Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Are We Going Deep Into the Truth or Drowning in Minutia?

The irony is that most people crying for "meat" are really crying for minutia. They want to learn the deeper truths about the times of the rapture rather than how to live the Christian life. True meat teaches people how to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they will live like Christ, love like Christ, and leave what Jesus left behind. But believers in church-focused ministries often think it is more important to teach about controversial subjects rather than transformational truths.
Ed Stetzer & David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), p. 80.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read this quote from Ed Stetzer and David Putman in Breaking the Missional Code. I am one of those who has a deep craving for the "meat" of the Scriptures. Not only do I personally have a strong desire to dig deep into the Word, but my preaching and teaching ministry has at its core a commitment to in-depth biblical exposition. So when I first read what Stetzer and Putman wrote, my mind immediately shifted into a defensive position, as I initially perceived them to be criticizing in-depth teaching and study of the Bible (which surprised me). But as I read the latter part of the excerpt above and thought more about what they said, I realized that to a great extent their observation is painfully true. Too many of those who are passionate about digging deep into the Word are interested primarily or even solely in increasing their knowledge, while many Bible expositors are more concerned with helping their listeners to become scholars of the Bible rather than practitioners of it. The value of in-depth Bible study and teaching is not that it builds up our biblical knowledge, but that it equips us to live a life that honors God and is pleasing to Him.

As believers we must be mindful of two extremes when it comes to Bible study:
  1. As Stetzer and Putman point out, we must resist the temptation of becoming bogged down in minutia. I believe it is important for us to try to understand the literary and historical context of the Bible, but we must keep in mind that our goal is not to become an expert on biblical times or even on the text itself. Instead, we should seek to understand the Bible's context so we can more fully understand what God is communicating to us about Himself, the redemptive work He is doing in and around us, and how we can live in a way that demonstrates His glory. While the Bible is timeless, the fact is that it was written to specific people in a certain language, time, and culture different from our own. Without some understanding of these differences and the historical and literary context, we may miss out on what God is actually communicating through the words of the Bible. However, a problem arises when we become more focused on facts, details, and context than on the message being communicated.
  2. We must be careful not to gloss over or even ignore those parts of the Bible that at first glance do not seem to have any relevance to our lives today. Everything that is in the Bible is there for a reason. Some parts are less practical than others, but every passage in the Bible is part of the message that God has revealed to us. To deliberately ignore anything in the Bible is to ignore God Himself. Obviously we will study some parts more frequently and in greater depth than others, but we must be careful not to neglect any part of Scripture.
It cannot be emphasized enough that no matter how deep one digs into Scripture, Bible study is ultimately worthless if it does not help us to grow to become more like Christ in what we think, say, and do. God is less interested in how much we know than He is in how we live and how we love Him and others. We must go deep into the Word to discover and understand what God is telling us and how this message affects our lives, but we must not allow knowledge and understanding of the text become ends unto themselves.