In the two previous Guest Columns, I extended C. H. Spurgeon’s famous caged-lion allegory by suggesting that freeing the lion (the Bible) to defend itself involves three steps.
We must: (1) find the key to the cage door (adopt a biblical doctrine of Scripture); (2) lubricate the door hinges (employ biblical apologetics and argumentation, as did Christ and his apostles); and (3) open the door wide enough for the lion to get out.
The problem with lions is that you can’t let them out of a cage paw-by-paw. It has to be the whole lion or nothing. Opening the door just a little won’t work. That is why Paul felt it essential at Ephesus to declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27; emphasis added).
Of course, it took time. He spent three years in that city ‘reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God’, first in the synagogue and then in the school of Tyrannus. But consider the result: ‘All who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 19:8-10).
So it is clearly important for us also to proclaim the whole counsel of God. But what does this entail?
Joined-up Bible teaching
When he spoke of the whole counsel of God, I don’t think Paul meant that he had finished taking the Ephesians through some kind of theological syllabus. He was referring not to the duration of his ministry at Ephesus, but to its character and quality.
Think of the whole counsel of God as a shining road that runs through the Bible from beginning to end and consists of God’s cosmic plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. To proclaim the whole counsel of God would be then to follow that road and not turn aside from it; to heed the injunction, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21).
Good advice, for on one side of this road lies the wilderness of incomprehension and biblical illiteracy, while on the other side stretches the swamp of error, heresy and cults.
To put it more simply, the shining road is Christ himself. Jesus rebuked the Emmaus disciples for failing to grasp this fundamental truth: ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:25-27). Note the threefold use of ‘all’.
Again, Jesus chastised the unbelieving Jews of his day: ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). He didn’t just say ‘these testify of me’, which might imply ‘among other things’; he said ‘these are they which testify of me’, signifying that the Scriptures are the very things that bear uniform witness to his person and redeeming work.
Islands or icebergs?
In my little book Preaching Christ, I illustrated this by contrasting islands with icebergs. Both are solid masses that protrude above the ocean surface and look superficially alike. But an island is a permanent structure integrated seamlessly into the sea-bed — itself a hidden, uninterrupted, underwater world having its own rich geography.
An iceberg, by contrast, is an unanchored, floating object of no lasting significance. In the same way, the Christological passages in the Old Testament are not incidental icebergs. They are visible islands that manifest the existence of a hidden bedrock underlying all the Scriptures; a foundation which testifies in every place to God’s plan of redemption, by grace, through Christ.
To teach this truth of Christ in all the Scriptures is, I believe, to declare the whole counsel of God. There are myriads of good things we can teach from the Bible, but unless we relate them to the Christological bedrock, we shall never proclaim the whole counsel of God.
Let us take to heart, then, the way Paul sums up his own ministry: ‘We preach not ourselves’, said the apostle, ‘but Christ Jesus the Lord … For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
Professor Andrews is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London. He is co-pastor of Campus Church, Welwyn Garden City, and was senior editor of Evangelical Times. His new book What is Man? Adam, alien or ape? was released last month.