Monday, November 14, 2011

The Lost Tools of (Bible) Learning

dorothy-sayers“When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us   say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school- leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is  that there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects – but does that always mean that they actually know more?

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of  and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with  a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?” (Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning)

When I read Dorothy Sayers’ speech at Oxford (1947) on The Lost Tools of Learning, it made me think about Christians and their own endeavours to learn more about God. According to Bradley Wright, Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, in his book Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites... and Other Lies You've Been Told, explains (according to an interview I heard on STR by Greg Koukl) that Christians are reading their Bibles more these days. Greg Koukl asked the rhetorical question whether Christians are actually learning from the Bible or not.

How many Christians can actually take a text of Scripture and then with the proper tools start exegeting that text within its context and not inserting their own meaning into the text? Every heresy sprouts from a mishandling of the Biblical text. Greg Koukl did a series of videos back in 2009 called “Never Read a Bible Verse.” It would be good to watch these short videos. There are 8 of them, and you would be amazed how often Christians misinterpret the Scriptures, because that is what they were taught. The thing is that too many Christians have no idea how to evaluate what they are taught from the pulpit or what they are reading. Whatever they are taught they accept hook-line-and-sinker, without thinking about what they have been taught. In fact, if more Christians knew how to properly interpret the Scriptures, I am sure there would be less big name heretics around too.

Too many Christians think that they are not allowed to question what their pastors are teaching, and so take it as it comes. We are simply never told in the Scriptures to simply accept what is dished into our plates during sermons.

As Christians we have to know the type of book we are dealing with. The Bible is not just a literary work, or another historical book filled with myths. If we understand, truly understand, that the Bible is the very Word of God to His people, perhaps we would not run so roughshod over its pages to insert our meaning into the passages we read. If we really believe that it is God’s Word to us, perhaps we will then start treating it as God’s Word, wanting to find out exactly what God is saying to us! The problem with this, especially in our time of 10 second message bytes, and 140 character attention spans, is that knowing, and understanding the Bible, and getting to know God through His Word to us takes time and effort. It is one thing to read through the Bible, it is an entirely different thing to understand it, and knowing God through it, understanding who God is and His dealings with mankind.

It is up to each individual Christian to become effective in studying the Bible. We once again have to become students, life-long students, of God’s Word.

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