I love writing about theological things for folks who aren’t academic professionals. One of the great benefits of being a New Testament professor is that there are thousands upon thousands of pastors and lay people who are interested in the ideas and capable of having insightful conversations about them.
But I discovered something.
I really only like writing about theological things for normal people when I get to set the rules. When I have to adapt to someone else’s idea of what it means to talk to normal people, I’m not so happy about it.
I should have clued into this a long time ago.
Once I was interviewing for a position at a church. They asked me what sort of curriculum I’d use for Sunday School. My answer was basically: I’ve got a seminary degree and a Ph.D.–I’ll use the Bible and other books people have written and make my own. They weren’t so happy with that.
But to the point for today.
When you are preaching and/or teaching and/or leading folks in your faith community, to what extent do you see your task as providing direction through difficult issues? And to what extent do you see your task as raising questions for them to wrestle with?
This week I was revising something I had put together for a “popular” audience. I was revising it under the direction of the editors / readers whose first comment was this:
Author: Please rewrite the introduction. Think of writing it for Sunday school classes – not to raise questions but to provide orientation.
My first (and enduring) response to this in my heart was: “Please tell me what church you go to, because I do not want to attend such a Sunday school!”
But there’s a both/and here. I know it. In fact, I see one of my most important roles as a professor and writer as one of providing direction for asking the right, difficult questions.
It’s more important for me to raise the issues surrounding who might or might not have written a book of the Bible, and allow you to be disturbed, comforted, or otherwise engaged with the issues as you read.
It’s more important for me to highlight the difficulties entailed in signing off on household codes than to provide an explanation for why a NT writer might have made them all better by introducing Jesus into them.
The direction I can give, the value I can bring to the process, is often to disturb the comfortable and cause us to wrestle afresh with the text. I’m less concerned that people will be troubled by issues and more concerned that they will fail to be troubled by important difficulties that have the power to transform our understanding of what the Bible is and how we faithfully live out the narrative contained there.
Just as I was grumping about having to turn my vintage Kirk piece into tame “Sunday School” material, I saw a friends link to this:
It’s a promo video for a new Sunday-School-like material.
At one point, a person in the video says, “I think Animate will spark conversations for adults because we’re not spoon-feeding them the answers.”
Bingo. Christian education for adults.
Ok, so it’s not one or the other. (Either questions or answers.) But still…
Having laid out my own proclivities (and, knowing that I’m more of a provocateur than answer-giver!), I truly would like to hear from you:
- When you preach or teach or lead, how do you think through how much direction to give and how much you raise salient, even difficult or impossible questions?
- When you’re in a group such as a Bible study or Sunday School class, to what extent to you hope the person will be giving direction, and to what extent provoking difficult questions?
- To what extent do you imagine that it’s the leader’s job to direct you–into difficult / impossible questions?!
I’d love to have good conversation about this.
(And, that Animate series looks great–though don’t ask me what “electric, carbonated space,” is!)