I love learning. It is one reason I spent so much time in school. Memorizing information and regurgitating it wasn’t hard for me. Analyzing information and synthesizing things into coherent wholes also came easy for me. My propensity is to lean into my intellect.
This makes the Church of Christ a natural fit for me. We have a culture of deep study and analysis…logic and reason. I don’t think we should toss out logic and reason. When given the choice between conclusions reached through logic and reason and conclusions reached by my emotions I am still inclined to go with my reason…BUT…Like anything, this can be taken too far. I often take this too far and I am part of a movement that can also take this too far.
We get tied up is when we attempt to make sense of things we are not equipped to make sense of. Often we don’t realize that we are incapable of developing an answer to our question or that scripture is interested in answering our question. We bend over backwards in order to make the scripture yield an answer whether the Bible likes it or not.
We assume that we have the ability to ascertain truth from the tea leaves…where the scriptures actually give no guidance.
For instance, I was reading an online argument over a video that asked if we can sing and take the Lord’s Supper at the same time. Before I go on, please let’s not get into the weeds on the answer to that question in the comments. I beg of you!
Chalk this one up to things God didn’t see fit to explain. But you wouldn’t know that from the comments. If all you had were the comments you might think the Bible gave a few chapters on this topic. What has happened is people have poured over these issues (actually made them issues) until they have convinced themselves your salvation hangs on agreeing with them!
It is tempting to think the problem is in how we are reading the Bible – our hermeneutic – but I am convinced that isn’t the actual problem.
What is the real problem?
The real problem here isn’t how we interpret the Bible. That is a symptom of a deeper and more significant problem – the idol of the intellect.
Until we address our overestimation of our ability to ascertain things from scripture that God never actually expressed we can try to fix our method of interpretation but we will just switch one set of problems for a new one because the idolatry is still present…and you will never know the truth if you keep deluding yourself.
When we idolize our intellect we do one of two things. Either we put God in a box because we assume limits on God that do not exist. Or. We assume our intellect is limitless and can fathom all mysteries…which brings in the idolatry component. Neither one of those are good options. I am sure there are five, ten or twenty other options but I believe these two are most typical.
So what do we do?
We humble ourselves.
We admit that we do not understand so many things that we once spoke with such confidence on.
We ask God for wisdom, as He told us to ask (James 1).
We say and do all things through the lens of love.
When we do this we will come to a deeper, move loving and richer understanding of the God who really is God rather than putting our own intellect on a pedestal. It is so easy to over-estimate our ability to get things right. This isn’t an interpretation problem…it is a pride problem and pride problems unchecked inevitably become idolatry.
I would like to leave you with these words from Paul that tell us point blank we will not understand everything…so don’t create an idol that can stand in the place of God himself, our intellect.
“8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”1 Cor 13:8-13
Matt, you nailed it! “This isn’t an interpretation problem…it is a pride problem and pride problems unchecked inevitably become idolatry.”
John closed his first epistle with these words: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We need to pay attention. Israel (the Jews) did not, and look what happened. The kingdom was removed from them to be given to those who would deliver the fruit of the vineyard to the LORD.
The cofC editor/bishops used intellect to find Bible verses to prove that every other denomination and even the cofC down the road was wrong. Barrels of ink helped too. People were converted to the cofC, not to Christianity.