48 years old now…an odd number, now that I look at it. Odd in that it has little meaning. It’s just a number, and it’s me that’s stuck in the body that’s been around that long. And for most of those years, I’ve been reading and stuffing information into my head at a fairly steady rate. With the arrival of cyberspace, the possible points of plug-in multiplied exponentially, and now most of us are streaming bits of knowledge every waking moment, and at the end of the day, or the years, we’re still hopelessly behind.
Here I am, now a preacher for a time, and I’m thinking, “What do I know?” This very morning, thousands of young people around the country are trundling off to theological classes lugging heavy tomes of exegetical strategies, hermeneutical processes, and historical contextualizing, all of them hungry to get their essays, commentaries, and sermons right. Not to mention the conversations at happy hour. We have this old book, don’t we? We have these letters and writings from men who walked the earth some two thousand years ago, men whose lives had been irreparably changed by Jesus of Nazareth. I was reading an Amazon.com thread of religious discussion this morning as I browsed through their theological books, and the question on the thread was this: “Were the writers of the gospels sincere?” Seems a fair question, given the current cynicism of the age, given the various differences in the telling, given the sheer distance of time. As I breezed through the various back and forths between believers and atheists in the forum, it struck me how deep all these conversations go, and they always call into question our own sincerity, our own desire to control, our own desire to finally, in the end, be right.
The gospel writers were sincere, I think, and blessed and inspired by the Holy Spirit Jesus promised and delivered. What that inspiration looks like is hard to say of course, and the question of inspiration is one that makes us want to turn and run the other way. But here’s my faith, the starting point for thinking about it. The followers of Jesus were in a “here-and-now” process as they lived, living by love and faith and hope, depending on the Spirit of God to guide them in their “in shadow” and “in part” knowledge. They followed the Spirit of Jesus with a passion because they had been changed experientially by the encounter with him. Frankly, that doesn’t sound much different from our own situation, our own experience, and our own challenge to come to a Spirit-guided understanding of truth, light, and the Christ.
What I wanted to blog about was simply this: more and more knowledge does not a pure heart make. Nor a loving heart, nor a Christ-like heart. I am far, far from being anti-intellectual, insight and knowledge are high-values for me, and the pursuit of truth in scripture and elsewhere is nothing if not intellectually demanding, but I also know that as I stare at 2000 years of scholarly writing that I will never hope to catch up to, I know that my own conversation with the NW church will come out of my heart-mind-spirit-body life with God and Christ as the Holy Spirit guides my study of what Dan Allendar calls the three books we must study–the book of scripture, the book of our own hearts, and the book of popular culture that is to such a great extent the primary force teaching us to “read.”
In other words, moving forward, trusting the Spirit to lead in real time…