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What is a Berean? Part 1

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12)

The Internet has certainly been a great blessing to the Church of Jesus Christ. Like the printing press in the time of the Reformation, the ease with which information can now be shared has resulted in a growing recovery of doctrines that had been in decline in much of the evangelical church—doctrines like the truths of God’s sovereignty in salvation, the inerrancy of Scripture, a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood, and the importance not only of the local church but a meaningful commitment to membership and structure in it. God is to be praised for this, and we should be most grateful to live in such a time.

I’m one of those who has been greatly blessed by the availability of theological resources on the internet. And like so many who are passionate about such things, much of my reading as a young theologian was on apologetics and discernment websites. I found them helpful at first, especially their emphasis on truth as opposed to error and the information they provided on unorthodox alternatives to the faith. A prominent passage and example in the material provided by such ministries is the text above, the story of Paul and his companions as they brought the Gospel to Berea. The noble example of the Bereans was one of many reasons why I strove then and now to follow the biblical text where it leads.

Yet as time went on, I’ve noticed that many—though thankfully not all—such websites, blogs, and ministries will often degenerate into online combat with other such ministries. I’ve watched too many blogs and Twitter accounts where name-calling and character assassination have become more and more common. A distinct undertone of harshness and anger, and an evident lack of the “gentleness and reverence” called for by the Apostle, now marks many such ministries. This is not only a failure to present Jesus Christ in his glory and purity; this is to the very real loss of the whole Church. Sadly, I can understand the temptation. To my own shame, I think that in my first year or two at seminary I was probably overly combative and harsh in some class discussions regarding issues that weren’t even secondary or tertiary in importance, much less matters of spiritual life and death.

Like many others, online and in real churches, I was striving to be “Berean,” but looking back now I think I was missing at least two-thirds, if not even the whole, of what Luke aimed to commend the Bereans for in this text! In other words, I had read the text, isolated “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” and basically ignored the rest. That’s not healthy, either for the would-be “modern Berean” or those around him.

See, Luke is commending the Bereans to us as an example. We are supposed to emulate them. But—we’re to follow their complete example. Regrettably, I think I failed at that back in seminary in some ways. And since then, over almost ten years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen a lot of aspiring “modern Bereans” walk through church doors and show through their attitude and conduct that they similarly miss Luke’s point as well, leaving various levels of damage in their wake.

So, over the next few weeks I’d like to take a look at what Luke is actually saying here in this text. We’re going to look at three “marks” of a real Berean: nobility, eagerness to receive the Word, and humility. And at the end, my hope and prayer is that we will all grow to be Bereans—but in whole, and not merely in part.