Friday, March 17, 2017

On The Knowledge of Scripture

This week at our church group one of the members mentioned a debate she had observed between a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar.  One of the things that came out of the debate was the comment that Muslims are far better educated in their holy scripture (The Koran) that most Christians are in theirs (The Bible) and thus it creates an impediment in some circles to discussion and debate - after all, went the argument, how can I take you seriously when you do not even know your own holy book?

It was a thought that gave me pause.  It has mirrored some of my own thoughts in the past (in different ways) and gave me a chance to revisit it in a new one.

The Christian, at least in Western culture, finds themselves in a curious position.  On the one hand they are encouraged to seek out knowledge and become experts at something and understand what they believe and why; on the other, the Bible (and I choose it here specifically - I perceive this is not an issue with other scriptures) is not considered something that is worthy of that level of study and knowledge.  Western culture has reduced "religion" to the equivalent of "culture", thereby dividing in their mind what others study and take seriously versus what they can dispense with.

You could make, I think (as Os Guinness did in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds) the cogent argument that the Christian Community in the West - well, perhaps at least the U.S. - does not value the intellect or study of almost anything and thus the Bible falls into that realm.  This is also a fair argument, although I suspect somewhat overstated (I have plenty of highly educated, believing friends and acquaintances where this argument is quietly overlooked - after all, such "uneducated believer" arguments fade away in the face of a engineering/scientific Ph.D. or a legal J.D.).

But I think it is a fair statement to say that, on the whole, Western Christians do not know the Bible as they ought.  Oh, we know of it, know there is an Old and New Testament, know perhaps even that it has 66 books  and maybe even that it was written in a number of languages, but we do not really know it.  We do not know that actual words of it - we may know concepts or themes but not the actual chapter and verse (thus, the phrase "Chapter and Verse") where things appear. We build apologetics and arguments based on feelings, not on the foundational beliefs of our faith.

I concur that there is nothing magical to complete memorization.  The Pharisees memorized the Old Testament and still missed the point of it.  Rote memorization without application will accomplish no more than not knowing at all. But not knowing at all is no better.

I defy those that say such deep knowledge - indeed, such memorization - is no longer possible.  The reality is that we live in an age that glorifies physical achievement and finding the ever expanding limits of the human body. And we glory in the minds of the young which have the ability to apply themselves beyond their years.   We know that in times past people have done such things, that the entire database of a culture existed in the minds of its people - it really more a question of the will and time than it is of what is possible.

I find it interesting that the the stereotypical "wise religious" that exists in our culture is the rabbi or ascetic (even a priest or pastor, I suppose) that has the ability to call up not only the holy Scripture but application of that Scripture.  Sadly, we miss the part that what we value about this is just as applicable to ourselves.

4 comments:

Rain said...

I'm glad I found your blog because your writing is very thought provoking! I was brought up Christian, but there was no real value behind it. By that I mean, it was mainly about appearances. Church every Sunday (at 11am when most of the community was there), best clothes, memorizing when to sit, stand, kneel and what to say during what time of the service. After that, there was no real religion in the household. It never called to me and I had no interest in reading anything further on the subject. It's too bad though, because I do find the value in religion, the personal value. I am spiritual, but not in a Christian way anymore. I've found my peace and I'm interested in learning more about it, not feeling like it's forced or expected or done to show how good a believer I am.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thank you Rain. I really appreciate your kind words.

There was a concept I was introduced to some years ago called Cultural Christianity, which is much as you describe: doing church because that is what is done. Which defeats the whole purpose, of course: Christianity (the only religion to which I can speak somewhat with authority) is really a relationship with a Person, not a culture or organization or group of people. In that sense the Bible then becomes important not because it is the book of our religion but that it is God speaking to us about Himself.

I have not always been as good as I should have been. I have been a lot more harsh that I should have been in times past and then a lot less caring than I should have been too. Hopefully I am working towards finding the correct medium.

Rain said...

I think the most important lesson to learn is forgiving the self, learning from the experience and doing something different that works better. The forgiving part is the hardest though, because it involves allowing us not to dwell in doubt and regret! I like your view of religion because it's real to me. Cultural Christianity is certainly how I was brought up!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

We always far easier to forgive others than ourselves, does it not? Again, another one of those points that I wonder why we are like that. I can still mentally destroy myself for things that happened 30 years ago over which I have no control to change anything. Why, I wonder, do I still do that?