Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hebrew or Hellenist?

For years now we’ve been hearing about the dichotomy between Hebrew and Greek (Hellenistic) thought patterns. Yes, by all means, the Hebrew and Greek cultures were different. To some extent, culture does shape thought but it seems to me that when applied to understanding the Bible we must see the New Testament as a “cross-cultural” document written in Greek and thus shaped to some degree by the Hellenistic mindset.

In Josh McDowell’s and David Bellis’ recent book, The Last Christian Generation, you see this contrast brought up again. In the book, McDowell identifies many of the issues created by postmodern thinking and rightly recognizes that today’s younger generation has redefined concepts like toleration, truth, respect, acceptance, moral judgments, personal preference, personal rights, and freedom (see pp. 22-23). I wouldn’t begin to suggest that McDowell is off his rocker. In fact, he is “right on!” In my view, his critique of the postmodern generation is accurate to the letter.

When he begins the section entitled “A Blueprint to Rebuild the True Foundation of the Christian Faith,” he drops into the old saw about the difference between the Hebraic educational style and that of the Hellenists. In his assessment, he says, “Practically all of modern education, including that of most churches and Christian schools, employs a form of teaching based on a Hellenistic model of education” (p. 93). He then draws out the contrast between the two as follows:

Greeks shaped much of how we think today about education and disseminating information and truth. Essentially, this Hellenistic approach is to present a student with rational and logical constructs of information that he or she is required to “learn.” To determine if the subject matter has in fact been learned, students are asked to regurgitate the information back to the teacher (p. 93).

The goal of the Hebrew model is not mere memorization of repeatable facts; the goal (as Moses made clear) is to live-out the truth. In this approach, truth is designed to lead to transformation. Truth in this educational approach is to be learned by practicing it in real life. … The question becomes not whether the student has the information correctly stuffed into his or her head, but rather “how has the truth transformed the student attitudinally and behaviorally” (pp. 93, 94, emphasis belongs to McDowell).

Now as far as I am concerned, this is all educational gobble-de-gook. It seems to me that the early church began using what McDowell calls the “Hellenistic” model in the second and third centuries. This was especially true in Alexandria, not known as the hotbed of Hebrew educational models. As the early church developed, it utilized catechisms (potential converts were called “catechumens”) and they “poured information into their skulls” so they would know the truth of the Gospel. As the church spread west, the educational methodology didn’t change much. Even today, the European model of education is based on independent research and “regurgitation” of certain facts to their professors. Students in primary and secondary schools must “regurgitate” what they’ve learned in tests. It’s been that way for centuries!

Why now, does McDowell, and others, make such a fuss about the difference between Hellenistic and Hebraic styles of education? After all, if you make those distinctions the church has utilized that style of education for nearly 2,000 years. Although I recognize that our kids haven’t “gone to Hell in a hand basket” of recent construction, things have indeed worsened in recent years.

The solution to the problem isn’t the erecting of an artificial wall between the Jews and the Greeks or arguing about which style of education is prevalent. The issue is whether or not, in any educational system, there is a strong distinction drawn between truth and falsehood (rightly defined). I know what McDowell is saying, and I agree with him. He says that because parents have the greatest influence upon the lives of their children, biblical truth must be caught from those Christian parents who live out their faith consistently and biblically.”

Instead, McDowell falls into the relational emphasis of the current generation. Yes, the Gen-X crowd is far more relational, but so was Europe for generations and that didn’t protect them from falling away. Let’s face it; in Europe – especially in the Eastern Bloc – the individual was less important than the community. What the relational crowd is saying is that the individual is less important than the community and it doesn’t matter whether that is the “Christian community” or any other community. It reflects a loss of individualism and stresses the submersion of the person into the community.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think you can lay the blame at the foot of some “style” of education. It is the result of numerous factors that have come together in today’s world that create difficulty for the nominal Christian. Let’s face it; we’ve lived with the lie of evolution for well over 200 years now. That lie is constantly drummed into our heads through the arts, the media, the secular classroom, and as many other places as there are places. You can’t even go to Epcot without having it drummed into your brain. Even though scientists know it is a lie, they perpetuate the myth of evolution for their own purposes.

Second, we have been living with a culture that says “self-actualization” is the epitome of success. Another term that could be used for “self-actualization” is “personal autonomy.” Again through almost every means, our culture transmits the idea that life’s goal is to be self-ruled. In is best expressed by the statement, “No one tells me what to do!” For most of our contemporary culture, that includes God!

Third, most of the problems have come about since our educational system left what McDowell called the “Hellenistic” system for that of John Dewey. Our schools, colleges, and universities no longer emphasize classical learning which places value on literature, history, languages, and the sciences, including theology, the Queen of the Sciences. Now education is measured by “outcome” and is intensely pragmatic. McDowell is right when he says we are a highly pragmatic culture and there has been a shift from “it works because it is true” to “it is true because it works.” I don’t think the blame for that rests before some Hellenistic pedagogue.

Way back in the Stone Age, when I was going to Bible College no one made the distinction between Hellenistic and Hebraic styles of learning. I was taught, however, that all truth had a “so what” component to it. Findley Edge (now that dates me) said with every teaching of biblical truth (or any other truth, for that matter), there needed to be an application! The application was how it impacted life. Does McDowell actually believe that all we’ve done is “impart to them cold theological facts about God that they can learn with their heads? (p. 94)” Well maybe some did! I’ll grant that, but to make such a generalization is inappropriate and unfair.

I teach Church History and Restoration History (history of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ). Teaching history can be dull and boring, I admit. That’s especially true when all the instructor wants is for the student to memorize names, dates, and places and regurgitate them on call. But I don’t teach history that way! I teach those things, but I also emphasize the “so what” factor. What can we learn from the past? How will those lessons impact our lives now and in the future?

In the past, classical liberalism taught that “if you know to do right, you will do right.” Hitlerian Germany revealed the lie in that. It’s all about the “so what.” Is there knowledge to impart? Are there facts to be recognized, retained, and considered? Should those facts make a difference in our lives? The answer to all these questions is, “Absolutely!” After all, Scripture does say, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!”

Let’s quit all the stuff (I want to say “crap”) about the Hellenistic and Hebraic educational styles and stand up and say, “There is truth. It is real. There is only one way to God. Let’s point to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.” Let’s commit to overcoming Political Correctness with truth! Let’s commit to standing up for what we believe without compromise. Let’s get away from all this multiculturalism and focus on the one personality we are to all emulate.

When we do that, we will find ourselves under an awful lot of pressure. You see, the early church said Jesus was the only way. They challenged the Political Correctness of the Roman Empire which kept the peace by universal toleration of everyone except those they judged intolerant. When Christians really believe the truth, it will bring pressure. I just hope somebody can face it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Hines,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the two educational models.

I would have to say, however, that I don't view any of this as being "crap". We cannot fail to see that the educational model that Christ used was the Hebrew model. He related the scriptures to real life, shared his life with others, and taught through his life. If we are, indeed, to focus on the one who is the truth, as you mentioned in your blog, I think that it is imperative that we realize this.

You also mentioned that, although Europe was more relational, this did not keep them from falling away. I agree. It cannot be expected that members of collectivist societies would assimilate knowledge in this way, particularly when so many of the Europeans of days past were illiterate. If no one is living out the truth in daily life, and incorporating it into daily life, then how can we expect the poor, the farmer, the laborer to fully comprehend who Christ is, and what He has done for us? My husband's very "religious" grandmother did not even know Christ was a Jew until she was 80, thanks to some CDs we found of the Bible being read in her own language. Imagine what good would have been done if she could actually understand the rest of the Bible in terms of life as she understood it. Does Christ discriminate based on intellectual ability? As to the rest of Europe, the intellectual side, who have fallen away, I have to ask one question: would you believe in doing something that those who literally "shoved down your throat" without qualifying, wouldn't even do themselves, and often did the opposite of? I might add that indeed, all of Europe is not "lost".

I think that the church has done a great misservice to humanity by refusing to adopt its educational models to the needs of the people. How could the church have failed to see that this is exactly what Christ did, in his "eating with drunkards and sinners"? Why is it so difficult for many in the church to let go of this issue? If we could see that the eductional models are merely tools, so many more lives could be touched in profoundly moving ways.