Thursday, March 2, 2023

Simple But Not Simplistic

A number of years ago I began encouraging my younger faculty colleagues to begin publishing. We should start with our dissertations. After all, if it was worth the time to write it, it's worth the time to make it possible for others to read it. Paul, Apostle of Weakness, my Basel dissertation, was my first book. But you don't stop there. Many of my colleagues went on to write a number of excellent works, including textbooks. Ah textbooks -- my stock in trade. I suppose this is because so much of what I write is subject matter that I had already been teaching for years. 

The challenge has been to keep things simple without being simplistic. Hence my books have been getting shorter and shorter. As to whether or not they are simplistic, others will have to decide. One reviewer of my book Why Four Gospels? over at Amazon wrote, "The book is too short." Another wrote: "I have dozens of extraordinarily complex and verbose books about the gospels and the Synoptic problem sitting on my shelf. The fact that this book is 5 X 8 inches and barely 100 pages, and that half that space is occupied by generous footnotes and other references, is testimony to its simplicity and economy." I suppose I could summarize my philosophy of writing as a threefold goal: to expound the biblical text accurately, to relate its truth to contemporary life, and to be concise and readable. For me, Paul's letters have always been a role model in this regard. His letter to the Ephesians, for example, is marvelously concise yet comprehensively descriptive of God's new society, the church. 

It takes up a mere 18 pages in my Greek New Testament. No English reader would stumble over its vocabulary or diction. Likewise, its Greek is straightforward -- which is perhaps why Ephesians is so often used in Greek exegesis courses. Nobody can emerge from a careful reading of this letter with a low view of the church or with a privatized gospel. Why, then, should many of its essential truths be ignored? The New Testament concept of "pastor," for instance, is not of a person perched atop a pyramid, but rather of one who encourages all of God's people to discover and exercise their gifts. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in Eph. 4:11-12. This is one reason I feel so strongly about the New Testament concept of every member ministry and deplore the expression "called to the ministry." Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold the supremacy of Christ, even in the titles they use for themselves. Elders and pastors need to keep this ideal clearly before them. Superstar clericalism has no place in biblical Christianity. And there is no profit for pastors to read through the book of Ephesians if they do not show a determination to live a life that is worthy of its message. If the leader gives an uncertain lead, who will follow? Nobody will and nobody should. 

R. C. Sproul once said that great preachers are like an iceberg -- you only see 10 percent, but underneath you sense the 90 percent. I agree. People know if your teaching comes from the canteen of Saturday night or from a reservoir of Bible knowledge. So, to the degree we are able, let's keep things simple but not simplistic. And let's communicate the truth to others in ways they can readily grasp.