When I was in High School, I learned what I thought was an important lesson at the time; teachers are stupid. Not all of them, of course, but the majority of teachers I came across were. You could tell which teacher was stupid based upon the following criteria:
1. They were boring.
2. They could only answer out of the book and did not have any personal answers or thoughts.
3. They could not answer or defend any questions or challenges.
4. Your friends thought that the teacher was stupid as well.
Being of above average intelligence, (Quick note- mathematically this only means you are above the intelligence of 50.1% of the rest of your class, not exactly qualifying for MENSA), it is great being smarter than your teachers. Think of the benefits! Snide remarks and knowing nods to your friends are just the beginning. The real benefits are deeper. You do not have to believe the material or the teacher to pass the tests. All you have to do is understand what the teacher is going to have on the test and answer appropriately. You do not have to believe or agree with any of the material.
When you are in school, time efficiency is so important because there are so many other things you have to do. There are other classes that are more challenging. There are sports and extracurricular activities that take a lot of time. Sometimes you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, which means more time you have to find to spend with them. Besides all of this, you need some downtime. There is always the risk of having a stupid teacher for a hard class. At least you had the benefit of even more fodder for the complaining sessions with your peers. Misery loves company, and commiserating over an un-liked teacher seems to be a rite of passage for all students.
When I got to college, I thought that would all go away. It didn't. In fact, if possible, it got worse. The faculty was made up of "lifers,”enjoying the rarefied air of lifetime academy. For me, it was not a game anymore; my college degree meant something to me. I wanted to learn, not just get the diploma. I wanted my education to be like the types you see in the movies. Challenging classes, small groups working late into the night on projects, important debates over issues as the participants drank coffee. I wasn’t experiencing this Hollywood-like experience, so I took my frustrations to my academic advisor.
My academic advisor, Dr. White, listened to my 20-minute rant. He smiled a little bit and leaned back in his chair. He then had his own rant:
"So, you are a shopping cart student. You want to pick and choose off the shelf what things you think are going to be useful for the rest of your life based upon your 19-year old brain. This is a Liberal Arts University. We help teach you how to think and we provide you context in all sorts of subjects that are relevant to applying that ability to think. You cannot fathom what you will do, where you will go or how you are going to think in the next five years, let alone twenty-five. Our professors, however, have spent twice and three times your living age, thinking, failing and winning using the ability to think and the lessons they have learned. They probably have more right to think of you as stupid, boring and out of touch than you do of them. They don't because that is one of the things they learned. They just think of you as 19. You're smart Tom, but not that smart. Let me recommend that you stop thinking of how to teach everyone how they should run their classes at this university and how to get everything out of what you are being told. I'll see you at the end of the following semester to set your schedule for next semester."
I have thought about this conversation a lot. I am often the person my advisor called me out for being, I want to have a shopping cart to pick and choose what I want. In my youth, I was raised that I should never let my faith get in the way of my intellect. Let me say that again. I should never let my faith get in the way of my intellect. (It is more than possible my memory on that is conveniently muddled). For the church I was raised in, that made sense because it was not based exclusively in the Word. The church was based in the Word, plus a lot of church history, rules that were not biblically supported, and so on. This meant in our house that you weeded out what was crazy of the collection from the truth that we chose.
However, even though as a baptized and new believer as a follower of Jesus Christ, my previous habits were already wired into my mind. I was inadvertently a shopping cart Christian. This meant I could pick and choose what I believed and what I did not. In the bible, this provides a great deal of convenience for people who believe they are above 50.1% of the intelligent population.
A great lie. One of my favorite lies to be accurate: You can get salvation off a menu.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ means following the Bible, even though you do not fully understand or sometimes even disagree with what is written in it. It is the truth. It is the full education and the Word that you need to hear and know (2 Timothy 3:16). As Dr. White put it to me, I was a new student of 19 trying to tell everyone everything instead of getting everything out of what I was being told.
It really is funny, I'm 52 while writing this book and I am now receiving EXACTLY the education that I wanted from my university way back then. Energized faculty, small groups working on projects, intense discussions, and sharing with friends over coffee. It is all that I wanted, except this time it is all about the most important subject of any offered, Jesus Christ. Every day, in all ways, our lives are the actual laboratories for what we are studying.
The Bible, our church, our small groups, our friends who are Christ followers, and most importantly of all, the people to whom we minister who are without the hope of Christ, This provides an opportunity for learning further. It starts with accepting the Bible as the single word of God. It is our textbook for study and application. I had to stop lying to myself and give up my shopping cart menu to the Lord's Word and how He has communicated it to us. Once I stopped fighting with my supernatural professor, (you know, God, Creator of the Universe, ultimate knowledge), I could try to listen and peel back the deeper understanding of His timeless word. I do not choose the curriculum, it has been chosen for me. Attentiveness, laboratory execution, (known as life in the world spreading the Good News), and deeper study are all part of the university.
Now, what do I do with the fact that I do not like or understand the vast majority of the Old Testament? I read the bible each year using a program that is provided on line. The Old Testament is the roughest climb of all. If people are not "begetting" they are killing each other or prophesying about people being killed. (This is a really broad watercolor version of my opinion. I just finished Ezekiel, Isaiah with some Lamentations. With all sincerity, I am glad this program I am using provides reading from the New Testament every day or I might not get anything done in the day due to pure anxiety.) Can I skip parts of God’s holy textbook?
I think that Dr. White's rebuke of me as a college freshman was a precursor to how I would feel reading the bible today. God gave us the bible as a text. It is His word, and as we mature, learn, and digest what He has said, we will be prepared for a life in His service and, and in turn will become closer to Him. We do not know when this closer relationship will occur, it could be this year, next year, or maybe twenty-five years from now. It is the Teacher's experience that determines the lessons and the text, not our desires, for what is impossible and not.
Why does the Old Testament repeat itself so often? I don't know. There is an online course that I am just starting with video sermons, readings of the text, and selections from other theologians that will explain it and help me. (My deep prayer is that this class is not like Advanced Calculus, but if it is I will push on regardless).
Revelation is crazy talk. It's on my list of classes to take. It’s crazy talk because I have not learned God’s mysteries in it yet by studying carefully. It is possible that I might have to take the eternal course in the afterlife. That is OK as well, I will have the time.
Currently, our small group is studying the role of grace in our relationship with God.
Our pastor is preaching on the four top questions that members of our congregation ask him and how the bible answers them.
My point is that immersion in the Word and the use of the available tools give perspective on the part of your mind that says, "I just don't get why…"
I'm not chastising anyone. I'm saying, "I just don't get why…" as well. I know where the book is that has the answers and I know the faculty that has spent much more time studying the answers than I. Best of all, my eternal professor does not keep office hours. He is available 24x7. We live in an era when we can learn faster than at any other time before. If I don't understand or believe something, there really isn't much of an excuse. Make the list; knock them off one at a time. That is not a shopping cart approach to faith because you exclude and include. It is a list of topics you are learning from one text.
Every college course starts with a Syllabus, the course’s table of contents for the semester. In our studies of the Word, you have one textbook, one eternal professor and many tools to complete the course called “Life as a Christ follower.” You can make your own syllabus, but you cannot change the professor or the textbook. They hold the truth for the course called life.