By Guest Blogger: Alexandra Armstrong
I started running several weeks ago. I still don’t love it. My first attempt lasted all of 200 yards. This pitiful distance was enough to induce cramped muscles, burning lungs and wounded pride. It’s a wonder I ever ran a second time.
But my life-long friend, April, keeps encouraging me and telling me how proud she is of me. Even if I wanted to quit, I couldn’t because April seems so invested in my success I’m afraid she would take it as a personal loss.
April’s encouragement, however, has its limits. First, she’s not really sympathetic when I tell her how embarrassed I feel to have to stop running after a mile when she, who has been running for a long time, can run five miles. She brushes it off and says her experience ought to have gained her some advantage. I guess.
Second, she’s never offered to put me in a wheelbarrow and do the hard part for me until my endurance builds up. I wouldn’t mind being coddled. But I understand that would be counterproductive.
The truth is, it’s counterproductive to spare anyone the effort required to do or learn something new. But we do it in the church all the time.
In trying to spare new believers the humility of the learning curve, we placate their egos and sabotage their development. And what price have we paid for it? According to church researcher George Barna, the Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.
So what can we do to reverse the situation? One suggestion is to become people of the book instead of people of the overhead screens.
It’s likely that projected Scriptures in church services and studies have served as a wheelbarrow ride for those in a spiritual race. There’s no replacement for the effort of finding Scriptures for oneself. Who’s going to mock the efforts of a beginner?
Another thing we can do is to bring back the precision of theological language in our discussions. Just because a person might be a spiritual newborn doesn’t mean we need to treat them like they’re intellectual newborns as well.
Sometimes our efforts to dumb down the message just make the message dumb. Here’s an example I came across this week from a newly-released document called The Jesus Manifesto: “‘Jesus’ … call for ‘repentance’ implies not viewing God from a distance, but entering into a relationship where God is command central of the human connection.”
I haven’t heard such mumbo-jumbo since my kids were teenagers. Repentance is acknowledging that my ways are a sinful affront to God and I reject them. The only thing repentance implies is that we will be dependent on the grace of God to grow us in sanctification in order to have victory tomorrow over what we’ve repented from today.
New believers can handle this kind of talk. Context explains an unfamiliar word. Of course, we could go on as we are. But just for practice, look up Hosea 4:6 and see what God had to say to Israel when they gave up the effort of learning, who he blamed and the awful consequences.