(by Lisa Robinson)
I have read John 11 many times and have been immensely ministered by it. It seems each time I do, there is something fresh to be gleaned in the text. So as I listened to this radio broadcast the other day whereby the preacher was identifying three reasons why Jesus wept, I got a little stuck on one point – because of sin. It was through a discourse about the topic on Theologica, that I realized what I had missed as one of the members pointed out to me. For whatever reason, I was not drawing that out of the text even though it was quite obvious, especially when correlated with the complete witness of scripture.
In reality, this happens to all of us. There is something we miss. We will read our Bible and draw out certain conclusions that may or may not be consistent with what is actually being communicated. We may understand or we may draw erroneous conclusions. To be sure, whatever conclusions we draw will impact how we think about God and how we live out our faith.
Needless to say, this is why teachers in the body of Christ are important, to help us understand the Bible better in order to live out a fruitful, Christian life. It is one of the reasons I believe those charged with the pastoring and teaching task should have training that encourages a comprehensive evaluation of the Biblical text accompanied by spiritual maturity and accountability.
But what happens if the teacher is missing something or drawing conclusions that are not consistent with what God is actually communicating through the text? What happens if that teacher is relying exclusively on teachers that agree with him and dismissing those who don’t? What happens if the teacher insists that he believes his illumination of the text is correct because of what he believes the Holy Spirit has communicated to him? What happens if we only listen to one teacher or teachers that teach everything alike?
I contend that in reality, we need many teachers. Now those teachers are not restricted to the ones who stand in the pulpit at your church or lead your Bible study. Bible commentaries are teachers. The voices of the past through annuls of church history are teachers. Discourse with other members of the body of Christ is a teacher. For teaching comes when we learn something about what it is we are trying to understand. Teaching is done by those who are trying to understand it themselves. This is why I reject the notion that the study of systematic theology and church history is unnecessary or antithetical to spiritual growth. Because it presents a plethora of people who were striving to understand the faith that has been handed down themselves. And if we are trying to understand the Bible better, it seems reasonable to me that we engage in a process that will provide perspectives that maybe we had not considered.
More important, we need diversity. Diversity in teaching is important that encompasses a diversity of viewpoints. Diversity should present options that drive us to quest to understand what is being communicated. It should temper renegade and rogue conclusions, which is most likely if there is a single source. Diversity dispels the fact that I alone can come to right conclusions with just me and my bible or that teacher who is accountable to no one and will not participate in honest investigation. Diversity presents us with the possibility that maybe we are not understanding something clearly or missing something entirely. Diversity should hone discernment. Diversity should humble us.
This is not to say that one should go out and make sure they know all competing viewpoints, especially if they are younger Christians. But I know of those who will only listen to one teacher or type of teacher. I know of those who reject diversity of thought since they are convinced that the ones teaching them possess the truth. I know of those who reject investigation of tools presented by other teachers. I know of myself, that like all people are subject to misunderstanding. No one person can hold the corner on truth and understands everything perfectly. The only one who has, was born in a manger, died on a cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father. That leaves those of us who strive to understand him better based on what He has communicated, with our imperfect understanding to recognize we need others to help us understand what we may be missing. The one who won’t do this most likely leads a cult.