Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Putting the Cookies on the Lower Shelf

Sometimes it is easy to make things more difficult than they need to be. This can be particularly true in theology. We can take the simple statements of Scripture and make them unnecessarily complicated. The Bible was written by and for ordinary people. In fact, one of my most basic principles of interpretation is to read it like a Galilean fisherman. That is, to ask, What would it mean to the ordinary person who read it? But there are difficulties involved in Biblical teaching. We must understand that God as God is beyond human comprehension (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:8,9; 1 Corinthians 3:18). Also, many of the Bible's teachings have become foreign or objectionable to our present culture's way of thinking (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17). None of this is really helped by making it more technical than it needs to be. Now for these reasons there will be a certain number of specialized terms that are helpful in explaining Biblical teaching. But these should be explained to people so they understand them. We need to be very careful of watering down God's truth so it makes sense to us. But we do need to make it clear.

A teacher is required to communicate all of God's truth to his hearers (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Matthew 28:18-20). But there is a tendency to limit ourselves to what is regarded as practical. This ends up emphasizing our works rather than God's grace. Now these may be rigid, legalistic works or kind, loving works but they are still works. Works have a place in the Christian life (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; John 14:21). But they need to be seen within the context of God's grace and love for us (Romans 5:1,2; 8:15; 1 John 4:9,10). Who God is and what He has done fall into the area normally classified as doctrine. But this is important in order that Christianity may maintain its real identity and not degenerate into simplistic moralism. Christianity is not about a bigger, better Law, but the fact that God intervened in history to destroy sin and death (Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13-15; Ephesians 2:8,9). Now when we deal with doctrine, there are a number of disputes that have arisen over more minor issues. In my opinion, many of these have been blown out of proportion and need to be put in perspective. But whatever their importance, they should be taught clearly. They should not be made the province of scholars, but taught to all believers. I do not in any way want to minimize the contribution of the great teachers and scholars of God's Word, whether past or present. But the calling of a teacher is to pass on what he knows, not to hoard it. There is not one truth for the layman and another for the scholar. The total truth of God should be taught to all.

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