The Doctrine of Least Meaning

Help

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, most of my posts involve borrowed insight from someone far wiser than me. This one will follow suit.

Recently, I heard John Piper mention a Bible-reading tool called “the doctrine of least meaning” to use when we approach difficult passages of Scripture. He admitted that some passages of the Bible are hard to understand—don’t get discouraged when you feel this way!

When we encounter a strange prophecy in Revelation, an extensive description of temple ornaments in 1 Kings, or an obscure oracle in Nahum, we’re likely to ask ourselves, “What the heck am I supposed to make of this?”

But if we can step back, look at the passage and say, “Well at the least, it probably means . . . ” that truth—whatever it is—is so significant that if it is believed, meditated on, and practiced, it will massively benefit our lives.

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The Gospel is Practical

dirty-hands

Sometimes I think we can get our head stuck in the clouds. We make living for Jesus too mystical, abstract, and theoretical. We spend more time with Christians talking about how to love people rather than actually going out into the world and doing it.

We make it complicated. But really, it’s not complicated at all.

Jesus says to feed the hungry. Okay, let’s go feed the hungry. Jesus says to give water to the thirsty. Okay, let’s go give water to the thirsty. Jesus says to care for the sick, to welcome outsiders, to give to the poor, to clothe the naked, to love our neighbors. Okay, let’s go do it then!

I was recently confronted with this as I read about when Jesus brought Jairus’s dead daughter back to life. Check out what happens immediately after:

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So Where Does It Say That?

God-Write-the-Bible

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” — Titus 2:1

I recently drove by a church down the street from my apartment. They have one of those big signs with interchangeable letters out front of their building. Here’s what it read:

“Don’t make me come down there.” — God

At first I felt puzzled and somewhat amused. Moments later, I got angry. That might be the most ridiculous, foolish, bogus theological statement I’ve ever heard! Don’t make me come down there? What the heck does that even mean? What point are you trying to make? Why would you ever put that on your sign?

But here’s the worst part—people are believing it.

I began thinking of other bogus theological statements I hear thrown around.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Everything in moderation.”

“We are all God’s children.”

Those are just a few. At best, they’re terribly misleading. More often than not, they’re catastrophic.

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Purpose & Pleasure

Freud vs Frankl

Sigmund Freud believed the chief desire for all mankind is the desire for pleasure — that every one of our thoughts, actions, and dreams are a response to the question, “Will this bring me pleasure?”

Victor Frankl disagreed. He said what we want, more than anything, is a deep, experiential sense of purpose — that our thoughts, actions, and dreams are a response to the question, “Will my life have meaning as a result of this?”

When we don’t have a sense of purpose, Frankl argued, is when we numb ourselves with pleasure.

I’m with Frankl. How about you?

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,

but one who has insight draws them out.”

— Proverbs 20:5

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