The Rest of Us

I am blessed, yet cursed, to be married to someone much smarter than I, to attend a church with two preachers (one of whom is my wife) much more learned than I, and to otherwise be interested in and dabble in topics that are slightly to significantly beyond my range of expertise.  This is a problem, because I’m smart enough to know that there is much I do not know.  Yet this wealth of unknown knowledge paralyzes me, at times.  What if I say something in a sermon this is not orthodox?  What if I teach something that might echo an obscure early church heresy?  What if I write or suggest something that is just, well, unfounded, unsophisticated, or dangerously simplistic?  There are always more books to read, more ideas to engage, more concepts to learn . . .

Truth be told, I’m not paralyzed to the point of muting my voice – not at all (ye who read this blog know this).  But I feel like the therapist’s patient who falls into the trap of constantly interpreting the cigar for something more sinister – when can a cigar just be a cigar without meriting endless analysis?  At what point can I preach Jesus or espouse a political philosophy or have a stinking idea without footnotes or cross-references or graduate degrees ad nauseum?

This is not to say that I cannot and should not take responsibility for what I say, preach, teach, or write.  Of course not.  I owe it to myself and whatever audience I might have to be careful about what I write.  And in the case of a recent blog post that was slammed by a Christian Century contributor, I was probably less careful than I should have been.

And yet I know that this argument, taken to its logical (or extreme) end, results in a dangerous and uncritical anti-intellectualism.  But this argument also echoes the experience of many in the pews, who no longer pick up the Bible because interpreting it "correctly" has become so difficult.  Lamenting the loss of lay Biblical readership, Deborah Hunsinger writes:

The clericalism that of the Middle Ages that Luther deplored has been replaced by "professionalism."  Only "professional" Christians, those set apart by education, training, and ordination, are now the "real" Christians.  Ordinary believers lack the mystique of such a caste.  Only professionals can interpret the Bible or pray in any given situation.  The dignity of the faithful is lost . . . .

With the advent of the historical-critical study of the Bible, many came to believe that interpreting their lives in light of the biblical witness was a specialized skill that only experts could tackle.  As something essentially beyond their ken, the Bible was no longer perceived as a book through which God’s Spirit spoke to ordinary people.
Pray Without Ceasing: Revitalizing Pastoral Care, Eerdmans, 2006, pages 16, 19

So then, what can we say?  How do the rest of us proceed?  Humbly, perhaps, yet boldly, confident that learning always continues, that grace always abounds, and that God is bigger than our stinking theologies, anyway . . . 

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

6 thoughts on “The Rest of Us

  1. Your last paragraph really hit home for me. I think I may post on it, and would appreciate feedback. I have been wrestling with the same question for a number of years now, and I do not think I have come to a suitable conclusion. Maybe communal processing will contribute to that.

  2. I wouldn’t think much of any give and take or disagreement, because that is normal in life, but all sides of this are doing it in a public forum without the benefit of the type of give and take people might get in an accademic forum where one could ask questions and get clarification. I guess that is the nature of blogging.
    When I first went on blogs of a religious nature, the most prominent Lutheran blogs were from the sub-group based in the state that just had the ice storms. Well, I thought that I could just post comments with my experience and opinions. Ha/Not so fast. I was told things like, “That would never happen in my church.” (Basically slamming my volunteering efforts because I am a woman.) and another time telling me that something I wrote was heresy. I found that hurtful. My pastor said, stop reading those blogs!
    But we MUST tell our own faith story. With your schooling, however, you may feel that you will be held to a higher standard. I suppose so. But, as in many things, telling, teaching, writing, doing something sincere because of our faith, however imperfect our actions, is better than doing nothing because we are afraid.

  3. I like your blog because you’re not “paralyzed”. Keep charging forth, with God leading the way, knowing that not all will respond kindly. That’s just the way it is.
    I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
    — Philippians 4:13

  4. I’ve been a part of lay led Bible studies for over 1/4 of a century. [How’s that for putting an historical spin on something that is a “normal” part of my life.] We do use various Bible commentaries at times. We also can ask the pastor for input when we have questions.
    Recently, when I mentioned this to a Lutheran pastor (of another stripe) he seriously questioned the appropriateness of having a Bible study without the pastor teaching it.
    I’m also aware of a church where the tradition is for the pastor to teach the WELCA Bible study materials to the women leaders before they can have their circle meetings.
    An advantage to having a group with mixed denominational backgrounds as well as various translations of the Bible is that we can easily see that different scholarly people have come to different conclusions about the same passage. I know that keeps me humble when I think I KNOW what a passage says.

  5. I got advice from someone this fall that I really liked: “Always make sure you are around people who are smarter than you.” It seems that we only learn when we are trying to catch up with someone.

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