Anyone who studies the Bible has longed for tips that could reduce the effort needed to exegete a passage, prepare a lesson plan, or write a sermon. When an especially difficult passage or topic comes along, the time crunch feels truly oppressive, mocking your efforts and exposing your weaknesses. The expectation for the preacher to know every answer exacerbates the problem, pressuring ministers to find an answer more quickly than wisdom warrants. However, pride and impatience can rear their heads, seemingly justifying shortcuts in study. The workload of preachers alone sometimes creates the impression that shortcuts are not only valuable but also inescapable. But they assume, at their core, that they will lead to the same destination that time and diligence promise. Of this there is no guarantee. And even if shortcuts ultimately do lead to the truth, the person who takes the shortcut cannot speak from faith, because a shortcut in study necessarily places its trust in something other than God’s Word. This happens because men stop studying too early in the process and take a shortcut–often unwittingly.
- They accept what they have always heard. In training preachers, I have found it amazing how wrong conclusions from someone’s background can linger despite having heard those ideas debunked and the truth presented with clarity. It is no wonder Jesus began multiple paragraphs in the Sermon on the Mount with “You have heard” (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43).
- They accept what their mentor believed. Having a good mentor as a preacher is invaluable. Treating that mentor’s views as gospel is inexcusable. If you hold a position on some controversial subject simply because that is what your mentor believed, you are following tradition rather than scripture (Matt. 15:9).
- They accept what they have read or heard elsewhere. Legion are the number who think that the way to decide what to believe on a biblical subject is to read all the books they can and watch all the videos they can. Ridiculous. Study the scriptures. It is good to be aware of the various positions. But if you want to stand with God on His position, you need to focus on the book He authored
(2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- They accept what is the consensus opinion. Some people are politicians, some do not believe they are smart enough to figure out the problem, and some are just lazy, but what they share in common is putting their beliefs up for an unofficial vote for what is most acceptable within the church as they know it. The Pharisees, among other things, tried to argue against Jesus based upon scholarly consensus (John 7:48). It was wrong for them; it is wrong for us.
- They accept what their friends believe. Like in politics, the social democratization provided by the internet has led to cloisters of doctrinal echo chambers with friends reinforcing one another’s opinions without significant critique or examination. Friendship rules, and relationships reinforce. Such an approach encourages division and supports the most extreme ideas uncritically, all while participants congratulate themselves on their wisdom, soundness, and integrity. Paul dealt with Judaizing teachers with the same attitude. He was not impressed (2 Cor. 10:12).
- They accept what is emotionally satisfying. A simple but dangerous shortcut that has gained momentum in recent years is allowing intuition and emotion to determine positions more than serious Bible study. When there is an emotional need, a preacher may choose the interpretation that best satisfies that need. This leads to letting the heart govern biblical interpretation instead of biblical interpretation governing the heart (Deut. 28:19).
- They accept their earliest conclusions and spend the rest of their time defending prior conclusions. It is certainly true that many false teachers have justified their error through the phrase, “After much prayer and study,” but the answer to false teaching is certainly not LESS prayer and study. Yet some have tied themselves and their reputation to a particular doctrine instead of to the search for truth. As a result, they see no need to study it anymore other than to confirm their previous conclusions. Pride will not let them admit they missed something, and so they defend it for life rather than studying it even more diligently to ensure they understand the truth. They search the Scriptures, but only for confirmation–not for truth (John 5:39).
These shortcuts should act as a warning to us all–a reminder to check ourselves more regularly through an honest evaluation that can withstand scrutiny. Most people understand that just checking a commentary is a dangerous shortcut, but people still do it. So it is with these failures. But perhaps our greatest blunder is attributing these failures solely to those with whom we disagree.