The Danger of Not Letting the Text Speak

by Mike Leake on February 15, 2012 · 46 comments

Sometimes we are told that we cannot come to Christ unless the Father draws us, that without Christ we can do nothing, and that if we live, it is not we, but Christ who lives in us.  Now these views tend to hide pride from man, to create a diffidence of ourselves, and to center our hopes and dependence on Christ; but lest the slothful and wicked servant should make his impotence his excuse, we are called upon to turn and make ourselves new hearts; we are exhorted to ask and we shall receive; and we are assured that God will give the Spirit to them who ask Him…(John Jennings, Christian Pastor’s Manual, 53)

I have seen men of various stripes (myself included) totally blow this one.  I have seen those of a more Calvinistic understanding of the text come to a place that sounds really “Arminian” not let the text speak for itself but simply explain it away.  I have also heard those of a non-Calvinistic understanding of the text come to those places in Scripture that sure sound Calvinistic spend their time explaining why this cannot mean what it sounds like and do not let the text speak for itself.

What inevitably happens is that when we are guilty of not letting the text speak for itself we have very unbalanced Christians.  I am amazed that whenever my heart and mind wants to attach myself to a narrow view the Scriptures pull me back.  There are so many times that I have ridden a verse for too long only to run smack into another verse that cries out to me, “yeah but”.

Perhaps one thing that it means to “rightly divide the Word of truth” is to let the Scriptures speak for themselves.  When we come to a text like John 6:44 we should realize that many of these Calvinistic passages are given to us for the purpose of killing our pride, inspiring us to rest solely on Christ, motivating us to have unity, and encouraging us with the power and sovereignty of a faithful God.  Preach the text for those results, don’t go about explaining it away but use the text for what it’s intended to accomplish.

The same thing goes for passages like Luke 13:24 or Ezekiel 18:23.  Rather than trying to explain them away or make them fit a Calvinistic grid just preach them as they are.  As John Piper rightly says,

“Don’t ride hobbyhorses that aren’t in the text. Preach exegetically, explaining and applying what is in the text. If it sounds Arminian, let it sound Arminian. Trust the text and the people will trust you to be faithful to the text.”

These text are here to help us have a full understanding of the heart of God.  It motivates us to missions and causes us to love our “enemies”.  When we are tempted to ride a text like John 6:44 into the errors of Hyper-Calvinism these verses serve as reigns that pull us in to a more balanced and biblical understanding of salvation.  Yes, we must strive to enter this rest.  There is no room for complacency.

So, if you want to be the pastor of balanced Christians then one way to bring that about is to be faithful in preaching the text as it is.  Let the text speak for itself.  Yes, that’s hard…but that is part of the reason that you are “set apart” for the teaching and preaching of the Word.  You and I are given a charge by God to rightly divide the Word—let us do it, by His grace and for His glory.

Read more: http://www.mikeleake.net

1 Dave Miller February 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Letting the text speak for itself is a noble and essential goal; one that is also elusive and challenging.

It’s really hard to avoid my experiential and preferential grids.

2 Mike Leake February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm

yeah it is quite difficult and one that I’m sure I don’t do as well I should. I do think, though, that if I keep this in mind and this danger on the fore of my brain then I’ll be at least a little better at not riding hobby horses off cliffs.

3 cb scott February 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Mike Leake,

This is really a good post. It is also a sobering post. It is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers who are serious about preaching the Word of God stay up late and get up early.

This is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers must pray and pray again before saying to a waiting people in the pews or in the street or in the colosseum or in the home, “Thus saith the Word of God!”

This is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers must ponder about, meditate about, cry over, mark, read, reread, and dog-ear the pages of their Bibles.

This is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers must read the writings of other men who have gone before them in search of truth before proclaiming, “Thus saith the Word of God!”

This is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers must always have a holy fearful, Spirit inspired, and self humbling knot in their gut when they stand before anyone anywhere and declare, “Thus saith the Word of God!”

I thank you for this post. I really do. And I want to thank you for it before its truth is trivialized in the comment thread.

I do not know where you serve Jesus Mike Leake, but wherever you are; God bless you and may your tribe increase.

4 Squirrel February 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Amen, CB. Amen.

It is a post that brings out the reality as to why N.T. preachers who are serious about preaching the Word of God stay up late and get up early.

Amen, indeed.

Squirrel

5 Mike Leake February 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Wow what an amazing compliment! Thanks, brother. I’m glad you found benefit in this article.

6 Robert Vaughn February 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Good thoughts, Mike. Thanks. In my personal experience, I’ve found that I’m better at “letting the text speak” when preaching than I am when discussing theology. Maybe I do one more exegetically and one more topically; not sure.

We all need a good dose of your advice, remembering it is the Scripture (the text) that is inspired and not the preconceived ideas we bring to it.

7 Christiane February 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Physically hearing the Word of God read aloud in community is one way of ‘letting the text speak’ to us . . .

St. Chrysotom went a little further as to what was going on when he wrote:
“In Sacred Scripture, . . .
eternal wisdom is clearly shown,
“that we may learn the gentle kindness of God,
which words cannot express”

If the Word was meant to be heard, it must be read aloud, without commentary, with only a brief silence to follow the reading,
and then, a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of the Word.

8 Bob Cleveland February 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I believe I recall a quote from Spurgeon that said something to the effect that, when the Bible teaches predestination, he preaches predestination; when the Bible teaches free will, he preaches that. And that it was only the folly of man that tried to make those one doctrine.

9 volfan007 February 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Bob,

Amen.

David

10 volfan007 February 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm

As just a regular ole, Biblicist, Baptist Christian; that’s exactly how I approach Scripture….just let it say what it says. Dont try to make it fit your “system.” hummmmm….sounds so simple.

David

11 Mark February 15, 2012 at 11:25 pm

In his sermon, “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility,” Charles Spurgeon wrote the following.

Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism.

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

12 volfan007 February 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm

I believe this quote from Spurgeon to be true to the Bible, and very good insight.

David

13 Jared Moore February 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm

David, that’s Calvinism.

14 volfan007 February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Jared,

I also believe that man must make a real choice…whether he’s gonna be saved, or not. I also believe that Jesus died for everyone on the planet…

David

15 Matt Svoboda February 16, 2012 at 12:32 am

David,

The first sentence you said is also calvinism.

The second sentence is what differentiates the 4 and 5 pointers. :)

Glad to be a 4 pointer.

16 volfan007 February 16, 2012 at 12:38 am

Matt,

I just try to believe the Bible….wherever that takes me….
I’m not sold out to any system.

David

17 Squirrel February 16, 2012 at 12:43 am

Calvinists believe that man makes a real choice to follow Christ or reject Him. We just believe that all men, without God’s intervention, will always really choose to reject Christ.

But, about “I also believe that Jesus died for everyone on the planet…“: Do you believe that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of everyone who is/will be in hell for eternity?

Because if Christ satisfied the wrath of God for everyone who is in hell, then why are they under God’s wrath?

Squirrel

18 Frank L. February 16, 2012 at 1:19 am

Squirrel said, “”Calvinists believe that man makes a real choice to follow Christ or reject Him. We just believe that all men, without God’s intervention, will always really choose to reject Christ.””

I don’t necessarily disagree with your view, but wouldn’t you say that this statement uses words in a way that is different from their common meaning?

You create a definition, but it does not necessarily equate to any increase in understanding. It is epistemologically vacuous–though it is in fact true.

I think this is an inevitable problem with language when describing supernatural issues, ideas, and entities.

Calvinism almost pushes one into a Alice in Wonderland situation where “everything is topsy-turvy.”

19 Squirrel February 16, 2012 at 3:01 am

wouldn’t you say that this statement uses words in a way that is different from their common meaning?

Common usage? Yes, in that I reject the common understanding of “choice” to mean totally autonomous will. Our choices are always guided & affected by our nature. For example, if I do not like pickles, it affects my choice of what to eat for lunch. Am I “free” to choose a sandwich with pickles? Sure. But will I? Not likely. (NOTE: I actually like pickles. This is just a mild example.)

Fallen man’s choice to reject Christ is 100% consistent with his fallen nature, as his nature is totally in rebellion against God. He chooses in accordance with his will, which is enslaved to his sin.

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

That is the state of man, until and unless God intervenes.

Squirrel

20 Mike Leake February 16, 2012 at 9:26 am

Not that it really matters but I have a really hard time discerning if I’m a 4 or 5 point Calvinist. I agree with Andrew Fuller’s position and John Calvin’s but I disagree with the strict particularist stream of Calvinism. I think textually you have to say that in some way (though perhaps not effectually) Christ died for the whole world. I think Calvin’s view was that he positionaly died for all…so that if any man was to be saved it would be through Christ.

21 formeratheist February 16, 2012 at 10:03 am

This one is actually for Squirrell’s reply which said:

“Do you believe that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of everyone who is/will be in hell for eternity?”

Respectfully please tell me if I let the text read for itself what conclusion I am to draw from it:

“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The text literally bears out what it says. “World” is the Greek kosmos meaning literally world or universe (etymologically the origin of the English word cosmos) and “whole” is holos meaning whole or completely. Now whatever our preconceptions or preferences are the meaning of John’s text is quite clear to me. It’s a perfect example for Mr. Leake’s great article. Whether I like it or not, John has said that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. It’s a good text to pour over, maybe debate over, to view through the lens of our own particular theology, but at it’s heart, if we let the text speak, it’s pretty plain no matter what we want it to say or not say.

Randy

22 Christiane February 16, 2012 at 10:15 am

It is a text that speaks to us plainly.

23 Mike Leake February 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

Yep that is one reason why, I believe, we have to say in some sense Christ did die for the whole world. Again Calvin interpreted this text as saying that Christ did positionaly die for every man. He is the atoning sacrifice for every man if man is to be saved. But then again His blood must be appropriated….and only the elect will do so by grace through faith.

24 Squirrel February 16, 2012 at 11:40 am

Randy,

Normally, I wouldn’t just blast out a quote and disappear, but I’ve got one of those days ahead of me…

MacArthur’s note on 1 John 2:2:

1 John 2:2 propitiation. Cf. 4:10. The word means “appeasement” or “satisfaction.” The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin (cf. Rom. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:3). So Jesus propitiated or satisfied God. See notes on Heb. 2:17; 9:15 for a clear illustration of propitiation. for the sins of the whole world. This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general. Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe. A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9). Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ. The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:3–4). “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation. God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (see note on 1 Tim. 4:10). In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporal propitiation for the whole world. But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe. Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God. Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith. But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (cf. John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 8:32, 37; Eph. 5:25). The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (cf. 1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24). There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

I doubt that I could say it any better, anyway.

Squirrel

25 formeratheist February 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

I love Johnny Mac, he’s a great expositor and teacher. I cannot say that I disagree with what is being said in your quote, especially if you look at this part:

“The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe.”

I think that pretty much sums it up and he is letting the text speak for itself. I guess we really get into theologically stormy waters when we start looking at how people come to believe. That is worthy of a civil debate, but it seems like we both agree that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient to save any and all. Thanks for the great quote.

Randy

26 Squirrel February 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Christiane said, regarding 1 John 2:2…

It is a text that speaks to us plainly.

I find that amusing, being said of what is generally regarded as one of the hardest books in the New Testament to interpret correctly. :)

For example, just two verses later, we read, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” I doubt that anyone here teaches sinless perfectionism for believers this side of heaven, yet, without careful consideration of context, 1 John 2:4 could easily be taken to mean just that!

Exegesis is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. ;)

Squirrel

27 formeratheist February 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Squirrel,
I love it. It’s just like the first verse of 1 John 2:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
(1 John 2:1)

Of course that all speaks not to just letting the text speak for itself, but putting it into context (within that particular book, yet also the entirety of THE Book). John is my favorite NT author, and his inspired texts are sometimes difficult, yet always worth the effort of digging deeply into. Won’t it be cool when we get to sit down in Glory with him and say, “Hey man, what exactly did you mean when you wrote that?” :)

Randy

28 Bill Mac February 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm

I agree as well.

29 Jim Pemberton February 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I’ve long thought the same thing and I hold this as a test to Biblical adherence regardless of whether someone is Reformed or not. We must believe that God is absolutely sovereign and we must believe that man is utterly culpable for his sin. We each must reconcile the two the best we can using scripture but we must hold those two to be true.

30 dr. james willingham February 16, 2012 at 12:38 am

As some preacher said long ago: He that is consistent with himself is consistent with a prayer. I would rather be found consistent with the word of God and thought inconsistent by the naysayers than to maintain my own hobbyhorse of understanding. Besides there is a depth in such wonderfully seeming inconsistencies, and God will do His own justifying when the time comes. A lot of our problems grow out of our understanding of logic and science, and today we have both poor logic and flawed though very successful science. But, as any science educator can tell you, there is a problem with our present day scientific method: It has a problem with handling anything beyond a simple lab experiment, of dealing with hypotheses where the null hypotheses might also be true. The rigors of analysis need to be ameliorated with synthetical formualtions.

31 K Gray February 16, 2012 at 12:59 am

Some sermons go “off” at some point — like if you were listening with a truth dial, you would turn it way down at a certain point — and I used to wonder what that was. So I started taking careful notes and studying and found that when LOGIC replaces Scripture, truth can suffer.

Love Wins is an example. Its premises are logical: If God wants everyone to be saved, and God is all powerful, then why wouldn’t God get what He wants? Love wins! Makes sense, right? If God is love, and love doesn’t torture people with fire forever, then why would you believe in a place of eternal destruction? A little Scripture + logic = winning formula.

Atheists of course use the classic “If God is love and love doesn’t murder then why would God murder his own son?” or “If God is love and God is all powerful why would he let his son be murdered?” or “If God is good and God is all-powerful why does God allow children to suffer?”

I’m watching a lot of people fall helpless before these logic-rhetoric trains.

32 Frank L. February 16, 2012 at 1:25 am

K-Gray, good point. Interesting analysis.

I agree that Scripture defies any kind of strict logical system. It is something supra-logical.

33 formeratheist February 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Wow, love your take on this. True faith is illogical – it totally flies in the face of logic yet we try to bring logic into the equation nevertheless. It always makes me think of what a Vulcan from Star Trek would say about our faith. He would look at Christianity and conclude, “That’s illogical.” He would be even more perplexed when we responded, “Exactly!”

Randy

34 John Wylie February 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Now hold it Randy, don’t insult my intelligence. JK

Actually I agree with you, I think that too many preachers today are enamored with being intellectuals. But the scriptures were actually given to the common person, not the scholar.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Psalms 119:130)

“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

35 volfan007 February 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm

John,

When you said, “Actually I agree with you, I think that too many preachers today are enamored with being intellectuals. But the scriptures were actually given to the common person, not the scholar;” you nailed ye olde nail squarely on the ole head.

David

36 Mike Leake February 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Personally I think you should say not only the scholar. There is certainly as much danger in anti-intelllectualism as their is over intellectualism. We are called to love God with our mind as well.

37 K Gray February 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Star Trek = analogies for every occasion. Actually somebody should write a book of Star Trek analogies.

38 K Gray February 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Mr Leake hit it – when we are tempted to “ride a Scripture too long” or “into error,” often other Scripture pulls us back. So I love this post, and the Spurgeon quote, and the term “supra-logical.”

I haven’t figured out where to place logic. It’s not inherently bad but it lacks truth power; also it can become an idol, even a tyrant, as in “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy” and so forth, Col. 2:8. Do we have to slavishly follow logic wherever it leads, or bow to strict logical consistency? That sounds kind of small. Logic can coincide with truth but I’m not sure it IS truth or it always leads to truth.*

* “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” :)

39 Jim Pemberton February 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm

To be sure, revealed truth is absolutely reasonable, but our flawed philosophical sensibilities often severely impair our ability to reason effectively. Scripture is the corrective for our deeply-embedded false rationale. If it doesn’t make sense to us it’s because we either haven’t studied the scripture well enough or we haven’t yet submitted to what we have studied (Rom 2:2).

40 Tom Bryant February 16, 2012 at 9:04 am

Very good! The money statement:
“So, if you want to be the pastor of balanced Christians then one way to bring that about is to be faithful in preaching the text as it is. Let the text speak for itself.”

41 Bill Lonas February 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

Great post Mike, I agree!

KGray, great point about logic. As if we could ever box the mind of God into our ever-so limited logic.

Isaiah 55:9 sounds right.

42 John Wylie February 16, 2012 at 11:07 am

Mike,

Great article. My hobby horse has been the fact that many times “isms” are to blame for us not simply letting the text speak. Whether we would admit it or not when we encounter passages that contradict our paradigm we tend to, consciously or unconsciously, defend the paradigm. The thing that we need to remember that all “isms” are man made systems and are flawed at best.

43 Robert Vaughn February 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Great point, John. So many times we don’t realize it because we are unconsciously defending what we know the Bible says without realizing we are defending a system that we take for granted to be true. From the human standpoint (for truly the Holy Spirit must be figured in), the great thing that separated the Bereans is that they searched the Scriptures with a mind to find out what they say is the truth. Contrast that with the Pharisees, who knew what the truth was, but for the most part were blindly following their traditions. We all need this same inspection.

44 John Wylie February 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Robert,

I appreciate your remarks. I usually irritate people when I bring the point up. It’s a little hard to have a air of superiority when one is forced to admit that all systems of theology have their problems.

45 K Gray February 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Mine too! But out here in pewsitterland, we don’t know or recognize all the “isms.” Sometimes we can identify obvious skews of tradition, personal opinion, or as noted above, logic — moreso at other churches than at our own.

46 Jim Pemberton February 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Following the text of scripture rather than our own pet topics is the necessary discipline of preaching the truth. Applying to the spiritual needs of the church is the necessary imperative of preaching the truth. Both are thwarted by importing external distractions into the discussion.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: