18 May 2010

of content and context

For many years I held on to what I thought was a secret. And I was greatly intimidated when I thought that this part of me would be exposed. I don't do well in Scripture memorization. There, I said it. It's out. And I'm not doomed . . . at least, not yet.

The reason why I thought this was embarrassing (and it sometimes continues to be) is that with my training, experience, degrees and employment I am supposed to know this type of thing. But the entire enterprise of keeping chapter and verse in neatly ordered files continues to escape me, even when I've tried to work on it. And it's not all lost, I do have some of the "big" passages down (those I've gone over in preaching, teaching and research about a million times . . . ), and there will always be the fond memories of Sunday School Scripture memorization still lingering on. But the ability of making a point by appealing to specific chapter and verse within Scripture is reserved for someone else. And therein lies my dilemma.

While some people are busy making their case with pointed Scriptural exposition I am often found fading into the background without the impressive ability to do so. Until one day when I discovered something very important . . . a very large percentage of people who can do this actually have little to no sense of the context of what they are citing. In other words, someone might be able to tell you what is found in Romans 5, but they could not begin to tell you why Romans 5 exists!

In The Blue Parakeet, McKnight refers to the distinction of loving the Bible and loving the God of the Bible, and I believe this is my own little version of it. I remember once when I had been hired to work at Denver Seminary Bookstore and was being given a tour of the 'employee areas' - one of which contained a copier/printer which served the entire campus and was (I'm convinced) designed by God himself. For obvious reasons it was located in a secure room and I was given the security code which, at the time, was 15020. The 'mnemonic' which I was told to remember this was Genesis 50:20, "What you have meant for evil, the LORD has meant for good." It's pretty good, but I confess that at the time (lifelong Christian, BA in Bible, halfway through MA in Bible) my first thought was a wandering, "Woah, Genesis has 50 chapters?!? Yeah, I guess so . . ."

This is the level at which pointed study is lost on me. Or, is it that this is the point that trivial information doesn't stick as much as the message of Scripture. Since I have confessed my failures in biblical studies, let me *humbly* save face here . . . I know the themes and events of Scripture well. Really well. It's the numbers-game that makes it appear differently. But, I have to wonder: Of the two problems, which would I rather have? Yes, I would love to have both the chapter and verse memorization AND the contextual point of the narrative . . . but it's just not happening. So I am pursuing the one which gets to know the story, and the God behind the story.

Over the years I have shared this with increasing openness and have been given encouraging and empathetic responses. So much was this the case that I began to change my approach to teaching and interacting with Scripture to help people get the whole of Scripture before working on the detailed points. In my course syllabus for introductions to Bible (especially for the students who are not Bible majors/minors), I have included:


"For those who are unfamiliar with Scripture . . . there is often a feeling of being overwhelmed at the amount of material contained in the Bible, and the number of stories and events which everyone but you seems to already know. Don't worry, many churchgoers often appear to be more knowledgeable than they actually are! Often, their familiarity comes not from having mastered the Bible but from having heard these things many times for many years. Your task is to unveil the richness of Scripture for yourself and to discover God's story regardless of your current situation."


That's me and my slow-witted-of-a-genius-mind, and it has to do with my wiring. I will continue in my quest to commit as much of The Bible to memory as I can . . . knowing that I will fail on many chapter-and-verse competitions, but succeed in embracing and embodying the kingdom of God increasingly day-by-day. It was liberating to finally allow the Spirit to convince my heart that the point of biblical knowledge is not winning arguments or demonstrating mental superiority, but knowing him . . . in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and somehow . . . attaining to the resurrection of the dead.


Bill said...

Awesome. Thank you. My worst experience in seminary was taking the final in Paul and His Letters and the section filled with brief references to passages and the answer being book and chapter, if not verse as extra credit. Now I can step out as well.

Brad VW said...

I think I used that same copier. I worked part time in the business office at Denver Sem in 02-03. learning those copying skills still serves me well as a pastor:)