Saturday, October 13, 2012

Just a Little Heresy

Every Monday, I celebrate a cherished, longstanding tradition that I just made up last year: Be a Heretic Monday. In one of my classes on that day, I try to ask the professor a heretical question that relates to what we’re talking about.

It doesn’t exactly have to be blatantly heretical as you might think of it, like “Why do you keep insisting that Jesus died for our sins when he clearly wasn’t a historical figure at all?” It really just has to be something that a Bible major would be too timid to ask. (As a general rule, Bible majors usually don’t say controversial things, maybe because they’re afraid people will question their orthodoxy and thus their legitimacy as future pastors.)

This tradition started because I usually have Bible and philosophy classes on Mondays, and I genuinely want to know the answers to questions like, “How do we explain the violent language in some of the psalms?” and “If God doesn’t change, why does he seem to give different standards of moral ethics in the Old Testament compared to today, particularly in regard to women and slaves?”

And there’s nothing wrong with this. I believe that when it comes to matters of faith, you should know where you are and how you got there. An intelligent, well-thought-out faith isn’t the opposite of a child-like faith. Kids ask questions. They’re curious. They want to know why. Most of the time, it’s the grown-ups who stop caring, who know the definitions and functions and right answers, without the whys. They know that things work but don’t know how to explain them.

So questions are great. However, like almost anything else, the need to question can be taken in the wrong direction.

Last Monday, I planned my heretical question in advance because I disagreed with a quote from my textbook on the inductive Bible study method: “Although the Scripture may have many different applications it can have only one correct interpretation. The correct interpretation is the one that the author intended the reader to understand.”

In general, this is true. But I had already taken Inductive Study of the Bible and Biblical Theology, where we had spent weeks discussing interpretation issues, so I was excited. “What about Messianic psalms that clearly have two meanings?” I would ask. “Or parables that Jesus didn’t explain—isn’t it possible that you could interpret some of them in two equally valid ways? And what about the fact the Holy Spirit can teach us things that the original audience would never have understood?”

Oh yeah. I was excited about this one.

So I walked into my Introduction to Christian Education class—a class I’m taking just for fun, made up mostly of underclassmen—and, as soon as I got the chance, I asked my question. Bring on the heresy.

My professor gave a few basic comments on the subject to serve as an answer, and I fired back with counterarguments that had been whirling around in my brain.

Then I realized: except for the two other seniors in the class, no one seemed to really care. Actually, some of them looked really confused. Not mildly horrified at my question—I get that reaction a lot on Mondays—just confused.

That’s when I realized something. I had spent several semesters going over the steps of the inductive Bible study method. I had talked about this issue with a few friends. I love exceptions and outliers.

But most of the people in the class had never heard of inductive Bible study before. They were new to this. They needed to understand what it was first before trying to think about the exceptions and complicated cases that defy simple explanation. My particular class didn’t need heresy, not that day, at least.

And I didn’t care. I had been so excited about how intelligent I was that I hadn’t taken even one second to think if I should ask my question, if it would be good for the rest of the class. Good for anyone, in fact, except me.

There’s a certain amount of pride that goes into reading a textbook written by an expert in the field, sniffing, and saying, “That’s clearly an oversimplification.” But if it’s spiritual enough, I can usually ignore even the most blatant appearance of arrogance in my life, until a moment like this puts it into focus.

As a writer, I sometimes get the idea that I am the locus of all wisdom. Come to me, readers of this blog, and let me dispense words of great knowledge. Speak to me your problems, children, and I will advise you. Pose any theological question to me, and prepare to face the ironclad grip of my logical reasoning.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad. But you get the point. I realized this Monday that the only real heresy of Be a Heretic Monday happens when I act like I’m the smartest, most important person in the room.

So the next time you think of something you feel like you need to say, take time to stop and think about whether or not others need to hear it. The answer is often no.

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