Things I Have Learned

Don’t take this list the wrong way. Yes, I’m in chemotherapy for cancer, but this isn’t some sort of “last words” post! It just poppoed into my head today that I ought to make such a list for readers / followers like I did years ago on “Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study” (cf. this link as well). Consequently, this is a doodle just for fun, but serious, too. In no particular order … with explanation where needed …

Things I’ve Learned

1. Most people have never escaped high school.

There is great explanatory power in this observation in regard to why people, aged well beyond the teen years, live the way teenagers do (boozing, promiscuity, irresponsible decisions, etc.) and hang out with the same sort of people. They are still in high school in their like-minded high school clique, doing what adolescents do. Everyone is older now, but it’s still high school. In short, they never grow up into thought modes that transcend the assumption that someone else is to blame for their behavior and will bail them out when needed. On the flipside, this ought to teach us something positive. It’s in high school (or college) where we often form our strongest bonds with people. If our churches and adult (Christian or not) relationships cannot compete with that comeraderie, perhaps they are deficient for reasons that ought to be addressed.

2. For scholars: In the academy, being tolerated is not the same as being respected.

Academic respectability is largely a myth. It invariably needs self-definition to avoid that mythical status, too. Of what am I speaking? Many evangelical scholars think that by hiding the fact they actually believe the content of Scripture’s teaching about the supernatural world they maintain respectability in the eyes of unbelieving colleagues. That might be the case if you simply reject what Scripture says about supernatural realities (other than God and maybe Jesus) and your colleaues know that. But if they know you believe things beyond that, like angels, demons, possession, Daniel 10’s princes, etc. (and even in Christ as God), the best you can hope for is tolerance. That isn’t the same thing as respect or acceptance, so don’t confuse the two.

3. Many Christians really do need to be convinced to care about Bible study.

Don’t believe it? Try getting into a serious (not even fringe) biblical theology discussion at church a random attendee who is outside your immediate circle of friends. Some suggestions: Anything in the Old Testament that involves more than a casual glance; the “already but not yet” reality of the kingdom; what “the see was no more” (Rev 21:1) really means; what 1 Cor 6:3 really means; how the Day of Atonement blood offering (the goat that is actually killed) is really about “making atonement for the Holy Place” (Lev 16:16) and not applied to the people; etc. Chances are you’ll be viewed as over-zealous and be told “Hey, it’s all about Jesus anyway, so we’re good.” If not, ask them what they’ve *studied* in Scripture recently. That will do it.

4. For scholars: Quit blaiming the people outside the guild for not appreciating your brilliance.

If your work doesn’t reach the people in the pew you have only yourself to blame. The word of God wasn’t exclusively (or even mostly) intended for the inspection of wizards. If you don’t care if your work ever translates in some way to the needs of the people in the pew, you’re not a biblical scholar for the right reasons.

5. No Christian matures into fundamentalism.

The wonders we discover in the text should humble us and make us less convinced of our own omniscience, not more. Maturity convinces us that not everything in Scripture has equal clarity — and that was God’s choice. If God had wanted the content of Scripture on end times to be as clear as the identity of Christ he’d have prompted writers to devote more space to such things. He didn’t, so let’s stop pretending he did and stop judging other committed believers for where they stand on less clear matters.

6. No Christian matures away from being loyal to the gospel and biblical authority.

Spiritual enlightenment does not involve less awe for the work of Christ and less awareness of his demands on our life. Pretending to be a deep thinker by causing other believers to question the Bible’s moral relevance to their own lives isn’t maturity. This typically involves criticism of things like Torah for their relevance — which is to forget that Torah culture didn’t drop from heaven. Torah (in dozens of passages) reflects an ancient culture already present, now re-articulated in light of a covenantal love Yahweh has for his own, and which he wants reciprocated. The only culture that dropped from heaven was the Eden culture — which is why God’s plan is headed forward to that past environment, this time perfected and global. And if  you think our / your present culture is Edenic you should be seeking counsel or therapy rather than reading this list.

7. For pastors: Many pastors nowadays (and for the last few decades it seems) don’t believe Eph 4:12-13 is their job.

Teach people. Force them to either tolerate content on Sunday morning (or in your class) or go elsewhere. If they cannot handle one half hour out of a week of the 168 hours we get to actually do some thinking about that thing they call the Word of God, tell them politely to find another church that doesn’t care if they learn any Scripture. To not teach your people is a passive admission that either you’re unable of dispensing content and applying it to peoples’ lives (in which case you shouldn’t have a pulpit or teaching ministry), or that you don’t believe Eph 4:12-13 is part of your job. Those verses tell us quite plainly that a major (maybe the major) pastoral role is to equip the people in the pews for the work of the ministry and Christian maturity. Pep talks on Sunday morning do neither. If all people leave with is a spiritual high-five or feel like they need to add “Oorah!” to their prayers, you’ve failed. Nor does thirty minutes of stand up comedy sprinkled with Bible verses accomplish either goal. Eph 4:12-13 isn’t a call to be funny or memorable. The fact that people remember your one-liners and stories is not synonymous with the notion they are prepared for ministering to others and maturing as followers of Jesus. Frankly, if they were they’d ask you to stop and give them something more substantial. I enjoy injecting humor into my own teaching and making learning Scripture fun – but having fun or getting a laugh isn’t the goal. If all they’re leaving church with is a grin you’ve failed.

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Dr. Michael Heiser