Getting Uncomfortable

Learning is a lifelong pursuit across many areas of our lives. As children, we start with some simple ideas and move forward from there: food goes in your mouth, don’t touch hot things, stop petting the dog’s teeth, and so on. We move from those things to more advanced things like tying your shoes or writing. From there we start to take socializing seriously and learn (some of us) how to get along with others, even others who disagree with us. We work our way to adulthood with a reasonable amount (hopefully) of coping and developmental skills that allow us to take care of ourselves and possibly others around us.

While we grow up physically and somewhat emotionally, most people spend their entire spiritual lives as babies. We take in a few basics and then most of us decide that we have enough to punch the golden ticket and anything else is just gravy. We take the “say the prayer–show up for some stuff–know the basics” mentality and call it Christianity because we’ve been taught it’s about believing the right things and jumping through the social hoops that make believing look good. I have heard this referred to through the years as “mile wide–inch deep Christianity”, something the people of Willow Creek found out in 2008 with their Reveal study. Bill Hybels, commenting on the the study said,

We made a mistake [again, quoting Hawkins]. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self-feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bibles …, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.[1]

In other words, they managed to get a lot of people started but very few of them got beyond sitting in their seats and being entertained and those that were involved lived within the little community of Willow Creek and rarely ventured out of it.

I bring all of this up because I see quite often an exceptional ignorance about the Bible and what it actually says (please note the difference between ignorance and stupidity; the first is a lack of knowledge, the second is choosing not to know). Too often people take the word of trusted people who have not had the opportunity to learn how to study and understand the Bible and never delve into it for themselves. The writer of Hebrews talks about this lack of knowledge when they write about Jesus as high priest in what we call chapter five of Hebrews.

11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

In other words, you’re stuck at square one and happy with your bottle. Notice the writer says mature followers of Jesus have learned through training. The Greek for that word is to train as an athlete would, as in intense, rigorous work to learn to understand how to be a follower of Jesus.

What do we need for that? The right attitude and the right tools. The right attitude, I believe, is one of openness to the Spirit of God to teach us, cultivating good listening skills to hear as we learn. After all, Jesus said that would be the job of the Spirit when he came to us (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:1-8). Second, we need the right tools. Most people seem to think you have to go to seminary to get them. The truth is, you just need to know what they are and be willing to spend some time on Amazon. I personally use a few different commentaries, with some basic books on history, culture, and psychology or sociology. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Most of my stuff is introductory level and easy to read except for some commentaries which I choose to use for deeper understanding. That said, we all start with milk and work our way to solid food. Get a commentary, I would suggest either the Interpretation series or N.T. Wright’s The Bible for Everyone Series, and start reading. A lot of introductory stuff is in there and will get you off on the right foot. The biggest things are a willingness to grow past where you are and a desire to be shaped by the Holy Spirit.


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