Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preaching on Texts You Aren't Sure About

Should a pastor skip teaching some passages because he lacks confidence in his own interpretation?

Here we're going to be talking about gradations of confidence and gradations of importance in passages.

As the passage increases in importance, you have less option of avoiding it. And as your uncertainty increases, you have less obligation to preach.

So these are like axes. I guess if I knew how to draw these kinds of diagrams, I would say that if the passage has gone down in importance and your uncertainty has gone up in importance, tell the people you're skipping it, and tell them why. As the passage comes up in importance, you need to work harder to get your confidence up in importance.

But real life—which is why this question is so relevant—is that all of us pastors have questions about texts that we have to preach on.

If you're preaching through a book, you're going to hit passages you do not know what they mean. And I think we should be honest and not try to cover it. We should say to our people, "I'm not sure what this means. Here are the three options: Here's what Don Carson thinks, here's what Doug Moo thinks, etc., and I'm not sure yet."

And then you need to give them a grid for what to do with that: How do you live with that? Why does that not undermine my confidence in the Bible? Why does it not undermine the larger interpretation of this passage and the point that is being made here and here and here?

I wrote a paper in seminary on the Book of Revelation. I took an independent study just because I wanted to spend a semester studying the Book of Revelation, which to me is full of questions. And the paper I wrote was called, "The Doctrine of Least Meanings." And what I meant was that even when you don't know the full meaning of a text, you can know something of its meaning. And the least meanings in Revelation are stunning.

So I'm saying to the pastor: Draw out of the text that you are perplexed about what you can get out, and then be honest about the rest.

- John Piper

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