Rhetoric & Homiletics: Be Very Discerning Because Not All Prodigals End Up In Pigpens.

. . . . .

There is a tendency to apply biblical truths and principles to situations that may not be fact-specific.  The facts of this-or-that situation may be far different than the passage cited to support the decision or action.

Said another way, the Christian life is far more complex than found in any one passage of Scripture.

A simple example of that is found in the parable, the purposefully designed and “fabricated” [1] story of two sons and the father’s response to each.  Anyone familiar with the many characters and accounts of Scripture realizes that not all prodigals end up in pigpens.  Some “prodigals” find themselves on thrones of power and position — Saul or Ahab.  Others never hit the pigpen but suddenly encounter disaster — Jonah or Samson.  Still, others never return home — Esau or Absalom.

The parable of the prodigal was designed to address a specific situation and to make the argument as to why Jesus acted as He did — “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”  The biblical truths and/or principles being made is that God seeks those who are lost by . . . .

  • wandering
  • inattention
  • rebellion, and
  • self-righteousness.

The parable of the prodigal son is not designed to teach that the pigpen will bring all to their senses.  No pigpen has that kind of power in a far more complex world of lostness and Christian living.

. . . . .

“Sermonic Absolutism” 

There is a tendency for Bible preachers and teachers to make statements in ways that damage their credibility and the Scripture’s veracity. Speakers and preachers can become too thoughtless, not realizing how defective or inaccurate a comment may sound to the audience.

In an age of “inspirational thoughts,” Facebook memes, tweets, and blog headings that seek to hook an audience, it becomes more and more common to read “biblical statements” and even sermonic “BigIdeas” that lack biblical authority and accuracy.

. . . . .

Here are some statements that I have seen posted on Linkedin, made by a well-known pastor, and which were repeated by others. . . . .

  • There is no success without growth.
    There is no growth without change.
    There is no change without loss.
    And there is no loss without pain.
  • Before you can give people the truth, you’ve got to show them that you love them.
  • A passionless leader is an ineffective leader.

Perhaps, you are unlike me, or even unlike your audience.  Nevertheless, such posted comments cause me to think . . . .

  • There are missionaries who have no growth for years!
  • I have seen ministries grow without changing the way things have been done.
  • I have seen change take place, without loss — unless you mean “losing what was changed.”
  • Some loss is painless because it was necessary.
  • Speakers/preachers who address an audience one or two times (evangelists / missionaries / special speakers) don’t have time to show them that they love them.
  • I can think of passionless leaders who are effective.
  • I can think of examples of passionate leaders who are ineffective!

Neglecting obvious qualifications, exceptions to plausible generalizations, and/or failing to voice evident disclaimers impacts personal credibility, biblical confidence, and the listener’s attention — and therefore, also ultimately affects a sermon’s effectiveness.

Being more biblically careful, logically thoughtful, intellectually honest, and even legitimately precise is required when it comes to the complexity of biblical truths and principles.  Many — MANY — biblical truths balance out other truths and principles.

Sometimes, the statement of a biblical truth or principle should include. . . .

  • many
  • most
  • sometimes
  • many times
  • more often than not
  • generally, you will find that
  • it is not uncommon for these two to exist together
  • here is what you will typically see
  • we all know of those few exceptions

“Of course, there are exceptions!  Why?  Because there are other truths, principles, and laws in operation.  The law of gravity is fully operational at the same moment that the laws of aerodynamics are also in full operation.  Neither law is nullified or rendered inoperable. Biblical truths, principles, and laws don’t operate in a vacuum but interact with each other.”

Yes, many biblical truths and principles have a simplicity. Still, there is also a complexity in applying them to life and living because people are complex sociological-psychological-spiritual-material-emotional-intellectual creations of God.

“Hasty generalizations,” “leaping to a conclusion,” “overstating the case,” or “overreaching” can easily be avoided.  Many times, merely adding a word or phrase will not only relax a listener’s mind and also ensures biblical accuracy.

In fact, being more careful and/or accurate can help generate additional sermonic content because it pushes a speaker-preacher to re-think.

. . . . .

The Christian life & living
is far more complex & complicated
than most seem to imply,

biblical preaching and teaching ought to reflect that reality!

P.S. Psalm 73 — “I saw the prosperity of the wicked!”

1. See the published article on “Preaching the Parables” — by Regular Baptist Press or the full unedited version.

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