Stewart recently posted on his blog about ‘depth‘ in the Christian faith. Coincidentally, I had been reading some discussions across some other websites (here and here) about some of the misconceptions surrounding the Christmas story (and the selective reporting of what was said). The two seem to come together in my mind and chime with some of the stuff I’ve been doing at uni (this, for example) this last semester.
I do wonder just how much baggage we have floating around in our head that shapes our understanding of our faith – and more to the point (and pertinent to Stewart’s blog) how ignorant we are of its inaccuracy. I was thinking about this in terms of hymns and praise songs. To what degree does what we sing in church become our understanding of the Christian faith? After all, ask someone to tell you what was said in the sermon and ask them for some lines form what was sung and I think it’s a safe bet which will be remembered best my most. This, I reckon, is even more true of those who turn up to church at Christmas and Easter only – generally to see ‘the kids’ take part in nativity plays or Easter presentations.
So, take for example “We three kings of Orient are”. Right from the very opening line it’s a misrepresentation of scripture. Pick almost any other hymn (Christmas or otherwise) and you’ll find similar things. And that’s what becomes people’s understanding of what scripture really says and what the Gospel message is.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be singing hymns. What we should understand is what hymns are. They’re poetry set to music – they’re metaphorical, symbolic, fanciful, exaggeration, and all the other things that make good poetry poetry and not an academic study. And the same applies to scripture. We need to be able to distinguish between its poetry, its prose, its metaphors, its parables, its advice, its history and so on. But to do that we need education and depth of understanding – right back to Stewart’s point. And as he suggests, that takes effort, both on the part of the educator and those who wish to learn. I think it also comes back to something that seems to have been cropping up in much of my studies this year – the proper understanding of myth/legend/saga/story, call it what you will. I was also reading an article by Richard Dawkins (sent to me by a friend) and I think it perfectly illustrates the ignorance, even of those who are well-educated, of how scripture needs to be read.
Do I have an answer to how to ‘fix it’? Absolutely not, except perhaps to make the same commitment as Stewart has done – to take responsibility and become a better-educated Christian; and in so doing, become a better witness to the truth of the Gospel, rather than reinforce popular misconceptions.
The next big question then is how to carry this into ministry. How does one have a teaching ministry that encourages and promotes depth in a congregation and yet also meets all of the other needs of that congregation. Now there’s a subject for serious consideration.