OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #329 Danger in Bible Study
We’re mainly well. Jan had the flu last week, but recovered in time to attend a women’s retreat on the weekend. Our weather has been very nice so we can enjoy exercising outdoors again. I got to paddle on Pelican Lake and discovered that there are pelicans there. Mark has moved out of dorm and to some friends for the summer. And, we’re making plans to visit Ian in Prince George in July.
I had the opportunity to speak at First Baptist Church in Brandon last week and loved preaching in a church again. I adapted part of the message for OnFire. Taking my passage from the pastor’s sermon series, I spoke from Mark 12:28-34. To set things up, religious leaders took turns trying to trap Jesus in tricky theological issues so they could remove him from public ministry.
There is a fundamental pride issue at the heart of their approach to trap Jesus that exposes an issue for serious students of the Bible. I know this because I have seen it at Bible college, I’ve seen it in churches and communities I have served, and I have fallen into it at times.
There is a danger for students of the Bible to be puffed up with knowledge and to think that we have a corner on the truth, that we have things figured out, that we are now qualified to sit in a place of judgment, to be self-appointed arbiters and judges of “proper theology.”
There are some signs that we are on this dangerous ground.
- If we listen to pastors, Sunday school teachers, or small group leaders - not to hear how God might give us insight into our own lives – but to pick apart their theology
- If our sermon or class notes are details of the their bad theology
- If our first inclination after a sermon or Bible class is to fire off an email
- If we see our task is to correct or expose those around us for their improper or incorrect theology
I don’t want to minimize what is at stake. It is true that biblical teaching is serious business. James 3:1 reminds us that God will hold Bible teachers to a higher level of accountability because of the responsibility to teach. As Christians, we need to be on guard so that wrong theology is not spread throughout the ranks. This is part of “testing the spirits.” (1 John 4:1).
But here is the point, and where we are at risk of falling off the rails. Theology always has to coupled with humility. Without humility, theology is a very dangerous pursuit and it turns into the hammer by which we smite those who differ from our pet theological position.
Here are four reasons why we need to need humility as we study the scriptures.
- We do not have a perfect intellect or understanding. What seems so “logical” to us may actually be flawed if we make a wrong deduction or jump to a false conclusion. To illustrate things, how many arguments at home, work, or church have been caused because we misunderstood something?
- We don’t have all the truth – just all the truth we need. When it comes to the Bible, we have all that we need to understand who God is, His plan for salvation, who Jesus is, the Holy Spirit, our salvation, how to live holy and upright lives, our hope for the future, and a lot more. But we don’t have it all. There are some missing pieces, and that’s OK – it means we have to rely on God for the rest. We have all the truth we need, but we must remember we don’t have all the truth.
- The other person may actually know something. It didn’t take long for me to learn as a pastor that there were people in the congregation who knew the Bible better than I did, who had studied various parts in more detail than I had. And, thankfully, a good many of these people had developed enough wisdom to guide or correct me gently. I learned from their knowledge and approach.
- Scripture commands humility – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It is hard to value others when our attitude is that we are theologically superior. We can be right without being arrogant.
It intrigues and disturbs me to look back on my early years in ministry prep. I somehow thought my little bit of learning made me an expert qualified to school pastors and Bible profs. It is such an easy thing to slip into, so you won’t hear judgment from me. Just a reminder that our study is supposed to transform us so that we become more like the image of Christ, not less.
I hope this helps. Be on fire.
OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Married to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published May 5, 2015. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com