What We Need: Biblical Bluntness

truthEffective preaching is characterized by a biblical sort of bluntness.  Another way of saying it is that faithful preachers are willing to speak the truth – however hard hitting that truth might be. Such bracing bluntness marks out the preacher who makes his mark. Think of the greatest expositors down the centuries. Were these men not forthright rather than mealy-mouthed?

Bluntness, by the way, has nothing to do with temperament. It has scant reference to a man’s volume or his tone. There have been softly spoken men whose preaching could shatter rocks!

Neither is bluntness the same as rudeness. To be blunt is to be direct and outspoken. To be rude implies a certain disregard for a person. But the preacher proclaims God’s truth in a spirit of love.

Bluntness – The Bible’s Own Style

Bluntness should be seen as consistent with biblical proclamation. After all, the aim of preaching is to proclaim the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves are characterized by bluntness. If the Bible is anything, it is direct. Consider the following examples:

“Unless one is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

“Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mat 10:37)

“You cannot serve both God and money.” (Mat 6:24)

“I am astonished that you are…so quickly turning to a different gospel.” (Gal 1:

“Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” (Jam 1:21)

“Out of the same mouth come both praise and cursing. Brothers, this should not be!” (Jam 3:10)

“Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:18)

Direct, wouldn’t you say? The Bible – in contrast to much contemporary speech – does not um and ah. We do not find the words of the Prophets, Jesus or the Apostles to be littered with maybe’s or perhaps’. If God had spoken uncertainly, we would be obliged to speak with diffidence. But if God has spoken clearly, then so must we.

A Few Guidelines Concerning The Right Kind Of Bluntness

a) Love the people you are being blunt with

Truly love them. If they are lost, feel an ache that they are headed for hell and preach to them bluntly so that they will be snatched from the fire. If they are children in the family of God, love them enough to tell them hard truths when they need to hear it. Examine your motives. Pray for God’s love to fill your heart, even as his truth fills your mouth.

b) Stick tightly to the Scriptures in your bluntness

When the Scriptures speak bluntly on an issue, we should speak bluntly too. But too many preachers speak forcibly on hobby-horses that are either extra-biblical or non-central to the Bible’s message. Let’s be direct and passionate at the same points where the Bible is.

c) Steer clear of crudeness in your bluntness

There is a difference between being direct and crude. I think the Bible itself models this distinction, especially when it comes to addressing sexual sin, where the Bible speaks directly but never crudely (see Paul doing this masterfully in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

d) Show a range of emotions in your bluntness

As I said earlier, being blunt does not necessarily require that we always be raising our voice. Nor does it mean that we speak with a constant furrow on our brow! Direct and challenging preaching can sometimes be delivered with humor and a smile. At other times, the bluntness will be accompanied by the preacher’s tears and a whimpering voice. Still at other moments, we will be middle-of-the-road in our delivery: speaking the truth in a calm, straightforward manner. Bluntness wears all sorts of emotional clothing.

 Still Learning To Be Blunt

I must admit that I am quite shy by temperament. My tendency is to speak with caution, rather than just ‘say it as it is’. But as I open the Bible daily, I discover that God’s Word is forthright. Blunt even. May God teach me, then, to speak as plainly as He does.

 

 

Restoring Confidence In The Bible? Let’s Start With Confident Pastors, Seminary Professors and Church Leaders

chalkeSteve Chalke’s article Restoring Confidence In The Bible is ironically titled.  The aim of the paper may be laudable, but the paper reveals the very lack of confidence it seeks to resolve. If we are going to restore confidence in the Bible, we must start with restoring it in the hearts of church leaders! If the Doubters lead the Doubtful they will never arrive at Certainty.

Let me say for clarity: there are parts of Chalke’s paper I appreciate. I too believe that the Bible is “inspired by God”¹ and that “developing a consistent and honest methodology for interpreting the bible is a pivotal issue for the Church around the world.” I equally affirm that “the bible should be accessible to all” and that it is designed for “whole life formation”, not just intellectual stimulation.

Yet there are many parts of RSCITB – as well as Chalke’s abridged paper, Have We Misread The Bible? – that deeply concern me. Let me quote from some troubling sections, and then add my thoughts.

“We believe that it is misleading to think of the Bible as ‘a book’. Rather, it should be recognised as ‘a library’; a complex collection of historical documents, written, edited and compiled over the course of at least 1,500 years and representing various literary genres, worldviews, languages, cultures, agendas, perspectives and opinions. It must therefore be read, understood, analysed and acted upon in context.” (RCITB, p 5)

This seems like Chalke’s attempt to make a case for the Bible being understood as a dialogue. He sees the Bible as being made up of disparate voices, who sometimes complement and at other-times contradict one another. In responding to this, we should be first of all willing to recognise the Bible’s complexity. There has been a recent, encouraging upsurge in books written on Biblical Theology. The BT approach (also known as Redemptive Historical) seeks to understand theological themes within the limits of their own book before making connections with the rest of the Bible. While this approach is valuable, however, we should not insist that the diversity of the Bible takes precedence over its unity. The independent books are tied together – sinew like – within the Bible itself. Notice, for example, how biblical themes are re-capitulated in different books (eg. the Exodus from Egypt, the new exodus from Babylon, Jesus exodus in the Gospels). Observe too prophecies that span books of the Bible in terms of promise and fulfillment. And then, of course, there’s Jesus… who tends towards emphasizing the unity of the Old Testament. He often refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as a collective unit (eg. ‘The Law and the Prophets’ – Matthew 5:17) and when quoting OT texts only rarely mentions the individual author.

“As you enter this sacred library you discover that, like all libraries, it contains various,sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant and sometimes even contradictory voices.”(HWMTB, p3)

Liberal voices have claimed this sort of thing for decades. But is there any good reason to bow to this notion that the books of the Bible are ‘discordant’ with one another? Apparent contradictions are just that. They can normally be explained quite easily if we will: a) read both passages in context, b) understand the specific audience and occasion of each text, c) know something about the common writing standards of the period (eg. periphrastic citation, rounding up numbers, different approaches to chronology). Thoughtful Christians have found reasonable answers to even the most challenging alleged discrepancies. See Hard Sayings of the Bible, edited by Walter Kaiser.

“The idea that the whole thing was dictated, word-for-word, to its human authors, by God, without error or contradiction – that it’s ‘infallible’ or even ‘inerrant’ – in any popular understanding of these words – is, to say the least, extremely misleading.” (HWMTB, p 3)

I don’t know of one thinking Christian who believes that the whole Bible was given via a dictation method. Even a cursory reading of Scripture shows that different processes were used: historical investigation, visions, letter-writing, straight  dictation etc. Orthodox believers have understood that God superintended over all of these methods. It is also worth noting that historic Christianity has affirmed that, strictly speaking, divine inspiration pertains to the original autographs. Differences between some ancient copies, or modern translations, hardly proves errors in God’s Word originally given.

“We believe that, rather than ending with the finalisation of the canon, this dynamic conversation continues beyond it and involves all of those who give themselves to Christ’s on-going redemptive movement. As part of this, our task is to wrestle with the challenge of new and often complex contemporary ethical issues which confront us, but which never arose in the cultures of the biblical writers.” (RCITB, p 6)

This is confused and misleading. It fails to separate out biblical writings from our interpretation of them. To speak of a ‘finalised canon’ is to say that no new writings can be added to the Bible as we now have it. It prevents the addition of 4th John. However, a completed canon does not mean that our task of interpretation is complete. Nor does it deny that biblical principles need to be thoughtfully applied to new situations we face in our culture.

“We are committed to the view that, ultimately, Christianity is not about a book, but about a person – Jesus – who is the Word of God made flesh. We believe that Jesus is the only authentic, true and complete reflection of God.Therefore we are called to live with the example, character and teaching of Christ – the full revelation of God –as our guide and our primary lens for all biblical interpretation.” (RCITB, p 7)

This sort of thing sounds good initially but lacks accuracy when you think it through. Christianity is obviously about Christ, but how is Christ revealed to us today? Through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit illumines people’s hearts and minds. Incidentally, we are talking about the entirety of the Bible here; not just the Gospels – which seems to be Chalke’s focus . Despite the emphasis of the Red-Letter-Bible movement, there is no good reason to elevate the Gospels or the words of Jesus above, say, the writings of the Apostles. Jesus would not have approved of this! The Gospels-interpreting-everything-else-approach fails to grasp that Jesus himself retrospectively approved the OT and prospectively commissioned the NT (see John 16:13). While on the surface this paragraph seems to elevate Jesus, it undermines the Biblical revelation that He so highly regarded.

“We recognise that on various issues – for instance, slavery and wider human rights concerns – we may come to hold a developed or a different view than those contained in the canon of scripture. In doing so, however, it remains our responsibility to explore why the canon includes the range of voices we find there and what the Spirit of God is teaching us through their inclusion in the biblical text. It is through an acceptance and understanding of the humanness of our sacred text, rather than a denial of it that we encounter the divine.” (RCITB, p 7)

This is quite a staggering paragraph. It is common to hear people accusing the Bible of condoning slavery, but Scripture actually regulates, improves and ultimately undermines a practice that was universal throughout the ancient world. See the following video to learn more: Did God Sanction Slavery? by Paul Cogan. Further, it is not at all clear to me how the Bible fails to uphold wider human rights concerns? I cannot think of a book that better upholds human rights properly understood – than the bible.  Finally, it simply does not make sense to say that human authors are making erroneous statements on the one hand, and then to claim on the other hand that “we encounter the divine” through their human fallibility. Somebody explain!

“We recognise that our inclusion and the inclusion of others into the family of God‘s people is not dependent on them or us getting our reading of scripture all right. We are included not because of how right we are but because God graciously and mercifully accepts us, sometimes despite the positions we adopt.” (RCITB, p 9)

This kind of statement is highly misleading. It is correct to say that we are included in God’s family through God’s mercy, but we receive that mercy in the context of believing in God’s Word. Someone who “reads the Scriptures” in an unbelieving manner – who for example denies Jesus deity or rejects Christ’s atonement  for sinners – can hardly be called a recipient of God’s mercy. We are not eternally condemned because we misinterpret some parts of the Bible. But rejecting the core elements of the gospel will surely keep us out of the Kingdom.

I could go on raising issues, but I’ll stop here for now. Shall I finish this post with a more confident statement upon the authority of Scripture? It comes from my own Baptist tradition (the London 1689 Confession) and therefore is probably not something Chalke and company approve of! ² I believe its sentiments, and say heartily with Spurgeon: Defend the Bible? You may as well defend a lion!

Of the Holy Scriptures

1._____ The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.  ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20 )

 2._____Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:

OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomen, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations,Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation

All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.
( 2 Timothy 3:16)

3._____ The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings. ( Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2 )

4._____ The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. ( 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9 )

5._____We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. ( John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)

6._____The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Galatians 1:8,9; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40)

7._____All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. ( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)

8._____The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.
( Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16 )

9._____The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. ( 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)

10.____The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved. ( Matthew 22:29, 31, 32; Ephesians 2:20; Acts 28:23)

 

 

1. Having said this, I am not sure that Chalke and I would mean the same thing by inspiration, since he does not believe in an infallible or inerrant bible.

2.”Rather than placing our primary emphasis on immoveable statements of faith and defending doctrinal positions, we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the continuous task of honouring and grappling with scripture in community and with God.”(RSCITB, p8). But this misunderstands statements of faith and confessions, which are always viewed as subservient to the Word of God, and which could be ammended were God’s Word to demonstrate otherwise.