Fatuousness

The only person I have ever known to be fatuous—the one person that comes to mind whenever I think of that word—was a preacher. Merriam-Webster’s definition for the word is unfortunately accurate: “complacently…foolish.”

Now I do not at all believe that this preacher is fatuous all day, every day. I believe better things about grace. I’m sure he has many redeeming qualities, and I will not call him a “fool,” full stop (Matt 5:22). I don’t believe he is a fool. Instead, I’m thinking of my only two encounters with him—times when he acted foolishly.

What did he do? He did what I’m afraid I myself have done: he preached unprepared. That was foolish, because in those particular instances—separated by several years and many miles—he happened to be preaching to multiple PhDs and MAs in biblical studies and theology who could have preached better messages than his with no advanced warning. His action was also complacent, because he seemed particularly bold in his ignorance: he picked two very controversial topics. Simply put, he had no idea what he was talking about and no business pretending he did. (This doesn’t mean uneducated men should never preach to PhDs or that they have nothing to tell them. It does mean they ought to be humble, choose a portion of Scripture they understand well, and perhaps seek some advance help.)

The times when I have preached unprepared, few if any PhDs were listening. The junior highers and elderly folks subjected to my half-baked sermons were none the wiser. But God knew. And I am sorry to say that each of those times—and I can think of especially three (!)—I vowed that it would never happen again.

I write to myself completely: don’t skimp on sermon prep because you have done years of formal prep in school; do some specific study of the passage at hand to make sure you really understand it. There are a few passages in Scripture I have studied and preached so often that I can preach carefully from them off the top of my head. But I can’t do that with most of the Bible. We preachers and teachers serve others best when we serve them well-prepared food, not something we nuked for 15 minutes on High that morning—or that moment!

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1).

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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