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Monday, July 16, 2012

Don't Take My Word For It

This weekend I was reminded of something my preacher said often while I was growing up. Roy would make a statement about some passage and then say, "Don't take my word for it, read it for yourself."

That attitude (also espoused by one Levar Burton), has been a core part of my intellectual and theological development. Now that I'm in a position to be teaching other people, I want to pass on what I've learned.

When you speak as the final authority on a topic, you're inviting people to a place where only a few experts can go. If they want to follow you on the journey, they either have to develop their own expertise or completely trust what you're saying.

I'm not comfortable with that for a few reasons. First, I'm not immune to mistakes. I remember one time when I asserted that the bible doesn't use the phrase "the fruit of the vine." Oops. I was wrong. Completely wrong. That wasn't the first time and it won't be the last time. If we're all working together on it, we have a much better chance of avoiding mistakes.

Also, the bible isn't a document reserved for experts. Sure, it helps to know some Greek and Hebrew, church history, ancient near-eastern mythology, archaeology and philosophy to understand the finer points of scripture. But it's not necessary. Not even a little bit. The basic message of the bible is clearly available to anyone who wants to read it. Ultimately, Moby Dick is a story about a whale hunt. The basics are clear. Experts can argue about the details until Captain Ahab comes back to correct them.

Training doesn't equal wisdom. I'd like to pat myself on the back with my degrees, but that doesn't make me any smarter or give me better things to say. Sometimes it's the person who's lived it that can speak to the point much better than the person who's learned it. I do my best to bring in experience and real-world examples, but I haven't lived through everything. So when other people read and study for themselves, their experience may serve them far better than my study.

Ultimately, I want to invite people to a life they can live. If I'm bringing questions to the bible, searching for ways to live like Jesus, asking questions about what I've assumed and trying to puzzle through what I don't understand - all that is something that other people can do to. I can model the life of a Jesus-student (a.k.a. a disciple) when I preach and teach. I'm not modeling the life of an expert who flawlessly interprets an obscure document, because that's not who I am and it's not who I want to be.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

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