A Plea for Preachers: You Must Stop the “Must Haves”

I now get it…I got hammered by a professor in college for my use of declaratives.  She wrote, “You must stop writing ‘must.'”

As I am reading a book by a multi-sight megapastor who would adhere to Biblical inerrancy, I am repeating her mantra.  While thought provoking, about every third chapter, I come across really annoying writing.  At first my rant started as a tweet but as I progress into the book, it is driving me further and further mad.

It makes me want to create a PSA for people going to church.  Listen to your preacher carefully.

As ministers of the WORD, the words they use are important.

For example if someone opens a scripture by saying, “Listen to the Word of God” versus “Listen for the Word of God” there are huge theological implications (yep, we spent a day on that prepositional switch in seminary).  It is revelatory of their view of the Bible and its relationship to the Word of God.

So these are the words that are annoying me from this guy’s book, and the why:

  • “While it is not recorded in Scripture, I promise you…”

Right, most of you would read that and think nothing of it.  Let alone rant to your minimal blog readers.  But here is the problem, a big problem, I promise you.  This preacher is making promises that are not recorded in scripture.  Teach people the promises of the Bible, not your interesting tidbits.  Appreciate Biblical Silence, that there is a reason that some things are left unsaid.  Instead, the author is making declarative statements to his readers that have no authority outside of his own thoughts.  He is superseding scripture and using scripture as proof to his book’s thesis.

  • “Moses must have felt…”

This one is really a ticky-tack grammar issue but it also promotes scriptural conjecture.  Simply say “Moses may have felt” or better yet, “If I were Moses, I would probably have felt…”  Most of the time scripture does not provide the emotional impact, so while it does provide poetic license to generate empathy between the reader and the biblical characters, the use of “must” versus “might” again places the authority not in the story itself but in the preacher.

The author/preacher becomes the definitive and authoritative source.  By opening it up with “may” or personalizing the emotion, the preacher would invite readers into their own self-analysis.  However, by using MUST, the preacher short cuts the process by telling definitively the way it must have been; either you agree or you do not.  And if you do not you stop listening and walk away (or give your student a 67% as I experienced in college).

  • “While the story doesn’t explicitly mention the people praying, I have no doubt that they prayed…It’s also the [entire!] backdrop of this book.”

Finally, this statement is troubling much like the first.  But more importantly, it becomes the entire premise of his book.  The entire thesis is based on the preacher’s lack of doubt in his unsubstantiated belief that the people prayed.  A trial lawyer would have a field day with this line in court…what if they did not pray?  Drawing this line in the sand the author is once again saying, either agree or leave. He has made extra-biblical inferences undoubtable.  With people having a hard enough time doubting the authority of scripture, don’t muddy the waters by also making undoubtable things that are not in the Bible.

This sort of imaginative imagery may have generated a New York Times Bestseller and a multi-site church, but it fails to equip people to better Biblical understanding.

With 164 more pages to go, I have no doubt that more examples will surface…I promise you.

One thought on “A Plea for Preachers: You Must Stop the “Must Haves”

  1. Thank you for your intelligent adherence to scripture. So grateful we were not left in the world without a guide book, even the prohibitions that protect us. The word of God is a gift that strengthens, encourages, comforts, instructs and guides us. As Hebrews says, “Sharper than any double-edged sword!” Thanks be to God! I need it daily!

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