Taking Down Old Walls
I remember sitting in a seminary class eighteen years ago listening to a professor teach about what it took to properly "exegete" a passage of Scripture from the Bible.
She talked about the various forms of critical methods that should be employed to gain the most from our biblical study. These methods included historical, social, structural, form, textual, comparative, and theological criticism.
At the time, I felt like someone was doing demolition work on my foundational beliefs. It felt like an attack on all of the walls I had carefully erected over the years to keep out anything that didn't fit my neat theological blueprint.
I angrily asked myself, "What about the plain meaning of the text? What about just reading the Bible just to read the Bible?"
The words of a former employer rang in my ears at that point. "Hope you don't lose your salvation while you are at the seminary." He told me ruefully.
The funny thing was, I had undergraduate degrees in both English Literature and History, both of which employed a myriad of critical methods I also employed without even batting an eyelash.
Over time, I began to see that when used to study Scripture, those very same methods would open doors in my thinking about faith and life, rather than keep them shut.
I learned that sometimes it's not a bad thing to have to actually rethink your beliefs, your tightly held ideas, and preconceived notions.
Here's the thing, if your beliefs don't stand up in the face of genuine, critical thinking, new perspectives, or straight up facts... it could be they need to be re-examined.
The moment we shy away from learning (no matter how difficult it might be) is the moment we cease to grow and thrive as a human being.
Annie Dillard once wrote about this process, and described it like this:
You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls lightly everywhere. After giving many years of attention to these things you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.I love this quote so much. It's scary to start to knock on the walls of your carefully constructed belief system... trust me, I know.
But here's what I know about God that is so stinking amazing...
God is not stuck in the past. God is always leading us forward into the future.
And there's this as well... the Bible is a revelation of God understood by people waking up to the reality of God's great love throughout the centuries. But God isn't trapped there either.
God is still speaking and revealing Godself all around us.
If we would step forward into the future where the eternal Christ, the creative expressive Word of God is leading us, we need to not be afraid of learning and growing in our faith.
Even if it means leaving things we built behind... houses that became too small to contain our faith and trust in God.
Don't be afraid to learn. Don't be afraid to grow. Don't be afraid of casting a critical eye upon the walls of belief that you have built. Tear them down if need be.
Then you can take some of the building materials with you after they are down, and use what you still need to build something new that will be big enough...for a while.
May you do this with courage. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.