Saturday, September 1, 2018

How Do We Evaluate a Preacher's Message?

Unhappily, Christian people are often all too ready to attack other Christians and to accuse them of being “heretics” because they disagree with their teaching. The gospel (euangelion) is the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and his authority over all things,as the Son of God (e.g., Romans 1:1-4).

But this basic “good news” has many implications and facets, and different preachers focus on different aspects of the gospel. Some stress accepting God’s forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. Others emphasize the experience of knowing that God loves you. Still others stress the new way of life that becomes possible for us through the work of Jesus. Obviously all these are aspects of the basic message about Jesus, so it’s unkind and even foolish to attack a preacher as a false teacher because he or she stresses a different facet of the Christian message.

As an example, in certain Christian circles there’s a sustained attack on the “prosperity gospel” or “word of faith” movement as a false teaching. (Never mind, of course, that the Apostle Paul calls the gospel the “word of faith” that he preaches — Romans 10:8-9.) Opponents evaluate the “prosperity gospel” negatively because millions of third-world Christians continue to live in deprivation and poverty despite having come to the Lord.

But, we have to ask, should we evaluate the truth or falsehood of a preacher’s teaching based on the experiences of people, or on what we see reported in the media? Or should we judge the preacher’s message based on how it corresponds to the Word of God? In other words, does the poverty of millions of believers negate the clear teaching of Scripture that “the reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4)? It seems to me that it’s the Word of God, rather than human circumstance, that provides the criterion by which to evaluate the truth or falsehood of someone’s teaching.