Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Simple Life?

In an exchange with someone who holds a heretical position, a remark was made by this person that we should be able to express certain ideas from the Bible in simple forms. There’s plenty of problems with that idea. One is that the Bible was written in a high context society, so the more you simplify the ideas, the more likely you are to exclude something important to understanding it. But that’s not the main point I want to make today. Rather, I want to get to the heart of a base assumption that the commenter has, and it is one shared by many Christians.
Contrarily, let me put it in a simple way. Jesus promised that if we lived the Christian life, we could expect to be reviled and persecuted. He didn’t say the Christian life was easy; his yoke was easy compared to the law, but in terms of living, he warned us to expect hardships.

If this is the case – if living the Christian life was not going to be simple – then why do people like that commenter think that it will be a simple thing to grasp and explain Christianity in a full-orbed way intellectually?


Obviously this does not mean that every Christian must be an intellectual. What it does mean is that if you will be a teacher – a Paul, a Matthew, or even a Luke – there’s no reason to expect simplicity or ease in becoming proficient at Christian teachings and doctrine. It should not shock us that persons like those three, who exemplified the most educated people of their day (as few as there were of those), also gave us the texts of the NT that are richest in doctrine. John is the only possible exception – but it’s pretty clear from his work that he was also fairly educated (especially in Jewish religious contexts) by the time he wrote them.

The demand for simplicity in exposition seems to me little more than a profession of laziness. Cults will arise at times because someone unwilling to face their inability to comprehend complex doctrines wants something ”simpler” – and people will join cults for the same reason. But again, Jesus didn’t offer any promises about simple doctrine.
You may say, “Well, he condemned the Judaism of his day with its complex sets of laws.” That’s not the same thing. For one, there was plenty of complex theology he did NOT reject (the precursor theology for the Trinity, in the Jewish wisdom tradition, for example). For another, he did not reject the OT, and that still had 613 laws, which would be rated as “complex” by any simple-minded person. Jesus’ objections were rooted in the use of the law and its oral supplements as a tool of oppression of the poor by the elite – not in their complexity.

In reality, the commenter’s claims about simpleness are merely an expression of his own simpleness – and of the penchant for modern Christians (and society at large) to want to be lazy and get their answers in a can. It’s also a good mechanism for false teachers to control and muzzle their flock (and critics). But it’s not the faith that Jesus taught by any means.

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