All Christians want “depth” in the preaching they hear, the books they read, the Bible studies they attend. I’ve never once heard a Christian say to me, “I just wish I could get more shallow preaching.” But what exactly is “depth”? It’s a nebulous term that almost nobody knows how to define. “Give me the deep stuff, pastor,” I hear. Does that mean he wants a series on systematic theology or an exegesis of the culture of the ancient near-east in Genesis or does it mean a more nuanced application to daily life?
It’s good to want depth. The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12) called out his hearers for not being teachers, for continuing to ask the same questions they had years before. At this point in their journey, they should have been chewing on the meatier passages of the Word rather than continuing the lazy intake of spiritual milk.
So depth is a good desire. But we must remind ourselves what depth is not. Here are five things:
1) Depth is not getting past the simple things.
Depth is not rolling your eyes and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that” when you hear the same stories you heard in Sunday School. The Bible is simple and complex. Simple in that it takes the faith of a child, desperate dependence on the Savior, to enter the Kingdom. It takes that same faith to sustain the Christian life. You should grow deep in your knowledge of God, but never lose the wonder of the things about the salvation story you’ve always known. In other words, you don’t get over the gospel. You don’t move past it. Jeremiah said that it was the “old paths” that continually need revisiting (Jeremiah 6:16).
2) Depth is not accumulating knowledge so everyone can say, “Ooh, isn’t he smart.”
There will be no Bible trivia in Heaven, no sword drills, or boasting of Bible knowledge (Ephesians 2:10). The most knowledgeable and profound theologian will only have, in his life, scratched the surface of the knowledge of the grace of God (Romans 11:33). This isn’t to diminish the importance of knowing truth. We should worship God with our minds. We should read widely and study deeply. We should continually mine the Scriptures for more, but this more should lead us to greater humility, greater awareness of our own depravity, and greater faithfulness to the God who loves us.
3) Depth is not getting past the church.
There is a certain subset of Christians who live for the next Bible study. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I think it’s great people attend Bible studies and earnestly seek to learn and grow in the Word. But this should never come at the expense of committed, faithful, sacrificial involvement in the local church. You never get “deeper” than the local church. You never get “deeper” than your faithful pastor and shepherd.
In fact, if you’re version of depth is five Bible studies in the week, but little or no commitment to church, on Sundays, you’re not really deep at all. Because you don’t have to plum very far down into the depths of Scripture to find Christ’s love for His church.
4) Depth is not more than faithfulness
Spiritual maturity should lead to faithfulness. The knowledge you accumulate about God, about your mission, about the role of the church only becomes wisdom when you apply it to your life. There’s no reward for memorizing Calvin’s Institutes if you welsh on your monthly spot in the nursery or usher corps. Some of the most faithful, godly men I know serve at church and they’ve never heard of Tim Keller or Don Carson or Scot McKnight. They don’t blog or tweet or write books. But, they live out the gospel daily. They know the Word and can teach it. I know faithful women who are active in teaching children the Bible and shepherding other woman. When I see these men and I see these women, I see a spiritual depth. I see years of Bible knowledge soaked down into the soul and flowing out into the life of our congregation. I see men and women of prayer.
This, my friends is depth. If your idea of depth doesn’t include faithfulness, it is something much less than spiritual maturity.
5) Depth is not arrogance about everyone else’s seeming biblical illiteracy.
We are to search the Scriptures, not to feed our ego, but to find Jesus (John 5:39). If your idea of depth, leads you to critique every pastor in town for preaching that just “doesn’t feed you,” that’s not spiritual maturity, it’s arrogance. If your idea of depth leads you to find the fault in every Christian book you read, that’s not depth, that’s arrogance. There is a place for discernment, but much of what passes for discernment these days is simple arrogance.
I hear a lot of folks say, “The church today is biblically illiterate” and that may be true, but if you’re the one saying it, make sure you’re not saying it from a lofty position of superiority. The best Bible teachers I’ve met have not boasted about their knowledge and the lack of knowledge of others. They’ve been humble, egoless men whose only desire is to feed the flock of God, to teach the Word faithfully. Biblical knowledge can be a slippery thing to possess. If we’re not careful, we’ll skip out on the worship and awe that should accompany it and instead use what we know as a cudgel against our fellow brother and sister.
Depth is not arrogance. It’s not having exalted opinions on the nonessentials of the Word. It’s not finally figuring out who those weird half-angel, half-man giants that existed in Noah’s day.
Depth is humility. Depth is worship. Depth is spiritual maturity. Depth is love and service in action.