I once met a youth pastor who was so frustrated with accusations of "shallowness" and demands for "more depth" that he told me, "Fine! If they want to go deeper, I'm going to go so deep it drives them nuts. I'll drown them in depth!" Not exactly the best posture to take as a disciple-maker of the next generation.
I didn't like the youth pastor's attitude. But I did understand his frustration. Sometimes it's hard to please the people clamoring for "deeper" teaching because everyone seems to have a different idea of what "deep" is.
Depth as "Just the Facts Ma'am"
One group thinks teaching is deep if they learn something they didn't already know. The goal is to walk out of the classroom with more information than they had coming in.
I sympathize with the group that wants more facts. We have more resources available to us than ever before and yet people seem to know less and less about the Bible. When church members think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple, well, "Houston, we have a problem."
But information is not the goal, and information alone is not depth. Take this approach to the extreme and we produce an elite class of biblical hobbyists who are almost Gnostic-like in their love for more knowledge. Knowing biblical facts is important, but surely we want to go deeper than the demons, who know more about Scripture than we do and are devils still.
Depth as "Insights for Daily Living"
Another group thinks "deep" means "insight for life." Make a verse of Scripture apply directly to what I do tomorrow. "Deep" means "applied well," and transformation (rather than information) is the goal.
I sympathize with anyone seeking "life transformation" in Bible study. Surely we don't want people looking in the mirror of God's Word and then walking away unaware of their reflection. Every teacher should hope for transformation.
But even if we hope to apply the Bible to everyday life, we don't want to be self-absorbed readers skimming the Scriptures in search for practical tidbits as if we are reading a self-help book. If we go about Bible study this way, we never deal with the big picture of Scripture and therefore end up spiritualizing earth-shattering truths into coffee mug verses that give us warm fuzzies.
Depth as Gospel-Centrality
So what do we mean by "depth?" Not just new information or insightful application. We are longing for a depth that grounds us in the richness of the gospel.
Too many times, we assume that the gospel is just the basics of the Christian life, but intense, deep discipleship takes place when we get into the theological precision of interpreting biblical doctrines. Not so. The gospel is the story that gives richness and profundity to all our study of the Bible. John 3:16 is simple enough for a child to believe, and yet we can linger over these words for a lifetime and never exhaust all the truth contained here.
"Going deep" is more than winning a game of Bible Trivia. It's more than finding a helpful insight for the upcoming week.
Going deep is:
- immersing ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me.
- seeing the depth of our sin and the depth of God's grace.
- remembering that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more acceptable to God.
- returning to the costly grace that demands "my life, my soul, my all."
- viewing the whole Bible in light of the overarching story of grace that has the gospel announcement as its climax and the gospel community as its result.
It's been said that the gospel is not the ABCs of salvation, but the A to Z of the Christian life. That's good to remember. We never move beyond this good news. Depth occurs when we more deeply explore the truth of the gospel and its implications.
A Plea to Teachers
As a final note on depth, I plead with teachers. Whatever literature you may use, you are the factor that makes the difference. Gospel-fueled transformation takes place best when the teacher's life is bubbling over with gospel enthusiasm.
Let's ask ourselves:
- Am I reading my Bible just to prepare my lesson? Or am I immersed in this gospel story daily?
- Am I reading other literature and materials that deepen my own walk with Christ? Or am I content with throwing together the facts for an interesting presentation on Sunday morning?
- Am I seeking to be a missionary in the community God has placed me? Or am I content with the little group I teach on the weekend?
Deeper teaching happens when we have deeper teachers. So fellow teachers, let's soak ourselves in the truths of the gospel and the Word. Then, let's invite others to the fountain of living water offered freely by our Master Teacher whose life and death changes everything.