Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Truth Behind the Truth

This from Rob Bell’s interview at Leadership:

There’s a lot of emphasis today on practical preaching, helping people address their felt-needs, and giving direct application. Is that foremost in your mind when you prepare a message?

When I prepare to teach a text there are a few questions I always ask. First, “What’s the thing behind the thing?” and “What’s the truth behind the truth?” So if we’re talking about tithing, we’re really talking about generosity and participation. And if we’re talking about generosity and participation, then we’re really talking about whether you view the world as a scarcity or as a world governed by a Trinitarian God. Is the universe at its core a sliced-up pie where you grab your slice and then protect and defend it? Or do you believe that at the core there is an endlessly self-giving, loving community of God we are invited to step into?


So you can talk about tithing–giving your 10 percent. Or you can wrestle with a scarcity versus a Trinitarian view of the universe with tithing perhaps being an implication at the end of the message.

So you’re trying to help people see a larger view of reality, through the lens of the gospel, rather than just giving them practical application.

Yes, exactly. I call it the truth behind the truth; the mystery behind the mystery; reality behind the reality. If you say we’re going to do a series on marriage for the next five weeks, there’s a chance that people who’s aren’t married, who are single, or who are divorced are going to think,Well, I guess I don’t have to show up for five weeks.


Another way to approach the subject is to see marriage as one of the applications of the truth behind the truth. The truth behind the truth would lead you to preach one week on being honest, the next on apologizing, and the next on serving others. Those truths apply to everyone. And then each week you might include a point on how it applies to marriage.

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posted February 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm

This has potential, I suppose, practically. But lest we spiral out of epistemic control, the message behind the message is not always a more subtle message is it? I don’t look for some meta-meaning behind loving my wife as Christ loved the Church (i.e., sacrificially). It’s not hard to understand or profoundly deep that love for my wife involves sacrifice. Or consider John 3:16. The truth behind the truth is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever …” You get the idea.

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posted February 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Paul, of course, but I’m not married so sitting through a Sunday morning lecture on loving my wife like Christ loves the Church pretty much excludes me. I can draw principles out and apply them to aspects of my life, but you’ve already gotten to the “truth behind the truth” – why not preach a sermon on loving sacrificially? He isn’t avoiding what Scripture is saying at face value, he is just suggesting that we can understand what Scripture is getting at more fully if we explore the “idea behind the idea.”

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posted February 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Interesting timing. I just spoke to our church this week about a text assigned by my pastor. It was Ephesians 6:1-3, children obey. Since our children are mostly in a children’s program at that time, I had to look for a bigger truth. Since I’m the pastor over our family program, I knew some would be expecting me to tell them how to get their kids to obey them.
I would have much rather taught this all lumped together with Eph 5:21 to 6:9. I think that whole passage is about submitting to one another to bring harmony. I didn’t have that choice. Still I tried to bring that that out as clearly as possible, but focused on our testimony is in the harmony of our homes and our church. I then said in application, if you want your children to obey, you must first model a submissive heart.
I’d love to hear how other people would have handled this passage. This week I’ve been asked to come up after the senior pastor has preach to give parent practical advice how they can avoid provoking anger in their children.

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Ellie Dee

posted February 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I believe the Truth is always waiting in the wings, and that your approach is exactly where its at. What I find is, that where people get lost is in the situation. Just as Joey did, when he addressed being single. What every group needs to remember is..that when “two or more gather, I am there”. When you forget situations and seek the truth behind the situation, you find we all have a place to relate

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Jonathan Heaps

posted February 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Rob Bell and a Trinitarian hermeneutic of Creation? So. Awesome.

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted February 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

This came up a few weeks (months?) ago when David Opderbeck did one of his entries on economics, and a lot of people rushed to criticize the use of the word “scarcity,” but I remain unconvinced that seeing “scarcity” and seeing the world as “governed by God” (I’m, frankly, not sure how God’s being Trinitarian is relevant to this discussion) are diametrically opposed concepts.

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Dan Smith in Reno

posted February 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I assume the reference to a trinitarian God means that only such a god can/does control everything. Why can’t a unitarian god do the same? It seems to me that the Calvinistic view of God is more in line with total control of history.

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Bob Young

posted February 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Dan Smith – the reference to a Trinitarian God has to do with the inherent notion of community and harmony. There isn’t infighting between the Father, Son, or Spirit due to a fear of scarcity; instead there is a joyful generosity and participation. And we are invited to enter into that pre-existing fellowship. I think that was his point (or at least in part).

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted February 16, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Even if the Trinitarian references are to the non-scarcity interactions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit (and this is FAR from explicit. So much so I hesitate to grant the point), it doesn’t necessarily follow that belief in such a God (and a belief that such a God governs) requires us to ignore the reality of scarcity in creation. It think Bell is offering us a false choice.

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Mike M

posted February 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Not so keen on the necessity of a trinitarian God behind the scenes. Can’t the same scaffolding be made from a Father’s love for his Son and vice versa? That’s closer to most people’s sense of reality anyway. It seems that forcing the trinitarian concept is much like forcing a round object into a triangular hole and saying “hey, how clever is that!”

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posted February 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Appreciate the concern but I wonder, is Scripture always about me and my personal situation? Isnt’ this just a bit anthropocentric? After all, Paul in Eph 5:22ff is talking to husbands and wives. Naturally, a good expositor will mention secondary or tertiary applications, but the text is not about you; it’s about husbands and wives, primarily.

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al sowins

posted February 16, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Scripture tells us that there is only one God, and that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are God. The necessary inference is that there is one Godhead, composed of three divine Persons. The use of the Hebrew uniplural noun for God offers a confirmation of the trinitarian perspective. All other understandings posit contradictions between scriptures. Scripture is inspired of God, and God cannot contradict(deny) Himself. Ergo, all other understandings are false.

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posted February 17, 2010 at 7:30 am

With such a variety of personal opinions regarding preaching and exposition, how can I attend a preaching service and trust what I hear?

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted February 17, 2010 at 11:42 am

Please don’t misunderstand me (and I think this would be true of others of us, but I really can’t speak for them). I am not calling the doctrine of the Trinity into doubt. I am a firm believer in that doctrine.
What I am saying is that the truth of that doctrine seems to be utterly irrelevant to the issue that Bell is trying to raise. Why even bring it up? Why not just mention “God,” rather than a “Trinitarian God”? Or why not refer to the “Christian God” or the “God of the Scriptures”?
Any of these formulations would make more sense.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 17, 2010 at 11:55 am

Mark, because the Trinitarian God is perichoretic and communal and relational; at the ontological basis of all relationships is the relation of Father, Son and Spirit. I think that’s what Bell is getting at.

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