In past columns, I have sometimes referred to the three levels of understanding that exist within the larger Church: the scholarly, the pastoral, and the lay levels. Each of these levels has its own nomenclature, its own thought world, and its own methodology. Scholars are forever tweaking the fine points of each other’s work. They write mainly to and for each other, seldom for the rest of us.
Pastors are usually concerned with uncritically explaining, defending, and applying their denomination’s doctrines, traditions and dogmas. Many, if not most, do not tend to read much in the work of scholars.
Lay members are seldom concerned with what goes on in the academic world of formal theology. Nor are they terribly interested in what happens in pastoral retreats, seminars and meetings. They live their Christianity at the practical, rubber-meets-the-road level. They have either inherited their belief system, or they have evolved it subjectively over time, sometimes simply by osmosis. The net result is that most Christians have their own internalized personal “theology.” In Oklahoma, these are known as “b’leefs.”
I am a lay Christian, and I have functioned in the past at the pastoral level; but I am not a scholar. It would be presumptuous of me to bill myself as such. Perhaps, if I could start from the beginning again, I would probably pursue the scholarly course. But it’s too late for that now. I’d be 105 by the time I got my Ph.D. – and stone broke.
Because I am interested in the output of scholars, I study it when I can. As a result, I find myself getting excited about certain insights and learnings that I have acquired. I want to share these learnings with both ministers and lay members alike. The process of doing this is commonly called “popularization.” You don’t have to be a scholar to popularize, but it helps.
One of my personal problems is that I am interested in “everything.” I don’t have a specialty. In theology, I can move from Hebrew roots studies to soteriology to eschatology to the philosophy of religion. From there I might move into epistemology, cosmology and ontology. Sooner or later I leave all that behind and get back into art and painting pictures. When that wears thin, I switch to the world of natural health and herbology. Before long, I’m back in theology again, or, worse yet, I’m doing yard work or fixing something.
Negatively speaking, a person like me is sometimes referred to as a “jack of all trades, master of none.” A positive way to view it is “renaissance man.” I’m eclectic, easily bored, in need of constant creative and intellectual challenge. I’m a generalist, and an idealist. My mind is full of unrealistic expectations. I have no interest in details.
Can you identify?
I think most creative people may be this way, to one degree or another. For those of us who are eclectic, life is seldom boring. We can move from one interest to another, delving as deeply as we wish to go. When it comes to theology, what tends to stop me is the internecine squabbling among theologians, the debates over methodology, and the internal politics. Scholars, like politicians, have “camps,” schools of thought and academic cliques. The Jerusalem School, which I particularly appreciate, is one such grouping. It’s scholars, though few in number, have been bouncing off one another for several decades now. Though they are not perfectly unified, they do tend to share common views on the Synoptic Gospels and a few other issues. Most of them have, at some point in their lives, lived and worked in Israel.
Because of my appreciation for their perspective, I have from time to time attempted to popularize my interpretation of their views. I did so in an article entitled “Which Language Did Jesus Speak – Aramaic or Hebrew?” That article is posted on the ACD website, under the heading “Hebrew Roots.” To my surprise, I recently found an article on the same web site at least partially refuting my article. It is entitled “Which Language Did Jesus Speak – Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek?” It is authored by James J. DeFrancisco, Ph.D.
I don’t know the author and I haven’t yet done a critical review of his article. The fact that he felt he needed to write it, however, underscores the perils of popularizing. By writing my article, I placed myself in the company of others who are much more learned than I in a specialized field – Hebrew roots studies. Before I submitted the article to the ACD website, I had it reviewed by Dr. Roy Blizzard, whom I quoted in the piece. He gave the article his stamp of approval. I felt safe in publishing it. Now I find myself in the unenviable position of having to defend it, and not feeling adequate to the task. (I’m being honest.)
If I am to refute DeFrancisco’s refutation of my article, I am going to have to delve much more deeply into the subject. If, on the other hand, I were to wind up agreeing with his refutation, and therefore withdrawing my own article, the same kind of commitment of time and energy would be needed. Either way, it’s more work than I want to do.
My dilemma is a cautionary tale to all of us at the pastoral level who feel constrained to pontificate on theological issues. The fact of the matter is: we are not generally qualified to do so.
The “One God” Dilemma
In recent months, I have been the recipient of ACD’s materials on the “One God” issue. Naturally, I have reactions and thoughts concerning it as I’m sure do most of you; but I haven’t shared those thoughts simply because I did not want to open yet another Pandora’s Box of out-of-our-depth theological discussion. To respond adequately to the writings of Buzzard, Hunting and others, I would have to commit a major portion of my life to a rigorous and disciplined exegesis of all of the relevant passages of Scripture. I’m not prepared to do that. I have other priorities. I’m sure others feel the same way. Yet, because we do, the “One God” approach will probably go unchallenged at the level it needs to be challenged.
It all comes down to a simple principle: You have to pick which hill you’re willing to die on. Which issues are worth going to the wall over? All theological issues are important in some sense because they have to do with knowledge of God. But some subjects are more academic and abstract than others. We have to learn to prioritize things. Of course that in itself implies a degree of mature knowledge. What’s the point of prioritizing irrelevant issues?
I don’t like getting caught in scholarly cross fires; yet as long as I pick the wrong hills, that’s what’ll happen – every time.
Suffice it to say, I’ll look into DeFrancisco’s arguments, and when I feel I have some sort of clarity on the issues they raise, I’ll either withdraw my article, or refute the refuter. A third alternative would be correcting the article to eliminate any misinformation it might contain, and reissuing it. It could take some time. Meanwhile, I’ll try to make better choices about my hills.