Malpreaching: Who Pays?

A recent court case in Florida shows that the minister should begin to watch the law-courts. Having believed a sermon on the blessings that would follow upon consistent tithing, a man sold his assets and contributed a tenth of the proceeds to his church. When the hoped-for material blessings were slow in coming, he brought suit against the preacher to recover what he said was his fraudulently obtained tithe.

What we are facing is the prospect of malpreaching suits on a wide scale. After all, if a doctor has to pay damages for having carelessly or ineffectually cared for his patient’s body, should not the preacher be forced to account for carelessness or ineffectiveness in treating the patient’s soul? As long as the preacher confines himself to promises whose fulfillment judges and juries can verify only once they themselves have passed into the Hereafter, from whence they can no longer award damages, he runs little danger. But when he starts to promise blessings in the Here and Now he is asking for trouble.

Regrettably, the insurance companies show no enthusiasm for writing malpreaching policies. In addition, probably few preachers could afford to pay the premiums. (A typical physician in New York, according to a recent report, will pay $14,000 for malpractice insurance in 1975.) Perhaps the ministry will be forced to conclude that prevention is better than insurance. They could refuse to accept new parishioners. Or they could limit their practice to certain spiritual specialties where the danger of a potential misstep is reduced. (What, for example, is the spiritual equivalent of dermatology?) They could insist on spiritual consultations, with at least three ministerial specialists sharing the pulpit on an average Sunday and five or more on days with strong soteriological significance, such as Good Friday and Easter. It would also be wise to develop a battery of tests to apply to parishioners before preaching to them.

Some critics have suggested that neither clergy nor churchgoers will be able to pay for this testing, and that in time there will be a demand for socialized preaching. Well, why should a government that cares for its people from the cradle to the grave drop its concern at that rather arbitrary limit?

The long-term solution will doubtless involve something like a National Salvation Service. Until that time comes, however, our advice to the clergy must be: Beware of malpreaching!

The Logic Of Logic

The editorial “How Far Can We Trust the Bible?” (January 17) seems to be intended as a logical defense of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. If it is proper to use logic for this purpose, shouldn’t we go about it in a logical way?

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“It is abundantly evident,” says your writer, “that our Lord regarded the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, as the infallible Word of God.” In Matthew 5, there are six instances in which Christ quoted from the Hebrew Bible and then said, “But I say …” In the first three instances he was deepening the meaning of the quotation, but in the others he was differing from the original meaning.

Take the example, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Here our Lord has apparently combined the injunction to “love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:19) with some such passage as Psalm 137:9, where the Psalmist, speaking to Babylon, captor of Israel, wrote, “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

Jesus said that part of Scripture was wrong; instead of hating our enemies, we should love them.…

You may reply that since Jesus was the Word incarnate he had a right which we do not have—to distinguish between the authoritative and the less authoritative parts of the sacred writings. But the argument of the editorial was that Jesus never questioned any part of the Bible. I submit that he did.


Montpelier, Ohio

You have stated the precise issue that faces the Church today as we attempt to interpret and apply Scripture. It is still very much the authority and reliability of Scripture that is at stake as we debate over the use of the so-called historical critical method. Those who assume that Scripture can err simply do not read it in the same way as those of us who accept its complete authority and reliability. And in the end they will come to doctrinal positions far different from that of historical Christianity.


Concordia Theological Seminary

Springfield, Ill.

How Does The Bible Mean?

“Good Reading in the Good Book” by Leland Ryken (January 17) is an article necessary not only for teachers of the Bible as literature, but for all preachers of the text. Those who charge that fundamentalists and evangelicals miss the enjoyment of Scripture in their search for the truth of Scripture may be more correct than we are willing to allow. In my own classes in exegetico-homiletics I attempt to stress the literary genre as well as the theological data. I would demur Ryken’s shortchanging the theological input in the book of Ruth … but if we are preaching literature we should ask literary questions as well as those based on theology. I have used John Ciardi’s imaginative title, How Does a Poem Mean, as a springboard for the larger question: How does the Bible mean what it means? True exegetical preaching relates not only the theology but reflects the literary mood.

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Assistant Professor of Old Testament

Language and Exegesis

Western Conservative Baptist Seminary

Portland, Ore.

One Man’S Tragedy

Although the biblical stories listed in Wilfred J. Martens’s article “Christian Tragedy” (The Refiner’s Fire, Jan. 31) turn out to be Christian comedy rather than tragedy (Job, John the Baptist, Stephen, and Christ), it seems to me that there are plenty of examples of biblical tragedy. Most of the tragedies which come immediately to mind can be contrasted with closely related Christian comedy; Esau vs. Jacob; Saul vs. David; Judas vs. Peter. Other examples of tragedy might include Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17); Uzziah (2 Chron. 26); and Herod Agrippa (Acts 12). It would seem to me that these tragedies are “Christian” tragedies in the sense that they are played out within a Christian theology—as opposed to the pagan philosophy of the Greek tragedies.

Dallas, Tex.

Don’T Blame Us

Your article “Sexuality and Ministry” (Jan. 31) represents one of the gay ministers, Lee Carlton, as being a graduate of Northwest Bible College. Carlton is not a graduate, even though he did regrettably spend some time on the campus. He does not represent the institution nor the sponsoring denomination from which he was expelled.


Northwest Bible College

Minot, N. D.

I would like to correct one misconception that may have been received from the article. Troy Perry, who you state “got his theological training at Moody Bible Institute,” was a student for less than one semester in our Evening School division. Technically he did not complete even one course so it can hardly be said that he got his theological training with us.

Director of Public Relations

Moody Bible Institute

Chicago, Ill.

Plowman states: “Arsonists destroyed five churches in 1973 (thirty-two persons, including the pastor, died in a New Orleans blaze).…” I don’t know where he received his information. The establishment in question was known to the news media and people of New Orleans as a gay bar and not a “church.” If it was a church, since when is a bartender known as a pastor?

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New Orleans, La.

Numbers Mean Nothing

Numbers in a cathedral prove nothing (“A Cathedral in Chile,” Jan. 17). The apostles were scarcely in the majority in their day, yet they were of the truth. In fact, such flight to a highly personal, vertical, emotional, and individualistic faith often represents flight from the world, and from a Jonah-call to preach to the social, economic, and political power-structures of the day.

“Chile: Church and Caesar” (Jan. 17) was shallow reporting, showing an all too Nixon-flavored prejudice for the industrial giants, supported by military power, who enjoy the free enterprise of keeping the poor in their place, and the rich in theirs. Why did you give such short shrift to the thousands summarily arrested this past summer, the mutilated bodies of political detainees who periodically surface, the banning of trade unions, the prohibition of elections, the fascist-style take-over of the universities by the military, the censorship of communications, and the “screws” which were put on the Allende administration by such countries as Canada and the U. S. Why do you not report Allende’s attempts at justice, alleviating starvation, and tolerance of varying opinions?

When Pentecostalism supports dictatorship, it is praised by state leaders as Christian citizenship. When the church criticizes a government, it is called meddling.

Executive Secretary

Lutheran Church in America–Canada Section

Toronto, Ont.

Inspiring To Action

W. Stanley Mooneyham’s “Ministering to the Hunger Belt” (Jan. 3) is, so far as I can remember, the best piece I’ve ever seen in CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Much of evangelical proclamation is talking about the end of the age or of Jesus as a spiritual person somewhere in heaven. Jesus walked the earth and so much of his work was either actual healing or teaching about how his disciples should live in an unregenerate world.

Thank you for this article. It is very informative and inspires to action.

Fort Wingate, N. M.

Much of the blame for present hunger in the world can be laid at the door of foolish anti-capitalist practices of national governments. Tanzania, to cite one example, has deliberately brought to her people the specter of famine by her insistence upon the old discredited communist collectivization policy. Even Russia would have experienced food shortages by now if she had not received aid from the capitalist United States.…

Why do we shy away from really helping the hungry by showing them how to maximize long-term food production through private enterprise? Such effort would no more be “getting away from the Gospel” than the earlier efforts at communicating agricultural and medical wisdom.

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Lubbock Bible Church

Lubbock, Tex.

By Any Other Name

Richard Nixon’s former chief of staff is Harry Robbins Haldeman. His name is not Robert (“The Jury Decides,” Jan. 17).

Springfield, Mo.

Disappointing Argument

Nancy Barcus suggested that only “careful biblical exegesis” could form an adequate foundation for the anti-abortionist’s argument (“Thinking Straight About Abortion,” Jan. 17). Well said. The Scriptures alone are the necessary and sufficient standard in matters of faith and practice.

How disappointing it was, therefore, to see her turn immediately to an argument based on “objective medical research” unclouded and unsupported by moral judgments. She went on to call for statistical analysis of psychological data, and suggests that we “have an informed sociologist do our homework for us.” What happened to the biblical exegesis that was to form the cornerstone of the Christian’s argument? Medical men, psychologists, and sociologists may supply needed information about the situation, but only as that data is examined through the eyes of Scripture can the question be righteously decided.

Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Sonora, Calif.

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