Yesterday may have passed without you noticing the date, but it was the 766th anniversary of the death of Alexander of Hales. I would have missed it too, except for a brief article I read that began like this:
A decisive moment in Medieval scholasticism came when Alexander of Hales substituted Peter Lombard’s Sentences in place of the Bible as the basic text for his teaching.
In his day he was called the king of theology. Alexander (I won’t call him Alex as I can’t pretend to be too close to him), pioneered the dangerous habit of making a summary of Christian theology using Aristotle as the authority. Summarizing the Christian faith in answer to numerous questions sounds safe enough, but when Aristotle is quoted as a reference in almost every question, something unhealthy might just be brewing. In fact, it was Alexander’s fan, a certain Thomas Aquinas, who is best known for blending Aristotle and Christianity.
Now I am not suggesting that you or I are going to have the same long-lasting consequences as can be traced from Alexander of Hales and those he influenced. Nevertheless, we will do damage if we make a move away from the Bible in our ministry. But, you might say, where could we go from the Bible? After all, we are committed to being biblical preachers . . . okay, some tempting avenues away from the Bible, in no particular order:
1. Theology – Don’t get me wrong, I care passionately about good theology, but I also see the temptation to become “sophisticated” and leave the Bible behind. Don’t do it!
2. Philosophy – Speaking of sophistication, it doesn’t get much more tempting than leaving the Bible to become something of a philosopher. Bad move for a preacher to make.
3. Mysticism – Other extreme, but still a speculative pursuit, some choose to leave the Bible behind in order to go after a greater mystical experience. Oops.
4. Revelation – Along similar, but distinct lines, is the temptation to treat the Bible as passe in the pursuit of new revelation from God. Careful!
5. Culture – Here’s a popular pursuit. How about essentially moving beyond the Bible to being a cultural commentator. Pas une bonne idee.
6. Coaching – Listeners, of course, crave relevant instruction for life in a complex world . . . so why not put the Bible aside and offer engaging applied training in “living life, for dummies.” Well, let me give you six reasons that’s bad practice…
7. Entertainment – Let’s face it, we could always just go for numbers of happy people by squeezing out the Bible in order to offer entertaining sets of humour and anecdotal pulpit pithiness. Yes, but did you hear about the preacher who did this and…
There may be some value in some of these pursuits, but keep your feet firmly planted in the Bible and don’t stray off down a dead end.