By Barry Newton
Today in the gold country of Northern California, treasure hunters whether as tourists or otherwise, still scrutinize wet rocks in search of the gleam of gold. For me, the methodologies people use for sifting through the rubble of their options to settle upon what is desirable has always been deeply revealing.
Since Paul used the analogy of gold and straw to contrast differing qualities of Christian instruction, what sort of tests do those who might claim to announce God’s message employ for distinguishing the precious from the chaff?
A recent article in *Christianity Today* provides a small sampling./1 An interview with pastors about their views regarding the current academic debate over the nature of justification reveals some disturbing methodologies. My focus here is not on the content of their conclusions or the positions they hold, but how they reasoned.
One senior pastor is presented as evaluating the different positions based upon how he perceives his congregation would respond to the two different understandings. He anticipates that “few would take real comfort” if he offered N.T. Wright’s proposal. On the other hand, if he persists in proclaiming what he always has, “I’ll get e-mails thanking me for such a freeing message.”
Another preacher, apparently motivated by pragmatic concerns, reasoned, “front-loading 100 percent assurance of heaven when you die … hasn’t created a vibrant, revolutionary Christian community.” Accordingly, he finds the opposing view attractive to resolve this problem.
Neither pragmatism nor anticipating how people will respond to a particular message constitute reliable crucibles for identifying precious metal. Since not everything that glitters is gold, what motivation and goals should drive the Bible student?
The motivation should be to understand the objective message God intended to communicate, regardless whether it will be welcomed or will be perceived as a pragmatic solution. The tools for solid exegesis accompanied by a prayerful and humble heart open to being molded ought to provide the assaying methodology.
Describing one’s teaching ministry using a construction analogy Paul wrote, “each one should be careful how he builds. … If any man builds … using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is.”/2
Paul then went on to warn what would happen to the man who builds in such a manner that he destroys God’s people.
1/ Trevin Wax and Ted Olsen, “Not An Academic Question: Pastors tell how the justification debate has changed their ministry,” *Christianity Today*, June 2009.
2/ 1 Corinthians 3:10,12,13.
By Barry Newton