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Critically Reading and Listening, Part 1

ibc-faculty-killmonby Bobby Killmon



I always hear from elders to “listen and read critically” sermons and other commentaries. How can I do that well?

What a great question. There is no way to treat the breadth of that here in the brevity of this article, but perhaps we can treat one example in the next couple of column articles.

How we approach the Bible matters. Reading and listening to others discerningly is necessary because one’s theological starting points can distort what they write about Scripture. The importance of understanding how we approach Scripture is shown in the ramifications for what it does to biblical inspiration and inerrancy. Unwittingly, and I believe in most cases unconsciously, some have repeated things they’ve read or heard without realizing the consequences. This is especially true in dealing with liberal scholarship and how it makes its way into pulpits through things like the liberal development of “historical criticism.”

What is historical criticism and where did it come from? This development was “born” out of “hermeneutical presuppositions” which are our assumptions we hold when we approach reading the Bible. This can be seen by asking three very simple questions and realizing that our starting points determine our conclusions. They are as follows:

What is the Bible? There are basically three groups of answers to this question, although there are subsets in each. There is what has been called the “historical grammatical” approach that believes the Bible is the Word of God. “Historical” means, in this approach, the text is a true witness to God’s interaction in history and it has been recorded and preserved for us in the Bible.

The liberal approach of historical criticism suggests the Bible isn’t the word of God, but “contains” the word of God. “Historical” then means the text is a product of people through the historical process. The liberal critic assumes the Word of God is there, but it was “mixed up” with other human words that were a part of this historic process.

leadersarereadersFinally, there is post-modern skepticism or post-modern hermeneutics which says the Bible is merely a “human” document. They claim there is no word of God in it at all. They further say the Bible is simply a reflection of the religious experiences of individuals and communities.

Directly out of these conclusions the second question is already answered. How does our view of what the Bible is affect interpretation? Or what is the “task” of the reader or preacher? The Bible-believing approach (historical grammatical) says we are to understand the text correctly, then proclaim it.

The liberal historical critical approach (Bible “contains” the word of God) says if there are “words of God” and “human words,” the task of the reader or preacher is to discover which is which. We are to “sort out” the word of God, to finally “discover” the word of God, then proclaim it.

The post-modern skeptical approach (Bible is merely a “human” document) says simply read the Bible and see if anything agrees with our own desires for religious experience. This approach claims there’s nothing authoritative in the Bible; it’s simply another example of religious ideas, which can be used or dismissed as such.

So how does this affect teaching and preaching? How does this affect methodology? I will show in the next article that inerrancy and inspiration are at risk.