Teach the Doctrine of Scripture
The members of the congregation need to understand the value of studying the whole counsel of God over the course of their lives or they will not be interested in doing it. There are three things to bear in mind when trying to grow a church in this conviction.
First, it may be important to outline some of the basic Christian beliefs regarding the nature of the Bible. There are a cluster of related doctrines about Scripture that together make sense of the priority that Christians ascribe to it, including the doctrines of inspiration, perspicuity, inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority. All of these sound technical, which might put some people off, but their basic substance is not too difficult for anyone to grasp. (Inspiration means that the Bible is God’s word, and it was written as the Holy Spirit worked in, with, and through human authors. Perspicuity means that the Bible is clear in what it says. Inerrancy means that the Bible is without fault. Sufficiency means that while the Bible may not tell us everything we want to know about everything, it is sufficient for salvation and to guide holy and faithful living that is centered on Jesus. Authority means that the Bible is to be received as the word of God to us.)
Any preacher who has had formal theological training at a reputable mainstream seminary should be able to explain these beliefs to his congregation. Of course, this does not mean that he must do this by preaching doctrinal sermons about the nature of the Bible. Although we do agree that there can be some occasions for topical sermons, it might be that other forums are more appropriate for establishing some of these baseline assumptions. Perhaps the church could produce a leaflet outlining its convictions about the Bible and therefore about preaching. Also, this information might be posted on the church’s website. Or the pastors might clearly outline the church’s convictions and derivative practice at its regular welcome evenings for newcomers. There are a number of ways to communicate the driving beliefs about the Scriptures.
Teach a Love of the Bible
Second, it is important to move a congregation from having the right technical information about the Bible to loving the Bible. Few people get passionate about raw facts that are only held in their heads, not having a place in their hearts. And, interestingly, there is much in the Bible itself that highlights not just its inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and so on, but also its beauty, and the great joy of knowing God’s words and living by them. A classic example of this is Psalm 19:7–11, which says,
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
These are not the precise and logically connected words of the systematic theologian, but rather the passionate outpourings of the poet, and they reflect not just a set of correct beliefs about the Bible, but a deep and heartfelt affection for it.1
It is generally important for church members to have a healthy balance of head and heart, one reason being that it affects their openness to hearing the whole Bible preached. A congregation that is “all head” may be more interested in hearing a series of talks on the rational proofs for God than the Leviticus series. One that is “all heart” may just want to get lost in singing long sets of anthemic songs. But the Bible shows us that God’s people should have a passion for his word; the affections of the heart should be directed toward the goodness of the Bible. It is good for a church to foster this kind of love for the Bible through the ways in which the members speak about it to one another and by having the Bible prioritized in their corporate activities. The more the Bible is championed, the more it is valued.
The Bible shows us that God’s people should have a passion for his word; the affections of the heart should be directed toward the goodness of the Bible.
Being honest, it is a little sad to find preachers who have a correct but dry appreciation of the Scriptures. Admirably, these sorts of preachers often strive to protect the objective facts about, and within, the Bible, many of which have been under heavy assault in recent decades. But this defense of the truth need not come at the expense of a subjective appreciation of the word of God; both should go together. The reality is that congregations respond to a preacher’s passions as much as to his logic, and so being shameless and expressive about our love for the Bible is likely to be more infectious than simply being right.
Preach the Whole Counsel of God
Third, preachers can actually foster their people’s love for the Bible simply by preaching through it. It might be that there really is not a great deal of surface enthusiasm for the Leviticus series at first. But, God willing, as the congregation learns more about the different offerings required under the old covenant and the different ways in which Jesus fulfills them all, the people should start to grow in their interest in Leviticus. As they consider the problems of unintentional individual and corporate sin, and the sufficiency of Christ’s death for these, they should begin to develop an excitement about the ways Leviticus engages so much of the human predicament that is part of their own experience. And then, as they see that the old covenant priests were given specific instructions as to how they could mediate for the people, and that this work foreshadowed the final mediations of Jesus, they should come to love the way in which the opening chapters of Leviticus lie behind, fit right into, and thicken up their understanding of the ways the whole Bible tells the great story of Jesus in incredibly rich ways. Experiencing Leviticus preached should grow love not only of Leviticus, but of the Bible as a whole. Of course, the great merit in this approach of letting the text create love for the text is that it can always be happening, week by week. This means that regular, long-term members of the church, first-time visitors, and everyone in between will be learning, and having reinforced, the goodness and beauty of the Bible.
- See Peter Adam, Written for Us: Receiving God’s Words in the Bible (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity, 2008), 109–15.
This article is adapted from The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible by Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid.
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