“Put the cookies on the lower shelf” is a phrase about the need to make complex subjects understandable to the everyday person. This is an important skill. In fact, I will often judge how well I understand a subject by my ability to break it down and explain it to someone with no background on the issue. If I can only use big words or can’t summarize in a simpler fashion, then I have not really grasped the subject for myself yet.
When it comes to Bible teaching and preaching, “put the cookies on the lower shelf” can be good advice. We don’t want to talk over people’s heads. We want people to understand the Scriptures, and how they apply to life today.
Yet this concept seems to have been taken way too far in much of modern American Christianity. Too many churches have rather superficial and fluffy teaching. Some preaching reminds me more of a secular psychological pep talk except with a couple of Bible verses thrown in. In our effort to make things simple or practical to life, we have forgotten that the deeper truths of the faith are critical too.
When you build a house, the foundation is first. The foundation holds the house up and keeps it from falling apart or collapsing in on itself. It seems that too much of American Christianity is like a house with no foundation. We may be teaching some “practical” things but without the underlying biblical doctrine to support it.
Another aspect of concern, is that a steady diet of fluffy teaching does not challenge people to go deeper. Good teaching should do more than comfort us or entertain us, it should stretch us. If we’ve been subsisting on bread and water, seeing a smorgasbord makes us realize what we are missing. Likewise, we need exposure to deeper things so that we will be challenged to progress in our understanding of the faith. I like how Charles Ryrie states it in regards to biblical teaching and preaching:
“Put the cookies on the lower shelf is not always good advice, for it discourages the hearer from stretching and reaching to understand the truth.”
We need to put some of the cookies back on the upper shelf! We need to encourage people to reach and stretch to grasp some of the deeper biblical truths waiting for them on the higher shelf.
Sometimes we put so much emphasis on the “heart” of our faith that we forget our minds matter too. Luke 10:27 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 12:2 says to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Several churches in my area have particularly good Bible teaching. One is Southside Fellowship (Charlie Boyd). If you click on the link, you can find sermon series available to listen to online. Much of the teaching is expository, taking you through a book of the Bible verse by verse.
I’d also encourage you to expand your Christian reading. Challenge yourself to read something deeper than you’d usually read. Here is one list of books that can get you headed in the right direction. Note the list is in chronological order of when the books were written. Some of the earlier works such as those by St. Augustine or John Calvin might be too heavy of a place to start. I’d suggest starting with something a little farther down in the list. Knowing God by JI Packer (#16 on the list) is a book I highly recommend. It is considered a Christian classic and has sold over 1 million copies. I’ve read it twice and I know I’ll read it again. It is profound yet readable…theological yet practical. It touches your head and heart.
Most worthwhile things in life require effort and discipline. If we only do what is simple and easy, we are not going to make much progress. I pray that we will all be encouraged to reach and stretch for the spiritual cookies on the higher shelf!