Part four of the blog series: How to Read with Discernment.
Read part one: 5 Reasons to Test What You Read
Read part two: What Do They Mean When They Say _________?
Read part three: What Aren't They Saying?
Is the Preacher Drunk?
Remember the TV show M*A*S*H? A classic scene from that show is when Father Mulcahy, the chaplain of the 4077th army surgical hospital, accidentally gets drunk when he hears that his Cardinal is coming to hear him preach. He’s so nervous he’s encouraged to take a shot of whiskey to cool his nerves. He then enters the tent, approaches the pulpit, and begins to preach (in inebriated fashion) from Leviticus 10:9, “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die...” The scene is certainly comical. But there’s a form of “inebriating preaching” that is anything but funny.
There’s a way that people can use the Bible that is more for support of their own agenda rather than teaching what the Bible actually says. We call this “inebriated teaching.” “Inebriated” because it’s akin to the way a drunk man uses a lamp post—more for support than illumination (thanks for the illustration, David Helm!). It happens when a teacher, preacher, author or anyone reads their idea into the Bible rather than letting what they say come out of what the Bible is actually saying.
Now every author—at least those claiming what they say is from the Bible—will use “proof texts” (you know—those Bible references that come at the end of a sentence in parenthesis). Proof texts can be used well or poorly. The idea is that an author is supposed to use proof texts to support the claims of what they’re saying. So how do we know if they’re using their Bible rightly? How do we know if their proof text is valid? Does the Bible actually support what they’re saying?
Question #3: How Are They Using Their Bible? Remember: Context Is King!
As my own pastor recently stated: just as location is king in real estate, so it is for context in understanding your Bible. CONTEXT IS KING!
When an author uses a proof text to support their argument, go to that verse and read the passage that surrounds it. Remember that the meaning of a word is derived from the sentence it’s in. The meaning of that sentence is derived from the paragraph it’s in. The meaning of that paragraph is derived from the section of the book it’s in. And we could go on, but you’ve got the point! USE CONTEXT TO DETERMINE IF THE AUTHOR’S CLAIM CAN TRULY BE SUPPORTED BY THE BIBLE.
Rightly Handling the Word of God
In the Bible, a sound teacher is defined as one who rightly handles God’s Word. A sound teacher knows how to take the point that the Bible is making and communicate that to others. Paul says as much to his apprentice, Timothy, when he writes to him, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Right handling of God’s Word should be the mark of every teacher. But its not! Therefore, use the question of how they handle their Bible to decide whether to accept or reject the claims of the teachers we learn from, the preachers we listen to, and the books we read.
Recognizing if an author is rightly handling the Bible will go a long way toward discerning if what they’re writing is worth the time it takes to read it.