Why I Shy Away from “Application”

In thinking about and planning for future speaking engagements, whether they be sermons, lectures, or even leading my bible study, I am thinking again about “application.” There seem to be lots of people out there saying that preaching the Word is not enough, it needs to be applied to our lives. There even seem to be many whose sermons are only geared toward the “application of truths to peoples lives,” many times through the popular 3 point sermon where the 3 points use one word all starting with the same letter, e.g., “pursuit, purpose, passion,” or something like that.

Without denying the truthfulness of Scripture needing to be “applied to our lives,” I think many have gone off the deep end in an effort to make everything immediately relevant in a way that people know is immediately relevant to their lives. This approach holds the Word hostage to our immediate needs, making everything person-centered rather than Christ-centered. The result, I believe, is to use the Bible as a personal application book for life’s little problems. However, the Bible is more than this.

The reason I think more needs to be said, and why I often shy away from such application, is that it fails to allow for the Word to shape our worldviews and transform our hearts. Instead it offers us a bunch of do’s and don’ts. “Be like David, he was a good man for the most part. Don’t be like David, however, when he committed adultery, that’s bad.” But if my worldview is me-centered, the command to not commit adultery, while extremely important and to be obeyed because it comes from God, we reason, may not be convenient for me at all times and should be done away with when I deem it “necessary.”

What I’m really on about is speaking against poor application that distorts the Bible and fails to recognize that teaching about Jesus and the good news and the kingdom, etc., really produces change in people so that they will, out of the overflow of their hearts, live as transformed kingdom people. In my opinion, this is good “application.” The application pointers beyond this may be useful, but not in order to short-circuit the true work of worldview transformation. And we could definitely use some worldview transformation rather than trying to fit Jesus into our people-centered worldviews.

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3 comments

  1. Kyle Donnelly

    Hey Andrew,
    I enjoy your posts and check up on them regularly. I think the people that we are sharing with need application. Yes we believe that it is God’s word that transforms people and not us or our points. However, we do live in a culture that views the bible as irrelevant. One of the most common questions that I hear is, “What does this have to do with me and my life? The bible was written in an entirely different world.” As communicators of the Word, we need to bridge the gap between the biblical world and today’s world. That is often accomplished through application.

    However, that is where most of the heresy happens :). Dr. Haddon Robinson was interviewed for an article called ‘The Heresy of Application.’ He says that too often preachers elevate possible implications to the authority of “Thus saith the Lord.” For example, a necessary implication of “You shall not commit adultery” is you cannot have a sexual relationship with a person who is not your spouse. A probable implication is you ought to be very careful of strong bonding friendships with a person who is not your spouse. A possible implication is you ought not travel regularly to conventions or other places with a person who is not your spouse. An improbable conclusion is you should not at any time have lunch with someone who is not your spouse. An impossible implication is you ought not have dinner with another couple because you are at the same table with a person who is not your spouse.

    I don’t think we should shy away from application. However, we need to keep it biblical and shy away from the topical.

    Thanks for this. You got me thinking.

  2. Andrew Rozalowsky

    Hey Kyle,

    Thanks for the feedback and interaction.

    I think we’re mostly on the same page. I agree that people in our culture generally view the Bible as irrelevant and that it was written in a different world, so to speak. We do have to bridge the gap.

    My point, however, is that application as commonly conceived will not bridge that gap. I’m not saying do away with it altogether, only that it is only of value if placed within a proper biblical worldview. The ‘do this’ ‘don’t do that’ application mentality effects little to no worldview transformation to make sense of the application point in the first place. We need worldview transformation which comes from being in the Bible and being reformed in the light of Scripture.

    Cheers.

  3. mvpcworshipblog

    Andrew,

    The antidote to bad application isn’t no application but modeling how God’s word rightly understood applies to our lives. If you don’t show people what careful application of Scripture is like they may be left thinking that they have to chose between (1) Moralistic and therapeutic approaches to applying Scripture (that is mostly what they hear in North America); and (2) Not applying Scripture at all. The very fact that you are concerned about abuses in how Scripture is applied makes you more likely to be a model of how to do it well.

    Best wishes,

    David

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