Don't misunderstand; I am a conservative evangelical. I believe the Bible to be inspired by God, completely sufficient, and (gasp) inerrant. Nevertheless, an unintended consequence of the battle for the Bible is a dearth of modern Christian literature. We have invested so much time in determining what the Bible says we have accomplished this to the exclusion of how to respond to what it says. There are many out there who know what the Bible says. However, evangelicals are woefully inadequate at extrapolating what God expects out of us from that same text.
Often, I hear that the Bible is simple. Is it? Conservatives often use this maxim as an intellectual scapegoat. Wed this idea to the equally disturbing notion that the "Bible is all you need" (another fretful argument) and it culminates in a shallow intellectual tradition. Why proclaim that the Bible is simple when it says of itself that it is not?
"However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." 1 Corinthians 2:6-8No matter your opinion, this faith is an incredibly complex one. Turning it into a simplistic easy reader has invited men such as Bono to step into the obvious vacuum unfulfilled by deep Christian thinkers. Blog friend Streak said this in a month-old post on the same subject:
Simple was the way to avoid tradition, training, intellectual rigor, etc. No need for "book learning" and all you needed was a lay preacher who could read the Bible. Wow, that has really served us well, hasn't it? Given us slavery, segregation, anti-feminist rants, capitalism masked as faith, and even a cottage industry eschatology that has spurred a horrible foreign policy.Sir Isaac Newton made an important discovery in the 18th century. He noticed that a beam of white sunlight, passing through a glass prism could be split into its constituent colors--red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, and violet. The prism did not impose those colors on the white light; it allowed them to be discerned. What had beforehand been taken to be a simple color--white--was indeed a menagerie of different colors; a complex unity.
The same is true of Christian theology; the message of the cross is a unity; but it is a complex unity. To dissolve it down to some simplistic drivel is an insult to the mighty God who gave it; a failure to pursue God with all one's mind is to be disobedient to the very Scripture some claim to be so simple.
Jesus said to him, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37The church should not fear raising up intellectuals the likes of Francis Shaeffer, Dietrich Boenhoffer, Helmut Thielicke, and C. S. Lewis. Christians have become insular in their faith--so much so that we do not even read outside of our own tight circle anymore; we settle for some thin aesthetic and call it theology. We chuckle at the shallowness of the mavericks of Christian publishing; Lucado, LaHaye, and upstart Osteen. (Don't get me started on Warren.) Yet, these are what are flying off the shelves at the local Christian bookstore.
Do pastors even ask why? Has our preaching and teaching so mirrored these mavericks that we have unconsciously adopted their style because its what sells? Should we always put the cookies on the bottom shelf, so to speak? I am persuaded differently. God's people are hungry. Who will feed them? Pastor, if you are reading, do not be afraid to use big words. Teach them to the people you serve; cease teaching monosyllabic, watered-down Sunday School lessons about Noah and the ark, David and Goliath, and Joshua and that big wall.
Dan Edelen out at Cerulean Sanctum is blogging an interesting series right now which was the inspiration for this post. In Busting Myths about Christianity, Dan says this:
So whither the Christian intellectual? Do any still exist?And unfortunately, that is how the conservative, evangelical church looks--vacant in the cranium; sinfully inadequate at addressing some of the world's most distressing needs. The Christian world needs some deep Christian thinkers to help her comprehensively address such world needs as poverty, the AIDS pandemic, the environment, and greed. Right now the Christian response is...well, is there one? So, to continue on the present course, proves Dr. Alister McGrath's words in his book about Christian myths, Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths, perfectly true.
Say what we will about history, but it's loaded with Christians (and people who mentally assented to Christianity) who drove the arts, philosophy, literature, and science—and in large numbers.
But what happened to them all? Where did they go? Sure, you see a Plantinga here, and a…uh, hmm. I'm not coming up with any names for contemporary Christian lit authors. Artists? Nope—no one comes to mind. In fact, I suspect that most Christians, even if their lives depended on it, couldn't name one contemporary Christian intellectual or artist.
Are we so bereft today that all we can remember are those great Christian intellectual luminaries of the past? Christianity nurtured Western civilization into being, yet in the 21st century we Christians gave it all away.
That this ignores most of the rest of Scripture, and also makes a fine distorted case for tearing all the wisdom books out of the Bible, eludes far too many people. In the end, Christianity never calls anyone to turn off his mind. To insist it does only results in the kind of brain-dead emotionalism that leads to error. Hoisting godly wisdom by its own petard makes the Church look vacant in the cranium.
Christianity is not a verbal religion; it is experiential. It centers on a transformative encounter of the believer with the risen Christ. From the standpoint of Christian theology, however, that experience comes before the words that generate, evoke, and inform it. Christianity is Christ-centered, not book centered; if it appears to be book-centered it is because it is through the words of Scripture that the believer encounters and feeds upon Jesus Christ. Scripture is a means, not an end; a channel, not what is channeled.I would by no means consider myself an intellectual, but I am trying desperately to get a foothold in the vastness of this God. Ultimately, the solution does not rest in finding the right words for the most accurate persuasion, but just real, honest-to-goodness, believers in Jesus, convinced that God can and does work in and through them to accomplish His great purposes, and then putting that argument to work. Change will come indeed.