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!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm Still Here!

Last weekend concluded my first half of the doctrinal study I’ve been working on for over 10 years. All things considered, the study went very well. Several of those enrolled have already signed up for the next sequence in July. I’ve been teaching the same thing in my SAM’s Class (Senior Adults) and I raised a few eyebrows in my lessons on the Holy Spirit. I told them up front I had a few “Hines heresies” and would probably say a few things differently from anything they’d heard regardless of their background, including those from Restoration Movement churches. (I am, after all, an equal opportunity annoyer.)

I was a bit disappointed in the enrollments for the first sequence of the classes I offered. I tried an experiment by having classes Friday evening and Saturday morning for two weekends. It didn’t seem to work too well. It may be that too many want to head for the cooler hills on Friday and Saturday. It may also be unfamiliarity with several of the teachers. It may be that it was a break in what they were used to. All in all, I was disappointed but not discouraged. This fall, I’ll offer sessions for six weeks on a week night and I’ll still offer at least one “weekend intensive.”

For some of my readers who thought I’d have to compromise my convictions when I came here, I want you to know I have not done so. I do recognize, however, that those attending Christ's Church of the Valley come from all kinds of backgrounds. I teach with the same spirit I used in Canton, Ohio, and elsewhere. I always present doctrinal teaching derived from reason or inference, whether coming from deduction or induction, with love. I do the best I can to evidence a humble spirit while presenting firmly what I believe is biblical truth. I guess I’m just too much of a Restorationist, for I continue to hold on to Thomas Campbell’s Proposition 7 from his famous “Declaration and Address.” (If you don’t know what that says, look it up. If you have trouble understanding it, search for Knofel Staton’s paraphrase.)

It is good practice to remember “we are not the only Christians, we are Christians only.” I think A. Campbell was right when he said there were only two things required to become a Christian: 1) The belief of one essential fact and 2) the submission to one essential act. (You know what those are!) It is wise to understand there are all sorts of stupid ideas out there about a lot of things in Scripture. I’m sure you and I even possess a few of them! Item number two always seems to be a “bug bear.” Yet Carl Ketcherside used to say, “Even if others don’t know what baptism is all about, God does!” Carl is right, and our relationship with God doesn’t depend on our full understanding but our compliance to Christ’s commands. We all have different perspectives, but if we are teachable we can listen. I don’t worry too much about those who have different ideas, but I hope they are teachable and will test what I say against Scripture. After all no one answers to me; everyone answers to God. He alone is the only qualified judge.

Do I agree with everything I hear? No! But I didn’t agree with everything at Canton either. Furthermore, I didn’t agree with everything at what was then First Church of Christ in Boise (a far more conservative congregation than most) either. I do agree that Jesus is the Christ. I do agree that he put us here to make disciples, to baptize them into Christ, and to teach them to observe all things.

Nothing in my belief system has changed! There is one thing that has changed, however. I’m working harder than I have for a long time.