A Bible College Principal Responds to Mark Snowden

To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.

A response to Mark Snowden’s article: “Are we training our pastors wrong?”

There are various ways of looking at making disciples of Jesus Christ, but there is no escaping the proclamation of the word. It is as the Gospel is proclaimed, and men and women respond in repentance and faith, that the church of God grows.

The content and authority of the Christian faith is Scripture, and when it comes to teaching Scripture – to proclaiming the Gospel – there are two key questions: how do we ‘get it right’ and how do we ‘get it across’. How do we make sure we understand God’s word correctly, and how do we communicate that word effectively. And the end is not simply the effective communication, but the response – the obedience to the word.

Scripture is that – the written word of God, and as such needs to be approached in a manner faithful to the way it has been given. Literature needs to be taken as literature. To understand it properly we need to take into account different elements of the text itself – such as genre, literary context and historical context etc. Good exegesis is essential to faithful proclamation. It is no accident that literacy projects have often accompanied Christian witness. There are no short-­‐cuts here, and we praise God for his gift of teachers to the church to faithfully expound His word. We cannot escape that God’s word to us is written. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write, and there are certain ‘rules of engagement’ with the written word that need to be understood and applied for a right understanding. This can include too, an understanding that the text represents a story or letter that was initially heard rather than read.

‘Getting it right’ requires an understanding of the written word. ‘Getting it across’ requires an understanding of the people with whom we are communicating. Again the end goal is not what is communicated, but what is learned, and the consequent obedience. It is not surprising that trained pastors, who rejoice in their new found tools to understand God’s word, and who have been so blessed by the new depths of the glorious character and purposes of God they have discovered, approach the communication of the truths in a manner consummate with the way they discovered them. There is a strength in this, when addressing a highly literature loving congregation: ‘getting it right’ is modeled well, and thus people are empowered to read God’s word for themselves. However, for the majority of the world, who need to hear the word of God, this is not the case.

We often speak of the importance of faithfully ‘getting it right’, but this is only half the faithfulness battle. Our faithfulness of those we communicate with requires that we are equally diligent is getting it across. In order to do this, it is the learning style of the recipient, rather than the communication style of the communicator that matters most. With all the risks of making broad generalizations, if our communication mode is determined primarily by scholarly exegetical method, we will exclude the majority of people who might otherwise understand and be inspired by the words of scripture to new obedience to Christ. We will also perpetuate an ‘educated, middle class’ bias to our Christianity.

There is a great need for our Bible colleges and seminaries, not only to teach pastors how to set and reach learning objectives, but also to develop and ‘parade’ great examples of effective Bible teaching. The art of teaching the Bible, and ‘getting it across’ is as much caught as it is taught. There is the problem of the chicken and egg here. Until we have effective models, it is hard to train other to be effective models. I pray that this discourse is the initiation of a new generation of effective communicators of God’s word for everyone. Paul who commands Timothy preach the word, also encourages the Philippian church – whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.

Nat Schluter — Nat is married to Helen, and they have four children: Miriam (11), Christopher (9), Bethany (7) and Isaac (5). Nat was born in the USA, and raised in Kenya. He moved to the UK aged 11, and there completed his schooling. Nat also met his wife Helen while at school. He has masters degrees in Psychology and in Theology. He also has a graduate diploma in ministry, and a doctorate in Neuroscience. He was ordained as an Anglican minister in the UK in 2000. Nat has traveled extensively, and has ministered in churches and Bible colleges and at conferences in various countries, including Hungary, Serbia, India, Nigeria and Malawi. Nat and Helen moved to South Africa to start the Johannesburg Bible College in 2005.

Nat is passionate about faithful Bible teaching. He also has interests in IT, photography, wildlife and board games (inventor of Oxford by Degrees game).