Happy Tensions: What, Why, How … Who!

The Bible specifically tells us the What & Why of God’s revelation, and in many ways reveals to us the How (as well as they where, when, etc.). It is a collection of God’s specifically written 66 books packed with narrative, the great themes of God’s revelation, propositional truths, and a whole lot more, for all Scripture is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” ( 2 Timothy 3:16 ). Why? So the people of God will be thoroughly equipped for all of life (every good work, v. 17).

What, Why, How ... WHO!

Related to this, let us consider a different perspective or facet related to What, Why & How, especially related to communicating God’s true Word (preaching, teaching, etc.). For right now let’s think of “What” as the truths of Scripture, the essential doctrines . “Why” would be the theological perspectives and reasons behind these truths . “How” represents principles for godly living derived from Scripture (based on the What & Why), for life application.

But there is still something missing – rather, “Who” is missing?

Jesus is the “Who” of the Bible, for He is the sum and substance of God’s revelation ( Hebrews 1:1-3 ), the Image of God, the purpose for which and One for whom the Scriptures exist. That special revelation was given to show us The special revelation, the Christ — to testify of the worth, work and ways of the Son of God who came to reveal the Almighty Father.

“You search the Scriptures … it is they that bear witness about Me” ( John 5:39 )
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” ( Luke 24:28 )

With these working definitions it seems to be that any communication of God’s Word should have a relative proportion of Why, Why & How, which probably changes for each setting, context, need etc. All of these must point to the Who — Jesus. I’m not just for filling people with Bible knowledge (the What), especially not divided from their Subject, Jesus. Yet on the other side it seems that majoring on “How to …” messages will stunt the spiritual growth of our people (most of whom sadly get almost all of their “feeding” on a Sunday morning). That part may be their fault, but is it not ours as well? If we make them dependent upon our endless ways to make the Bible fresh and fun and principled, does that not also sort of set them up for failure long-term? Our people do not know what is in their Bible because it is spoon fed for them, in lists, principles and acronyms.

For our people to have substantial lives, they must be taught substantial things.

Back to considering the “How to …” method. One problem with this method of communicating God’s word is that it treats the Bible like a divine recipe book . A cup of this, a pinch of that, a bit of another thing, and mix it all together. Viola, a godly life comes out as long as we mix it all together and do what we hear. Or, one could saw it reveals a scatter plot of God’s truth . A dot here, a dot here, a few scattered over here, etc. So, a pastor may say within himself, “I’d like to teach my people on ________. What in Scripture backs up my points?” So he looks for “dots” in the Scriptures, perhaps being diligent to give chapter and verse so that his message remains “biblical.” Do you see the inherent flaw in this method? Not only is one prone to find specific verses (not in their context) to “prove” one’s point, and to avoid hard and uncomfortable passages, but it also insufficiently models for the people how to properly live under the authority of God’s Word. They think, “I could never come up with that on my own, so let me close this Book and listen to it fresh and new!” The urge to be clever and new and exciting drives us to think we must re-package God’s Word for His people to be able to interact with it and apply to their lives. I’m all about creative communication, but I cannot think of a more creative and effective way to transform people’s minds ( Romans 12:2 ) than to bring light to the truth of the Gospel and unleash Scripture itself in its context for all to see and taste. The Bible in its context shall not just be the foundation of our preaching, but rather the content of it.

Another reason I find this method lacking is that it is built upon the premise of pragmatism . Pragmatism is couched in the premise, “it works,” and argues that it must be right as a result. “How” is the main question and “Why” is hardly ever asked except as a reason to validate the How. And the pragmatic core of it all says that if we do A then B will happen to us. People are then prone see God as a genie and if we live rightly before Him then He rewards us (which denies grace and love and humility) and essentially fuels a light version of self-righteousness based on biblical principles. (Again, where’s the “Who”? Or, perhaps He has been cast as the One who helps us do the How.) Reducing the Bible to a How-To-Manual takes away from its infinite worth and does not adequately reveal Who and Why (or even What) is in it.

Do I not like principles for godly living? Of course I do, and the Bible is full of them. Saving, investing, forgiving, parenting, all of it is in there to be known and applied. Furthermore, we want to be relevant to people and our culture. I want to be relevant too, but who said the Bible itself is not relevant? And who said our job is primarily to be relevant? Seems like being faithful as stewards of the mysteries of Christ is a top priority, which would then make us relevant. We are relevant when we love people authentically, unconditionally, and sacrificially. I do not know if it is because the Bible does not move some pastors and leaders that they feel compelled to chase after some new book because it gets their juices flowing and not the Word. If we think that the Bible is boring perhaps it is because we don’t believe it … or at least do not feel it. Let us reconsider the crazy and dangerous and compelling ways God in His Word enthralls His people; it is the most exciting book in all the Word. . Take any sign and message of Jesus, any parable and command ( Luke 9:23-27 for example) and tell me that is not exciting and crazy. Do we resort to only principles because we think Scripture is not enjoyable nor sufficient to change our lives? Let’s get on our knees and plead with God to grip us with His Word to such a degree that His worth, work and ways fill our minds and hearts and lead us to passionately preach of Him.

Perhaps the major reason this method is flawed is because it sets forth a system of redemption instead of giving the people a Redeemer (elevating the How above the Who). It assumes people understand the Gospel and live within it, but just incompletely. But a side effect is that people come to trust the principles more than see the beauty and worth of the One who gave Himself for them. Jesus came as the Incarnate God in human flesh and suffered on the cross and rose again triumphant over all His enemies. Did He do all of that (and continue today as our High Priest and Mediator) to merely give us a list of 7 things to do for a happy marriage, or 4 truths for parenting teenagers, or two rhyming words to keep in mind when trying to decide if we need a 42-inch flat panel TV? No, Jesus came to set us from from sin and Satan and deliver us up to bring us to God. He came as our Great God and Savior who gave Himself up for us all, so that we would see God as our portion and treasure and joy forever. He is the Redeemer who when trusted transcends every circumstance and makes us glorious with Him. Again, this cannot be assumed, for it is the “Why” behind our Gospel-centered preaching. And when we see Jesus as our treasure above all else (knowing, loving and enjoying Him more than anything), we will do life differently. Our finances will be transformed, our marriages deepened, parenting in humble desperation and dependence upon Christ, and suffering endured, for His sake and our good. The Redeemer shows us His What, Why & How, because they are rooted in the Who — Him!

The Gospel applies to all of life, at work, in relationships, in parenting, in finances, in all things. It is not just the way we get saved. It is the whole sphere of the Christan life, for we never outgrow our need for the grace of God in the Gospel. The “How to …” approach to communicating the Bible merely assumes the Gospel is our foundation. But let us not assume our people understand or live in the Gospel; their lives do not just need tweaking or new and innovative ways of thinking. They need to be enthralled with the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ who is the Image of God and be transformed to live not for self but for God and others.

As we stare at Christ and consider His worth, His work, and His ways, we are changed into His likeness, for

“we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ).

Let us endeavor to speak the Gospel so that people are changed — What, Why, How and especially the Who!

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