Monday, January 21, 2008

My Comments on Bitzer was a Banker

Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations.
This quote by John Piper in his book, Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, has been weighing on my mind ever since I read it last week on Jason Button’s blog post, Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker. The context was a plea for pastors to learn and use Greek and Hebrew. If Bitzer, who was just a banker, found it valuable, how much more should it be for full-time ministers of the gospel? The quote cited above is just one of several that Piper makes to support his argument.

I think it is an overstatement to say that unless one becomes proficient in the Biblical languages, you will tend towards one of these two extremes. Surely, several counterexamples could be found. Nevertheless, I think his point is well-taken, that a habitual disregard of careful exegesis (that includes a study of the text beyond one’s favorite English translation) will reduce one’s ministry to regurgitating traditional positions and interpretations that may or may not be faithful to the Scriptures or to the text under consideration (i.e., the right doctrine from the wrong text syndrome).
When that happens, people under your ministry who study the text for themselves may begin to lose trust in your commitment to the authority of Scripture or your competence to rightly divide it. Worst case scenario is that they begin to lose confidence in the Scriptures themselves and go down the road of religious pluralism mentioned by Piper. After all, if you can get anything out of a passage, regardless of the details of the text, then why limit yourself to conservative interpretations?

Those who don’t bother to study the text for themselves will find that their convictions, as learned from their pastor’s non-exegetical approach, are based on an limp, bruised reed and if they lean upon it, they will pierce themselves through when confronted with challenges to their doctrine or practice. I believe this second scenario is exactly what has happened in some segments of fundamentalism over the past several decades. Right doctrines and practices were preached from an authoritative pulpit, where the authority came from the dominance of the man’s personality, following, or influence, but not from the careful exposition of God’s Word. Now, when those doctrines and practices are challenged, there is no Scriptural foundation from which the people of God can withstand such an attack. I contend this is true for all sorts of issues that people tend to dismiss today, such as music, separation, dress, entertainment choices, social drinking, etc. This can happen with more doctrinal matters as well. How many people in our churches could give a sound refutation of easy believism, no-repentance gospels, or the compromises to the doctrine of justification associated with the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together declarations? Or do they just believe that Catholic doctrine is wrong because their pastor says so?

We say we believe in the inerrant, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible but we ignore the details of the very words that God breathed out, or how those words form inerrant thoughts, or how those thoughts logically express God’s viewpoint on things. We pass over these details, relying only on the tradition of an English translation or an overall concept that we embrace and we fail to think God’s thoughts after Him or learn why He says what He does in the way that He does. In the end we stagnate because we never go beyond the traditions that we already know. I’m going to use the title of my blog again and say that we fail to discover more of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3:7-8
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;


At 11:51 AM, Blogger Jim Peet said...

I've often wondered why NT Greek is not taught in the local church?!

One should not have to attend seminary or a Bible college to learn Greek.

Your thoughts?

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...


I suspect that few churches have the resources to do so, or if they do, not enough interest in the congregation to make it worthwhile. Also, unless you are working for a grade, I suspect that the discipline needed to learn the language would not be there for most people. Nevertheless, I think it would be a great idea if it could be done.

BTW, I should probably soften my post somewhat by saying that there is great profit to reading and studying out of a good English translation if that is all you can do. I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from doing that. But if you can use tools, or even learn the languages, then you will find your profit greatly increased.

At 10:28 PM, Blogger Jason Button said...

Thanks for taking this a step further. I appreciate your thoughts here.

One thing that keeps coming to mind is the thought of how easily the biblical languages can be abused. A little bit of "knowledge" can sometimes be disastrous. However, I think that all preachers need to work through this. The cause is worthy of our diligent labor.

I've added a few more thoughts on the subject here.

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Kent Brandenburg said...

We do teach Greek in our church.


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