A few mornings ago was one of the those mornings nobody likes. Everything is going normal…until you turn the ignition key to get nothing in return but a ticking sound. Ok, so I don’t know much about cars and had no idea what it could be. I thought it wasn’t that long ago that I replaced my battery (I can hardly keep track of such things) so I figured it must be something else. After a few tries, I figured it was time to call AAA. As I waited, and walked around a bit, one of my neighbors who had been observing the whole thing, approached me and thought he should give me his assessment of the situation. “It was my starter”, he said affirming that it had to be based on the sound the car was making. He even had me turn the lights on so that he could see if it was my battery. Nope, had to be the starter.
Well, that’s just great. How much is that going to cost? I wondered. So in response to my neighbors emphatic assessment, I got on the phone with my mechanic to let them know there was a high probability that I would have to have my car towed. I had them give me an estimate based on this assessment of needing a starter. Almost $400 bucks!?!? I was two days away from payday and already had expenses earmarked. I immediately started re-organizing things in my head to accommodate this unexpected expense.
Finally, the guy from AAA shows up. Upon hearing the sound that replaced the engine noise, he immediately asserted “it’s your battery”. I thought surely this AAA battery I got from the last time this happened should not have such a short shelf life. But I figured that AAA had more credibility than the neighbor, who could only offer an emphatic statement based on his speculation. I find out from the AAA guy that the battery only lasts a couple of years anyway. And this is the business of AAA, right? The guy actually knew what he was talking about. Sure enough, after locating the receipt I discover that it had been 23 months since the last battery replacement. Within 15 minutes, I was on the road again. Whew!
But I think you know where I’m going with this. It seems to me that this same kind of thing happens in our evangelical circles. There are many preacher/pastor personalities that make emphatic statements based on speculation. And the statements sound believable to those who don’t know any better. Just like my neighbor who probably did have some kind of understanding of cars, these folks may have spent many years reading the bible but it is superficial. There is not the type of engagement with the text that will accommodate an understanding of the historical or cultural context, authorial intent and correlation with the entire witness of scripture. This is especially true when the theological method of ascertaining what a passage is communicating is based on a “spiritual” understanding devoid of the realities of the text’s actual communication. Turn on the TV and you will see plenty of this. Unfortunately, that is a small percentage of what actually exists. I would not be so concerned if I didn’t hear so much perpetuation of speculation.
But what is even more troubling – the number of people who believe such speculation upon hearing it. After all, isn’t that what I did with the battery situation? See if I had know more about cars, I probably would not have been so quick to accept what this neighbor said. And that is the way it works with Christians who, for whatever reason, are not fed a proper diet of biblical literacy and rely on a theological method of experience and what sounds right. Instead, there is gravitation towards crumbs that can be detached from a reasonable meaning and perpetuated because of this easy belief. Personally, I am grieved that this happens. The charismatic (no I don’t mean large “C”) deliverance of dogmatic speculation makes it sound reasonable and true. Persuasion is a powerful tool especially when backed by large congregations, books and endorsements.
My wish is that pastors/church leaders take seriously the charge to disciple Christians. That means giving them more than sound bytes and therapeutic remedies with selected proof-texted passages to support whatever claim is being made. But more importantly, it means making sure their own their own theology is grounded in the historic witness of Christianity and is something more than speculation. Yes, that means engaging in some type of objective learning experience where ideas and interpretations can be measured against that witness. I can only hope that would cut down on the level of dogmatic speculation and circumvent erroneous understandings, giving Christians what they need and not just what sounds good.