Some of these television preachers are Word-Faith, prosperity gospel charlatans and phonies. They should be arrested, locked up and the key thrown away.
But several of these preachers are actually trying to teach something. They talk about the Bible, prophecy, revelations, hidden meanings, lots of numerology, angels, voices, visions, trances and the anointing. Always the anointing.
I don’t know exactly what to call these people. Most of them seem to be totally unaware of the Gospel. They rarely talk about Jesus. Their message usually amounts to “It’s the last generation outpouring” or “You’re on the verge of a breakthrough” or “We need to elect a Republican.”
They take the Bible and make it say things it doesn’t say. They take a verse, rip it out of context and turn it into a reason for you to send $50 to their ministry so that you can get a special one time only outpouring.
Paula White, for instance, can take a passage and get a vast amount of information from the verse numbers. It usually gets into what amount of seed money you need to send to get in on this one time breakthrough miracle anointing.
Or Perry Stone. Perry knows a lot about the Bible, history and Judaism. He comes across to his audience as quite bright. But what he does with scripture is just painful to listen to. He invents, distorts, selects, twists and come out with things no one has ever heard of.
Sometimes two or three of these Bible teachers will get together on one program and play tag-team heresy. They start one distortion then hand it to the next person to add to, and then on to the next person….and so on. Everyone nods, and when they are done, you feel like you’ve had one of those micro-strokes where you hear the words but nothing makes any sense.
Liberal? Well, they are pretty conservative on the political-social-culture war agenda. But with the Bible, liberal isn’t the right word. They just find what isn’t there, and make things up to suit whatever their agenda happens to be.
Why bring this up? You see, it all has to do with the Song of Solomon. What is a conservative reading of the Song of Solomon?
In my job as a high school Bible teacher, I get to go through the Song of Solomon a couple of days every year. We read it all, and I try to relate the book to the rest of the Bible. So I’ve read a lot of commentaries and introductions to Song of Solomon. I’m fairly up to speed on the scholarly discussion. I know about allegorical interpretation. I know the 2 and 3 person dramatic theory. I know Pope’s theory that it’s a drama involving Ba’al and a consort. I know the pros and cons of what we can learn from parallels in other texts. I know the literary and theological discussions. I’ve even been to see an operatic presentation of the whole book, written by Calvin Seerveld.
I don’t have the book memorized, but I know my way around it pretty well after 15 seasons in the classroom. I have my own ideas of what’s going on and why it’s in the canon.
So it’s interesting to me how many young, reformed, Baptist and/or “Purpose Driven” preachers have done preaching/teaching series on Song of Solomon. And it’s distressing to see what they do with the book. Paula and Perry would be nodding.
Of course, Song of Solomon is a pretty hot read, even in English. In Hebrew it’s scandalous. There’s enough euphemisms in the Song to get you tossed out of several Christian colleges. It wasn’t for no reason that the 5th Council of Constantinople mandated that the book always be taught and preached allegorically. That meant that if you actually let it mean what it said, you were in conflict with Mother Church. Well, some mothers are a bit prudish.
And that’s the reason it’s a hot sermon and teaching book among evangelicals, especially in the current climate of reaching the emerging generation. Reading the sexy stuff in Song of Solomon is definitely not what they were doing at Hall Street Baptist Church when I grew up. Nosirree….that book was an allegory about Christ and his church, and those two breasts actually meant grace and faith.
I actually own John Gill’s two volumes on Song of Solomon, an incredible accomplishment of completely avoiding the meaning of the text and using the rest of scripture to force Song of Solomon to become something no one who produced or originally read or heard it would have remotely understood.
So I’m listening to a well-known young evangelical preacher last night as he goes through the Song of Solomon in the second sermon of a verse by verse series. The series is focused on marriage and sexual intimacy in marriage.
It’s a more honest reading of the text than the allegorists, and it does recognize that this is love poetry.
The sermon contains a lot of good information on marriage and sexual intimacy. I don’t agree with all of the perspective of the preacher on this topic, but the information and advice he’s giving is good. I wish my students would listen to the talk because there’s some exceptionally frank discussion of sex and marriage that will save them a lot of difficulty.
But I’m just not convinced that what I’m hearing is the message of the Song of Solomon. I’m not convinced that what I’m hearing from the preacher can be found authoritatively in the text. I don’t believe that study and exegesis is going to bring these points to the forefront.
Don’t get me wrong. Many of those who are preaching and teaching the Song of Solomon are handling the text of the book more carefully and conservatively than those who avoided the meaning altogether. But that doesn’t mean the advice and teaching on marriage and sex they are giving comes out of this text. It may be generally true for Christians, and we may be able to derive it from scripture as a whole or even from sanctified common sense.
The Song of Solomon simply isn’t a detailed instruction manual for marriage and sex. It’s ancient middle eastern love poetry. It’s sensual and it speaks to the gift of sexuality in God’s good creation. In the language of the text, there are things to be noted about sex, love and romance, but it simply isn’t a narrative or an exposition of the topic. In some ways, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’m suspicious of anyone who handles the book with flippant confidence.
It’s misleading to tell new believers that Song of Solomon is something it’s not. It’s wrong to portray Solomon as someone he wasn’t! It’s confusing to plainly hear scripture use Solomon’s accumulation of a harem as an example of pride, lust and a sinful use of power, and then hear that Solomon is the great teacher on marriage.
It’s not right to ignore the difficulties and various interpretations of the text and say that the book is an instruction manual for sex and marriage based on Solomon’s marriage to his one true love.
For example, the preacher went right from some of the more sensual language of the book to specific kinds of popular contemporary sexual acts, and then moved well past that to much more on to the larger subject of sex in marriage and many applications there. Whether his advice was true or not, it wasn’t based on the plain, purposeful reading of the text. He was hanging his own talk on the text, not bringing the message out of the text.
This kind of handling of the Song of Solomon shows that “conservative,” inerrancy loving evangelicals who claim to be doing verse by verse exegesis are often just hanging their own thoughts and advice onto a shallow reading of the text.
In simply dealing with the plain meaning of the text, some of our “liberal” mainline friends are far more “conservative” than many well known conservative evangelicals. Some of what comes out of contemporary teaching from Song of Solomon is an agenda regarding marriage, family and gender that cannot be found in Song of Solomon. It’s fabrication to say it can.
The truth? A sexy reading of Song of Solomon attracts hearers. It attracts men. It attracts couples. It has evangelistic potential. Many people would much prefer to hear about marriage, dating, sex, relationships and gender than to hear about the Gospel or the teaching of the Bible in which Song of Solomon does have a canonical place.
When I hear “conservative” evangelicals making a speech about their loyalty to the Bible, I’m becoming more and more skeptical.