On Underestimation…or Have a Little Faith

I just read a great post over at AKMA (see “No Popular Culture” from May 28/06) from which I’d like to quote briefly: “If the church were a more congenial ecology for learning and critical reflection, the ‘popular culture’ topos might bring to the surface more interesting issues….” On this estimation of the church’s attitude towards learning I think Dr. Adams might be on to something (though I certainly don’t think that this ethos has permeated the western church alone…but that’s a post for another day). One of my concerns is that church leaders tend to underestimate both the level of interest and the potential for understanding in the average Christian person. It is too much to present complicated thoelogical problems or to investigate the greater political and ethical repercussions of our beliefs. All of this is looked on as “theological hair-splitting.” This is unfortunate because in fact it is these issues that will determine the role of the church in both the world of today and of tomorrow. I would suggest that our understanding of God’s will matters, that the way we think of God’s relationship with the future matters, that a knowledge of what grace and faith might be matters greatly to our own engagement with the possibilities and problems of the world in which we live.

I realize that there will be many people in any given group of Christians (or people of any other faith for that matter) who have no interest in the intellectual component of their religion/faith system, but this does not mean that these will be the only kinds of people preset, nor that they will be in the majority (as though only the concerns of the majority mattered to church governance anyways…again, a post for another day). I would be stunned to discover that any given congregation of people did not have among them some for whom supposedly esoteric concerns are important and interesting. I am not advocating that we turn regular worship services into academic exercises, nor that we neglect teachings with practical ends in mind. I would only suggest that there are many times when attempting to teach only things that are “practically applicable” has the potential to create a faith that differs only insignificantly from many entirely non-christian approaches to the world (I’m not opposed to such systems out of principle, but in a church the aim is to be not of this world). Additionally I would say that a great many topics that might be seemingly arcane in fact have great practical implications for the living of the Christian life. I would agree with whoever it was that suggested we must let Scripture read us, setting the agenda for conversation (as much as such a thing is possible) and not the other way around (I’m not sure who it is that I’m [mis]quoting here, someone from the post-liberal vein, Lindbeck maybe).

I guess all that I’m saying is that we need to have a little faith. In people’s interests, in their capacity and also in the importance that some slightly more complex issues might have on the nature and future of Christianity in the western world.


2 thoughts on “On Underestimation…or Have a Little Faith

  1. How does one engage that component of any given congregation? It would seem to me that many are to a large degree ignorant of basic doctrine and know less about the Scriptures then in previous generations. Many of the people who at the surface would love to jump at the oppurtunity to split hairs theologically are not interested in actually discussing to grow as an individual but simply want to impress people with their knowledge and shoot holes in things they don’t like. I can readily appreciate what you are expressing, but what is the solution, restating the problem that has plagued the church (and I might suggest other areas of life too) forever does not seem to be the solution, my question is what ideas are their to engage people in this dialogue in a fashion that is God honoring and respectful to all people?

  2. Hey Dougie, good to hear from you. Yeah, I feel you on this one. I’ve struggled with how to attack this one for awhile now, and though I don’t feel I have any really good solutions I do have some thoughts.First of all I think that as in all things it is vitally important that we learn to model the kind of behaviour that we are hoping to see. I know a number of church leaders that actively deride learning that is not immediately practical. This is a problem…as I state in the original post many of these issues (questions of docrine, history, philosophy and ethics), though complex and seemingly irrelevant, have great long term consequences. Not only must church leaders be engaged in the issues, however, they must also engage them in precisely the manner which you mention – with the intent of honoring God and being respectful. This does not, in my mind, preclude disagreement – what it does preclude is the kind of “I’m right and you’re stupid” rhetoric that so often accompanies philosophical disagreements of any kind. This comment is getting long so just one more thing…I think that the way we engage this component of a congregation is by engaging it. That is to say we engage these issues by intentionally making them issues. Not at the exclusion of practical concerns or basic doctrine (how to parent well, who is Jesus? etc.) but alongside such concerns. There will always be those who are only interested in hearing their own voices (hell, I’m one of those people), but I think that assuming they are the only people who will speak up when we engage these issues is once again underestimating the people with whom we journey. Cheers brother.

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