When discussing theology, I've come to realize that not only is personal study of doctrine a necessary component to faith, but it is something that shouldn't be kept to oneself. I want to share my journey, both past and ongoing, into the realm of theology. Through this, I hope that you will gain insight into the Christian faith as a whole. Before reading anything else, I suggest you read the introduction and definitions (found in the pages tabs above) so you may better understand where I am coming from in everything I write. Because many of my posts are on heresies, there is also a page above with a family tree of heresies and links to all the posts I have so far on the topic.

08 October, 2012

A Brief Note on the Term "Theologically Illiterate"

As I was falling asleep last night, I realized just how truly arrogant "theologically illiterate" sounded in my last post.  It sounded, even to me, as if you can't be a good Christian if you don't know or believe exactly as I do.  I'm sure you can guess that wasn't my intent.  So let me clarify now that I'm not rushing to finish my post before leaving the house (impatience often leads me to come across more bluntly than I usually intend--ironic considering the subject of this post and the "twitter timespan" I mention below).

Most American Christians today seem to become "theologically literate" in spite of, rather than because of, the Church.  This is a travesty.  Our churches, more often than not, churn out "shallow" Christians (by this, I am thinking of the James analogy of "milk" vs. "meat"--you can't graduate to eating meat if you don't know how or don't want to, both of which are far too common in American Christendom).  It isn't really anything new, I would dare say it's been around as long as Christianity has, but it seems to occur more frequently of late.  Or maybe it just seems that way since we are all so much more connected now than we used to be thanks to the internet.

Part of it I blame on the advent of the mega-church.  It's unreasonable to expect a church that large to be properly shepherded, even with a whole team of Pastors.  There simply isn't a human way to do it. Even with "small groups" and Bible studies, the time and attention you receive directly from a Pastor is minimal at best, according to friends who attend these types of churches as well as my own research into it.  That is a huge part of the problem--the inaccessibility of the Pastor, and his inability to do his job because of the size of the congregation (yes, I used the masculine pronouns on purpose, and always will when referring to Pastors).

I also blame the twitter timespan of this generation.  It seems that no one wants to take the time to learn and understand the seemingly difficult things anymore because they want instant gratification.  It's good enough for far too many people in general, not just in the church, to have someone tell them what they want to hear.  They want to feel good.  They don't want to contemplate the bad.  They like to write off parts of the Bible that they don't like or don't understand and don't want to understand further, so they just ignore them.  They don't want to be bothered with questioning information or studying it or learning the "who, what, when, where, how and why" of anything.  If it can't be done in 30 seconds or less than 144 characters, why should they listen?

Part, too, lies with far too many Pastors who don't challenge their parishioners enough.  They give into the twitter timespan mentality.  They do just the minimum.  They want to make you feel good.  No one likes to preach the Law, but without it, you cannot have the Gospel.  Pastors are only human, too.  Part of that problem here, I think, comes from the lack of proper training or prior education of a Pastor.  I'm a big fan of seminaries and ordination so that I know my Pastor has had significant training in the original languages, context, theology, early church fathers, etc.  That isn't to say you can't learn all that without a seminary, but I can definitely tell when a Pastor has studied and when one simply hasn't.  If our Pastors aren't properly educated, how can we expect them to properly educate their flocks?

Finally, this isn't a phenomenon unique to any one denomination.  In fact, I can't think of a single denomination (include, all too often, Lutheran) where this doesn't occur.  Case in point from a Lutheran perspective: I had three other ladies in my confirmation class.  I was the only one who bothered to even try to memorize what I was supposed to, or answer any of the questions, or ask questions of my own.  Since it wasn't strictly enforced, these gals skated through without really challenging themselves to actual understand what they were being taught.  I only ever saw one at church after confirmation on anything but Easter or Christmas, and rarely at that (although, granted, she was at college the last few years and now I attend a different church in a different city).

It's not enough to know the Bible, or think you know what you believe.  Both are important.  But equally important, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV), is being prepared to give an answer for your faith, something you cannot do if you only superficially understand it.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

It is ultimately up to us to ensure we know and understand our faith as much as humanly possible.  Others may help along the way, but the only ones we can ultimately praise or censure in this endeavor are ourselves.  Even with a "bad" Pastor in a mega-church with unfocused fellow congregants, you can still be entirely theologically literate if you make the effort.  It just takes work--something I know very well first hand, even though I've been, overall, very lucky to be surrounded by those who want to help and encourage me learn (my Mother most especially).  Lifelong catechis is very important.  That is, in some part, why I started this blog and why I'm working on the book project I am now--to keep me accountable in continuing to learn.

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