or The New Downgrade
“Pastor, if the local atheist knows the Bible and understands its basic implications for morality, society, politics, education, economics, history and science better than the people you instruct every week, and most likely he does, you are failing them.”
It seems to me that good Christians go off to Bible college and seminary little suspecting that these institutions are places where they teach you how not to read a book.
Certainly, an understanding of the original languages and cultures is helpful, but somehow the modern mind takes a book that is far more than the sum of its parts and teaches it as parts. For a start, we don’t read any book like that. If we, as Christians, believe that the Bible has a single author, why would an intelligent, committed and passionate minister of the gospel tell me that Jesus’ crown of thorns has nothing to do with the thorns in Genesis 3? Why? Was it because he was taught that the Bible was written by idiots, or was it because he was taught by idiots? Please note that this man is not an idiot. He, like just about all ministers today, has been trained in a tradition that takes young heads, cuts off their ears and gouges out their eyes. They come out deaf and colorblind. They are not qualified to teach the Bible as it really is.
I got in trouble for teaching the fivefold Covenant pattern in my high school Bible class. A few months ago, on week one of term, a new youth minister sat in on my class and made a complaint that what was being taught was going over the kids’ heads. I have no doubt that what was taught was going over his head. He, too, was most likely taught by people who have no idea how to read a story, or to tell one. But it doesn’t go over the heads of the students, who still have the eyes and ears God gave them. Certainly, this was the first class of the term, with new students, but they only take a few weeks to catch on. I had been teaching the Bible to high school kids since this young man was around twelve, when he still had eyes and ears, before the illiterati got a hold of him and wrapped his mind in a modernist veil.
Anyhow, to illustrate the Covenant pattern, I ask, “Who here has a job?” A few hands always go up. I draw this on the board:
The kids understand it. They comprehend that a Covenant is a mission, a quest. They get a new vision of how the Bible works and a new vision of life as a mission from God. I know they get it because I ask them. Even though they often look like they are not listening, they would tell me when they heard something they had heard from me one or two years before.
Then I took this pattern and showed how it was the shape of the story from Adam to Noah. That, apparently, was going totally overboard.
Now, please tell me how this five-fingered “matrix” is difficult. It isn’t. It may be foreign to a mind with no idea of the story of the Bible, with no vision of it except as little shards from which we must force some sort of moral. But it isn’t foreign to a normal, everyday teenager or adult. Or even a five year old, if we modify the wording. But a youth minister apparently can’t handle it. It smacks too much of real life, and we are all gnostics now. This stuff must not be taught to kids. They can’t handle it. Fact: the kids can handle it fine. It just takes a bit of repetition. It’s the local ministers who decided I shouldn’t be teaching Bible any more who can’t handle it. They are all high calibre men in their own ways, but they were trained in the best institutions, where men and women are taught how not to read a story, where the Bible has been made overly complicated and taken out of the reach of average people, held in the grasp of people who are unable or unwilling to “join the dots.”
A recent book about C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Planet Narnia, observed that the seven stories are arranged with the seven planets in mind. This knowledge unlocks a lot of what is going on. It is a clever literary device. But, once pointed out, it is not so clever that a child cannot understand it. Well, the Covenant shape of every story in the Bible is just as simple, and in fact, much easier to discern. It follows a pattern found in just about every human activity (see The Knife Drawer in God’s Kitchen). I explained it each lesson, and the kids repeated it. They got it. Two or three were even able to give me examples from real life that fit the pattern. But for some reason, teaching “patterns” took me “outside the curriculum.” We were supposed to be teaching Bible stories (and very badly) and I simply pointed out that they all had the same shape, a very practical shape. But the Bible must not be practical for modern Christians who live in the space kept vacant by men who think story is “metanarrative.” Their college and seminary education turns them into an illiterati. They don’t know any different and they don’t want to know any different. If I have a mind like a child, a mind that understands story, allusions, types and symbols, then I am grateful. I have spent almost thirty years trying to get to the bottom of the Bible, to figure out its internal logic, and it turns out it’s something that a child can understand. It was hidden in plain sight, like the planetary shape of the Narnia series.
Children are not fools. When the Bible is taught as the exciting saga which it is, with the dots being joined, they can instantly relate to it. My class included three boys of Aboriginal descent. Aboriginal kids often have “behavioral difficulties” in class. It is certainly cultural and that brings problems with it. But they are free spirits, and I kind of envy that. For three weeks at the beginning of the term, they were not the easiest kids to teach. They were disruptive.
Then, on week four, we got to Jacob and Esau. One of the boys asked if the birthright/blessing which Jacob stole from Esau was the promise made to Abraham. The penny had dropped that these stories were about a family line, and aboriginals around the world get that stuff. Some tribal members in New Guinea can recite their generations going back five hundred years. This was a story about real people in history, in the Bible’s “dreamtime” (for want of a better word) which gave us the world in which we now live. If you go to a Bible academy, this is exactly the kind of thinking that is very often deliberately deconstructed. Or at the very least, smirked at. The Bible does not need our protection. It needs simply to be read, to be unleashed upon the mind.
So, this 15 year old Aboriginal kid had a better idea of what was going, and was conscious of a more biblical worldview, after four weeks of teaching than most Christians get from sitting in church for years on end, getting fed one verse at a time like it’s a packet of fortune cookies, or one story at a time like it’s a collection of disconnected morality tales.
Welcome to Planet Gnarnia, Land of the Gnostics, who don’t get the Bible and never really will. They think they are dealing in reality but have abstracted themselves from it. They take the sheep God gave them and unwittingly cut off their ears and gouge out their eyes, and what is worse, if they ever read a rant like this they won’t have a clue what I am talking about. But a little child would. Kids get stories. Long stories. And the kids in our culture today are reading books and watching TV shows more complicated and visual than any generation before. It breaks my heart to see ministers withholding the Bible from their congregations (and filling the hole with second-rate worship songs with unbiblical lyrics, pop psychology that doesn’t work and charismatic manipulation and heresy) but withholding it from unchurched young people in a secular state where the Bible can still be taught in public schools and is protected by law is an absolute tragedy.
I have sat in the churches of some of the men who preside over the classes. There is some good teaching but I have heard a great deal of nonsense from the pulpit, such as an interpretation of visions of eagles feathers and gold dust falling from the air onto a congregation in the USA (where else). In a Good Friday service, a mannequin dressed in a bridal gown was situated in the sanctuary, and the female preacher told us her dream of Jesus brushing the bride’s hair. Apparently His beard was ripped out so He could do that for His bride. And we, in the congregation, were supposed to imagine ourselves, each, as Jesus’ bride. For a start, I have no hair. But seriously, I really wanted to walk out. Please, please if you can’t teach the Bible, at least could you just open the book and read that to us? That would be far better than this pretense of spirituality.
I have also seen kids in youth group told to pray and ask God for a word for the person next to them, while the Bible didn’t even get opened. And I have seen the same thing in church. These are the men who decide what is taught in the high school. As if that weren’t enough, only one of the ministers has ever set foot in the high school to teach a class, and he is the one whose ministry is the busiest and with the most faithful Bible teaching. Years ago, I asked one of the ministers if we could start an adult Bible class, as all the adults with any Bible knowledge got it elsewhere. He said the people weren’t interested. I don’t think that was the problem. I had one man tell me he got more out of my song intros than he did from the sermon. Christians are ignorant of the Bible, and ministers are ignorant of its nature, which renders them unable to teach it as a “planet,” that is, as a comprehensive worldview. These guys are sincere but most of them haven’t got a clue of the power of the book they claim to represent, other than as it concerns a Christianity limited to the heart.
This is a strange version of the “downgrade” which Spurgeon fought against. Christians “believe the Bible” on paper, and they believe they are teaching it, but they actually aren’t. How can I say this?
Pastor, if the local atheist knows the Bible and understands its basic implications for morality, society, politics, education, economics, history and science better than the people you instruct every week, and most likely he does, you are failing them. When the ideologies of the world coming knocking, they, or their children, will be lambs for the slaughter. Church needs to be more than youth group for grown ups.
There is only one solution. I go to Seminary, get my ears cut off and my eyes gouged out and come back a space cadet like most ministers. Welcome to Planet Gnarnia. Or is it Planet Claire?
Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head
I look forward to the day when the academy can listen to the Bible with the wrapt attention of a child. Instead, they treat the Bible like a child.
I might get into trouble for this post, but it was months ago and I need to get it off my chest. It’s nothing personal, and I’m certainly not always the easiest person to get along with. But the Bible needs to be taught to a new generation and it’s only as difficult or boring as the people teaching it. It’s time to get rid of stupid (and, quite frankly, manipulative and dishonest) words like “metanarrative,” the stupid and unimaginitive professors who think Scripture has no shape and can only be understood in little pieces labelled with big words, and the stupid people who are too intelligent to follow a bloody good story.
See also The New Gnostics.