It is no simple thing to preach the Word of God. Powerful dark forces are arrayed to draw us away from our task. They regularly succeed in doing so.
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. And yes, 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 that 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 severe gravitational pull away from teaching the truth of Scripture. Every preacher feels a pull to cut corners every single day, and to fail to take that into account is to give ourselves over to 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 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. This tide poses the single great danger to the church and society and is best exemplified in the social problem of “absent fathers.” 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).
A second example: I have heard any number of sermons that have to do with how workers should respect their bosses and obey them. 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…’ And yes, it says ‘slaves,’ but that’s pretty much interchangeable with ‘employee,’ so just do what it says.” This is wrongly dividing the Word of truth, which makes a distinction between slaves and free, slave-owners and employers of free labor. But as I said, I’ve heard any number of sermons directed to the “slaves” of the congregation. I cannot recall, over decades of listening to sermons, having heard one decent, pointed biblical exposition of God’s directions to employers, despite the fact that “employer” passages well outnumber “employee” texts. Once or twice I have heard references to a verse such as Eph 6:9, “since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven” with the conclusion: well, employers are answerable to God, but you employees, why you’re answerable to God, your boss, the church and me! 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: 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 from Bible texts is not to preach the Word; 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. So yes, let’s examine Rob Bell, but let’s look at our own faces in the mirror of God’s Word as well.
“Do you really ‘preach the Word’?” Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA
See an article on Rob Bell here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/rob-bell-universalism.html?start=1