Monday, January 14, 2008

"Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker"

Today I received an email from a reader regarding John Piper's Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2002). In the comments to my post on John Piper (1/11/08) I had asked if anyone had read this book. The writer encouraged me to read this book, even if I don't have the opportunity to review it, especially chapter 12 entitled "Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker" (see links to this article below).

Following his advise, I picked up this book and read chapter 12 as soon as I had finished eating my supper. I'm very glad that I did. I wish that every pastor would read this and prayerfully consider how to take up the challenge of this chapter. Notice, I do not say "how they should respond" or "if they should respond" to this challenge, but "how to take up the challenge".

In this chapter, Piper borrows and develops Heinrich Bitzer's thesis: "The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry."

Heinrich Bitzer was, apparently, a man of the Word, but he was not a pastor. He was a banker! He was a banker who saw the great importance of acquiring a working knowledge of the Biblical languages. God, in His providence, has seen fit to challenge his ministers through the diligence of a banker. Praise the Lord!

Piper develops this thesis by stating several inevitable results of pastoral neglect of the Bible's original languages.
  1. "[T]he confidence of pastors to determine the precise meaning of Biblical texts diminishes."
  2. "[T]he uncertainty of having to depend on differing translations...will tend to discourage careful textual analysis in sermon preparation."
  3. "[Pastors], and their churches with them, tend to become second-handers."
    We may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book we've read, but secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people's faith and holiness. (83)
    Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology. (84)
    Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations. (84)
  4. "...we create an eldership of professional academicians. We surrender to the seminaries and universities essential dimensions of our responsibility as elders and overseers of the churches."
If you think about this for a few minutes, you'll have to confess that this principle carries over to every other academic discipline. How would you like to have a primary care physician who is great with patients but can only provide a general diagnosis because he really isn't much of a book person, never learned the technical language, and doesn't think it matters all that much because you don't know the language either. It may be great to visit him on the golf course but not in an examination room.

Someone might argue that some fine musicians do not know how to read music, yet they can play well. However, take that musician and teach him or her music theory and how to read music, and, then, listen to what might come of that. We would have to qualify the original use of "fine". The difference in technique and attention to detail (i.e. quality) would be unmistakable.

Doesn't this make sense? Wouldn't this enrich our preaching? Of course it would. We'd be enabled to preach the text rather than our own thoughts, other's thoughts, or even an inadequate translation of the text. No, this doesn't mean you'd be quoting Hebrew and Greek terms in your sermon. Most of the time this is unnecessary. However, it is obvious when a preacher has wrestled with the original wording of a text. He is able to convey some of the structure and nuance and give sharp definitions and pointed applications. He is able to give you something worth marking in the margin of your Bible.

I love this. I'm not the best at the languages, but I enjoy studying them. Having recently worked through a study in the Psalter, I saw firsthand the benefit of having even a little bit of acquaintance with the Hebrew. You miss a great deal of the details without looking at the original. This is a great chapter and I'm providing some links below where you can read it online. However, there are 29 more chapters in this book. Here is a sampling:
  • 4 - Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith
  • 8 - Brothers, Let us Pray
  • 9 - Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes
  • 11 - Brothers, Let us Query the Text
  • 13 - Brothers, Read Christian Biography
  • 16 - Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell
  • 21 - Brothers, Don't Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations
  • 25 - Brothers, Give Them God's Passion for Missions
  • 28 - Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form
  • 29 - Brothers, Love Your Wives
  • 30 - Brothers, Pray for the Seminaries
This is only a sampling and the others look equally profitable. I'm looking forward to digging in to this further! I don't think that this book was intended to be used as a devotional guide, but in that it contains 30 short chapters, you could easily take one chapter per day for a month. Maybe you will consider doing this. I hope so. This has gone to the top of my reading list.


John Piper notes that he is indebted to book edited by Heinrich Bitzer entitled Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982).
  • Used copies available via here. (not cheap)
  • Used copies available via here. (not cheap)
Along the same lines is a new edition by David W. Baker, Elaine A. Heath, & Morven Baker, More Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999).
  • Excerpt
  • Available at the Westminster Bookstore here. ($15.25)
Want to read Piper's article?
Dr Rod Decker has posted the original article here: "Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker!"

The entire chapter can be read online here: "Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker"