Two Views of Human Nature; Two Views of Preaching
Two different views of human nature compete for our attention. One view is that humans are inherently good, the other is that we are inherently prone to evil. The choice between these two views effects our thinking about preaching. This article is written to consider these views and the kind of preaching they call for.
Who Are Those Us Guys?
Deep thinkers have long pondered the nature of man. The classical, pessimistic view of our nature is that we are inclined to be selfish, lazy, violent, and greedy (see: evening news). According to this view, we need civilizing forces like laws and to keep our evil nature under control.
Modern philosophers take a more optimistic view. This view is that humans are naturally and innately good. According to his view, man needs to be released from limits to reach his full potential.
Thought exercise: do you think that humans are inherently good, inherently evil, or something else?
The Bible takes a slightly different approach, presenting man as created to be innocent and good, but fallen due to his own transgressions.
- "God created man in His ownimage... Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeedit was very good (Gen. 1:27, 31).
- "So when the woman saw that the treewasgood for food...she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Gen. 3:6-7).
- "Therefore theLordGod sent him out of the garden of Eden...So He drove out the man" (Gen. 3:23-24).
This sequence is known as "The Fall Of Man." We began optimistically but ended pessimistically. As a result, "the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other" (Gal. 5:17).
Book, Chapter, Verse
Just as the different views of human nature lead to different views about the need for civilizing forces, the competing views of human nature lead to different views about the best kind of preaching.
Thought exercise: do you prefer "positive" or "negative" preaching?
One hint about the kind of preaching and Bible teaching humans need, but not necessarily prefer, is provided by the Ten Commandments. If the optimistic view of man's nature is correct, then we would expect lots and lots of happy commandments. But what do we see in Exodus 20?
|Positive Commands||Negative Commands|
|#4, #5||#1, #2, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10|
Similarly, if man needs less limits, then we would expect to see the New Testament overwhelmingly optimistic in its presentation of the Gospel. But what do we find? We truly do find many "Do's" and "Be's," but we also find many more "Abstain's," "Avoid's," "Be Not's," "Beware's," and etc.
Application To Preaching
Considering the Old and New Testaments, God operates on the premise that his creation needs heaping helpings of laws and limits. Following this train of thought, we might assume that some positive preaching is called for, but that more negative preaching is called for. But we do not have to assume.
Paul wrote I & II Timothy precisely to prepare Timothy to preach. What was Timothy told? "Preachthe word; be ready in seasonandout of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, withgreatpatience and instruction" (II Tim. 4:2). The key words are "reprove, rebuke, (and) exhort."
- Reprove is taken from the Greek word elenxon, which means to correct a fault with proof (the proof being in the word).
- Rebuke is taken from epitimēson, which means to warn by instruction, to warntopreventsomething from going wrong, or even to censure or reprimand.
- Exhort is taken from parakaleson, which stresses encouragement and comfort.
It's doubtful that Paul required some kind of 66/33 ratio between negative and positive preaching. What is not in doubt is that preaching that is 100% positive (be honest, that's what many want) fails to satisfy all of "reprove, rebuke, (and) exhort."