Church, General, History, Preaching

The Sad State of Biblical Literacy

I was once told by a fellow pastor, “I don’t teach deep stuff. I just preach Jesus.”

That sounds great on a surface level, doesn’t it? Let’s just preach Jesus because He is after all the Savior of mankind, right? If people believe Him, then they can sort everything else out eventually, right?


Jesus does not exist in a vacuum. The gospels occur within a massive supranarrative (many writers would say metanarrative but they would be using that word incorrectly). The Church is born and flourishes within a greater story, a symphonic movement of harmony, dissonance, leitmotif and crescendo. To dismiss the Scriptures as secondary to “preaching Jesus” is to do a poor job of preaching Jesus.

That is not to say that the Gospel is not, at its core, Jesus Himself. The apostle Paul wrote that in Corinth he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) But before we use this as a proof text for a sort of “nothing but Jesus” philosophy, let’s not forget that this same Paul plumbed the depths of Hebrew Scripture, Greek philosophy and Roman culture. This is the same guy who wrote things that Simon Peter said were, “hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Paul was not a simplistic preacher with a one note repertoire. He brought to bear some formidable knowledge of the Scriptures, and he was not afraid to teach it when necessary.

And here’s the thing. The Gospel is the culmination of the Hebrew Scriptures, and without them, it is not much of anything. While the Gospel of Luke certainly frames Jesus as the Messiah of all mankind and leans heavily on pagan culture, he cannot separate Jesus from the context in which He lived or the Scriptures which He fulfilled. Even Luke must place Jesus in context with the Hebrew Scriptures.

So a supposed Bible teacher who does not dive headfirst into the Hebrew Scriptures and saturate himself with the supranarrative will teach a shallow Jesus.

If you ask me for advice about pastoring, I will tell you that you must know the Bible. You must immerse yourself in it and have the intestinal fortitude and spiritual integrity to allow it to change you. The Revealed Scriptures must have your absolute, undying devotion. You must be willing to allow the Spirit of God to discipline, chasten, correct and encourage you. You must never have an opinion that cannot be altered by a deeper understanding of the Word of God.

You should bow to the ground before the authority of the Scriptures. They must be your schoolmaster and you must ever be their servant. You must be conformed by the written Word in order to be conformed to the image of the Living Word.

Acquire knowledge of history and language so you can understand the Scriptures. Read them in translation. Read them in the original languages. Read them silently and aloud. Teach them constantly and receive teaching from them. Heed the wisdom of those who have spent their lives immersed in them and reject those who handle them lightly.

The older I get the more I realize the foolishness of my youth – pursuing trends and methodologies under the mistaken belief that those things would “build” the church.  I have little patience for people who tell me they are too busy to “be deep.”

Get out of the ministry if you don’t have a passion for the beauty of the Scriptures. You are supposed to be ministering the Scriptures to people, not feel good sentiments and leadership strategies.

Preach Jesus. Yes! But preach Him from a place of deep, growing commitment to the Scriptures that reveal Him. Otherwise, you will preach a Jesus conformed to your image rather than being conformed to His.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.