It is no simple thing to preach the Word of God. Powerful dark forces are arrayed to draw us away from our task. They sometimes succeed in doing so, even without our awareness of it.
I bring this up because this week I saw several FB references to “what [famous North American preacher] Rob Bell said in his book Love Wins” and it took me a while to track down who was Rob Bell and what it was he said. (I do live in a faraway land and I have other preachers to keep track of.)
I’m concerned about what Bell said and wrote, and particularly whether it seems if he is changing his message due to cultural pressure. Let’s explore that larger issue, which affects every single person who handles the Word, 100% of those who have some intent to teach the Bible, including you and me, dear reader. That is that we all confront a gravitational pull away from teaching the truth of Scripture. Every preacher can potentially erode the text every single day, and neglecting to take that into account is to risk failure before God.
Where you might commit error is a personal line of battle and depends in part on who is looking up to you in the pulpit. One great temptation is to condemn roundly the sins which “they” (you know, “outsiders” to the Christian faith) commit and to gloss over the sins that “ye” (the church of Christ) might be actually up to.
Two examples will suffice: first, I have listened to a number of sermons, heard talks, seen conferences on the issue of homosexuality and the church. I have heard that homosexual marriage will mean the breakdown of our society. That is a topic worth considering in light of the Bible.
But what is even more clear to me is that we the church are awash in sexual disobedience that is not a part of God’s intention, that is, within a healthy marriage: adultery, pre-marital sex, serial sex, predatory sex, violent or demeaning sex within marriage, prostitution, pornography, particularly digital pornography, and so forth, whether heterosexual or homosexual; all these are summed up in the Greek word porneia, rendered “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in 1 Thess 4:3b. (More than half of all evangelical Christian men view porn, and about half of all preachers – surely, pound for pound, this is a worse disaster for the church than legalized gay marriage!) This tide poses the single great danger to the church and society; yet I cannot remember the last time I heard a sermon on “Fornication: What it is, why it’s wrong before God” or “Boys: you had better not love ‘em and leave ‘em.” Why not? Is it because good church members are dipping into sexual sin and we don’t want to rock the boat? Is it because the children of solid church members are having sex and we blush to bring it up? Is it because it’s an issue for the family to discuss, not the church? (Paul would have been nonplussed by that notion). (NOTE: my pastor in Costa Rica, thank heaven, regularly speaks against the use of online porn; in fact, he stressed it just this weekend when he was preaching on “integrity”.)
A second example: I have heard any number of sermons that have to do with how workers should respect their bosses and obey them. (As I point out elsewhere, typically these messages were based on texts taken without due respect for their context, as when it is said, “Let’s look at Eph 6, ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…’) However, I cannot recall, having heard one decent, pointed biblical exposition of God’s directions to employers, despite the fact that “employer” passages well outnumber “employee” texts. Why this imbalance? Search your own heart for the reason, but I would begin by asking if the more powerful people in your flock happen to be businesspeople and employees, and the people with less clout are the workers. A preacher who scolds labor while giving management a free pass – or vice versa – cannot boast of being a preacher of the Word.
Ah, you say in return, but you seen, I am a biblical preacher! I stand by God’s infallible Word! I believe in the dictum, “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). And I do not doubt that you believe that, or think you believe it. But preaching the Word is not just using a Bible text in your sermon; one has to preach the Word as it is in its fullness, what in another age was called “the whole counsel of God.”
Preaching some of the Word or preaching from the Word is as potentially dangerous to our fellows and offensive to God as not preaching the Word at all.
“Do you really ‘preach the Word’?” by Gary Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica
See an article on Rob Bell here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/rob-bell-universalism.html?start=1