Don't Gag The Greek

by Greg Williamson (c) 2007

LIFE: I know of a church that, due to its proximity to a nearby likeminded seminary, counts quite a number of seminary students and their families among its membership. The percentage used to be much higher, but has decreased dramatically as the new facility continues to draw increasing numbers of non-seminarians. Because many, if not most, from the latter group have at best only a rudimentary knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, church history, etc., there has been some conflict between the two groups. 

The pastor's solution, as announced during his annual "State of the Church" sermon/address, is to gag the Greek. He actually told the students to leave discussions of what they are learning on campus; while at church they are to discuss only (real) "life." (Which is very surprising in light of a) the fact that the staff is comprised almost entirely of current or former seminary students, and b) the church's emphasis on correct doctrine, including its regularly scheduled "discipleship classes.") 

Please pardon me, but am I the only one who finds that to be an incredibly insensitive approach? It sounds too much like the Clintonian philosophy of "Don't ask, don't tell": The seminary students should not tell anyone in the church about the "heady" topics they are studying, and the non-students should not ask. 

It is also inconsistent (to put it mildly) considering the fact that the pastor is himself a doctorate student of the seminary. I would be so bold as to point out the logic here:

  1. Students are not allowed to share with other church members and attendees the deeper - albeit at times technical - truths to which they are being exposed.
  2. The pastor is a student, and deeper truths are foundational to the pastor's preferred method of expository preaching.
  3. Therefore the pastor must cease and desist expository preaching. 

What's more, the correct way to prepare and deliver a true-to-Scripture expository sermon is considered by the seminary to be a very serious - even "heady" - topic that is an indispensable part of its curriculum.  

Perhaps the pastor could switch over to the more popular Reader's-Digest-as-sacred-text style of "sharing." Certainly no one could rightly claim that that type of preaching is too deep. 

THEOLOGY: It's been said that the Bible contains truths both so shallow that a baby can wade in them and so deep that an elephant can swim in them. 

For the truly born-again Christian who is committed to making Jesus Christ the Lord of every aspect of his/her life, the Bible is our basic field manual. (Someone has said that BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions for Believers Living on Earth.) As witnessed by the pervasive presence of theologically liberal "scholarship," anyone can learn even the most technical truths contained in Scripture. It is only the Holy Spirit-regenerated, Holy-Spirit-empowered believer, however, who will have both the desire and the power to incorporate those truths into daily life. And, just like the Christian walk itself, learning and applying the Bible's many incredible, life-changing truths is a life-long process. 

It is also a process that becomes more, not less, complex with the passing of time. While it begins with a simplification (but not a "dumbing down") of the deeper truths so as to render them more digestible, every believer should be encouraged to dig long and deep in the pages of Scripture. While we should never place on a pedestal those who are receiving formal training, neither should we demand that they wear a gag when they are in the company of us mere mortals. At most, we should ask them to translate what they are learning into everyday language that we can understand. A reasonable request with which, I imagine, they would be most happy to comply. 

To use just one biblical example ... Some two-thirds of the New Testament is comprised of letters written by the apostle Paul. And Paul's letters contain what at times is such heady language that theologians living nearly two-thousand years after the fact are still debating its meaning. Of course his writings also include less complex, more down-to-earth advice, counsel, warnings, etc. Certainly he must have known that any given church would have been comprised of people living all along the Christian walk and witness spectrum. His deeper writings would have both encouraged the spiritual babes to press on to higher ground and addressed the needs and concerns of those a bit older in the faith.  

There's a book on the market titled How to Read a Book. It does a commendable job of explaining several different types of writing, as well as laying out techniques for interacting with and understanding the text. I remember one of the things it says is that a person should be reading at least one book that is just beyond his/her grasp. Why? Because being exposed to deeper truths than we are used to stretches us, challenging us to learn more than we already know - and to keep on doing so. 

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