Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren't. #2: "I don't use commentaries because they're men's wisdom. I only use God's Word when I study."

Part 1 of the series, Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren't. #1: "Let Go and Let God"
Part 3 of the series "I'm too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means"
Part 4 of the series  Pray Big Because We Have a Big God
Part 5 of the series He's so heavenly minded he's no earthly good
Spurgeon
Some sayings sound legitimate on their surface. They sound pious. They sound biblical. Like this one: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". Only problem is, that one isn't in the bible. At all.

It is sometimes hard to tell what truly is Christian and what merely sounds Christian. Charles Spurgeon wisely said, "Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right." So what is right, and what is almost right (AKA 'wrong') about the following sayings which have become such cliches?

Some of these mottoes are:
  1. "Let go and let God"
  2. "I don't use commentaries because they're men's wisdom. I only use God's Word when I study."
  3. "We can't know for certain what the bible means, I'm not that smart"
  4. "Pray big because we have a big God."
  5. "He's so heavenly minded he's no earthly good"
In part 1 we looked at "Let go and let God." Now let's look at #2,

"I don't use commentaries because they're men's wisdom. I only use God's Word when I study."

"It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries…A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences.”
CH Spurgeon
Beth Moore says this a lot. It sounds like she's being diligent and pious, doesn't it? The phrase actually has a legitimate root. It's called biblicism. GotQuestions defines biblicism as "Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority" and this is a good thing.

However, many people take biblicism to an unintended end by rejecting all supportive works recognized as legitimately helpful by the Christian historical record.

It is less than pious to reject the wisdom of the faithful men God has raised up for our learning. God took time to mold men, justify them, install the Spirit in them, educate them, and empower them for good works. When we say "I don't need commentaries" what we're saying is that though we believe we have all the power necessary to learn all we need from the bible, (and we do, by the Spirit) it means we also totally reject God's work in these men. It's like saying, "I don't need to listen to my pastor's sermons because they are a man's wisdom. I only need God's Word" and then cover your ears in the pew and go la la la the entire sermon.

Jonathan Edwards
Who doesn't need to read Jonathan Edwards' sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Who isn't blessed in reading SPurgeon's sermon on God's Providence? Who doesn't need to listen to Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermon series on the Great Biblical Doctrines? Who can't use a Matthew Henry or a John MacArthur commentary? Do the people who make this impious claim really understand what they are saying? More to the point, do they realize what they leave themselves open to? Solid biblical and theological scholarship that comes from seminaries and universities or from church fathers obviously in the Spirit (such as Spurgeon who never went to college OR seminary) who remain adherent to God's word, is teaching that actually guards us against heresy and helps us to remember of the hard lessons of church and martyrdom history.

"It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others." ~Charles Spurgeon

In almost every book or Bible study since Breaking Free, when Moore began to depart from the bible, Moore relates experiences of direct revelation from God or conversations with God. This is what will tend to happen as one rejects solid teaching supplements, begins to slack off in personal study, and fall into the trap of mystical intuition. We need as much help as we can get to remain on the right side of sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

"The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. Few men can comment eminently well upon the whole Bible." Charles SpurgeonAnd there are also a few logical facts to consider...

In and of ourselves, we aren't the end of all wisdom about God's Word. So sometimes we need a little help. That's what commentaries are for, to help us understand the Bible better. Now, of course studying the bible alone is preferable. It is THE starting point. But it shouldn't be the only method. Be discerning. But don't neglect the historical wealth of God's work in good men.

Martin Luther
In this issue of the student magazine, The Encourager, the author William J. Brown wrote, "To say the written wisdom of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Augustine and others have no bearing on our lives shows a bit of arrogance on our part. All we have left of these men is what they wrote. Their pastoral voices cry from the pages of ink-stained books. These men were wise (in many ways much wiser in their times than we are in ours.) We need to listen to these men and the things they desire to teach us about God's Word.

One caution: Do not allow commentaries, sermons, books, or other notes to dictate to you about what the bible says and means. Begin with the Word of God itself and allow the Spirit room to work in illuminating it to your mind.

Here are some resources for you:

John MacArthur essay: How to Enjoy Bible Study

Kay Arthur's study "Titus...Living with Integrity in a Hostile Culture" begins with an explanation about
Kay Arthur
inductive bible study- what it means and how to do it. [note: link is to .pdf]

How to Use Bible Commentaries

In keeping with Spurgeon's exhortation that the best commentaries are ones where the author focused his heart, mind and attention on one book, the standout which comes to mind is Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones' exposition on Romans. As The Banner of Truth explains, "All over the world in the most diverse situations are to be found Christian men and women who owe an incalculable debt to the ministry of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who for thirty years was the minister of Westminster Chapel, London. His longest series of expositions was this 14 volume set of Romans, the greatest of New Testament Epistles."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans (free)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones commentary on Romans, 14-volume set for purchase

Pastor & book reviewer Tim Challies often makes recommendations on good commentaries. This link leads you to his page titled Best Commentaries on Each Book of the Bible

Wiki Commons, Amish housewife
To be sure, we strike a delicate balance between relying on the Spirit to illuminate the scriptures to us and consuming work the Spirit previously did in other men. We acknowledge that while He is all-sufficient for leading us into all truth (John 6:13), He is always working (John 5:17) and His work includes illuminating the meaning of scripture in others, too, who wrote it down for us.

Ultimately, the important thing is to actually read the bible. One may be surprised at how few people actually read it. I understand lives are busy. There's a tendency to rely on one's intuition, or at the other extreme, other people's commentaries. Reading the bible is hard. Moms are busy, Dads are tired. Satan wants us to set daily reading aside 'just for today.' Soon you realize it has been two months.

When you begin, sometimes the text itself is hard to read. I just finished 1 & 2 Kings, and man, it was rough going. I hardly understood anything. The history was unfamiliar to me, the names were difficult to read and pronounce, the list of kings was confusing. I wanted to revert to the Prophets so many times, texts I love! But it's important to just keep reading. Next time I read something from 1 or 2 Kings, it will be a bit easier. I needed to break that trail.

And now for something completely different, I think I'll read Galatians next.

I use commentaries after I read a text, Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, old and new maps (I love seeing where these things are taking place), natural histories (if animals are mentioned or if the topography is important to the story), a Lexicon, Strong's concordance, parallel verses, and more. I want to understand as much as possible about the text after I read it.

For example, it was helpful to know a simple thing like when I read "A Psalm of Ascents" to hear Phil Johnson explain that when the Israelites had to go to Jerusalem for a feast, it was uphill all the way. So they sang these song as they ascended. I looked up the topography and now I can better hear their singing in my mind and feel the dust under their feet and their tired legs as they ascend. Or when Elijah fled Jezebel from Mt Carmel to Beersheba to Mt Horeb, to see where he ran to and how far it was on a map.

Rely on scripture as your authority to learn the word of God and His revealed nature, and use supporting texts to expand your understanding for context and historical meaning. Don't be abusive with them but don't be ashamed, either. But above all, read the bible.

Commons, Photo by Savio Sebastian


6 comments:

  1. I taught High School Sunday School for a decade and always taught my students how to use commentaries. One important point I made was to never use just one, because many scholars can give a better overall view. And sometimes a commentary may be excellent on most points but poor on others (such as a theistic evolution view of Genesis).

    I always start my study with a formal translation of the Bible, and compare it to other formal translations. Then I like to look at what the dynamic versions say - I always use them as commentaries - and for things I find difficult to understand I then look at the commentaries.

    One needs to look as commentaries as essentially lessons from good teachers to help you understand everything from the culture of the time, the nuances of the original languages, and even how N.T. references the O.T. where you wouldn't normally catch the reference.

    If anyone needs a commentary, it is Beth Moore. What's ironic is for all her teachings against commentaries, all her followers are using HER teachings as THEIR commentaries!

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    1. Thanks Glenn, that is all very good advice. I agree with the irony of Moore. I attended one Living Proof conference. She explained that the way she approached structuring the three day bible teaching curriculum for Charlotte (and each city gets a different study) is that she prayed and waited for the Lord to put a word into her mind. (!)

      Our word was "hold fast". For other cities it'd be 'courage', or 'confidence'. Then she looked up (In English) all the verses that had that word in it, OT and NT (but this strips the word of its context and meaning). Then she put together a pop psychology of what God must have meant when He put the word in there, using bible-ese, some other verses to make it sound legit. She taught with lots of personal life stories which she used as the basis for the verse, rather than the other way around. Anyway, then she made an acrostic, where we had to write 'Hold fast" down the side of our page and she gave us mantras or mottoes to say with the beginning letter of the word. "He is great", 'Own your choices" "Living right" for a loose example. That's the gist.

      Now keep in mind that our Living Proof conference was a sell-out, with about 30,000 women in attendance. When Moore explained how she approached developing the teaching for our weekend, she wasn't only sharing. She was *teaching* other women how to study the bible this way! So 29,999 women went home likely thinking, "If that's how Beth Moore studies, then that must be how to study the bible."

      I went home and was sick. I've never lost my hatred for what Moore is doing to women in the name of Jesus and hatred of her subtly evil way to get women AWAY from the bible. Hopefully I was not the only one who was aghast at this whole scenario, but given that she is still so influential, I doubt there were many other women who left thinking, "This is NOT the way to learn the bible!"

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    2. WOW!! That lady really is off the deep end more than I thought!!! So sad that she is teaching women such poor methods of study. What's worse is that there are way, way too many "pastors" who promote her and churches who are immersed in her "Bible studies."

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    3. There was at least one other woman who left Charlotte thinking that isn't the way to learn the bible! I had a lot of misgivings about Beth Moore before I went with a group to Charlotte. I went with an open mind I wanted to see what all the hype was about and had I missed something in her bible studes or what? (I had done two and didn't get anything from them) I too went home and felt sick afterwards. Actually I felt sick there and was very uncomfortable! I have read both your and Glenn Chatfield blogs concerning her since then. I have tried to talk with the ladies of my church on this and was met with a lot of criticism. I talked with my pastor who said he'd look into it and never did. Now the only bible studies they do are Beth Moore.

      I have found a church that does true bible studies. We have been doing a verse by verse study of Romans and I've enjoyed it and have learned so much. Thank you for your discernment and your willingness to sound the alarm when so many are just going with the flow, so to speak.

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  2. Did you hear about the earthquake in Chile?
    I cannot wait for the rapture, when all of these false prophets will be judged by God.

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    1. Yes! Thank you! I'm riveted to twitter. 8.3 with aftershocks in 6.2 range and several 5.0+ quakes. It sparked a tsunami and could arrive Hawaii as early as 3 am and California s early as 7 am

      The false prophets hurt my heart so bad that sometimes I feel like Jeremiah did

      "My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war."
      Jer 4:19

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