Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The ALL-embracing church

I've been thinking some lately. I do that once in a while. In our emerging circles there is, of course, the stock participant (affluent, educated, white males). My question relates to the whole rest of the world.
In our churches how are we at including the 'least of these' if the least of these include the (functionally) illiterate masses? It seems to me like in some way this conversation is inclusive of those who can grasp grand ideas of philosophy and theology.
What of those who cannot grasp these abstracts?
Part of this came to me in an extreme circumstance:
In my previously blogged Broadway experience with two KJV-only Baptist preachers at the emergent convention they kept mentioning the "academics". By this term they meant Brian McLaren and the like. Which is funny, considering that I've hear others say, "why should we get our theology from someone who isn't a theologian?"
Now, obviously, I don't share all those two pastors' mistrust for education and the educated. However, I also don't share the kind of awe-inspiring unquestioning respect for academia that's common in other evangelical circles.
Another example: In the church where I serve there are lots of elders and deacons (especially considering the size of the church). One of the deacons is not terribly well read, but a totally committed servant of God. I have heard people question his right to be a deacon, since he can hardly read the Bible. I'm reminded that many great questions not only couldn't read the Bible- they didn't even own one! What kind of superiority complex do we have when we have to use complicated theological words in our sermons, for the benefit of our own egos and perhaps a few highly-educated others? In my ministry my wife looks at me funny when I start to use big words. It usually means I'm showing out or I didn't prepare. Preparing means we communicate complex ideas with simple words and images.
In our world of polarizing classes how will we embrace the increasingly illiterate classes with the love of Christ if we cannot bring ourselves to communicate it to them in plain english?
Now, let me say for the record that I don't think I recommend 'dumbing down' the text or speaking entirely in colloquialisms. It is unnerving sometimes to listen to a speaker speak in a regional dialect without any reference or concern for standard english. However, we would not, of course, speak all day in English to natives in some foreign jungle, expecting them to smarten up.
My pastor taught me this: "studying Greek should mean you wrestle with the meaning of the Greek text- determine the meaning, preach from the Greek- then don't mention it."
My English professor in English Comp 1 said, "Learning English should mean that you can't speak to the Queen without sounding like a dolt, and you should be comfortable speaking to a lower class person, and not make them feel inferior."
So, I'm repenting of my love for philosophical, theological big word-bandying, unless I'm in big word-accepting crowds. I WILL become all things to all people.

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