I may not be the brightest knife in the toolshed, but I’d like to think I’m no dummy either. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but my mom always told me to focus on the positive . . .
When I was in seminary in my early 20’s, a professor assigned a book on “Process Theology” (the idea that God is not completely perfect but is in the “Process” of getting there – I know but that’s a whole ‘nother volume of books) as part of the class reading. I’ll never forget the book: “God, Christ, Church” by Marjorie Hewett-Suchocki. I’ll never forget it not because of its theological depth and the life-changing effects it had on my ministry; I’ll remember it because it took me three hours to read the first 10 pages.
(Here’s where you might begin to doubt me on the self-appraisal above)
It wasn’t that the author used words that were too big for me to understand – I pride myself on a vocabulary replete with impracticable words. I found myself just not understanding the regular words she was using or at least the way she was using them. The problem was that she had made up different meanings for regular words!
I discovered this in a moment of frustration when, as a last resort, I turned to the glossary at the back of the book. I then discovered that the words I thought I knew the meanings to, in her book, had different meanings. The reason it took me three hours to read ten pages was that about two-and-a-half hours was spent looking up words in the glossary and trying to put these foreign meanings into comprehensible sentences. I was not successful . . .
At the next class, I calmly set the book on the professor’s desk and told him I refused to read past the tenth page, even if it meant that I failed the class. I received a standing ovation from my classmates and the professor removed the book from the required reading for the class.
Sometimes the best course of study is just the basics. Check out what Paul wrote to Timothy:
Fix this picture firmly in your mind: Jesus, descended from the line of David, raised from the dead. It’s what you’ve heard from me all along. It’s what I’m sitting in jail for right now—but God’s Word isn’t in jail! That’s why I stick it out here—so that everyone God calls will get in on the salvation of Christ in all its glory. This is a sure thing: If we die with him, we’ll live with him; If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 2 Timothy 2:8-13
Now I realize that Seminary professors need theologically challenging books to give to their students to read, and that an important part of the Seminary process is to weed out those not capable of doing the job. And I also understand that there is pressure on the writers of these books to break new ground. But sometimes it’s important, for even the smartest among us, to just stick to the basic facts of the faith.
Karl Barth, perhaps the 20th century’s smartest theologian-dude, when asked to put the entirety of his theology into one sentence said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.
Way to go, Karl!
(By the way, I got and A+ in the class. Take that Marjorie!)
Pressing on toward the goal . . .