Saturday, August 27, 2016


Many times I've heard the statement that if WE don't deliver the gospel God can raise up STONES to do it. That of course is a possibility I guess. But two things I would say about that. One is that what Matthew 3:9 [the stones passage] is referencing is NOT that a failure to preach the gospel would cause God to raise up stones to do it! It is speaking about stones being raised up to produce children to Abraham, which would demand a completely different metaphor than preaching. 

The other is that, while God could use stones to cry out a message,  He HAS chosen to use people to do just that. It is also true that, as usual, the very people he uses can/do often GET IN THE WAY of what God is doing. In other words, the MESSENGER [Preacher/proclaimer] CAN get in the way of the MESSAGE. I'm going to address a few of those ways in this post. 

The first way the MESSENGER can get in the way of the MESSAGE is by stating the intended message of any text found in scripture with a dogmatic declaration of a MEANING of that text where there may be some AMBIGUITY within that text itself. The emphasis of real Keirugma [preaching] is to be on the MESSAGE intended in the TEXT and THAT'S not always as clear as we pretend.

The idea here is someone in authority [God] has given another [the preacher] a message to deliver and the speaker is NOT to proclaim his/her own grievances or opinions or viewpoints on those matters instead, 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.]

So, preaching must be done with HUMILITY because it is not the messenger's prerogative to declare ABSOLUTE MEANINGS when and where there may be some AMBIGUITY in the text. Sometimes honesty DEMANDS that we as Preachers admit there is some room for continued research in the meaning.

This is where I came to in 1980 in my own preaching when I determined to NOT preach anything as a message EXCEPT what I personally could find clearly PRESENTED in the text. My theology changed beyond anything I could have imagined. I came to grips with the fact that much of what I was saying in the pulpit was coming from what I'd heard other preachers, whom I admired greatly of course, say was in the text or was generally a Baptist [I WAS Baptist you see] viewpoint about the text because of traditions, some of which I began to discover really had no real textual foundation at all. [Cessationism for example.]

That's when I also began to see that what Peter said concerning some of the things Paul the Apostle wrote was correct.  Some of the things he delivered WERE REALLY hard to understand and those that were the most difficult to understand, I decided I'd better hold my personal view about them fairly lightly because the CORRECT meaning IS more important than my having a dogmatic personal interpretation.

This is not out of a lack of confidence in the integrity, inspiration, or authority of the text. Not at all!  But it is based on 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, my listeners are better served by my NOT being quite so dogmatic as to it's meaning. 1Timothy 2:15 and the "she shall be saved in child-bearing" is a GREAT example. From my personal 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 for another day.

Since the true biblical MESSENGER is to be careful of proclaiming his/her own viewpoint or opinions as absolutes, I tread lightly on those "darker" passages and am more careful about taking some ABSOLUTE theological position on a subject that others seem to be willing to state as their "humble but correct" position, with great conviction. More power to them. [I guess!] 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 those issues found in some difficult passages.

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 can 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, [Read it carefully.]

"With that in mind, [what I've just stated as he said the same thing] I think we can be more confident about our reliance on probabilistic reasoning, for if God had 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 [or theological subjects]  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.

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 have a prideful assumption that 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 can be understood but the glass we see them through is a little darker. [This keeps our need of searching the scriptures intact and our need for being open to each other intact as well.] 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..."We should never take the fatal step of identifying our interpretations (however careful they may be) with “the meaning of the text itself” so as 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, this strategy would effectively overthrow it, and enthrone 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 Doctor Trevor Hart's full theology, I sure like his humble approach to hammering out his honest 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.

Many of us as preachers/speakers/proclaimers are, in fact, our own worst enemy.

Paul B.


Rex Ray said...


Thanks for the “Matthew 3;9 [the stones passage]”. I never recalled reading it before.

Paul Burleson said...


I had not seen the comments to my post until today having been away in a five day meeting. I saw your statement about the verse being incorrect and so I corrected it and attempted to repost the article and DELETED it by mistake. I had another version at another site so I posted it with the correction but could do nothing about the lost comments. Sorry about that!

Rex Ray said...

Thanks again for the explanation

Aussie John said...


Thank you for an article of utmost importance, which deserves a wide audience among those who understand themselves as being "preachers", especially those aspiring to be so.

I wonder whether I would have been open to such wisdom in my early years? I doubt that I would when we were imbued with the attitudes of our "high status" by our mentors.

Instead it certainly would have been good to have the sense of Trevor Hart's comment instilled into us.

"Many of us as preachers/speakers/proclaimers are, in fact, our own worst enemy."

Sadly, I can personally admit that to be true, especially when I was much younger.!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I apologize for the deletion of your first comment. [Accidental] Thanks for reposting. and thanks for your comments as always.