“He had some good bits.”

Sometimes that’s the best you can expect from certain preachers.

She came up to me after the sermon.

SHE. [referring to the speaker] “Wasn’t he great?
ME. “Yeah, he had some good bits.”
SHE. “Good bits? That was like good solid food!”
ME. “Meh.”

She left to go find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was.

This didn’t take place at my church; I was visiting another church in town. And “she” is someone who used to go to my church. She stopped after we wouldn’t let her into leadership. For good reason; she’s spiritually immature. Regularly tossed to and fro by every charismatic fad, exactly like St. James described the unwise. Jm 1.5 So she went to find another church whose standards weren’t so high. Which is probably why she was visiting this other church.

I was visiting because of a special guest speaker. I won’t give his name, to protect the totally guilty. Many Pentecostals in northern California know who he is. Quite a few Pentecostals outside the area have heard of him. I hadn’t heard him preach before, so that’s why I was visiting.

Good public speaker. Entertaining, winsome, enthusiastic, clever. Had some really positive, uplifting, encouraging things to say. Quoted the bible out of context like the devil itself, though.

No I’m not calling him a devil. Nor an antichrist. Nor uninspired, nor a false teacher, false prophet, false anything. Just saying he’s really sloppy when it comes to interpreting bible. Lots of preachers are, because they don’t do their homework. They repeat what popular Christian culture claims the bible means, rather than double-check anything for themselves. They figure if their conclusion sounds all right, it doesn’t matter what route they took to get there. And obviously they didn’t pay attention in science class… or math, forensics, logic, hermeneutics… Let’s just say they spent their college years, if they had any, having fun instead of studying.

From what I know, this preacher earnestly tries to follow Jesus. Loves him, loves his church, wants to do right by God. But for every time he interpreted bible properly, he likewise interpreted the bible questionably, or downright wrong. And because it was stuff the audience had never, ever heard before—which stands to reason; he was making it up—they were gasping and oohing and declaring “Amen” like he was reading golden plates fresh from heaven.

So they were impressed. The flighty woman from my church was impressed. Me, I know more bible than that. I make absolutely no claims of infallibility, but the preacher kept quoting verses that I’ve either researched, or at least know fairly well. And spun ’em in all sorts of directions with no respect at all for literary or historical context. I don’t know where this guy went to school, but wherever it was, he had a lot of fun.

“Finding the pony.”

Back in seminary I was required to attend chapel every day. It became irritating.

I mean the music was excellent, but the preaching… We got a cross-section of all sorts of pastors, some of whom saw it as a great honor to be invited to preach at a university. Problem is, many were strong public speakers, but their content was pathetic. When they were in school, many majored in church administration, not bible, and clearly missed something. Whereas I majored in bible, and was regularly outraged at how poorly many of them handled the scriptures. It got to the point where I was tempted to duck out of the chapel service the instant the music was over. I didn’t feel I was profiting by any of it.

One morning I was venting at God about it, and the Holy Spirit stopped me short: “These people are pastors because I anointed them. Listen to them and figure out why.”

There’s a joke Ronald Reagan used to tell; it was one of his favorites. It’s about two boys; one was unrealistically optimistic, and the other overly pessimistic. A psychologist offered to cure them. I’ll skip the bit about what he did to the pessimist. The optimist was put in a giant room full of stinky horse manure and given a tiny shovel, with the plan that the futility of the task would break him. But hours later, expecting the boy to be weeping in despair, the psychologist instead found him merrily digging away. The boy eagerly said, “With all this manure, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!”

So that’s how I came up with the term “finding the pony.” Which I took to using to describe what I was doing in those chapel services. There was a lot of chaff. Had to be some wheat in there.

Some mornings I couldn’t find any. Not for a lack of looking. But the preacher really didn’t have anything of value to teach. Pretty sure God put ’em in charge of one of his churches because they were kind, generous people. But I hope to Him he didn’t let ’em teach.

Y’know, a lot of times a pastor will humbly recognize they’re not that solid when it comes to bible study. So they’ll make an effort to make up for their deficiency. They’ll work on their speaking ability and do their homework. You don’t have to be a seminary-trained bible scholar to preach a good message. You just have to make an effort, and a little effort pays off. The best sermons I’ve heard have come from non-scholars. (Usually that’s because the scholars I’ve heard, do a great job about historical and grammatical context, but fumble the ball when it comes to how this passage applies today. Scholars have a bad habit of being all brain and no heart.)

Anyway back to the bad bible teacher of this article. There was a kernel of two of wheat in his mountain of chaff. He had some good bits. So I chose to accentuate the positive.

I could’ve started with the negative. Of course. But whenever I do that—“He quoted this verse wrong, and this verse, and these verses, and this verse”—people accuse me of being a skeptic, a killjoy, an egotist, an antichrist. I just harshed their Holy Spirit buzz. All because I insist on, of all things, respect for the scriptures.

Still, in this instance I wasn’t positive enough. My acquaintance swallowed the sermon whole. She wasn’t gonna go home, double-check the verses, and find out what the scriptures really say. She was just gonna embrace his conclusion and feel good about all her new learning.

She’s hardly alone. We Christians listen to all sorts of sermons, think, “That was nice,” and never double-check a thing.

Although I should point out we also never apply a thing. We listen to the message, enjoy a few Holy Spirit warm fuzzy feelings, but never change our lives accordingly, and never bear fruit.

So if you’re the sort of Christian who’s kinda freaking out over my not-outraged-enough attitude towards sloppy Christian teachers—“Why on earth don’t you stand up mid-sermon and rebuke that heretic?!”—this’d be why. Why warn people there’s probably a bomb in that package, when they’re never gonna open the package? Since they don’t care, I don’t worry about it. It’s only when I see someone who might start applying some bad advice to their lives, that I get corrective at all.

I’d like to think this is because the Spirit subtly convinces us to be apathetic whenever we hear sloppy teaching. It’s much more comforting than the idea your average Christian really is that fruitless. I can’t prove it from the bible, though.

Meanwhile I accentuate the good bits.