I know I’m in the minority these days, but I still love to listen to music on vinyl records. The long play (“LP”) record, which was introduced by Columbia in 1948, was pushed to the brink of extinction by the cassette tape, the compact disc (“CD”), and now digital media. Today it is enjoying somewhat of a comeback, but is still little more than a small niche in the overall music industry.
There are two main reasons why I prefer the LP format. First, I love the warm, rich sound that is the hallmark of most vinyl pressings. Music just sounds more authentic on a record. Second, the LP puts the emphasis on listening to the album all the way through from beginning to end. When I listen to a record, I know I’m hearing the album the way the artist originally intended for it to be enjoyed.
This emphasis on the album as a whole has been slowly eroding with each passing generation of music recording technology. The cassette tape allowed for fast-forwarding or rewinding to a particular song on the album. The CD made it possible to “skip” straight to individual songs we wanted to hear. With digital media we can forgo the album altogether and merely purchase the tracks we want, assembling them together in any way our heart desires. The focus on the album is almost non-existent in today’s music culture.
Unfortunately, the same thing can be said regarding the trend of how the “Ancient Record” (i.e. the Word of God) is studied and taught. It used to be common for preachers and teachers to employ “expository” methods in presenting scripture. The aim of expository preaching is to dig deep into the Word of God and attempt to present a section of text in the way the author, and ultimately God’s Holy Spirit, intended for it to be received. This often involves the consideration of context, culture, original language, and other factors. In other words, expository teaching requires a willingness to work hard and dig deep to find the truth contained in God’s Word.
Over time this style of teaching has gone out of style, and has been replaced with a more topical approach. Preachers and teachers will often select a topic on which to base a lesson, and then stitch together random passages from scripture that appear to support their premise. While this can lead to lessons that are easier to prepare and digest, it can also result in verses being taken out of their original context and misapplied.
Taken to an extreme, it has become popular in today’s church culture to make no attempt at properly applying scripture, but instead to simply use the text as a metaphor for whatever message the preacher or teacher is trying to convey. Instead of using real-world illustrations to shed light on deep scriptural truths (as Jesus did with His parables), this style uses passages from God’s Word simply as an illustration for their chosen topic. If you think about it, when this type of approach is utilized, we are really saying we know better than God what people need to hear.
While preachers and teachers bear a lot of the blame for this trend, they are not solely responsible. The typical Christian does not have the desire or attention span to invest their time digging into what God’s Word truly has to say. This has led to an overall lack of tolerance for those who try to teach or preach in an expository way, because it is not as “entertaining” or easy to absorb. We want lessons that are easy to hear and make us feel good about ourselves.
This trend brings to mind Paul’s exhortation and warning in II Timothy 4:
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1–4, ESV)
The takeaway for preachers and teachers should be to continue to “preach the word” even when it is not popular. Preachers and teachers have assumed a grave responsibility, and must do everything possible to make sure they are presenting the Word of God accurately:
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1 ESV)
For all Christians, this should be received as a warning to never turn away or tire from the true study of God’s Word. True study takes discipline, time, and hard work. This is true whether we are studying on our own or listening to a skilled preacher or teacher. Unfortunately, these qualities are almost non-existent in today’s culture. However, we must constantly remind ourselves that dedication to study is critical to our relationship with God. Without it, how can we possibly know His will?
While listening to music albums, as a whole, is essentially dead, we cannot allow the same thing to happen to our teaching and study of God’s Word. It is important to remember what Paul says about “all scripture” in II Timothy 3:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV, emphasis added)