Why is it that there’s so much Biblical illiteracy in the church? Certainly the Bible is taught, and by well-meaning people who care about the Bible. But still people are ill equipped, it seems, to understand the nature of reality as characterized by the foundational pieces of the Christian worldview, to understand the scope of the Biblical message, and be able to explain it.
Though I think pastors are working very hard, I don’t think they’re always working smart theologically. There’s a habit that pastors have when they go to a text with the idea of teaching the Bible. They have a notion in mind already that they want to teach, so they find a phrase or a verse in the Bible that seems to substantiate it. So they’re not really teaching the Bible. They’re just teaching an idea that may be their personal view, and may be a very useful idea, and they’re trying to give legitimacy to it through the Scriptures. But they’re not teaching what the Bible teaches because they’ve pulled a verse out of the text to support the lesson.
Here’s the problem: Even though they’re teaching a Biblical text, they’re actually prooftexting. They’re taking the passage or the phrase and they make a metaphor out of it, and then they teach the metaphor rather than teach the passage.
I’ll give you an illustration of this. It’s the one that’s probably most common, and you will recognize it immediately. It’s from the Gospels where Jesus calms the storm. The disciples are rowing the boat across the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They’re getting spun to and fro by the wind, pitching every which way. They’re in fear of capsizing and perishing, and they cry out to the Lord, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” And Jesus wakes up, because He’s asleep in the stern, and He rebukes the storm and everything goes perfectly calm. Then He rebukes His disciples.
Tell me what the message is that is based upon that text. What is the message probably most frequently taught from that passage? What are the storms in your life that Jesus can calm? In other words, the storm calmed by Jesus, even if we acknowledge that it’s a real historical fact, shows us that there are “storms” in our lives that Jesus can calm.
I can say with good authority that that is not the point of the text. You may be teaching something really helpful to people. You might even be teaching something that is true in itself in isolation. But you are not teaching the text. What you have done is read a historical account as a metaphor to be applied metaphorically in our lives. But that’s not what the writer of the text intended. How do I know that? Because the writer of that text does not make that application.
When you read the text, what do you find? Jesus calming the storm, as I just described, and then the disciples responding. What you don’t see is the disciples saying, “Jesus just calmed the storm. I wonder what storms in my life Jesus could now calm.” No, you don’t see them reflecting in that way at all because that is not the way they understood what they just witnessed.
What do the disciples say? They say, “‘Who is this man who commands even the forces of nature?’ And they fell on their face and they worshipped him.”
That shows us the reason that this account is in the text. It is not to tell us something about how God can fix our lives; it is meant to tell us something about Jesus. And if you are not teaching that, then you are not teaching the text, even though you’re using the text in your teaching.