Unpaid Bills : Duane W.H. Arnold
It is difficult to write these days. It sometimes seems hard to imagine why any additional verbiage would add anything of value to peoples lives. Whether we like to admit it or not, many, if not most, have forsworn the reading of books and essays in favor of the quick search on the Internet to find a particular answer to a particular question. You may indeed find the answer that you were looking for, but you will not find the width and depth that stands behind that answer. It is somewhat like trying to evaluate a painting by Rembrandt by examining an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper that comes off your home printer. You will indeed see the painting, but you will not see the artistry. The shadows and play of light are missing. The heavy treatment wrought by a pallet knife cannot be distinguished. Instead, you are presented with a flattened image that is devoid of the visual information that designates the painting as a masterpiece. This, of course, is not even to speak of the background and scholarly research that allows us to understand, in at least a limited way, the original intent of the artist as he approached a blank canvas and/or the history of the painting as it has been viewed by countless eyes through the centuries.
Now, this is not to say that you cannot gain some modicum of truth by looking at the paper that emerges from your printer, but it is limited. Likewise, this is not to say that you cannot find some hint of joy in the accomplishment of the artist while looking at the paper from your printer but, again, it is limited.
When you read a book or an essay on a particular subject, you also gain corollary information that, while seemingly unimportant at the moment, will in the future shape your view on what you were studying. Using our example of Rembrandt, if you saw the painting and decided to get more information by reading a book or essay on the subject, you would suddenly discover a whole trove of information that would inform how you viewed the painting that you were examining. It might be information about the religious situation in Holland. It could be a discussion of the guild system that existed in Amsterdam. You might find information about the political and economic structure that existed in the time of Rembrandt. All of this corollary information will inform how you view the painting.
Yet, while we might agree with such an approach with regard to Rembrandt or the wider field of art history, so many are loathe to apply the self same approach to the Bible or, indeed, to Church history or the broader subject of theology. There seems to be an idea that anything dealing with our Christian faith should be simple and easy, and that is simply not the case. While we might refer to an individuals commitment to Christ as a “simple faith” what stands behind that faith is amazingly complex and nuanced. Moreover, the complexities and nuances of that faith will not be resolved by a five minute Internet search for “the answer”. It takes some time, some reading, and a great deal of reflection. There is a reason that there are untold numbers of commentaries on all the books of the Bible. There is a reason that there are tens of thousands of books and essays on church history and the broader field of theology. It is the reason that week by week, month by month, and year by year books and essays are recommended on this blog. They are recommended not to elicit your agreement with any particular position, but to allow you to discover the riches that are there for the taking.
It is a tragedy that so much is available, yet believers do not avail themselves of the resources. I don’t know about others, but I am disgusted beyond words with those who called themselves Christians, or Christ followers, or Evangelicals and who recite all of the political talking points of their tribe, be it right or left, yet would be hard pressed to name the writers of the four gospels without looking it up on their phones. By the way, if you think that I am exaggerating look at some of the recent survey numbers and think again. It really is that bad. We are not talking brain surgery here, we are talking basics.
The cure for this is catechesis, that is, teaching those who come within our orbit about the faith. It is not teaching people about politics. It is not teaching people about culture wars. It is not engaging in the latest conspiracy theories. It is teaching people about basic Christianity and the tenets of the faith. This has been a failure in the Church for at least a generation and we see the result all around us. How would Christians view human sexuality if moral theology, a mainstay of Christian teaching for almost 2000 years, had been taught in the Church? Would it result in a more nuanced and merciful approach? How would Christians view the current propensity for violence in light of the Sermon on the Mount?
I have said it before, and I will say it again, much that we see in the Church and agonize over are really just our own unpaid bills coming due…