ACST 5 The Balance

 

Theology is an academic discipline, and no academic discipline is totally free from ethical standards. As in athletics, the rules determine whether someone has succeeded. Breaking the rules can disqualify even the fastest runner. Good theology places equal weight on the accuracy of the message and the integrity of the messengers. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 4:15, where he encourages Christians to speak the truth in love.

Keeping the message accurate.

The discipline of hermeneutics helps theologians stay true to the message originally intended by God and the Bible’s human authors. It incorporates the tasks of exegesis (drawing out what the text says) and contextualization (communicating that meaning accurately to today’s audience). These are the same tasks that keep the preacher of the gospel on target, and the theologian has the same goal.

Some Hermeneutics Questions

Background Questions

What do I need to know about the culture that the original authors and audiences shared?

What do I need to know about the history that the original authors and audiences knew?

What are the differences between the background of the text and that of myself and my readers/students?

Word Study Questions

Does the text of my translation match the meaning of the words in the original language?

How is this term used by this particular author? Do other biblical authors use the same word differently?

Has the text of my translation added or subtracted words compared with the original? Why?

Theological Questions

What major loci are affected by the text?

What issues are being addressed, and questions answered?

How does this text compare with others on the same topic?

How does this text compare with others by the same author?

Application Questions

What changes (or commitments not to change) does the author suggest should be made by his audience?

What changes (or commitments not to change) should I make as a result of applying this text?

What changes (or commitments not to change) should my readers/students/church make?

Jesus commended John the Baptist for preaching the truth (John 5:33). For Jesus, it was not important that John’s ministry was popular and influential; what mattered was John’s message. It did not need to be new. It had to be true. The temptation to come up with some new teaching is very real for the theologian, and must be guarded against. God has provided the Bible as the source and standard for our theological teaching. It should be the source for every idea we proclaim, and the standard by which we measure every idea we hear.

Keeping the messengers authentic.

The other side of the balance that must be maintained for good theology is maintaining the integrity of those who teach and preach the message. While it is true that “given no other evidence, we should be able to tell by the rhetoric of the preacher whether he or she is legitimate”[1] people have a right to hear God’s word from messengers who reflect his character. This principle is reflected in other scriptures as well. “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 emphasis mine). Jesus said that “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19 emphasis mine).[2] Paul told Titus to “Let everything (he does) reflect the integrity and seriousness of (his) teaching (Titus 2:7 NLT).” By doing so, Titus would draw attention to his teaching, and authenticate it. If he were to live an ungodly life, he would have turned people off to his words.

Jesus had warned against apostasy and false teachers who would emerge from within the established church, and lead many astray (Matthew 24:10-11). The way believers can tell the difference and avoid being deceived is that those truly abiding in Christ will produce fruit (John 15:5). Fruit is results: the results that Jesus produced were to be the results his disciples would produce.

The Fruit of Jesus’ Ministry

Power

People

Answered Prayer

Changed Lives

41 “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42 ESV)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 ESV)

The world did not have to wait long for this apostasy to appear. Already by the time the epistles were being written it was beginning to happen among those New Testament churches. Peter explained their strategy: they lure people to their teachings by 1) appealing to their natural desires, 2) promising a freedom from sin that they themselves do not possess, and 3) entangling them in worldliness while distancing them from the gospel of righteousness through knowing Christ (2 Peter 2:17-22). He warned his readers to “take care that (they were) not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose (their) own stability (2 Peter 3:17).” It was obvious from his letters that false teaching would go hand in hand with an immoral lifestyle so that his readers would be able to identify the theological errors by observing the ethical ones.

The author of Hebrews also linked these two aspects of apostasy. He warned against “an evil, unbelieving heart, leading (his readers) to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). He reminded these Jewish Christians of their ancestors “whose bodies fell in the wilderness” because of their disobedience (Hebrews 3:17-18). To claim to follow the God of Abraham, yet fail to obey his instructions manifests a dangerous imbalance.

Paul warned Timothy of an apostasy yet to come in history (2 Timothy 4:1-3), but he commanded Timothy to apply this truth by keeping a close watch on himself and his teaching (2 Timothy 4:16). By staying true and maintaining a godly witness he would preserve that balance that qualifies believers as representatives of Christ and his kingdom.


[1] David M. Brown, Transformational Preaching. (College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm Publishing, 2003), 243.

[2] Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2002), 650.

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