Abraham deVries, “Ignorant Preachers,” Christianity Today, 1970—Every preacher and aspiring preacher, or for that matter, anyone passionate about knowing the Word of God, could benefit by reading or rereading this entire article. It may be dated but the subject is as applicable today as it was in 1970! Here are just a few italicized quotes introduced in bold font along with some comments in regular font.
Opening theme —“Seminarians of the current and coming generations may well become the most ‘ignorant’ generation of preachers in the later history of the Church.”
Criticism of seminaries—“Making this [Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek] language study optional implies, of course, that it is of only secondary importance in the training of the minister. Given that implication, the seminarian is understandably reluctant to subject himself to such rigorous courses.” The seminaries that permit Master level Bible/Theology degrees with no or limited language study and the seminarians who choose such programs endorse this criticism.
Justifications for diminishing the study of the biblical languages in the seminaries—“One line of reasoning given for making language study optional begins with the complexities of modern civilization and begrudges time devoted to study of Greek and Hebrew; this time might better be spent, it is said, in the study of sociological disciplines. Another line of reasoning is based on the ready availability of many translations and exegetical studies. Both these arguments rest . . . upon fallacies. The first fallacy is that extensive knowledge of man in his world is adequate for effective ministry. The second is that translations and exegetical studies are adequate for “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Regarding the first fallacy—“Making man the locus of theology greatly diminishes the need for study of the Scriptures . . . . The Bible, then, is no longer ‘the only rule for faith and practice,’ . . . but simply another sourcebook for man’s quest of knowledge about himself. As a consequence, knowledge of the original languages, sufficient to enable one to interpret [the Bible] ‘lexically, syntactically, contextually, historically, and according to the analogy of Scripture’ . . . is no longer important.” No Evangelical seminary would openly endorse such ideas but do they exist in the intellectual landscape of America’s evangelical seminaries?
Regarding the second fallacy— “The assumption that the multiplicity of available translations gives one all the tools he needs for ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ is fallacious also. Translators suffer from the same vagaries of thought, the same occasional spiritual sloth, the same variations of belief and conviction that are the lot of us all. They take the Word, subject it to their own abilities and belief, and translate it into words and phrases adequate for them— but perhaps woefully insufficient for others.” This problem may be exacerbated today by the illogical thinking that time saving computer programs and commentaries are acceptable “stand ins” for the preacher’s own exegetical studies and conclusions.
Dependence upon translations—“How can a preacher really know what the Scriptures say to the world today if he must always depend upon a translator?” Preachers today seem ignorant of the undeniable fact that every translation is an interpretation and needs to be evaluated before proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord!” How many preachers demonstrate a capability of determining which translation of a passage best reflects the sense of the Hebrew or Greek text from which they craft their sermon?
The Bible in the biblical languages, the original glory—“If we believe that God, who inspired the writing of his Word, will also illumine it to our hearts and souls and life, then obviously the first requirement for rightly dividing the word of truth is simply to know that Word, in all its original glory.” The “original glory” cannot be seen apart from reading and studying the text in the original languages. A number of my blogs proves this point–Two examples, “A Proverb with an Invisible ‘Punch’ Line” and “The REVEALING of God–His GLORY!”
Biblical languages and intellectual integrity—“The Church, the world, and the Kingdom will always be poorer for lack of able exegetes. Intellectual integrity should not allow men to preach, daring to be spokesmen for God, while willingly lacking first-hand knowledge of his Word.” But, alas, such is too often allowed, even commended, and the weaknesses of the 21st century American evangelical church may stand as testimony to this situation.
Rigors of study—“Coming face to face with eternal truth, in such first-hand experience, changes us. And when it has changed us and spoken to our hearts, we are ready to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’ We can then lead a congregation to feed on his Word. Then the immense value of those long hours of agonizing work with conjugations, declensions, and vocabulary drills becomes clear.” Enough said!
Conclusion—An existing or potential preacher will not deliberately choose ignorance if he wants to present himself “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). Is not diminishing the rigors of biblical languages study by both the seminaries and their students choosing ignorance?
“Seminarians of the current and coming generations may well become the most ‘ignorant’ generation of preachers in the later history of the Church.”