Thursday, July 19, 2007

Preaching Mistake 5

This one should stir up a little controversy.

A common mistake that preachers make is saying, "Thus saith the Lord."

We preachers like to speak with authority. We think of ourselves as proclaiming God's truth. And we have the idea that our reading of the Bible is its "true" meaning.

But this view ignores a few inconvenient facts.

  • It is not possible to avoid interpretation when reading the Bible. One does not have to subscribe to post-modern philosophy to realize that any text is open to multiple interpretations. What did Jesus mean when he said, "You must be born again" (John 3:7)? Many preachers would react to that question with confusion. To them the meaning is obvious. The process of interpretation is completely transparent. They are not aware of it. But even the most objective statements of the Bible require a degree of interpretation.
  • If there are multiple interpretations, it is dishonest to offer my interpretation as the only possible interpretation. If I know that other Bible scholars (assuming that I am one) have differing interpretations, I cannot say, "Thus saith the Lord" with any integrity. Now, I'm not arguing for a confusing delineation of every conceivable interpretation. That is to confuse the sermon with a lecture. (See mistake number four.) But it is necessary to maintain a certain humility when explaining "what the Bible means."
  • If a preacher is not aware of the process of interpretation, then that person is not qualified to preach a true sermon. An untrained person can speak with great power about what God has done and is doing in his or her life. Such a person may even become an expert in the process of Christian spiritual formation. But that should never be confused with being an expert theologian or Bible scholar. This type of person should follow the example of the formerly blind man in John 9:25, "I don't understand all the fine points of theology. I don't have the Torah committed to memory. I cannot explain exactly what is and what is not permitted on the Sabbath. The oral law is confusing to me. But one thing I'm sure of: yesterday I was blind and today I can see" (my paraphrase).
  • There is no "method" of preaching that is free of personal opinion. Many have the idea that expository preaching is completely objective. (I have addressed this here at some length.) But an expository sermon is filled with subjective interpretation. What is worse, it claims to be the "unvarnished Word of God."

Of course, the first step is to properly understand what the Bible has to say. Rick Warren is not the only preacher who twists the meaning of the Bible while claiming to speak with divine authority. He is only the most visible. (Why haven't more Christian leaders spoken out against his misuse of the Bible? My guess is because he is "successful.")

But even after we've done our best exegesis, we preachers must be honest and humble enough to admit that our sermons are not the Word of God.

Now that I've gored just about everyone's ox, let me know what you think.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


daniel the smith said...

This is really good stuff. It's hard to believe that it's controversial...

M. Pease said...

Good one Mr Smith. You managed that with a straight face ...oh, ...yeah,

daniel the smith said...


I know it is controversial. It just seems so... obvious... that it's hard for me to see why.

(On the other hand, it took me many years of hearing this error to realize it was an error, so...)