One of my school friends ended up studying oceanography. He specialised and specialised until, in his own words, he knew everything about nothing.
Theologians have the tendency to invent abstract theology, divorced from the text and contained merely in their own complicated terminology. Generally, seminaries tie their students up with this stuff instead of just teaching them the Bible, and when they do teach the Bible, it’s dissected into mostly disconnected little parcels.
Theologians argue about the boundaries of their own invented terminology, or why a particular prophet said such-and-such. But if they had a better handle on plot and repeated biblical symbols, they would very often see an answer staring them in the face. It’s a bit like the panel on ABCTV’s Collectors trying to figure out what this week’s obscure antique is. An example would be the amount of ink and paper wasted chewing over what Paul means by ‘flesh’, and scouring contemporary literature for usage of the word, when all they had to do was read Leviticus. Voila.
We all enjoy the benefits of the academic rigour of various theologians over the past 100 years, but they tend to overcomplicate things. I believe it is a hangover from higher criticism, which downplays the typological significance of many Old Testament details and confines any real discussion to the realm of academia: “You haven’t read these 100 books so you can’t have an opinion.” Is this true even when typology answers the question the professor has been chewing over for a decade?
James Jordan writes:
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy was very insightful on the limitations of the academy. He said that the academy is of necessity a “Greek” institution, because it is cut off from life. The academy, he said, is a place where people learn to compare and contrast, but not a place where people learn to transform… …since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life.
The Bible is a story of transformations from childhood to maturity, and this involves typology and symbolism connected to the physical creation at a very deep level. It doesn’t use big words. It uses symbols from the creation, and tells the same story over and over.
The Bible was designed to be heard, repeatedly. That’s why scholarship is dangerous. That’s why theological seminaries are dangerous. That’s why an academic approach to the Bible is dangerous. Because it’s all silent, and the Bible becomes a thing…
Churches have become extensions of the academy when they should be tellers of the story, and that means ALL of the story; a whole-Bible biblical theology that does not allow church to become either a lecture hall or a kindergarten. The church should be a gathering where the story is told, and told and told. We should know it back to front. But theologians have rendered the story untellable, so we hungry Christians end up with popular travesties like The Shack, which should be used as firelighters.
Scholasticism, like other forms of gnosticism, is a tendency the church will always have to deal with. So what’s the solution? A friend of mine posted about a recent thesis that suggests dealing with the gulf between our internal devotion and the culture around us (I read this as gnosticism) by observing how Australian Aboriginal culture sees the world:
[He] kicks off by discussing Aboriginal spirituality’s sense of the sacred in the land and in the everyday. There is no divide between sacred and secular, either in the plants and rocks, neither in the general activities of life, however momentous or trivial: “Indigenous spirituality suggests a traditional image of ministry as spiritual companionship. After 200 years of white people in the land, Australia is still on a journey and looking for its own dreaming. This is a context that invites pastoral ministers to serve as spiritual companions.”
Part of our capitulation to western secularism is that we have stopped telling the story of Jesus in rocks and plants and working and resting, living and dying, and have only told his story in our private hearts and church buildings.
That last paragraph is a great quote. But surely it’s tragic that we have to go looking for ways to deal with our gnosticism in bankrupt animism (which just falls off the horse on the other side)?
Perhaps if we took the Creator and His Word more seriously (which tells the story of Jesus in rocks and plants and working and resting), and refrained from jargon and hair-splitting, we could speak to our culture more prophetically. Oh for less theologians and more Bible teachers.
A great way to plant your theological feet, totally bare, back in to the soil is to read Jordan’s Through New Eyes, Developing a Biblical View of the World. Available for download here <http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/pdf/jjne.pdf> . (3MB PDF). Also, make sure to get a copy of Jordan’s brilliant audio series, Reading the Bible (Again) for the First Time.
Michael Bull is a professional graphic artist who lives and works in Australia
 James B. Jordan, Biblical Horizons Newsletter No. 196: How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays, Part 5. http://www.biblicalhorizons.com
 James B. Jordan, Reading the Bible (AGAIN) for the First Time, 6 lectures available here.
 Darren Cronshaw, Reflections on Australian Contextual Models of Pastoral Ministry