Remember the Bereans!
By Bob Wilkin
The Principle Stated
After a short ministry in Thessalonica, Paul moved on to Berea due to Jewish opposition. Again he went to the synagogues of the Jews. This time he was warmly received: “These [Jewish unbelievers in Berea] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily, to find out whether these things were so.”
There’s an important principle for all of us in Acts 17:11:
God wants us to listen thoughtfully and critically to Bible teaching, taking care to evaluate the teaching based on personal examination of Scripture.
Note that the people who were more fair-minded and who received the word with all readiness and who then searched the Scriptures daily, not just hearing Paul on the Sabbath, were unbelievers. They were not yet convinced that these things were so. But they were open.
This verse destroys the Reformed idea that unbelievers are like rocks and that they have no spiritual sensitivity.
How Unbelievers Might Be Like the Bereans
When we share the saving message with unbelievers, many simply reject what we say as out of hand because it doesn’t match their tradition (Roman Catholic, Mormon, Church of Christ, etc.).
On the other hand, we sometimes meet an unbeliever who says something like this, “I’d like to believe that. That would be great if it were true. While that makes sense in the verses you showed me, I wonder about other verses in the Bible. I’m open, but I need more evidence from the Bible.” That’s a Berean.
How Believers Might Be Like the Bereans
Of course, believers should be Bereans as well. We shouldn’t be fooled by emotional singing followed by sermons that are based on shoddy exegesis. Anecdotal evidence should carry no weight with us. Berean believers need to see a truth taught in Scripture. Illustrations won’t prove a truth for them.
Sadly many church people today, including many born-again church people, do not critically evaluate what they hear.
If they are moved by a great worship team and a very emotional preacher, they may well be swept along by what the preacher is saying without even engaging their minds as to whether what he is saying is Biblical or not.
Many people assume that a true story of a person must convey the truth the preacher says it conveys. Many listeners don’t ask if the result in this case might be a coincidence. Worse still, they don’t hold the principle the preacher is promoting up to the lens of Scripture.
Berean believers cannot be persuaded by stories and feelings. They must be convinced by the Word of God.
The opposite is also true. Berean believers don’t let their tradition stand in the way of being open to clear teaching from the Word of God.
Lots of believers immediately reject that which is contrary to their tradition. Tell a person who is a member of a Reformed church the Free Grace message and most will reject it out of hand as easy believism and cheap grace.
Why? Because they have searched the Scriptures to see if it was so and found out it wasn’t? No. Because the Free Grace message is not the message of their church and so they rule it out without even considering the Biblical evidence we give them.
Finally, Berean believers encourage others to examine what they say in light of what the Bible says. You can tell pastors and evangelists who are Bereans because they actually invite you to question what they are saying. They encourage the listeners to examine the Scriptures to see if what they are saying is true.
Don’t Be a Calcified Christian!
Do you automatically reject Bible teaching as out of hand if it contradicts your tradition, even if the teaching explains the text well? If so, you’re a calcified Christian. Your understanding of Scripture is petrified. It can’t change because your tradition won’t let it change.
We can only be Bereans if we receive the word with all readiness and search the Scriptures to see if what we are hearing is true.
Now don’t get me wrong. On milk of the Word issues we shouldn’t be searching the Scriptures over and over again. Once we’ve done the searching, we should know.
I can’t tell you how much my theology changed from 1978 till 1985 during my 7 years at DTS. And I can’t tell you how much it changed between 1985 and today.
I’m still changing my understanding of Scripture. I hope you are as well. None of us has a complete and perfect understanding of the Word of God.
It is God’s Word, not our tradition, which we must search. Traditions, even Free Grace traditions, may be wrong. God’s Word isn’t.
To be a Berean you must be open. You must search the Scriptures.
To be a Thessalonian all you need to do is reject sound Bible teaching as contrary to your tradition. Don’t pray about it. Don’t search the Bible. Don’t study further. Don’t meditate. Just retreat back into your tradition, into your turtle shell of theology.
Novel Isn’t Right or Wrong
Recently a friend forwarded an email he received from a pastor in a Free Grace church. That pastor was lamenting the fact that in his opinion GES has gone against long held views on a number of important theological topics, including the following:
- the meaning of repentance,
- the doctrine of eternal rewards,
- the place of God’s wrath for the believer,
- the meaning of the term gospel,
- the concept of the three tenses of salvation.
I had to smile, for my own thinking has changed on every single one of those points from the traditions I learned within Campus Crusade for Christ, the traditions I learned in Baptist and Bible churches, and the traditions I learned at Dallas Theological Seminary.
I plead guilty to printing things by other authors and writing things myself that go against long-held Free Grace views on these and other issues.
Please bear with a personal example. The first point the pastor mentions, “the meaning of repentance,” illustrates how changing my view took years, but it did change.
From 1983-1985 I searched the Scriptures about the doctrine of repentance. I wrote a 270- page dissertation on the subject. My advisor on the dissertation was Zane Hodges. When I finished the dissertation, I thought my understanding of repentance was settled.
Five years later, in 1990, Zane Hodges wrote a book called Absolutely Free! In it was a chapter in which he somewhat contradicted the findings in my dissertation. Shortly before the book was to go to press, we had a GES Board meeting. It was a rather contentious meeting in which most of the other board members pleaded with Zane to leave out his chapter on repentance.
When I saw what Zane wrote, I was open but unconvinced. I couldn’t find fault in the way he explained the Scriptures on this subject. But I still had trouble with a handful of passages that, at the time, I still thought taught the Greek word metanoia was a condition of everlasting life.
My thought at the time was that if I could be convinced that those verses didn’t teach that, then I would be convinced.
It took about 7 years, but by 1997 I was convinced that repentance isn’t a condition of eternal life and that it isn’t changing one’s mind about Christ.
That wasn’t easy for me. It was seven years of thinking about certain texts, a little at a time. But it was necessary if I was to grow as a believer. If I clung to a position simply because it fit my tradition and it seemed right to me, then I would never change any views.
I’ve come to the point where I am very excited when I see for the first time a truth that before that was hidden to me in the Scriptures. When that happens it is like a flower unfolding. I see the Scriptures in a new light. My view of Christianity becomes a little bit clearer that it was before. My enthusiasm for the life to come grows a bit more.
Here is a way to know if you are a Berean: If you listen carefully whenever you hear God’s Word being taught, are open, and compare what you hear to other Scriptures, even if what you are hearing contradicts something you already believe, you are a Berean. Put another way: If you cling doggedly to your tradition, you aren’t a Berean.
None of us has arrived. We always have room to grow. No pastor, no theologian, no educator, understands every verse and every teaching in the Bible.
Fortunately for us, the Free Grace tradition is one grounded on searching the Scriptures. We have lots of role models.
I have friends and mentors who have modeled this truth for me. What a privilege it has been for me to know people who, throughout their lives, have searched the Scriptures diligently and daily. That has had a powerful impact on me. Seeing real life Bereans has made me long to be one too.
Listen Thoughtfully and Critically
God wants us to listen thoughtfully and critically to Bible teaching, taking care to evaluate the teaching based on personal examination of Scripture. Remember the Bereans!