Nothing against the scholars, but their words do not speak to me. At least, not like poetry does. When I say “poetry” I don’t necessarily mean stuff that rhymes; I mean any piece of imagery that strums the strings of your soul’s guitar – any combination of words that puts a rhythm to your heart’s beat. I’d have to imagine that, to some, there’s poetry in the words of the scholars. But with the two very intense religious studies classes I’ve taken this term, I’ve quickly discovered that the scholar’s inner poet is given the backseat.
Why am I talking about all this right now? Well, I’m exhausted. I’ve been forced to work harder this term than I have for any other term of my college life and I’m not even in the thick of it yet. These next two weeks will be a true test as I have one final, two presentations, and three papers to write. Before I look ahead, though, my heart has called for a spiritual reflection.
There is a reason why I was an English major in college: figurative, implicit language speaks clearer to me than literal, explicit language. When reading the work of a Dead Sea Scrolls or New Testament scholar, I learn something, but no fire ignites my heart. Unless, of course, I’m frustrated with their grammatical or spelling errors – in that case, I do get riled up. But when I think back to the English classes I was taking even a year ago, I was deeply inspired. Ever since my last English class, though, I haven’t felt the same love for my classes or the texts we’d read.
I’m not saying that scholars should be done away with; I’m just saying that when they speak with their minds more than their hearts, I’m not as drawn to them. There’s a difference between speaking with opinion and speaking with conviction; one states what they think while the other expresses what they believe.
The biggest challenge to my faith this term hasn’t been the statements attacking the validity or reliability of Scripture or anything like that; it’s been the removal of personal conviction. Anything you believe with your heart and soul is regarded as a “bias” and therefore makes you less credible. Yet if there was any common sense among these scholars, which I believe there is, they’d recognize that everyone has a bias and no matter how hard one might try, that bias can’t be removed.
Again – I cannot stress this enough – I learned so much this term and am glad that I have taken these classes (even the journalism one). But what I found lacking was belief. Arguments and theses were given and with sound reason and logic; but there seemed to be very little conviction. I don’t believe in Jesus because He makes the most sense; I believe in Jesus because when my heart felt nothing but pain and depression, He broke through. My testimony is proof – at least to me if no one else – that I cannot allow my intellect to lead and guide my faith; Jesus dives into the heart and leads from there. My intellect must submit to the Spirit beating life into my lifeless soul.
Some time ago, and I forget where I received this from, I heard a different interpretation of Philippians 3:13. Usually, and this is how I thought of it before as well, we think of our sins and failures when we read how Paul forgot what was behind him. But what of his successes? If he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” as he proclaims, then certainly the religious zealots around him would have seen that as a major success in his life and not a failure at all. We can’t ignore his failures, but we can’t ignore his successes either; both were forgotten by Paul when Jesus entered his heart.
Learning about our faith is essential for a further strengthening of it. Either we learn the history of where our forefathers in Christianity came from and where they ended up or we learn about what Jesus is really teaching us in Scripture. In both regards, the scholars are more than helpful; they’re absolutely essential. They are the ones who have dedicated their lives to understanding their faith; to them, the words of dead scholars and theologians speak poetry. What I am saying here is that I do not hear that poetry; I am not moved by the opinions of others. I am moved by the power of Jesus; a power that is reflected through the heart of a person, no matter their intellectual understanding of what’s happened.
Our book for Early Christianity was Gerd Theissen’s The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, which we were asked to write a critique of before today’s class. I scrambled to get it done merely because I had slept in much longer than I wanted to, so I didn’t take much time to truly reflect over what I liked and what I didn’t. Theissen is a believer, to be clear, but throughout most of the book he spoke with his mind. Yet when he described the exploration of early Christianity like the exploration of a cathedral, when he put things into a figurative light, I was able to get a sense of what he was saying. Sadly, he only talked with this cathedral metaphor in the first and last chapters. The eleven in between were brutal for an English major like me.
Yes, I learned, but I wasn’t inspired much. Ideas can be taught and understood with the mind without the heart ever entering into the mix. But beliefs aren’t possible without the heart. When I come to Jesus, when I kneel at His cross, I’m not engaging Him with my mind only; my heart and soul are leading the way. If my mind has any role in the experience, it’s following the heart’s lead.
I am not trying to suggest that we should disregard the scholarship or learning anything with our minds; that’s just stupid. And contradictory. If that’s you’ve received from this post, then that’s what you’ve learned from my teaching, thereby rendering the possibility of an intellect-less faith impossible. What I am saying is what I believe: Jesus speaks to our hearts and souls in a way that our minds can’t fully comprehend. They’re left only to turn away in ignorance or surrender with a child-like trust.
State your opinions, sure, but keep in mind that if your opinions are entirely intellect-driven, there is no real faith. It’s a fabricated faith in reason and logic and the mind’s ability to understand all things – one of the most misleading messages. One must believe with conviction; it’s what makes true life possible. And since one must believe with conviction, it shouldn’t be ridiculous for someone to express that belief with conviction – as if their life depended upon it.
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,’” – Romans 10:10-11