Many of us might presume the individual with the best grasp on the subtle nuances of the original languages and the most comprehensive and capacious mind for systematic theology would invariably best understand the intention and wisdom of the Scriptures.
And while it might always be preferable to understand the original languages and be proficient in historic linguistics, they are no guarantee you’ll have a better life in Christ than the soy farmer in Blanchwood, Iowa with a 7th grade education and twelve verses he trusts God to accomplish in his new nature.
Theoretically, you could memorize the Bible, word for word, and spend seventeen years on your knees, on a windswept prairie, meditating on it for insight and discernment and end up an arrogant, moralizing, obnoxious, miserable clod.
The problem is not with the Scriptures. They happen to be true and beautiful and life giving.
The problem is me. The problem is my flesh. The problem is this shame I still carry. The problem is some of the teaching I’ve been polluted with. The problem is the false voice I’ve attached to the same words that give stunning freedom to that soy farmer in Blanchwood. The problem is this lie I’ve carried with me since the Fall, which presumes my lunging, striving effort is superior to trusting in what Another has done. The problem is the condemnation and shame I presume the Scriptures are hoping I’ll get convicted by, so I’ll shape up.
Most of Scripture is not rocket science to understand. What part of “love one another” is tricky? In the original language, when parsed out and overlaid with the 1st century John Ryland fragment, gridded through several blend-coded lexicons, then studied in context of the cultural nuances of early Palestinian nomenclature, it still means the “love one another”-just like in the English translation you carry.
The problem is in how I imagine I will obey that verse. Ah, here’s the sacred place past hermeneutics, verse mapping and copious exegesis. There ought to be a major on how to teach the Scriptures without a private theology of sin-management, without my shame distorting the means to live out this Book which happens to carry so many requests, commands and longings.
This Book was meant to be trusted by those who are trusting who they now are-new creatures! …Adored ones, not on trial, not expected to drum up goodness, righteousness, humility, valor, love or any such virtue.
This Book was meant to be trusted by those who are trusting who God is in them! …Absolutely sovereign, able to mature such new creatures from the inside out, all day, without condemnation, disdain, impatience, or expectation that they can do anything spiritual without trusting the endless power and resource of His life in them.
I went to a really good seminary. I earned a Masters of Divinity. I graduated Kappa Tau Epsilon, near the very top of my class. I had brilliant professors. Most of my units were in the original languages and systematic theology. I also know a lot about a Pre-Millennial Kingdom. I know a lot about the subtle differences between Dispensational and Reformed theology. But I never heard word one about what I just wrote above. Not word one.
And I walked into the church I still am part of, trying to teach a buck-up, striving, guilt motivated, flesh appealed to gospel of bluffing that wasn’t working for me. It took a community already experiencing together the living theology of grace for me to start to be healed from the private shame of a doctrine I couldn’t live up to.
Our farmer in Blanchwood is having a great life in Christ. He appears to know who He is in Christ and lives out of it. And at the end of the day, as the sun sets and he and his wife sit out on the porch with iced teas, talking about the day, they carry very little angst about whether the Kingdom is pre, post or amillennial.
We should care about theological systems. And we want to interpret this Word more and even more carefully, circumspectly and copiously. But that’s just the beginning; apparently the preliminary stuff. Because we know far fewer who can read these same inspired, well parsed words, without teaching with a man-made filter over them.
More and more, along with others, we are learning to help each other to take a filter of shame and moralism off our reading of Scripture. And now we can’t stop talking or writing about it. In fact, our new Study Guide for The Cure has an exercise in it every chapter. It’s a game changer. Once I can see the Scriptures without the filter, my whole life can open up in front of me.
Heck, I might become a farmer after-all. I like iced tea.
John-one of the three amigos-part of the ever-growing tribe of grace.