“Any expounder of the words of God is liable to go off on a tangent if he or she does not remember this stern, undeviating standard of exposition, namely, that no individual experience is of the remotest value unless it is up to the standard of the Word of God. The Bible not only tests experience, it tests truth. The Bible tests all experience, all truth, all authority by our Lord Himself and our relationship to Him personally.” – Oswald Chambers
Understanding the Culture
In many ways we live in a soundbite culture today. People have grown accustomed to receiving information in 280 characters or less. We expect to find answers in very much the same way as we place a one-click order, simply push the right button and wait until it arrives! Quick and efficient.
There are positives with this; however, this technological turn has resulted in a number of cultural shifts that require our attention. The “social media age” has led to a type of reductionism in both the teaching and learning styles of young people today. Information is so readily available, on any subject imaginable, that personal in-depth research is a largely forgotten trade. Instead quick soundbite answers, that can fit into a status update, are often all people will read on a topic before they feel sufficiently informed to express themselves.
I have witnessed this phenomenon online many times. Opinions devoid of any factual or propositional content are packaged into “headlines” that seek to influence people via their emotions rather than by truth. Is it any wonder that in 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” to be its international word of the year. They defined it as an adjective, “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”1 The postmodern mindset argues for a relativistic conception of truth and falsely teaches that all ideas are equally valid, and no one person’s opinion should be elevated above the other.
Learning is Critical
This type of learning environment is a huge challenge to those in ministry. Do we simply acquiesce to the culture and shorten the sermons, focus on entertainment, making sure we do not offend anyone by challenging their ideas? Absolutely not! For leaders, the challenge is to put more focus on training congregations to recapture the discipline of learning. After all, learning is the business of a disciple. As disciples of Christ, we are to learn from Him; we are His students. Jesus makes this point in His famous invitation found in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Christ bids those who would follow Him to come and learn from Him. The content of our learning is biblical revelation. The truths of the Bible are simply too rich to be reduced to such a soundbite level without sacrificing substance.
These postmodern views of truth and the infantile approach to learning have, unfortunately, made inroads into the Church. Rather than sustained exposition of the Word of God, the Church has too often become accustomed to short “sermonettes,” self-focused, motivational messages and passionate speeches designed to appeal to the emotions. Thus, the measure of a good message is, “How did it make me feel?” Not whether the Word of God was properly explained and understood. Emotions have their proper place, but our emotions must be informed by a correct understanding of God, gained through his revealed truth, and from this, our spiritual life will be enriched as we worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
The Word Must Come First
It is imperative that we demonstrate to this generation that feelings are not a test for truth. As Spurgeon said, “There is nothing so deluding as feelings. Christians cannot live by feelings. What right have you to set up your feelings against the Word of Christ?”
As leaders we are to uphold the full authority of the Word of God as the source of all truth (John 17:17). Exhortations to study the scripture abound (cf. Proverbs 9:9; 2 Timothy 3:14). It is only as we study the scriptures that we learn more of the nature and character of God, His purpose in creating us, His will for us, His love for us and all the other precious doctrines of scripture. These truths of the Christian faith are all doctrinal affirmations, rooted in real history and seeking to understand them is how we mature in our Christian faith (Ephesians 4:13-15; Hebrews 5:12-13; 1 Peter 2:2).
For a generation that is starved of truth, which scrambles around seeking answers to the big questions of life, we need to expose them to the truth that the Word of God has the answers. This means we are ready to preach the Word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to be like the Levites who “explained the law to the people… translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:7-8). We need to provide the grain for the famine. Ultimately, we want to explain and bear witness to the truth because that is what our Lord came to do:
“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
The truth is that God made this world to be inhabited by us (Isaiah 45:18), He created man for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7), in order to enjoy Him forever (Psalm 16:11). He is the author of life (Acts 3:15), and therefore, the only one who can give us a truthful description of who we are (Romans 3:23). He knows us intimately (Matthew 10:30); He cares for us immeasurably (John 10:13), loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8) and offers us an abundant life (John 10:10). Exposing these truths to the world can only be achieved by proclaiming the whole counsel of God in all its glory.
That is the TRUTH!
1 Flood, Alison. “Post-Truth Named Word of the Year” by Oxford Dictionaries. The Guardian. 15th November 2016. Accessed.