“It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people. ”
― John Wesley
Jon Wesley remains one of the greatest saints of the Church, a self-styled “man of one book” (the Bible) and one of the best read individuals of his or any time. I think these three traits are interrelated. Wesley was committed to a single-minded pursuit of God as revealed in the Bible. This commitment led him to a consistent study of God and the world. He would read commentaries on Scripture, and theology, but, he would also read the latest scientific studies, political and social news, and was an avid student of the arts especially music. In his lifetime he compiled a 50 vol. Christian library for the laity to learn Christian Scripture and Theology, wrote detailed notes on the Old and New Testaments, wrote and translated several hymns, wrote grammars on five languages, and produced a book of medical remedies. This all culminated in one of the most saintly examples of which I can recall.
John Wesley recognized something important about life and creation, we are called to love and serve God, and to do this we must know God. Because God is so much greater than we are and encompasses every avenue of creation, to properly live out our calling we must continually be learning about who God is and how God interacts with us. I believe that it was much the same realization which led J.R.R. Tolkien to say, “A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” Put another way, we all want to be deep people with a solid relationship with God and this requires us to be constantly learning about who God is and what God is doing. We as Christians have a moral obligation to be continually educating ourselves and one another about God’s nature and relationship with the world.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not follow Mr. Wesley’s example, rather, they are content to live lives ignorant of all that God has to offer. What is worse is sometimes they even scoff at other believers sincerely trying to deepen themselves in God and God’s world. I am profoundly disappointed by this stream within Christianity, with its bent toward anti-intellectualism. Christians call God the Creator, yet, do not think about science and how God relates to creation. Christians call God Judge, yet, do not read about ethics and how to institute justice in the world. Christians call God the Author of Beauty, yet, do not study art or music or any other beauty. Christians call God Father, yet, they do not study how to relate to God’s family members. Christians call God Lord, yet, they fail to study the revelation of God in this world, Scripture.
How has the Church gotten to this point? I think there are two reasons. First, we have divided the world into spiritual and material and we do not easily connect these halves. Second, we think that learning about God is the job of pastor’s and academics. In other words we have divorced God from many aspects of life and then said that only those who are in specialized ministries need to learn about God. I want to say, “How sad”, but this goes far beyond sad this is heresy. Christianity has always held that our job as believers is to learn the Scriptures and to teach the next generation about God’s being, character, and expectations for the Church. The witness of Scripture is that all believers are to learn everything they can about God and then to teach that information to the next generation of believers.
First and foremost, this maxim means that every believer has the duty to learn the Scriptures, to read them and to glean from them the richness of who God is. Christianity teaches that our primary witness to God’s character is in the activity of the Scriptures and if we will not read and study them then we will not learn about God. Secondly we each have the obligation to learn something of the natural world around us as an extension of God’s love. God is in creation if we learn about creation we learn about God’s work. We are to consistently grow in knowledge and compare these more “material” disciplines to what we know of God. Learn of the rationality of physics and meditate on the ordered God. Learn the beauty of art and ponder the magnificence of God. Learn a discipline in the light of God and God’s goodness. Learn to cook to teach others both of God’s beauty and generosity.
As we learn about God and God’s attributes we should eventually come to love and appreciate them. This should lead us into deeper relationships with God. Hopefully as we learn and grow we can teach the next generation to love God in all aspects of creation and they can surpass us in the grace that God wishes.
Christianity has long assumed a profound moral requirement that believers should learn to think and teach consistently about God, and that they should teach nothing contrary to that which has been revealed in universal history as seen by the apostolic teaching as consensually received. Out of this imperative has come the development of many variant systems of Christian teaching, intended both to teach converts and to defend against error, while holding strictly to the classic Christian consensus, variously called orthodox, catholic or ecumenical.
Oden, Thomas C.. Classic Christianity (Systematic Theology) (p. 172). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
The Christian community has always been a learning and teaching community, concerned with the unity, coherence, and internal consistency of its reflection upon God’s self-disclosure (Matt. 28:19, 20; John 21:15–17; Cyril of Alex., Comm. on John, 12.1). Jesus himself was a remarkable teacher, and the pastoral office that has patterned itself after him remains intrinsically a teaching ministry, in addition to serving in priestly and prophetic offices. The concise account of apostolic activity found in Acts 2:42 reveals a pattern familiar to early Christian communities: “They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray.” This still remains a rough sketch of the core spheres of activity of the Christian community: first, teaching, then the nurturing of community through sacramental life, and prayer. If the church’s teaching is deficient, then its fellowship, sacrament, and worship are likely to suffer from that deficiency (John Cassian, Conference 2.15.1). The primary mandate of the church is not to teach miscellaneous opinions about psychology, politics, or sociology that are not derived from the church’s unique gift: revelation in Christ. The church has received authorization to teach nothing contrary to that which has been delivered and received consensually through the history of revelation.
The primary mandate of the church is not to teach miscellaneous opinions about psychology, politics, or sociology that are not derived from the church’s unique gift: revelation in Christ. The church has received authorization to teach nothing contrary to that which has been delivered and received consensually through the history of revelation.
Oden, Thomas C.. Classic Christianity (Systematic Theology) (p. 173). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
The teaching office given to the church requires transmission of the history of the events of God’s self-disclosure to subsequent generations without distortion. This multi-generation task of accurate transmission in all its oral and written forms is called tradition—the passing along (paradosis or transmission) of apostolic teaching from parents to children, generation to generation. The proper use of tradition, as Jews and Christians have lived it out concretely, is a vital social reality. Its task is to receive and transmit the history of revelation. The task has sometimes been wrongly conceived or implemented, so as to convey archaic traditionalism or rigid formulas or in-group biases that do not adequately convey the vitality of the sacred writings. Tradition invites not only written and spoken words. It wants to be danced, sung, feasted upon, and celebrated, as in a Bar Mitzvah or wedding. Tradition is shared in a social process through seasonal celebrations and the recollection of mighty events (Quinisext Synod 66).
Oden, Thomas C.. Classic Christianity (Systematic Theology) (p. 178). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Mentors in Christian teaching may be deficient if they lack prudence, contextual wisdom, and the capacity to enter the world of moral action and practical outcomes. One who lacks a capacity for imagination, wonder, and reflection may not be suited to seek a more comprehensive view of things (Bonaventure, The Mind’s Ascent into God). Thomas Aquinas described the study of God as a habit of mind that seeks to combine theoretical wisdom and analytical ability with practical and social wisdom. To learn to dance one must take that first step, even if awkwardly. Good theology is more than a tome or a string of good sentences. It is a way of dancing, an embodied activity of the human spirit in a community embodying life in Christ. Learning to live in God’s presence is something like learning to dance; it is not best learned merely by reading books.
Oden, Thomas C.. Classic Christianity (Systematic Theology) (p. 193). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.