Friday, July 22, 2011

Hearts and Minds

I read a fun blog the other day discussing some common cliches in current Christian language.  Things like calling wives “brides,” and saying you’re gonna “love on” people.  I especially liked the one where we praise people by saying they have a “real heart for God.”  The author pointed out that people rarely talk about people who have “a real mind for God.”  After all, isn’t our command to love God with all our hearts and all our minds?  What place is there for intellectualism in modern Christianity?  

Sure, there are divinity schools and seminaries for a higher education approach, but divinity schools do not train pastors in the same way as seminaries, and seminaries run the risk of being hopelessly subjective and biased.  I remember looking around The Ehrman Project website, where several seminary professors refute the opinions of a university professor on various questions surrounding the New Testament and early Christianity.  But I wonder if there isn’t some middle ground, a more reasoned form of faith that can objectively embrace some factual arguments about our texts and history, while not compromising a faith that hold fast to those texts and history nonetheless? 

I remember Donald Miller, in his book Searching for God Knows What, making some really excellent arguments about the way we reduce faith and teaching to elementary formulae, and then talking about Moses and what he wrote in Genesis (or maybe some other book from the pentateuch).  Which was really frustrating because I think it’s generally acknowledged now by many scholars and laymen alike that Moses almost definitely did not write the first five books of the Bible, and even if there is a small outlier of a chance that he did, it’s kinda lazy for a renowned Christian author to casually slip it in like it’s an irrefutable fact.  It’s particularly a shame because it clouds some otherwise excellent points with questionable scholarship.  (I felt the same problem of shoddy scholarship pervading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis, and I suspect some of his other writings as well.)  

This is approached poorly from the “other side” as well.  In a brief article advertising a new book, Bart Ehrman lists several non-canonical texts from the time the New Testament was being compiled, arguing that they were texts once considered legitimate teaching by real life actual Christians.  He is correct, as he frequently is.  However, he did not address the process by which the New Testament was compiled, any individuals like Eusebius and Athanasius who offered canon lists, or the fact that the books included were considered at the time to be legitimate in their authorship, and representative of a consensus among Christian leaders as to the appropriateness of their content and teachings.  So even though this article is meant as a teaser and advertisement for a book which would surely address these issues more fully, the presentation remains misleading and incomplete, almost certainly intended to make us casual Bible-readers feel bad for not knowing more about these additional sources.  If the Christians at the time of these non-canonical writings knew even then that their authorship was the result of pseudonyms and forgeries and fiction, then surely we should not be made to feel guilty for disregarding them 1700 years later.  

I know these are fairly basic examples, but still I wonder why is it so difficult to find middle ground here?  For people of faith to acknowledge or at least consider realities and facts about the history of their own sacred texts and for scholars to more readily acknowledge that they do not (and cannot) have all the answers?  Why do faith and intellectualism seem at odds with each other so consistently, and how can we create spaces where we can make them compatible?  Is it so much to ask that we love God with all our hearts and minds?

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