the power of the Spirit]

Finally, the Bible must be understood pneumatologically for it is a closed book unless illuminated by the Holy Spirit.  It is for this reason why preaching and reading should always be done in an attitude of prayerful humility.  The Spirit is able to quicken our minds and hearts, and enables us to understand, communicate and respond to Scripture.  By God’s grace He even allows us to be illuminated by scripture that has been taken completely out of context and has been misapplied.  There is no doubt that God does this not because of our faulty interpretive skills but in spite of them.  Nonetheless here I would advise caution and say to those who are moving from revelation (objectively revealed in the text) to speculation (subjective feelings about the text) that they must be completely honest with themselves and their listeners or they move into the realms of false teaching and heresy.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.

Let me give an example.  I was at a church and they shared the text Luke 6:38:

38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Then the congregation were exhorted to give and as they gave they were encouraged to allow the Holy Spirit to show them individually if this text meant healing or financial breakthrough for them.  Whilst I believe in the Holy Spirit and believe that His power is needed to illuminate the Scripture, I also knew that this was not a promise about healing or monetary breakthrough.  In fact the passage was in a context on forgiveness (see picture above) and was preceded by a passage on loving your enemies (Luke 6:27-36) and proceeded by two passages on false discipleship (Luke 6:43-45 and 6:46-49).  Now whilst God may have “spoken” to those and brought healing and monetary breakthrough, the preacher himself mishandled Scripture and used an imperative to lean upon the Spirit as an excuse to mask his scriptural laziness or his blatant deceit.

 

Conclusion

It is because of him and men like him that I hope to spend more time on this model so that in my preaching and teaching that believers are able to interpret and apply the bible well.  That they may be able to say, in the words of St Augustine:

“Let us therefore yield ourselves and bow to the authority of Holy Scripture, which can neither err nor deceive.”[9]

Bibliography

Fee G D & Stuart D, 2005 How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth: Zondervan, Grand Rapids

Hodgkin A M, 1969, Christ in All Scriptures: A Pickering Classic, Basingstoke

Wilson M R, 2005 Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids

 

References

[2] Fee and Stuart, 2005, p. 23

[3] Ephesians 2:8-10

[4] Compare John 3:16 and John 6:37-40

[5] John 10:25-27

[6] 2 Timothy 4:3-4

[7] Wilson, 2005, p.29

[8] Matthew 22:45, Luke 24:25-27, 24:44-48 , John 1:1, 8:56

[9] Water, 2000, p. 117 quoting St Augustine

Have we Neglected an Important Aspect of our Protestant Heritage?

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechisms through out Christian history have been regarded as an important part of the discipleship of both children and adults. Have we as ‘Evangelicals’ neglected this to the demise of discipleship. Do we even have a an understanding of what discipleship is? It’s interesting to think that the children of a couple hundred years ago were more theologically literate than most of us ‘evangelicals’ today. I’m not claiming that theological literacy is discipleship, however if we long to know and love God then surely learning about His character our responsibility to honour and worship Him is a useful tool in ones spiritual formation.

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

I guess as good ‘Evangelicals’ many of us were taught bible verses as children. Indeed this also is an important practice that perhaps today has been sidelined.  I remember many many verses that I was taught around the breakfast table, with my dad banging on the table to keep a rhythm to make it easier for us to learn.  I guess at the time I wasn’t the most thankful for him doing this… However now I am incredibly grateful that I am able to recall various verses that i learned all those years ago, particularly helpful in pastoral ministry.

Maybe its about time that we begin to start memorising scripture again. Perhaps we should be thinking about catechising each other…

The good news is that Tim Keller and the guys at the Gospel Coalition have developed a fantastic catechism for both children and adults. Its called the‘New City Catechism’ There is an iPad app, and the material can be used online (sadly no Android app yet) or downloaded as a pdf.

The New City Catechism is based on the Geneva, Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms and consists of 52 questions, one for each week of the year. The catechisms of the reformations times were much larger but the New City Catechism has been developed especially for the busy family today. For each question there is a prayer, a exposition of the Q and A and a short video reflection.

So have we neglected an important aspect of our Protestant heritage?