A minister who preaches on the authority and infallibility of Scripture is often accused of being arrogant, said one pastor. Such criticism, however, is withheld from someone who sits on a stool in a cardigan and chats with the congregation, telling personal stories.
Criticizing the latter form, Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, made the case for the preacher who declares "thus saith the Lord."
"A minister should ascend into the pulpit in order to declare what would have been true had he never been born. He is there to preach what was written in the Word before all ages and is utterly disconnected from his personal dreams, hopes and aspirations," Wilson said at the Desiring God Ministries' national conference in Minneapolis on Saturday. "A minister is not up there to develop a relationship with everybody individually."
Ministers are not supposed to be extemporaneous actors trying to figure out their lines from everything other than the Bible, he noted. They may maintain that their scripts are better, their plot lines are grittier or that their shows make more money, but a minister's script is Scripture, Wilson stressed.
"He is there to declare something that is outside of his control. What God has revealed to us in the Bible is the message. That's the script."
Wilson, who describes himself as a biblical absolutist, gave a nearly 60-minute talk on Calvin, the Bible and the Western world during the three-day conference themed "With Calvin in the Theater of God."
The Moscow pastor, who also helped to establish the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, sees ongoing battles today on the infallibility and inerrancy of the Word of God. But believers, he said, are neglecting the battle over the place of the Bible.
"Conservative evangelicals believe the Bible has no mistakes in it ... but who today believes as Calvin did? Who treats the Bible as Calvin did?"
Sixteenth century reformer John Calvin taught and preached as if the Bible was the sun around which everything else revolved, but many Christians have drifted far away from this, Wilson lamented. Some modern believers are heliocentric on matters of personal piety or the denomination's confession while geocentric with regard to matters involving the public square, he pointed out.
"What good to us is a perfect sun ... if it revolves around a very imperfect earth ... and is orbiting us at greater and greater distances out so that now in the 21st century for most of the church it almost appears as a star. It doesn't matter if you say it's a very perfect star if it's way far away and orbiting us," he said.
"If we want to learn Reformation basics from John Calvin, this is what we need to recover. An important issue concerns the nature of God's word but in our day, the thing we are really clueless about is the authoritative centrality of God's Word."
The conference speaker, however, cautioned ministers from making the subtle mistake many make while defending the inerrancy and centrality of Scripture.
He explained, "We have fallen for the trap of thinking that inerrancy requires us to be grade nerds – always the best student in the class but one who cannot abide making a mistake and who will argue with the teacher (Mrs. Enlightenment) over every last point."
But what's even more fundamentally wrong is that the Bible is subject to proof and reasoning and weighed by the world's standards.
"The Bible is not which meets the standard. The Bible is that which sets the standard," Wilson emphasized. "The Scriptures are not a possession of ours which we may put into the world's balances to be weighed. Rather, the Scriptures are God's scales in which He places the entire world and all the nations of men."
While Christianity isn't blind leap fideism, Wilson said that in order to understand the Scriptures rightly, one must be converted to Christ. Otherwise, "if you're argued into Christ, you can be argued out of him."
The role of preachers then is to declare the necessity of hearing the Word of God, he highlighted. They were not sent to make a few mild suggestions, dialogue with the world and tell the world that it's quite right, or to indulge in a few postmodern dabblings of a theological nature, he noted. Rather, they were sent to "declare what has been accomplished" and not what they would like to have accomplished.
The Desiring God conference was held Sept. 25-27 and included speakers John Piper, pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Mark Talbot, associate professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College, among others. The theme of this year's conference was chosen in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.