Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

In search of a ruined life

May 11, 2005

Check out this quote which I saw at Chris Haw’s blog:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand.
But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”
Soren Kierkegaard

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the educational model of Christian formation. Been reading about and dreaming about more experiential models, which have some appeal. For awhile (especially when I was in Seminary), I tended to think that the smartest Christian would be the best Christian. But over time, I’ve realized what a short-sighted and narrow view this is. Christian scholarship tends to be a fairly recent indulgence for relatively wealthy people. There are exeptions, of course, but the history of the church is fairly bursting with examples of common — even illiterate!–people who did some awe-inspiring ministry.

And I know that most of the things I’ve learned– from sports to driving to carpentry to roofing to drywall to preaching to janitorial work to surfing– have been interactive, experiential processes. I’ve basically entered into formal and informal apprenticeships with others. There, I apply myself, practice my skills (such that they are), get some coaching, and eventually develop some proficiency. If I’m to be considered a decent person, I’m expected to train someone else in turn. And so it goes.

On the other hand, education is not to be dismissed altogether. As a newly minted pastor, fresh from seminary, I would regularly minimize my recent educational experience as only barely related to actual church ministry. “It didn’t have anything to do with my job now,” I would say, exaggerating a little for effect. There was one wise man who would occasionally remind me that, though I might be right, I was ignoring what I had learned there. “You can say that, because you’ve done it,” he would say.

He was right, of course. I learned a ton in school, and use it all the time– consciously and unconsciously. Moreover, I learned how to think and do research, which are critical skills. It’s more than a little ironic than the critical thinking skills and background knowledge which I learned in the educational system are the very tools I’m using to critique the educational model now. So I can’t exactly be an anti-educational-model purist.

And neither can my man Soren, either. He was one brilliant guy, and was a recipient and benefactor of the riches of the academy. So I guess he had to come full circle: to learn all that he did so that he could see how little value there was in much of what he had learned. Because most of the time, what keeps us from living as we’d like isn’t a lack of knowledge or intelligence. It is real belief that a better way is possible, and the motivation to pursue it.

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