Response to Responses

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” (Acts 17:11).

I preached two controversial sermons in March: “Ready When Sex Destroys” and “The Bible and Same-Sex Attractions.” Responses have been mixed.  Here are paraphrases of six responses:

  1. “Why did you preach on these divisive topics during Lent?”
  2. “It’s about time you preached on these subjects. It’s something we needed to hear.”
  3. “I knew what you were going to say, so I stayed home.”
  4. “Whatever.”
  5. “The Bible teaches lots of things we don’t believe anymore.”
  6.  “I think you’re wrong. The Bible can be interpreted in many different ways.”

With the exception of #1, I’ve heard responses like this to sermons on a variety of subjects over the years. That means someone was paying attention.   Let me respond to these responses.

Why did you preach on these divisive topics during Lent?” We are following the Bible Studies for Life curriculum, and these topics were next on the schedule. We had three choices: (1) skip them because they were controversial, (2) rearrange the schedule (is there ever a good time to address divisive issues?) and (3) stick with the schedule and take the heat.  We decided to go with the warm option.

It’s about time you preached on these subjects. It’s something we needed to hear?” Thank you.

I knew what you were going to say, so I stayed home.”  No comment.

“Whatever.”  No comment.

The Bible teaches lots of things we don’t believe anymore.” Let’s be careful with this. We dare not pick and choose from the Bible like a dinner buffet: “I’ll take a little of this, a little of that, but I’ll skip this stuff.”  And I’d like to hear some specifics. Are these things “we don’t believe anymore” clearly taught in the Bible or are they interpretations taught by some church or denomination? Are these things taught in the Bible, or are they simply described? For example, the Bible describes slavery as a reality in the ancient world but nowhere tells people to go out and have slaves. Also, the Bible acknowledges and describes conditions for divorce, but nowhere says divorce is a wonderful thing and anyone with desires to divorce ought to try it.

Yes, there are things taught in the Bible that no longer apply today, but we must all be careful lest we use this reality as a pretense for dismissing uncomfortable truths.  There are clear principles for determining what applies to today and what does not. To ignore these principles may just be an excuse to do what we feel like doing. We all must examine our hearts.

I think you’re wrong. The Bible can be interpreted in many different ways.”  Yes, I could be wrong, and true, people interpret parts of the Bible in different ways. Does this imply that no interpretation is correct or that all interpretations are equally valid?  Does this imply that any text in the Bible can mean whatever the reader wants it to mean?  Of course not.

The proper response to questionable preachers and multiple interpretations is modeled for us by the noble Bereans; they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” These Bereans demonstrated a hunger for truth.  They knew God was truth, and they knew that God’s Spirit reveals his truth in Scripture.  They knew that the Scriptures had meaning and that they could discover that meaning.  Consequently, when they heard the Apostle Paul preach, and wondered if his interpretation of Scripture was correct, they examined the Scriptures; they studied hard to see if Paul’s message was the Scripture’s message, and therefore God’s message.  They didn’t let the possibility of multiple interpretations stop them from looking for the truth of Scripture.

Preachers never get everything right.  But when people disagree with a sermon and respond, “The Bible can be interpreted in many different ways” and when they offer no alternative interpretation of the text, and when they make no effort to actually read, study, and interpret the text, this response sounds like a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth.  It sounds like a rationalization. We all must examine our hearts.

How do we find God’s truth? Everyone has an opinion. The internet swamps us with masses of unfiltered information, data, and ideas.  How do we find truth? Many people today have quit trying (“Whatever”); they’ve decided to just go with their heart. That’s understandable. But the Lord has given two resources: the Scripture and his Spirit, and these two are always in harmony. The Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and the Spirit opens our minds to understand the Scriptures.  Let’s imitate those noble-minded Bereans and prayerfully search the Scriptures. It’s our only hope to find truth, and it’s the only way to keep those rascally preachers honest.

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