Relevance with accuracy

There’s a real danger when evangelical leaders overly insulate from the culture they desire to reach. They begin to speak only to themselves in a kind of club vocabulary made up of in-house clichés. Some examples include phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “The biblical approach….” In the wider culture, such phrases tend to be ineffective and counterproductive to our desire to encourage people to hear from God.

Yet there is also a danger in going too far in adjusting language for culture. 

Paraphrases of the Bible like “The Message” offer quite a few examples of overreaching and inadequate paraphrasing in an effort to be colloquial with Scripture (see – Matthew 3:7; 5:11-12; 6:20; Ephesians 2:2; etc…). I heard of a church that promoted God’s kingdom as God’s party to get people to “sign on” for God. This is how we don’t want to adjust our language. We can exercise wisdom in this area by simply asking how the audience might hear you when you use certain words. Do you want them to think of their parties when they think of God’s kingdom?

Don’t misunderstand. Relevance is important and many bible teachers fail to see ways that it shaped the use of words in the New Testament. I am not advocating the idea that we should only use words from the Bible when teaching and sharing truth. Those who say, “Stick with the terms used in Scripture!” demonstrate a misunderstanding of biblical words.

The great New Testament words of salvation (redemption, propitiation, sanctification, justification, reconciliation, etc…) came from the world of that time and had prior meanings and associations ranging from the market place; to the temple; to the courtroom and family room, etc… Perhaps there was risk of misunderstanding when including such common terms in the New Testament. Or, the already common terms were tools to covey the amazing truths of what God has done for us through Christ our Savior.

Let’s not acquiesce to trendy terms if their popular meanings could lead people into misunderstandings of God’s revealed word. Yet we must be willing also to invest in some words richer and fuller meanings based in a God-centered worldview.

Relevance with accuracy should be our goal

When I think about this matter, I prefer what the late OT scholar Dr. John Bright wrote: 

“We do not worship a book. On the contrary, the sole legitimate object of worship, and the supreme authority to whom the Christian submits himself, is God — the God who, according to the Scripture, worked his redemptive purpose in Israel and, in the fullness of time, revealed himself in Jesus Christ.” 

“The Christian’s God is the Creator and Lord of all things, and is the Lord also of Scripture.  He existed before there was a Bible, and quite independently of it. He performed his work of creation when no man was there to record it. He gave his covenant law at Sinai, and that law had authority in Israel before the Pentateuch was written. He did his saving work in Jesus Christ, who came, did mighty works, died, and rose again, and this would be just as true had the Gospels never been penned.”

“The Bible, therefore, derives its authority from God; it does not have authority of itself, but rather by virtue of the God to whom it witnesses and who speaks in its pages.  The God of the Bible is the Christians’ supreme authority in all senses of the word.”

“True. Yet there is a practical sense in which this comes to much the same thing. What, after all, would the Christian know of his God, of Christ, and of the nature of the Christian faith apart from the Bible? Suppose for a moment the Bible had never been written or had been lost to us. What would we know of the history and faith of Israel? What would we know of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and the significance of his saving work as the early church understood it? The answer is: precious little” (p. 31, The Authority of the Old Testament, 1975).

Steve Cornell

See: Is the Bible from God?  

For discussion – Ignoring the North Star

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Bible, Bible from God, Bibliology, Church Leadership, Emergent Church, Emerging Leaders, Expository Preaching, Interpretation of bible, Leadership, Life of a pastor, Origin of Bible, Pastors, Preaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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