Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

How Preaching Serves the Process of Discipleship

How does God use a Paul to produce a Timothy? How does God use you to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ?

Second Timothy 3 and 4 provide a glimpse at that divine process.

Paul characterizes the people of the last days (3:1-9). He then contrasts this (“You, however …,” v.10; “but as for you …,” v.14) with what Timothy has come to be (vv.10-15). That transformative process in Timothy’s life was brought about, humanly speaking, through a network of relationships that included his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15), the Apostle Paul (3:10-11, 14), and others (v.14). Timothy is charged with repeating this transformative process through his relationships with “faithful men” (2:2).

There is a pattern that is consistent in the process of discipleship, the purpose in Scripture, and the practice of preaching.

The Apostle Paul lays out what appears to be a progressive process through which Timothy passed.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:1-15)

There is a logical flow to what Paul describes. Each one must move through this process:

AcquaintanceLearningConvictionWisdom/salvation

One must have an acquaintance with the truth of the Scriptures before one can believe and be transformed by that truth. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus confirmed that one must “know the truth” before one can be set free by it (John 8:32).

Having taken in the information of the Scriptures one is then in a position for learning from it. The Scriptures stand over against other ideas, claims, and calls. It’s teaching makes a divide and invites one to see what the difference between its claims and offers and those of others.

This brings one to the point of faith. With the line of demarcation laid down one must decide on which side of the line of revelation one stands. The revelation calls for conviction – either you are in or you are out. There is a call that goes out in the sounding of the Scriptures and one must either respond to that call or ignore, deflect, deny, and reject it.

When one rests oneself upon the truth of Scripture God-given, Biblical wisdom begins to form in one’s heart. Freedom comes (John 8:32). Life begins to change. One’s discernment has changed. One’s choices are different. You have stepped onto the path of discipleship.

 

This doesn’t just happen. Timothy was early exposed to the truth of Scripture by his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15). He heard it expounded by the Apostle Paul (3:14) and modeled in his life (3:10-11). This is why Paul now holds out the purpose of the Scriptures:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (3:16)

TeachingReproofCorrectionTraining

Scripture’s purpose reflects the path of discipleship.

Teaching communicates the basic information of the Scripture passage so that the listener is familiar with the facts.

Reproof then takes the basic facts set out from Scripture and reveals how they stand in relationship to other thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and claims. The Scripture reproves the other claims to truth by setting out what is in fact true. It is only in this one learns.

But this is not far enough. Correction, therefore, aims for the commitment of the one now acquainted with the claims of Scripture and sees them rightly in relationship to other claims and ideas. It calls for faith and forms conviction. The listener has gone from not knowing the truth of Scripture and therefore not seeing how other ideas and claims stand in relationship to the reality it holds forth to the call for commitment and the forming of conviction. The listener now announces, “This is true for me!”

There is, however, still more. For the inward conviction and commitment must become outward action in obedience. In addition to informing and exposing and calling for commitment, the Scripture now guides the transformation of the listener’s life through training in new steps of obedience that become a new pattern of living.

All of this—the process of discipleship and the purpose of Scripture—is matched then by the purpose of preaching:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (4:1-2)

PreachReproveRebukeExhort

Preaching announces what is true (teaching/acquaintance), thereby reproving and exposing other claims and ideas (reproof/learning) and calling for personal commitment (correction/conviction) that takes the form of new steps of obedience that become a new way of life (training/wisdom).

We each can thus say:

  • I preach because the Scriptures were given for teaching and with the goal of giving my listeners an acquaintance with the truth of God.
  • I reprove because the Scriptures were given for reproof and with the goal of my listeners learning what the truth they’ve become acquainted with means.
  • I rebuke because the Scriptures were given for the correction of the hearer and formation of convictions regarding the truth they have learned.
  • I exhort because the Scripture were given for training listeners to live out the truth they have learned and come to live in the saving wisdom of God.

Factfulness

In Factfulness Hans Rosling has offered us an engaging, easy-to-read book on a subject that could otherwise be tedious at best and perhaps even condescending. But Factfulness comes off as neither. Rosling feels chummy and relaxed as he puts the reader at ease in digesting a lot of information that might otherwise be a snoozer. His basic point is a good and worthy one – we don’t look at the world very accurately. We have some default notions that prohibit us from reading the facts accurately. We end up thinking the world is worse than it is.

It is a good point and needed observation. He makes it well. For that I give him high marks. Of course the point is that Rosling has landed on what no one else is seeing. He alone has the correct view of the data, the facts. “So, let me inform you!”

OK, fine. Experts are supposed to be able to do that sort of thing. But what might get lost in the friendly atmosphere of his information transfer is that Rosling himself does not dig deep enough in his quest for a right reading of the facts/data/statistics.

It has long been said that there are three kinds of lies: Black lies, white lies and … statistics. It’s all in how one reads them and how one uses them. And too often we do “use” them—to make a point we’ve already decided upon prior to engaging the facts.

There is something beyond the statistics—something beyond Factfulness—that determines how we read the data and interpret the statistics. Something that Rosling does not address. That something may lead us into blind assumptions, misreadings of what the facts mean, where they lead us, and how we extrapolate meaning from them.

Rosling, for all his Factfulness, repeatedly buries unsupported statements in the mix of his chummy pedagogical methods. If one is willing to notice them along the way and stop and wonder over them, one is left questioning where are the facts for this? Where’s the supporting statistics that tell us this?

As I continued past halfway and made my way toward two-thirds of the way through the book, these unsupported, but foundational assumptions kept piling up. And more and more they came off with a snarky, holier-than-thou tone. What began ever-increasingly to shine through was the unsupported moral assumptions through which Rosling reads the data he and his team has accumulated. It became clearer and clearer that Rosling—like the rest of us whom he accused of misreading facts for our own subjective, unexamined reasons—was doing the very same thing.

Rosling rightly cries for a reworking of our worldview. Worldview, he correctly cries, is the vital matter of our day. This must be shaped, he says, by the facts; there needs to be a Factfulness about our worldview. The trouble is he never seems to realize or if he does, he fails to call out, the fact that our worldview does not merely arise from the facts … it informs how we read the facts and the facts to which we assign the most weight. Sadly, in this regard, for the book’s many otherwise fine features, it stumbles and falls in the end. Not because Rosling has done a poor job at what he most obviously tries to do, but because he doesn’t push far enough back to examine his own underlying worldview that moves him to read the fact as he does.

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