In the providence of God there was a curriculum shortfall in the ministry I work for this semester. This required us to go back into our files and pull out an older series of lessons that had been discontinued by our publishing house several years ago. At the time we, as a staff were not happy about it’s removal from our teaching cycle, so we were delighted to bring it back out. It is six lessons on the life and ministry of the prophet Elijah. We are two weeks in and it has been a breath of fresh air to teach. But what was even more interesting to me was the attention given it by the kids I am teaching it to. In general the children I teach are very good listeners and students. But there is something different in my classes at the moment, and I think it points to something larger that is going on.
In general there has been a trend in evangelicalism to smooth out the rougher portions of the Text of Scripture. Assuming good intent, it could be done because we do not live in nor understand an ancient near east culture and people are chronological snobs. Therefore why confuse or upset them with customs, traditions, and mindsets of a time and culture that is strange and foreign to them and they are not going to pay that much attention to the explanation anyway.*
Just as a side note. There may also be a feeling on the part of pastors that Old Testament History “stories” are the in the purview of children’s teachers and these stories have been told to death. The job of the pastor is to give the congregation “meat” so Bible stories are out and theology class is in. This is obviously a naive view, but I could see a pastor arriving at it without much thought just because of his experiences.
The Second reason for the heavy grit sandpaper applied to the text is a good intention paved road to hell that removes all the sign posts, twists, turns, and is a gentle slope.** This idea is proffered by the likes of Andy Stanley in a bastardized form of Baxters “Mere Christianity”***. It is assumed that the modern man can not handle the culture mores of the Old Testament, they can barely make it through a Greco Roman world. It is best to limit them to just Jesus, some of the friendlier and practical parts of the epistles and the parts of Lamentations that can be applied to Donald Trumps presidency or the instructions of Critical Race Theory.
The problem is this, all Scripture is to be preached from the pulpit.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
And if I may briefly meet the objection that these stories are for children, let me tack in the preceding verse and then comment:
“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.” – 2 Timothy 3:15
Yes these stories should be taught in childhood, but notice with sixteen that men of God also need them to be well equipped for every good work…
That said might I humbly suggest that Pastors rediscover the Old Testament Histories. And if there is more needed than the commands of God let me point out that it is what people want. It is what they need. And I think the kids I teach are proving it. Supposedly telling them about Elijah killing the 450 prophets of Baal will scar them for life. But let’s be honest, all these kids have HBO in their homes, they have seen far worse than what a simple stating of fact in Scripture says. More than that the Histories of the Old Testament have been sorely neglected in recent years. In a quick search of sermon series of popular evangelical churches OT historical books show up once in a blue moon. The closest most places get is teaching through Ruth or Esther. This seems to show a casual arrogance, that parishioners will not be able to follow, or that they can not be taught to pay greater attention. If the kids I teach can listen through my teaching of these things, then surely adults, who have the Holy Spirit in them can learn from them as well. Those who are offended were going to be offended anyway, the cross is an offense. Lloyd Jones spoke wisely about the pew dictating to the pulpit what should be taught. Is our lack of teaching the OT histories en evidence of that malady?
These histories are preserved in Scripture for a reason. They should not be neglected, and my hunch is that churches will be reproved, corrected and trained in righteousness in ways that will be surprising.
*Let me emphasize, I am not being snarky. I frequently see people I know and respect zone out and reach for their phones when my own, very engaging and interesting pastor, tries to explain cultural disconnects. It is a real problem.
**“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” – Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters
***If you have been reading here long enough you know this, Lewis got the title from Richard Baxter. Absolutely read Lewis, but do not neglect your Puritans!