This is a public health warning for the attention of all those involved in the cure of souls. A particularly insidious threat to spiritual wellbeing has been identified, and we need your help to eradicate it. The phenomenon has been dubbed ‘Bible resistance’. Those most at risk are Christians who identify themselves as members of ‘good’, ‘faithful’ or ‘Bible-believing’ congregations.
Bible resistance has a number of parallels to the medical phenomenon of antibiotic resistance. In simplified terms, antibiotic resistance can occur when a course of antibiotics is prescribed for the treatment of certain bacterial infections. The patient begins to take the antibiotic course, which eliminates a large proportion of the bacteria with the first few doses. However, as soon as the patient begins to feel better, the medication is ceased. The result is that the bacteria that are left (bacteria which are naturally less susceptible to the antibiotics) multiply to form a population of bacteria that is more resistant to the antibiotics, thus lessening the effectiveness of antibiotics in the future. To mitigate this phenomenon, patients are strongly urged to finish their course of antibiotics, even if they start to feel better before the course is finished.
Bible resistance develops in an analogous manner. Christians are subjected to accurate Bible teaching that helps them in their understanding of God immensely. They are able to comprehend the big picture of God’s work through the proper application of biblical theology; they learn to read the Bible for themselves through careful exegesis and exposition; and they gain an awareness of God’s grace and p
ower through the judicious introduction of important doctrines. However, Bible resistance can develop when the Bible teaching frequently fails to ‘finish the course’ in that it fails to devote sufficient time and energy to helping people see the relevance of the subject matter for their own behaviour. That is, the application of the Bible teaching to the individual (i.e. “How should I respond to this?”) is inadequate; it is abbreviated, absent, irrelevant, impossible, assumed, unconnected to the exegesis of the passage, clichéd, just a hobbyhorse of the teacher, delivered impersonally, hypocritical or unthought-through.
The result is an unchanged life. People become used to hearing ‘good’ Bible teaching without feeling the need to respond. This lessens the effectiveness of any Bible teaching in the future. To mitigate this phenomenon, Bible teachers are strongly urged to devote adequate time and attention to providing incisive and relevant application in their teaching. They must also be in the habit of applying the Bible to themselves frequently before they apply it to others.
The author of this article has been guilty of many of the aforementioned omissions, and urges all Bible teachers to be on their guard.
To help you identify individuals at risk of Bible resistance, the following warning signs may help (the list is not exhaustive):
- A disposition to respond to Bible teaching predominantly by providing ‘feedback’ on how well the exegesis was performed, or how carefully it maintained certain predefined doctrinal standards
- A lack of any reference to one’s own personal repentance (in thought, word and deed) in an individual’s conversation
- A preoccupation with the failings of others
- (Related to the previous point) a preoccupation with church or denominational politics
- A lack of observable Christian growth over a period of years.
The seriousness of Bible resistance cannot be underestimated. Bible resistance is known to be a contributing factor to a fatal condition known as “hardness of heart”. See, for example, Psalm 95, Mark 3:1-5, Mark 10:1-9, Romans 2 and Hebrews 3, for the devastating effects of this condition. Please be on your guard, and pay particular attention to your application in your Bible teaching. The following suggestions may help: (Again, the list is not exhaustive.)
- Devote adequate time in your teaching to applying the Bible passage to the listeners. Get rid of other material if you need to.
- Ensure that the application flows from the Bible passage itself, rather than from your own predispositions.
- Choose specific examples rather than just dealing in generalities.
- Check that the application is relevant and possible for your listeners.
- Consider applications that relate to the understanding, the will, the affections and the conscience.
- God-willing, after receiving healthy doses of this, your congregation will be guarded against infection!