by Aaron Lavender
Ever since the catastrophic events in the garden of Eden, God’s Word has been distorted. God explicitly forbade Adam from eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling him, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17). God’s Word to Adam was precise and well-defined. Adam presumably, in turn, was responsible for communicating God’s Word to Eve in the same manner it had been communicated to him—word for word without any additions or subtractions.
Yet when the Tempter asked whether God’s prohibition of eating from the forbidden tree was good and reasonable, Eve said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen 3:2–3). Eve’s response represents the first recorded instance of God’s Word being distorted. God had not prohibited touching the fruit. He merely forbade eating it. For the very first time, mankind was faced with a crisis of authority. In response, Eve rendered God’s Word inaccurately rather than trusting it as the authoritative revelation of her Creator.
Is God’s Word authoritative? Can it be trusted? Should it be believed and accepted? Is it accurate and without error? Is it sufficient to meet humanity’s emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs? The Genesis incident ignited a flame of distortion and unbelief that has been burning out of control ever since.
The distorting of God’s Word has worsened over the years. This is not to suggest a total absence of preachers and local churches that remain true to God’s infallible Word. There are many. I am suggesting, however, that God’s Word is being undermined today by preachers who, for practical purposes, deny its sufficiency. Some feel they need to add to or subtract from what the Bible says. As James Draper suggests, “The doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures is being undermined in our churches.” This undermining occurs, he argues, when Christians fall prey to three dangers:
The first danger is the error of adding to the Word of God . . . the latest craze among those searching for extrabiblical, private revelation. What is so misleading about this error is that its proponents acknowledge that the Bible is necessary for salvation and service, but they deny that it is sufficient. The replacing of the Word of God is the second danger facing churches today. When the clear teaching of the Bible is replaced with modern psychological theory, the purpose of the church is no longer salvation, but therapy. The third danger may be the most treacherous of all, because it is the least obvious. The displacing of the Word of God occurs when the preaching and teaching of the Bible are relegated to the periphery of the worship of the church. This misstep is harder to detect, because in order to commit this error it is not necessary to do anything to the Bible or to its teachings—just leave them out.
Whether one agrees with Draper’s specific observations or not, most Christians will probably concur that God’s Word is under attack. It is being undermined by preachers across denominational lines. On any given Sunday, men stand in pulpits across our nation with open Bibles and mouths, muting God’s words and inserting their own in its place. Countless thousands have been duped into believing that what is being preached is God’s Word when it is merely the personal thoughts and opinions of the preacher. A great need exists to restore textual accuracy and relevance to biblical preaching, particularly in African-American pulpits.
The problem of misrepresenting God’s Word is not restricted to African-Americans or white Americans; it transcends race and culture. It is a problem facing all Christians in all denominations. However, as an African-American, I am passionately concerned about the African-American pulpit and whether God’s Word is treated with the utmost integrity there. African-American pulpits desperately need a revival of biblical fidelity and relevance in their approach to preaching. As Thabiti Anyabwile notes in The Decline of African-American Theology:
As a consequence of theological drift and erosion, the black church now stands in danger of losing its relevance and power to effectively address both the spiritual needs of its communicants and the social and political aspirations of its community.
This book addresses four topics related to textual accuracy and relevance in biblical preaching. The first topic considered is the crisis necessitating a reemphasis of textual accuracy and relevance in biblical preaching. Segregation and theological training, black liberation theology, and prosperity theology is discussed. This chapter is not intended to be an exhaustive study of these subjects. Rather, it addresses them as they relate to the overall theme of this work. This chapter builds the foundation upon which the remainder of the book rests and therefore is the longest.
The second topic considered is the importance of exegesis for biblical and relevant preaching. The definition, importance, and crisis of exegesis is discussed. An explanation about the building blocks needed to produce sound exegesis is also explained.
The third topic considered is the theology of preaching. The nature of biblical preaching, the ethos of preaching in the African-American tradition, and the importance and value of expository preaching is explained.
The final topic considered is relevance in preaching. The subject of postmodernism is delineated. In an effort to demonstrate why effectively communicating God’s Word in an age of skepticism and relativism is important to all pulpits, input from seasoned Bible expositors is cited.
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