Over at the Pyromaniacs blog, there is a great post about biblical preaching v. “fortune-cookie” preaching (post is titled Whole Counsel, or Full of Holes Counsel, from June 5). There seems to be a trend in the evangelical community toward moralistic, human-focused preaching style. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s not. People flock to this style perhaps because it is more entertaining, keeps people’s attention, speaks to relevant events in the listeners’ lives, and preaches relatively easy truths. However, this seems to speak more to the listeners’ desire to hear “milk” and not the challenging “meat” that should exemplify solid biblical teaching – and it doesn’t progress listeners from milk to solid food.
I’m not a pastor, and I’ve never been to seminary, but I know that we are commanded in Hebrews to progress from spiritual immaturity (milk) to maturity (solid food). We are to hone our “powers of discernment” through practicing distinguishing between good and evil, not just accepting whatever we hear from the pulpit just because the preacher uses Bible verses:
By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14
Further, we are commended to be like the noble Bereans, who eagerly received the word preached to them, but “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17).
In Acts 20, Paul charges the Ephesian overseers to follow his example in proclaiming the “whole counsel of God.” I don’t think that preaching the “whole counsel” means taking one verse and prooftexting to fit the pastor’s agenda. Dan Phillips (the author of the Pyro post) warns:
Here’s a warning-sign: beware when someone says something catchy, cute, and memorable, and then goes on to develop that idea, build on that metaphor or paradigm, perhaps with a couple of fleeting Biblical allusions, rather than building on a carefully-laid (and demonstrated) Biblical foundation…For example, many who stress a “relationship” with God define and develop that relationship by modern standards rather than by the whole Biblical picture.
The whole Bible is the Word of God, sufficient and profitable for teaching, correcting, reproving, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3), building men of God to competence and spiritual maturity – with solid food. Preaching spiritual milk is like getting the Reader’s Digest version of the Word of God. Phillips, on another website writes:
You can insist that you believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and that your positions are Biblical, until your blue head caves in — but if you don’t specifically and continually ground every major point and application in the Word, you’re just preaching yourself. People will walk away quoting you, not the Word. That means they’re leaning on you, trusting you, depending on you and your insights. You’ve become their priest, their Pope, their magisterium.
Though I fail often, may I be like the faithful Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily to see if what I hear and read is true. Elizabeth and I have been blessed with solid food at New Covenant, but I think I can speak for Ken and Joe by saying that they would urge us to check everything they say against the Scriptures to see if it is true. Being a messenger of the Lord through preaching is not an easy calling, with pastors accountable for the spiritual lives of their flocks. Having their “sheep” discerning everything they say in light of the Word of God is a way to help the shepherds continue to be true servants of the Lord.