It’s hard to be teachable. Damned hard. Especially if you’re an evangelical.
As a young believer in my early twenties, I was exposed to the Puritans (via J I Packer). I was smitten. They had so much to say that was compelling. And they were Reformers. With a big ‘R’!
I became a disciple. I too became a Reformer. My mission: to reform everyone else. My friends, my church, other churches!
Sure I was happy to listen to your ideas about Christian faith. But what I really wanted was for you to listen to my ideas. Puritan ideas. To be honest, unless your ideas lined up with those ones, you couldn’t teach me a thing. Not about Christian faith, anyway.
Not all evangelicals love the Puritans. But we all have something of that same Reformer impulse don’t we. Imagine the following scenario:
Evan the evangelical is walking down the street when he meets Cath the Catholic, and Theo the Orthodox believer. Cath and Theo are talking about God’s grace. Evan joins the conversation, and politely listens.
What is he listening for? If he’s a good evangelical he’s listening for an opening where he can insert some wisdom about the true grace of God. He knows these guys are strangers to the truth about God’s grace: they’re talking about it as though the thing is some sort of substance that flows, for heaven’s sake! They’re talking about sacraments. Theo the Orthodox is even talking wildly about having your humanity infused with the divine! Something his priest said, apparently. Sad stuff.
Evan is not there hoping to learn, or be taught. He knows that he is the one in possession of the truth. What could he possibly learn from these guys? Evan is there to teach. If he can get them to listen to one bit of truth, he’s done well, he’s had a win. Because Evan is on mission. Whenever he’s not with another evangelical from his own camp, his job is Reforming.
There are some designated teachers that Evan will learn from. They are guys who say things that he already thinks, and teach him things he already knows. Evan calls this ‘faithful preaching’.
It’s not easy for Evan to be teachable, is it. I don’t know how you feel, but I suspect that when it comes to faith matters, Evan doesn’t have a very attractive personality – know what I mean?
I don’t know if you know anyone like Evan, I see a lot of myself in him.
What makes it harder for Evan and me is, while everyone else believes the things they do because they’ve learned them from their tradition – they’ve been taught them and trusted the teaching – evangelicals like us have a different way of coming to our convictions. We learn them straight from the Scriptures. We just read the Bible, and trust the words on the page. It’s nothing to do with tradition, or culture, it’s just simple bible truths. God spoke, and we listened.
While to an outsider this might sound laughable, Evan and I really believe in that: ideas free from the taint of tradition or culture. We talk about it often.
When your ideas have come straight from the source, those ideas cannot really be challenged. They are the Word of God. It works like this:
The things the bible says are Word of God.
I believe those things in a simple way.
So the things I believe – they are Word of God. They are The Truth.
You might think this belief in Scripture would leave us wide open to being challenged in our convictions. What if we’ve misunderstood the text?
But actually it’s not much good asking me to read the bible text from a different angle. Because what I’ve already found in Scripture is the very Truth itself, on which our salvation depends. That Truth has set us free. How could I have got it wrong, when it’s the Truth I’ve found there? There’s not much room for me to reconsider these beliefs. In fact the very idea smacks of apostasy.
If you challenge me to read the text from a different angle, most probably all you’re really doing is introducing human ideas like a cloudy lens that will distort my reading. That’s the problem with a lot of theology. So often it pushes us to read the text differently. In other words we lose the pure simplicity of our ‘simple’ straight reading. We could end up losing the Truth.
And it’s not just theologians who are suspect: ordinary people – they hate the truth. There are not likely to be good guides. Anything they challenge me on – they’re likely to have bad motives and be trying to lure me away from the truth. Actually, the very fact that they are trying to change my mind is evidence that what I had believed was right – otherwise why would people like them be trying to derail me from believing it!? It pays to be savvy to people’s real intentions. We are not unaware of Satan’s devices.
It’s not easy for Evan and me, and evangelicals like us, to be teachable, is it? Not easy to be open to the people around us. Some people tell us there is something lacking in our faith – sometimes they identify it as humility. We feel, however that they have misunderstood us! We are just being faithful.
Well, Evan and I still struggle with these traits. We’re still stuck in these same loops. And of everyone on the planet, I feel that he and I are among the least teachable.
Which is not a great recommendation for following Jesus, is it?