Yesterday I had a talk with my wife that has changed how I view theology and the church. After we put the kids down last night my wife sat down to try and finish Introducing Paul by Michael Bird, but quite frankly was bored with it. I asked her why and she said she couldn’t see the point of reading it. There is good stuff in there but she couldn’t see how any of it would affect her life. This was a bit of a shock to me, as you will know if you read my review of the book, where I praised it to the skies. She asked why it was better to read a book like this than a practical book on parenting. I tried to answer her but wasn’t terribly successful. To be honest I have never really thought about it. Of course the Bible is practical and so we should learn it as well as we can. Why does anyone need more reason than that? But I’m beginning to see very few people actually think that. I took Myers Briggs personality test today – I’m INTJ – so I’m wired to think this way, but I actually think this is right. My wife said that she felt Bible scholars are in their ivory towers saying lofty things to one another and not bothering to make it practical to the church. This was interesting because I specifically recommended the book because I thought he wasn’t doing that. It’s a short book which doesn’t use big words or have many footnotes; it must be good for the church in general. Apparently not. While we were talking she skipped to the end of the book and indeed he did try to apply the material, but by that time it’s too late – you already lost most everyone. Application needs to come first or people won’t bother.
I was in a small group where we were going over the Psalms. I gave everybody in the group a CD of John Goldingay, one of the top two or three OT scholars in the world, summarizing the Psalms in half an hour. Not a single person listened to it, and these were serious devout Christians. And I mean I urged them to listen to it. One couple joked that they could play it before bed to help them go to sleep. I was so depressed. If committed Christians wouldn’t listen to the best guy in the world why would anyone ever listen to me? I realize that on the local level it’s about relationships, and people will listen to you if they know you, but the truth is there is too much to learn if all you’ve got is a sermon a week. There has to be separate study.
One of the main reasons I’m going to seminary is so that I can help the church, specifically the Charismatic church, become more solid. It hit me yesterday that if I can’t make a heck a case for the importance of learning theology I’m not going to be able to make a difference. My wife loves to read and was the valedictorian of her college class. If I can’t get her to read brief introductory books on theology, how am I going to get people to read them who are very busy and don’t like to read? My wife is disposed to agree with me. What about the people who are inclined to think it’s not important or even wrong? Sitting in the library this morning I was looking at all the books on the shelves and wondering how many people actually read them. This commitment that my family is making is total, at least financially. I’m giving up all I’ve ever made, accumulating a substantial amount of debt with the prospect of making a third of what I could have made in the secular world. I’m ok with that if it is going to affect change, but I’m not ok with that if there is no end product. I’ve got to figure out how to show people why the Bible is important. Of course, Christians have some general sense that the Bible is important. I mean believe it’s important enough to study it so we get a sense of the story from beginning to end and can see how the doctrines tie into the story. That takes a certain level of commitment.
Here are some questions I’m thinking about:
If we can summarize the book of Isaiah in two paragraphs, why study it?
What’s the point of studying the Old Testament? How does that really affect our lives?
What would we really lose if we gave new believers Terry Virgo’s grace series and told them to read Luke and Paul’s letters once a year?
Why not just give believers a systematic theology book instead of doing theology properly? Why get worked up about that? Why does it matter?
I feel like I have answers to these questions. But I don’t feel I have answers that are strong enough to get people to actually change how they study.