In my previous post, we looked at moralistic preaching and now we turn to the second of three common forms of unbiblical preaching - allegorical preaching.
At a retreat for pastors and missionaries, we heard a sermon from a pastor who is serving on the leadership board for a certain Thai church denomination. He preached on 1 Samuel 17 - the story of David and Goliath. After the reading of the passage and giving a winding conversational introduction, he started going through the passage, telling us what was there in the story. Each part of the story of David and Goliath was used allegorically to emphasize some spiritual or practical truth that is needed in order to be successful in ministry.
Unlike his fellow Israelites, the pastor told us, David had the vision to see that Goliath could be conquered by trusting in God. Therefore, it is important for each of us in ministry to seek out a vision of what God wants us to do in ministry. Thirty years ago, a certain now well-known Thai Bible teacher had a vision of starting a Bible school in Thailand that would be like this and like that. And now that school has become a reality. Everyone needs to find his own vision for what God wants him to do.
We were also told that David did not use Saul’s armor but picked up five smooth stones from the brook, which means that each of us needs to discover what our own spiritual gifts are, and use those in ministry. If we use the gifts that God has given to us, and not try to be something that we are not, then we will be effective in the ministry that God has given to us.
The other points of this pastor’s sermon were similarly allegorical. He spoke about a certain part of the story of David and Goliath and then used it to present an idea that he thinks is important for being successful in ministry.
Now each of the pastor’s points were fine, in and of themselves. It is a good thing to seek out what God would have you to do, and it is good to discover how God has specifically gifted you and try to use those gifts. However, none of the points that he made were necessarily found in the text that he was preaching on. This element or that element in the passage was merely a jumping off point to explain the true spiritual meaning of the passage hidden behind the plain facts of the story. But depending on who is preaching, the hidden spiritual meaning could be any of a number of different things, depending on what connections the preacher decides to make. In other words, the meaning that he is drawing out of the text is not organically related to what is actually found in the text. The preacher may have good points whose truth are validated by other portions of Scripture, but filling in the meaning of a given text by pulling in a schmorgesborg of what you learned in systematic theology class and personal experience is no way to get at what God is trying to communicate through THIS particular passage of Scripture. The main point that God is communicating to us in the story of David and Goliath has nothing to do with finding God’s vision for your life or discerning your spiritual gifts.
David is a type of Christ, which means that as David conquered Goliath, then Christ will someday conquer sin and death, redeeming His people. In the New Testament, Jesus is repeatedly called the Son of David because it was from the line of David that God would raise up the Messiah. The point of David defeating Goliath is not that God will help us defeat the problems in our life, give us a particular vision for ministry, or help us find discover our spiritual gifts. The point is that God desires to be glorified in all the earth through redeeming His people. David says to Goliath, “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand... that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam 17:46). God’s ultimate redemption of His people is accomplished in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and the story of David and Goliath points forward to that. To find Christ in the story of David and Goliath is not allegorical preaching, however. Preaching is only allegorical when the point being made is not related to the passage from which it is supposedly found in. However, Jesus himself explained his traveling companions on the Emmaus Road how all the Scriptures point to Him (Luke 24:27). Not every passage speaks of Christ directly but the person and work of Christ is the central point of all of Scripture. And when we miss that, we miss the main reason that God has put this story or that story into the Bible. Because we are too busy using Scripture to prop up our own ideas, we miss what God wants to communicate to us.
Some people might ask, “So what’s the big deal about allegorical preaching? He is not preaching heresy and the points that the pastor makes may be beneficial to his listeners.” The problem is that the point of Biblical preaching and teaching is to give people what God wants them to hear, not what we think they need to hear. A preacher is a messenger and the message that He has been entrusted to communicate is God’s message, not His own. When preachers fail to explain to their listeners what the Bible means, and how that relates to them, then they fail to communicate God’s message. Allegorical preaching that reinterprets Scripture to support ideas that are not found in the passage being preached is a violation of Scripture. Preachers must preach the message found in Scripture, not their own ideas that some passage reminds them of.
In my next post, we’ll look at the last of three common forms of unbiblical preaching - gnostic preaching.
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 1: Missing the Point
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 2: Moralistic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 3: Allegorical Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 4: Gnostic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 5: Consequences
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 6: Sources