Unorthodoxy

by Jack Crabtree


I have been asked to explain McKenzie Study Center. That is no small task. A friend of mine–Earle Craig–called me as I was trying to figure out what to say tonight. In that conversation, Earle and I discussed the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30. I must give Earle credit not only for helping me come to an understanding of that parable, but also for a timely call that gave me an idea for how to explain McKenzie Study Center.

In the parable, Jesus says:

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, “Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, “Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.” But his master answered and said to him, “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.”

For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is a puzzling and difficult parable. Many strange and wonderful things have been said about Jesus’ teaching here. Many strange and wonderful doctrines have been based on this parable. What are we to understand that Jesus is trying to teach us?

In this parable, a master–about to set out on a journey–entrusts some of his wealth to three of his slaves. To the first and most capable of the three, he entrusts five pieces of silver. To the second, less capable slave, he entrusts two pieces of silver. To the least capable of the three, he entrusts one piece of silver. While he is away, the first two slaves–eager to increase the size of the wealth entrusted to them–take their money and do business with it. They make a profit; each of them doubles the portion of wealth under his control. The third slave is not so ambitious. He has no interest in increasing the size of the wealth with which he has been entrusted. His concern, rather, is to keep safe and secure what was given to him initially.

The third slave knows what his master wants. His master is a driven businessman whose fundamental goal is to increase the size of his fortune. If his master is unhappy when his fortune does not grow, he would be positively furious if he lost some of it. The slave would rather disappoint his master by not earning any profit for him than face the fury of his wrath at having lost the little he had been given. When the master returns, he is very pleased with the first two slaves. They have doubled the wealth entrusted to them; and the master finds them worthy to be entrusted with yet more. But he is very disappointed with the last slave–disappointed to the point of anger. He takes the piece of silver he had entrusted to the third slave and gives it to the first slave. The last slave has shown himself to be utterly untrustworthy.

Jesus tells this parable to draw an analogy between the story and the reality of life in the Kingdom of God. Like the master in the story, God has an unfailing expectation that the wealth He entrusts to His servants will be used by them to increase the wealth they have in their control. To take that wealth and keep it safe is not sufficient. They must “do business with it” and thereby cause it to increase. If they do not, they are unworthy, not fit to be called servants of God. They will be cast into hell. Verse thirty reads: “And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What is this “wealth” God entrusts to his servants and expects to grow and increase as they “do business” with it? It can be only one thing. It is an understanding of the truth of the gospel–wisdom–wisdom of the true purposes of God in human existence. Through Jesus, God has granted to us an understanding of the meaning and purpose of our lives. He has taught us what will truly fulfill our humanity and how He intends to bring about that fulfillment. That truth is a precious and marvelous treasure God has entrusted to us. The question is: What are we going to do with it?

God’s intent, like the master’s in the story, is that we “do business with it” and thereby increase the wisdom we possess. We “do business” with this wisdom, first of all, by striving to understand exactly what the truth of the gospel is and what its implications are for our lives, and secondly, by striving to live our lives in the light of those implications. When we “do business” with the wisdom God has given us in the gospel in this way, the result will be an increase in wisdom. We will become men and women who truly understand human existence and have the wisdom to live it according to what is right and true.

But some of us are evil. Like the slave in the story, we see no real value in possessing the treasure God has entrusted to us; we are utterly unmotivated to get any more. We don’t care enough about the wisdom God has given us to want any more. We lack the ambition to be wise; for true understanding has no intrinsic worth to us. Our desires are given to other things–to the pleasures and joys of this world. It matters not whether we understand the meaning and purpose of our existence so long as we can basically enjoy it along the way–whatever it is for.

So, for safe-keeping, we bury the wisdom God has given us. We do not out-and-out reject the wisdom God has given us. We will acknowledge that His gospel is true. We will affirm its truth and even defend it against those who would steal it from us. Indeed, we fear the consequence if it is lost or stolen from us. Certainly, God would not be happy with that. But we are content to leave it at that. We are content simply to acknowledge that the gospel is true, to defend it, and to safeguard it. We are not interested in exploring it further. Whether or not we have penetrated the gospel to its depths doesn’t matter. Whether or not we understand the gospel clearly doesn’t matter. Whether or not we have thoroughly explored the gospel’s implications doesn’t matter. None of that interests us. Our hearts are given to other things. So we dig a hole, carefully and respectfully place the truth of the gospel in that hole, cover it up, and sit on it. The gospel is utterly safe. No one will be able to take it from us.

As loyal and pious as this strategy might sound, Jesus calls it evil; and the one who adopts it will be thrown into the outer darkness. For, though the gospel is safely in my possession, it is utterly irrelevant to my life. It is not in my hands and before my eyes. I am not able to do business with it; so I am unable to use it to make my wisdom grow. My master wants me to grow in wisdom. He will not settle for anything less.

But why hell? Why such absolute condemnation for the Christian who buries his treasure? That answer is simple enough. What kind of person would not want to grow in wisdom? From the biblical perspective–a man with an evil heart. Only one whose love was given to other things would fail to seize the opportunity afforded by the truth of the gospel to make himself wise. But to love anything other than God and His wisdom is evil; and there is no place in the kingdom of God for those with an evil heart.

Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about specific strategies we might use to bury the treasure God has granted us. Jesus is simply teaching us a general truth. We bury our treasure–the grasp of the gospel God has given us–any time we do not seriously contemplate, confront, understand, and live our lives based on the implications of that gospel. Any time we live like we fundamentally don’t care what the truth is, we are burying this treasure in the ground.

From my experience, we use a striking strategy to do this. We bury our treasure in the ground in a very respectable way. We call it orthodoxy. (By ‘orthodoxy’ I mean that set of doctrines which one believes defines the truth of Christianity.) Orthodoxy is very seductive. It promises us safety and security. But we fail to realize–like the worthless slave in the parable–that our master does not want the truth He has given us to be kept safe and secure; He wants us to put it to work to reap dividends in our minds and hearts. He wants it to grow and increase and multiply until it has filled our entire beings. The nature of wisdom is such that it cannot grow and increase within us unless we “do business with it”–unless we are overcome by a holy passion to have more and more of it; unless we are driven to use the wisdom we do have in order to acquire more of the wisdom we do not yet have. We cannot grow in wisdom if we dig a hole in the ground, bury the truth we know in that hole, and guard it lest anyone take it away from us.

But orthodoxy is not concerned with growing in wisdom. Rather, if I am committed to some orthodoxy, I am concerned with merely safeguarding the little my master has given me. If I am orthodox, I let some authoritative someone tell me what the Christian faith and the Christian gospel are, and then I commit myself to believing that gospel and never deviating from that understanding of the truth. I keep that gospel safe and secure. I don’t examine it. I don’t question it. I don’t even allow myself to proceed too far in considering its implications. It is very important that I not lose it or have it stolen from me, and the most prudent way to keep it safe is to affirm it and proclaim it without thinking about it. If I am orthodox, I won’t ever have to change my mind. I won’t ever have to realize with horror that I have been thinking wrongly about my faith. I just go on loyally believing within the safe and well-defined limits of whatever orthodoxy I have chosen to make my own.

In brief, orthodoxy is the hole we dig to bury the gospel in if we have the evil heart of the worthless slave in Jesus’ parable.

Why am I telling you this? What does this have to do with McKenzie Study Center? When all is said and done, when the Lord finally stands in judgment over our lives and ministries, I am sure there will be countless ways in which MSC will be found wanting. There will be many respects in which the Lord will say, “I have this against you.” But it is my sincere and earnest hope that we will not hear: “I have this against you. You took the truth of the gospel and you buried it in the ground; you did not do business with it.” Our goal at McKenzie Study Center is to plum the depths of the gospel, to seek to understand it with as much clarity as possible, and to explore as thoroughly, as humbly, and as honestly as we can its various implications for our lives. Only the Lord can say how successful we are at this resolve, but it is my earnest prayer that God make us successful at achieving at least this one goal: “God, let us be the slave to whom you entrust five pieces of silver; and let us diligently do business with it and increase it one hundred percent!”

Many in the church will still prefer the path of the last slave in Jesus’ parable. To them, McKenzie Study Center will be a threatening and unsafe place. We do not believe in orthodoxy. We speak an unfamiliar language about a message unlike anything they have ever heard. We talk about the gospel to a depth that others are unwilling to go. Could what we are saying be true? Such people are not even willing to ask. Never mind whether it’s true. If they ask, they might have to grow; if they grow, they might have to change; and if they change, they might have to forsake the orthodox gospel that keeps them feeling safe. That is too big a price; a price they will not pay.

McKenzie Study Center does not exist for such as these. McKenzie Study Center is here to come alongside those who have taken their treasure out of the hole in the ground and are intent on investing it. We are here for those Christians who want the truth of the gospel to pay dividends of wisdom in their lives–for those who have such a passion for wisdom that “doing business” with the truth of the gospel is their number-one priority. We are here to help you, if you want to study, to scrutinize, and to perfect your understanding of the truth Jesus came to give us.

Copyright December 1993 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Jack Crabtree