Saturday, May 23, 2009

What makes teaching “good” teaching?

Every “church” teaches. Whether it is a Reformed congregation working through the Westminster Confession or a prosperity preacher teaching about why God wants you to be rich or a liberal church teaching that God’s love means anything goes, all churches teach something. The question is, what separates “good” teaching from “bad” teaching.

* It is not as simple as what I like is good teaching, what I don’t is bad

* It is not merely that the more Reformed the teaching, the better it is

* It is not the style or the ability of the one doing the teaching

* It is not how useful the teaching is to my daily life

It is much deeper than any of that and it all comes down to one thing, one Reformational principle: Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory.

Teaching is integral to the Christian life. Do a word search for “teach” or “taught” or “instruct” in the New Testament and you will see how often we see Christ and the apostles teaching. Teaching was integral to the life of the church from the earliest times, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). They taught in the temple, in houses, in schools, in the open air, in synagogues. Being able to teach is a desirable quality in an elder (1 Tim 3:2). We teach one another (Rom 15:14) and we teach our children (Eph 6:4). Clearly though, not all teaching is profitable teaching.

Much of what passes for “teaching” is shallow, moralistic teaching that dumbs the Gospel down into something that makes us better, nicer people. In place of the stark sinfulness of man and the inestimable holiness of God, we get cheesy lessons on how to be a better (fill in the blank). Being a better husband/wife/friend/whatever is fine and dandy, but if we don’t know why we should do what we should do we inevitably will do what we do to glorify ourselves rather than God.

Whether at the level of children or with adults, a lot of teaching centers around what we should do or how we should act without first answering the question of why. It is easy for teaching to become man-centered or moralistic or meaningless and the only sure antidote to that is to strive to make sure that all teaching is done to and for the glory of God. As we talked about in a recent Bible study, we are not to be holy as He is holy, to be righteous in order to save ourselves or glorify our selves but because as His elect sheep when we are holy or righteous even in our flawed way we bring glory to Him.

Even Reformed teaching, which I love (except the infant baptism and ecclesiastical traditions), can fall into the trap of being less about Soli Deo Gloria and more about intellectual triumphalism. A recent episode of the White Horse Inn had a guy on who was railing against “bad preaching” and his definition was clearly based on intellectual snobbery. It is possible, and perhaps quite easy, to be perfectly orthodox and Reformed in your teaching and still have it be “bad” teaching.

There is another aspect of “good” teaching. Earnest teaching that sincerely seeks to glorify God but does so without the truth is not God honoring. You can be sincere and earnest as the day is long, but if you are sincerely and earnestly wrong that doesn’t bring glory to God. There is Biblical precedent for this in Acts 18:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18: 24-28)

Apollos was a great guy by all accounts, a skillful teacher, a sincere believer, full of enthusiasm but he was missing some key elements of the truth. Priscilla and Aquila didn’t feel the need to go long to get along, they took him aside and explained where he was in error. Listen, none of us are born (or born-again!) with an even semi-clear understanding of the Gospel. That is not en excuse to remain ignorant of the things of God. We all need to be open to correction and instruction and to constantly seek God in His Word.

Somehow we have gotten into a mindset that if someone is trying really hard and is a nice person, they ought not be corrected if they are in error. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is not being a good brother in Christ to let someone linger in error (Of course it is not Biblical to beat someone over the head and prove them wrong to make yourself feel superior) Great teaching is true and faithful to the Scriptures, it is accurate and the greatest teachers seek to constantly test what they say against the Word and welcome discussion and disagreement. I would much rather have a spirited, thoughtful disagreement among brothers than a bunch of people nodding their heads in mute agreement.

What qualifies as solid or good teaching in my reckoning is pretty broad but is always based on teaching from the Scriptures. Systematic and Biblical theology are great, but only so far as they aid our understanding of God’s Word. Similarly, teaching that focuses on application is great as long as it flows from studying the Word instead of moralism. When we let our teaching stray from the Word into hypothesis and conjecture, we cease to glorify God by proclaiming His Word and all we do should be done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

What then is the standard by which we measure one man’s teaching to be “solid” teaching and another man to fall short? Teaching that is faithful to the Word and brings glory to God as its purpose and goal is good teaching. Anything else is not.

1 comment:

Alan Knox said...


I started a blog post some time ago (more than a year ago, I think) about Acts 2:42 and the phrase "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching". I never finished that post. The key to understanding that phrase is the verb "devoted". While we often read that as "devoted to listening to the apostles' teaching", it probably has more to do with "devoted themselves to living according to the apostles' teaching".

Thank you for answering my question about "good teaching". :)