A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is
like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
~C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
The Chronicles of Narnia continue to hit our local movie theaters. It is great to see the powerful fairytales and feel the impact of the C.S. Lewis storylines. The first to make it to the big screen, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” was a great visual representation of the classic story. Soon “Prince Caspian” will also be in movie theaters as a second installment of the Lewis children stories. Good as “The Wardrobe” was, however, I was sorely disappointed that many of the famous, solidly theological lines in the story were either left out or dumbed down.
The dumbing down of religious and theological thoughts is easy to understand when popular, mass consumption and relative political correctness are needed to bring in the big bucks for movie production companies. The dumbing down of God’s Word preached, however, is unconscionable, for the aim of preaching is not to gain wealth, up-market share, or for personal gain, but to present God’s Word to dying men in need of life, the power of the resurrection, and God Himself. As the quoted passage above from another of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, “The Silver Chair,” there is “no other stream” from which one can quench one’s spiritual thirst.
The scene comes from The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis. Jill, one of the children, meets Aslan, the Lion, for the first time. In the story, the Lion is the symbol for Jesus Christ. Jill is in need of satisfying a dire urge for water. She notices a nice, crisp, clear stream nearby, but there is a Lion standing in the path. As you read the conversation between the Jill and Aslan (above), Jill was afraid of the Lion, but sorely needed to drink. She reasoned with the Lion to move away, but found no room for negotiation. The Lion revealed fully and unashamedly His character, for even one’s fear or need can not change the Lion’s nature. Out of fear and frustration, the girl decides that it best to look elsewhere to satisfy her thirst. The Lion was direct, “There is no other stream.”
This is the problem, “There is no other stream.” There is no other source for which man, woman, or child, community or nation can find the remedy for sin, evil, and death. No other source, than the Bible, God’s Word, that can be God’s voice, power, and source of life—for now and for eternity. When ministers of the Word do not do their homework, and undertake the serious task of exegesis and biblical-theological reflection in order to hear the text—they offer less than the Word of God preached. For those in the place of God on a Sunday morning—or for that matter, at any time one claims to be delivering God’s Word—it is a deception to offer less than God’s Word. For offering anything else suggests that there are other streams from which people can drink. But there is no other stream.
Those delivering messages from the Bible must actually believe and be firmly committed to the Bible as God’s Word, the ultimate authority and only source for life and redemption—presenting or preaching anything else is deceptive and enables others to believe there are “other streams” that can quench one’s need for God, forgiveness, and God-given life.
Whose Word is it anyway?
The answer is almost ridiculously obvious—the Bible is God’s Word, of course. Obvious for sure, but it is a foundational consideration that needs to be at the forefront of any discussion on preaching or when reflecting on the importance of the sermon. I recognize that many who step into the pulpit (or its equivalent) each Sunday do not fully believe the Bible to be God’s Word. I am not concerned with these, but I am disturbed with those who say they believe it is God’s Word and then offer less to their congregations through their sermons.
In 2006, the Barna Group, a Christian polling and statistical organization, found that of all adults, forty-eight percent (48%) agreed strongly that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings. This is up, actually, from 42% in 2002 and 35% in 1991. This is a good thing. But I still found it interesting that in 2006, twelve percent (12%) of those confessing to be born again Christians disagreed that “the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings.” The same Barna polling found a sadder commentary on preachers. Based on a nationwide survey, senior pastors, across a wide range of protestant churches, indicated that only half (51%) actually have a biblical worldview. One of the major categories or indicators for this data is their belief in the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Among Evangelicals—my target audience—only 89% believe the Bible is literally true and fully the Word of God. When roughly 1,000 adults were asked to describe their view of the Bible, only 28% responded that the Bible is the “actual Word of God and is to be taken literally.” That’s 2.8 people in 10.
I do not intend to debate the subject, although I will produce one essay on the subject of inspiration and inerrancy. But the one claiming to speak for God must fundamentally decide what the Bible is and whose Word he or she is preaching. And then treat it so in the pulpit. Ultimately, it is not important what people in general (i.e., the congregation or even the general population, man on the street) believe the Bible to be; it is, however, extremely serious when the one delivering, supposedly, God’s Word believes the Bible is less than God’s Word to man or treats is so by trading away the Word of God preached for lesser things or personal agendas.
My concern is not with those thinking less of the Bible, up front and admittedly confessing it so even before they even rise to give a sermon—that’s another problem all together. But, my unease comes from those who claim a faithful allegiance to God and His Word, yet offer their congregations less through sloppy exegesis and a disregard for good faithful biblical study.
Each Friday and/or Saturday, I intend to post the rough drafts and thoughts for a manuscript, , Letting the Lion Out of Its Cage: Meditations on Preaching the Bible. This is the first post for the thread that will make up the first chapter, “No Other Stream.” Your comments are appreciated. My hope is to include some of the comments, so, obviously pithy, creative, and insightful (whether critiquing or adding or rebuking, and even the rare agreement) would be attractive to my future publisher.