Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Christian Literacy: Bible, Church History, Theology

Being a  faithful witness to Jesus Christ means being literate in a distinctive way. To begin with, it means having a meaningful understanding of Christianity. This is especially important today because such literacy is rare at the same time that churches, at least in the Western world, are disappearing.
Olympian literacy, or an understanding of ourselves and our world which actually serves the six conventional but destructive gods of Olympianity, is practically the only kind of literacy that exists today—even among Christians. Olympian literacy means having a nodding familiarity with current events: the latest TV shows, movies, hit songs, bestsellers, sports scores, political events, international crises, celebrity scandals, electronic gadgets, fashions, and more. These are the topics which people, Olympians and Christians alike, discuss most frequently and with the greatest excitement. 
Olympian literacy takes no intellectual ability at all. In fact, it shrivels what intellectual abilities we might have. All it takes is a willingness to immerse oneself in corporate media of communication. If we do that, then the gods reward us with very satisfying moments of great emotional intensity. We also receive the esteem of our peers for remaining relevant.
Conversely, if we follow Christ’s call to Christian literacy, we will, like him, have to embrace a way of living that is challenging, marginalizing, and, to Olympians, pointless.
To be literate about Christianity, you and I need to have an experiential understanding of:
The Bible. Before all else, we need to read it daily. We need to know the contents of each of its books. Then we need to understand how each book witnesses to Jesus Christ (the point of all the books). Finally, we need to discern how, on the basis of each book, we might witness with greater clarity to Jesus (the point of all our lives as well).
Consequently, in Bible studies with other Christians, Jesus invites us to be aware of certain guidelines. First, before the Bible study with others even takes place, we need to read the whole book being studied enough times to get a good sense of it. We also need to give prayerful consideration to the particular chapter or passage to be discussed prior to that discussion.
Then we need to talk with others about how the passage and book point to, or get fulfilled by, Jesus Christ. Sadly, current Bible study guides, while stuffed with historical information, are of little help in this regard. Happily, theologians like Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul, George Hunsinger, and Vernard Eller are helpful in this way.
Finally, each one of us at the Bible study needs to participate in the discussion. Our goal is to discern a shared understanding of how Jesus is calling us to witness to him, as Christians and church, through the words of that passage today and in our particular context.
This shared understanding rarely happens but for different reasons. Sometimes no one participating in the Bible study actually cares enough to reach it.
Sometimes we fail because a Bible study is dominated by one person. One way we witness to freedom is by encouraging each person to express their unique point of view. Another important way is by allowing differences of opinion, once expressed, to remain unresolved for a meaningful period of time. Sometimes truth needs time to emerge and Jesus asks us to be patient.
We can help our pastors by prayerfully reflecting on the biblical passages they will be preaching on, listening carefully to what they say, then providing them with meaningful feedback.
We ordinary Christians also need to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek. Every congregation needs to have some basic level of understanding of the original languages in which the Old and New Testaments were written. Such knowledge is too important to lose and yet has virtually disappeared even from seminaries. We need to preserve this knowledge and pass it on. It’s our responsibility as prophetic witnesses to do this.
Church history. The story of God’s relationship to human beings did not end with the closing of the New Testament. Jesus has been busy ever since. By understanding how God chose to relate to us through history as the biblical witnesses tell us, we can understand more clearly how he has done so since biblical times until today. We can also discern with greater shared confidence what Jesus is inviting us to do today.
Even church history can be understood in Olympian terms. That happens when emphasis is given to the powerful and to the various ebbs and flows of power between individuals and organizations. A Christian understanding would emphasize how Jesus repeatedly spoke surprising new words of truth that liberated people to share his love for God, other human beings, and the rest of creature in unexpectedly vital ways.
Theology. Theology is nothing more than our summary of the biblical witness to Jesus in our own words. To do it well, we need to use the paradoxical logic of the Bible as affirmed by the Church at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). That means setting aside the less adequate sensate logic of the sciences. We also need to speak of Jesus, and of creation and creatures in relation to Jesus, in statements that are both consistent with the Bible and logically coherent with one another.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.