Monday, September 03, 2007


Many times I've heard the statement that if we don't deliver the gospel message God can raise up stones to do it. That of course is a possibility but two things I would say about it. One is that what Matthew 3:7 is referencing is not about preaching the gospel but birthing children to Abraham which would demand a competely different metaphor than speaking. The other is while God could use stones to cry out a message He has chosen to use people. It is also true that as usual people can/do get in the way of what God is doing. In other words__ for our purposes__ the messenger can get in the way of the message. I'm going to address in this post and others to follow in a practical way that reality.

The first way the messenger can get in the way of the message is by changing the message with a dogmatic declaration of meaning where there may be some ambiguity within the text of scripture itself. The emphasis of real Keirugma [preaching] is on the message as stated in my previous post. Someone in authority has given another [the preacher/speaker] a message to deliver and the speaker does not proclaim his/her own grievances or opinions or viewpoints on private matters as authorative, but must faithfully find and deliver the meaning of the text as he/she sees it. [I'm using both genders here as the women prophesying in the NT were delivering a message from God and__ it seems to me__ it can happen under His assigment today.] This must be done with humility because it is not the messengers prerogative to declare absolute meanings when there may be ambiguity

This is where I came to in 1980 in my own preaching when I determined to not preach anything as absolute except what I personally saw as clearly presented in the text. My message changed beyond anything I could have imagined. I came to grips with the fact that much/most of the things I was saying in the pulpit was coming from what I'd heard others, whom I admired, say was in the text or was generally Baptist held viewpoints because of traditions that were baptistic in reputation but had no real foundation in the text itself.

I also began to see that what Peter said of some of the things Paul the Apostle preached was correct. [This is also true of several matters in the text of scripture.] Some of the things he delivered WERE hard to understand and those that were the most difficult I decided I'd better hold my personal view as to their meaning lightly because the correct meaning was more important than my interpretation.

This is not out of a lack of confidence in the integrity or authority of the text but a true awareness of my own inadequacy to hear God accurately on occasion. Some things are clear. Some things are not that clear. When the text isn't totally clear I won't be dogmatic as to it's meaning. 1Timothy 2:15 and the "she shall be saved in child-bearing" is an example. From my present perspective the whole of that chapter may have been delivered through a glass a little darker than some are willing to admit. But that's another post.

Since the true biblical messenger is to be careful of proclaiming his/her own viewpoint, opinions or grievances, I tread lightly on some passages and some theological positions that others seem to state the meaning of with great personal conviction. More power to them. All I'm saying is the messenger CAN get in the way of the message if we declare as absolute our personal views on some issues where there are good people on both sides of a possible meaning of any given text.

I'm not sure but what God may have left some of His total message a little less clear than say the gospel so we will make clear with conviction that gospel and keep trusting Him for greater understanding of other theological areas. I love what Gene Bridges said... and I quote___"And, with that in mind, I think we can be more confident about our reliance on probabilistic reasoning, for if God has wanted us to have more evidence or better evidence, then it was within his power to do so. Hence we are judging certain questions on the basis of the evidence which he has left at our disposal. Therefore, we shouldn't be plagued by nagging, gnawing doubts about the possibility of being wrong. Even if I were wrong some of the time, it's out of my hands, and I'm in his hands. As a Christian, I don't require a godlike control over the evidence. I can go with what I've got because it's what God has given me to go by." I have to say "amen" to that statement. I can give my understanding of difficult passages but respect others who differ with me trusting the God who gave it in the first place to be able to make clear His message ultimately.

My goodness, no human father I know would give ALL information to his children as soon as they are born. Even Jesus increased in WISDOM, stature, and favor as time went along. The messenger of God's Word is still going along and had better be open to greater light if the true message is to, in fact, be ultimately delivered. But that's just me.

Someone may object and say "but don't you believe the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of giving you the true meaning of any passage including the difficult ones?" My answer is__"absolutely." My only problem would be to assume I'm the one He's given the true meaning to. This especially if there are others who genuinely love Jesus and His Word but are on the other side of my interpretation of a difficult to understand text. It could be that I'm the one in the dark or the one with baggage or filters that hinder my being granted understanding by the Holy Spirit. It sure helps me to know of my need for community. Body life is helpful even to the messenger. You can see why I'm one who believes there ARE some essentials that must be clearly understood and declared by all the Body and other things less clear and less essential to fully understand or it would have been given through a glass not quite so dark. [But that would have ruined our need to search the scriptures diligently and be open to each other wouldn't it.] All this comes from my deep conviction that the messenger can, in fact, hinder the true message which I DO NOT want to do.

I like what Trevor Hart, Professor of systematic theology in at St Mary's School of Divinity in Scotland said with these words..."[W]e should never take the fatal step of identifying our interpretations (however careful they may be) with the text itself, or with “the meaning of the text itself.” To do so is to bestow upon them a finality, a sufficiency, which lifts them above the text and out of reach of criticism. Far from establishing the text’s authority, therefore, this is a strategy which effectively overthrows it, and enthrones our interpretation in its place. . . . [We] are no longer genuinely open, therefore, to consider it afresh, or to hear it speaking in any other voice than the one which [we] have now trapped, tamed, and packaged for observation." Apply this to difficult texts [or lesser doctrines] about which good people disagree and while I don't know the Doctor's full theology, I sure like his humble approach to hammering out his theology.

You can see I believe any messenger must be more concerned with the message getting delivered than whether or not they are the one who has the correct view of difficult things or whether they are the one who is delivering it. Our desire that the message be delivered is to take precedence over our concern for being right in our interpretation or being the one people look to as the preacher who says it well. The messenger is not the focus in New Testament proclamation. It MAY BE this is the primary problem in our current mega-church mentality and our creedal mentality.

Next will come an inner examination the messenger/preacher must be honest with in order to not hinder the message. I know this is long and wordy but__ after all__God took an extra forty years with Moses because He is ALWAYS concerned with getting the messenger out of the way before that messenger is sent on the way to deliver "Thus saith the Lord.". Many of us as preachers/speakers are, in fact, our own worst enemy.

Paul Burleson

15 comments: said...


With your permission I will be linking this post to my own blog on Friday morning and will leave it up all weekend.

This is one of the best explanations I have ever read on the process of delivering a Spirit-filled, humble exposition of the sacred text.

Some of my commentators who question how any preacher can refrain from dogmatism on any verse in the Bible need to read your explanation.



Paul Burleson said...


You can do as you desire but some of those that I've seen comment on your blog will not make it through my moderation. You've got a far more gracious disposition than do I with some people. Thanks for stopping by.

Paul Burleson said...


I've been challenged [nicely] about my statement that the whole of chapter two of 1 Timothy may have been given with a little darker glass [a more difficult to understand passage] than some seem to think. Why would I say that?

In a simple response I would point out that in verse 12 the words for "woman" and "man" [gune and aner] are always translated as husband and wife when together in other passages. If this should hold true here,and I see no reason for it not to, it would translate "I suffer this wife [singular] to not unduly influence her husband toward false teaching [context] but to be quiet." {This is the ONLY time this word "authority" appears in all of scripture. It isn't even in Classical Greek. It was a street word that could have a sexual connotation to it.]

That would change this from an eternal principle for all time to a partiular situation that Timothy faced in his pastoring.

Also, the "she" of verse 15 could then be refering to the "woman" [singular] of verse 12 instead of the "Eve" of verses 13-14 which is simply illustrating that as Eve was deceived also, but "she" [the wife] can be delivered from that deception by she and her husband getting their lives in shape relationally and spiritually.

All of this, whether you agree or disagree and notice I haven't given my personal take on the whole thing yet, could be a cause for pause about a dogmatic interpretation that would rob the female gender of an active role in excercising gifts that edify the whole Body of Christ. [Which is what all giftedness is to do.]

So...the glass through which we read this passage may be a little darker than I've personally thought in years past. Thus my statement.

Alyce Faulkner said...

Paul, what a great series and I can't wait for more.
I think perhaps you and Mary should consider moving to North Little Rock. It is, after all God's country!

greg.w.h said...


Thanks for this. It seems very much to reflect the heart of a Savior who--fully understanding and fulfilling the Law--would willingly give up his life for the lawless and for scofflaws. And that he did that in order that they might fully grasp the sweet beauty of a righteousness that they can freely receive but never create for themselves.


Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for your gracious words. I don't know about moving but I'm looking forward to our days together in a couple of weeks from now in our meeting with your Church. Bro. Roy has filled me in on the GReAT prayer preparation and otherwise. I'm going to try not to get in the way of what the Lord is already doing there. :)

See you guys then.


It is that sweet Righteousness that is His and yet now is mine as a gift received all by His Grace that I want to more deeply understand and appreciate each day I live. You have said it as well as I've heard anyone say it in a long time. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Brother Paul,

Thanks for a wonderful, Spirit led statement on the priority of the message over the messenger. Yet, there is the privilege and the accountability of the messenger, by His grace, to deliver the full counsel of God. I am amazed that His message, through one willing to be the clean vessel and obedient messenger desiring no credit, changes lives. Many will say this is foolishness, but God calls it wisdom. Thanks brother for emphasizing, "thus saith the Lord". It sure humbles me to not convince them of my opinion, but to pray they seek to hear Him. I must decrease that He might increase.

Steve Miller

Paul Burleson said...


You are right on with your comment. HIS message does bring life. OUR message produces death. The fruit of the Spirit in the messenger [love, joy, peace, know them] MAY be as much a real test as to whether I'm delivering HIS message or mine as the content is since His message produces life. It will certainly produce it in the messenger first.

I'm afraid the stench of death may be upon much of what is being done and said in the name of Christ in our day. May He Grace us with a real awakening to Life is my prayer.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your blogging on this matter. One of the things that I used to hate was feeling inadequate. I used to hate till I realize what a blessing it is to have a sense that if God doesn't anoint the words, what use is there in speaking. Thanks, Bro. Paul for your wisdom.


Paul Burleson said...


With words like you have spoken...I would come nearer trusting what you would have to say being from the Lord than many I hear speak. It seems to me it is when we are not confident in our abilities but in His we are on safe ground. That's the ground, it seems to me, you stand on. Thanks for stopping by.

GeneMBridges said...

Wow, quoted by the Elder Elder Burleson...:D

I'd just like to note that my statements, in their original form had to do with the Protestant Rule of Faith as opposed to the Roman Catholic Rule (or the Eastern Orthodox Rule).

Sola Scriptura commits us to the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture, the infallible rule. Consequently tradition is secondary and fallible.

So, by adhering to this rule of faith, we are, in fact, committed to "playing the hand God has given us." Frankly, it's like playing Poker. The deck is stacked in our favor, but we aren't dealing it. Rather, we have a certain number of cards we know, and we can see them clearly. However, some cards are still face down on the table. So, we may have a particular hand (say a royal flush) or we be off by that one card. We don't know - and we don't have to know, because God has promised a royal flush. Based on what He has shown us, we can be reasonable certain. If not, then we know that the hand will still be something close to what we think it is, if not exactly what we think it is. It will still be the winning hand, compared to the latitudinarian or the apostate who are denying they can clearly see any cards at all.

To say that we must strive to have some sort of infallibilist knowledge is to adopt the Roman rule of faith (or the Orthodox). They have a low view of Scripture because they have a low view of providence, and they in turn feed off each other.

This isn't to say we shouldn't preach with certainty. Rather it is to say we preach certainly about what we know to be clear. We do systematic theology by looking at the exegetical data and by as best as possible weeding out any rationalistic principles that we might impose on the text. That's what the first Protestants did; that's what our Baptist forefathers did, and that's what we should do too.

We shouldn't say we have it all together, but then we shouldn't preach like the scribes who told what so and so said and Hillel said, etc. and then said, "This is what I think." Rather, we give the best exegetical arguments we can and leave the rest to the Lord. Scripture is amazingly clear about many things, but others - like eschatology or closed communion, etc. it is not so clear. Some of what we say is because of examples - like our church government structures between churches (local church autonomy), but we should always remember that examples are not expositions.

Paul Burleson said...


I've always said I got more out of the introduction part of Ron Dunn's sermon outlines than I got out of most men's full sermons and Ron was a very good friend.

I don't know you that well but I have to honestly say, I get more out of your comments on blogs than I do most other guy's posts on their blogs.

That illustration on the poker hand has to be classic. With your permission, I would like to use this comment a little later on my blog. No changes will be made at all and people will know where it came from and who said it. Thanks for dropping in.

GeneMBridges said...

Brother Paul,

A. Well, my "boss" is Steve Hays - he's a TA for RTS (for John Frame I believe) so I have to post @ a certain level to keep my job ;). Actually, I try to get as much from Steve by osmosis as I can, and what I said is something I learned from him.

B. Certainly, use that illustration to your heart's content. Just do me one favor, clean up the grammar. I mean, what is "reasonable certain?" Sometimes I wonder if there's any connection between what I'm thinking and what I'm typing. You know...sounds good when you're thinking it, then you press send and read it and say, "What was that ?!"

C. I would add to that illustration that the whole point (just to be clear) isn't simply that we are dealt a winning hand because it is stacked in our favor by the Lord - rather it's that we are dependent on the Dealer. None of the cards we have would be in our possession if it wasn't for the Dealer, and because we know the Dealer and have a high view of His providence, we can know it will always be a winning hand (Romans 8:28ff for example). So, I don't have to see all the cards - just the ones he has chosen to show me, and, based on what they are, I can be reasonably certain of what the ones face down are, at least enough to go all in if necessary.

LBCF2 5.7: 7._____ As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.
( 1 Timothy 4:10; Amos 9:8, 9; Isaiah 43:3-5 )

My blog, if you've ever toured it, is an apologetics blog, and we see this with atheists all the time. It is patently obvious that God has dealt them a hand that either they deny is there at all or is clear - clear enough to blind them and harden them. That, too, is God's providence.

As the LBCF2 5.6 says:

As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as the righteous judge, for former sin doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

(Emphasis mine)

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks again. As to editing__I'm married to a Managing Editor for Harcourt Achieve Publishing company and she is VERY good at giving me much needed help with all this grammer and spelling stuff__so__we're in good hands with Harcourt. :)

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks again. As to editing__I'm married to a Managing Editor for Harcourt Achieve Publishing company and she is VERY good at giving me much needed help with all this grammer and spelling stuff__so__we're in good hands with Harcourt. :)