Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Its About Christ: A Lesson on Hermeneutics

Are you guilty of reading and is your pastor guilty of preaching the Bible as MOTS - a term keyed by Timothy Keller, meaning the Moral Of The Story. The term describes our tendency to read a given text of Scripture, take David and Goliath for example, as a story that teaches an important morals - in this case slaying the giants in your life. Regular examples of this approach to Christianity can be found especially in VeggieTales. Each episode of the fun-loving vegetables (Jimmy and Jerry are my favorites) illustrates a moral crisis and how Christian children should behave. We should not give into peer pressure (Rack, Shack, and Benny), be patient (Abe and the Amazing Promise), have good self-esteem (Dave and the Giant Pickle), be obedient (Josh and the Big Wall), and trust God (Gideon: Tuba Warrior).

Regarding this tendency in every episode of VeggieTales, its founder Phil Vischer, publicly repented of his shows Moral Theuropeutic Gospel. He told WORLD Magazine in an interview:
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.

American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.
Before this, Dr. Russell Moore, now the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, made the same point:
Have you ever seen the episode of Veggie Tales in which the main characters are martyred by anti-Christian terrorists? You know, the one in which Bell Z. Bulb, the giant garlic demon, and Nero Caesar Salad, the tyrannical vegetable dictator, take on the heroes for their faith in Christ. Remember how it ends? Remember the cold dead eyes of Larry the cucumber behind glass, pickled for the sake of the Gospel? Remember Bob the tomato, all that remained was ketchup and seeds?

No, of course you don’t remember this episode. It doesn’t exist–and it never will. Such a concept would be rejected out of hand by the creative minds behind the popular children’s program, and the evangelical video-buying public wouldn’t hand over the cash to buy such a product. It would be considered too disturbing, too dark, for children. Instead, the Veggie Tales episodes we’ve all seen are bloodless. They take biblical stories, and biblical characters, but they mine the narrative for abstractions–timeless moral truths that can help children to be kinder, gentler, and more honest. There’s almost nothing in any episode that isn’t true. But what’s missing is Jesus.

There’s plenty of Veggie Tales preaching out there, and it’s not all for children. As a matter of fact, the way we teach children the Bible grows from what we believe the Bible is about–what’s really important in the Christian life. There’s also such a thing as Veggie Tales discipleship, Veggie Tales evangelism, even erudite and complicated Veggie Tales theology and biblical scholarship. Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing in on what the Bible is about–Christ Jesus and His Gospel–we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn’t last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered
As Moore points out, this MOTS approach to Scripture reading and preaching goes well beyond popular children's shows but has become the default position of most sermons and hermeneutics. In his article entitled Moralism Vs. Jesus-Centered Preaching Tullian Tchividjian raises the challenge of MOTS and why it is so detrimental to the church. He identifies the root problem of MOTS as an anthropocentric hermeneutic: To read and preach the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us and what we should do is to miss the point of the Bible entirely.

Let's return to the story of David and Goliath. Its not about "facing your giants" (a title of a Max Lucado book on this story). Tchividjian writes
There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on
The purpose of Scripture, then, is not to become ethically and morally good, but to be saved. One author once wrote that the gospel does not make bad men good, but dead men alive! That is the message of Scripture. Thus, in every passage of Holy Scripture, we must find the who and the what. The who is Jesus Christ crucified and raised. The what is the gospel.

This approach is illustrated for us in the following video featuring Matt Chandler who also looks at the David and Goliath narrative.

Matt Chandler - David, Goliath & The Gospel from The Gospel Project | LifeWay on Vimeo.

So in the end, let us stop reading the Bible in search of ourselves, let us find Christ. And, for pastors, let us cease preaching a message more reminiscent of VeggieTales, and let us instead point our congregation to the cross.

Tullian Tchividjian - Moralism Vs. Jesus-Centered Preaching
Russell Moore - Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text

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