There seem to be some specific characteristics to a Stage 4 approach to teaching Scripture: There’s an appreciation for mystery – a getting beyond what, to modern lenses, might seem like “it’s this, not that” statements and learning to hold in tension things that feel competing. There’s a regular impulse to “zoom out” – to see the big picture and not just isolated fragments. There’s an attention paid to people’s inner-lives – supposed spiritual truths are not just investigated as propositions but described as experiences. How does it actually play out and how does it feel when, for instance, “perfect love is casting out fear” in me?
I’ve had some opportunities over the past year to (best I can) teach Scripture this way to a large, diverse audience with levels of education across the spectrum from PhD to “some high school.” As I’ve processed how those teachings have gone with other thoughtful teachers, I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement, but also one consistent challenge: This style of teaching is too intellectual for the less educated people in your audience.
Now, much of this challenge is Vince-specific and accurate. It is absolutely true that I tend to speak from too heady a place and it would be beneficial for me to learn how to dial that down. I’m in touch with that about myself. However, when I ask for more particulars as to what is feeling too intellectual for less educated people, often what is pointed to is not Vince-specific stuff, but the characteristics described above.
This is interesting to me. Part of me wonders if what people really mean when they say “intellectual” is “different.” This approach to Scripture is most certainly different. But I feel as though I could make the argument that it’s actually less “intellectual” than most teaching because it’s not as focused on logic and the classic intellectual pillars of Modernism – “If X, then Y,” and “When A, not B,” etc.
Mystery is definitely high-level thinking; it’s demanding of people. But maybe what is jarring about it is that it’s demanding of the side of the brain that hasn’t often been engaged in most teaching of Scripture over the last 500 years – the side less concerned with logic and more concerned with imagination. If that’s the case, then I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that less educated people are less able to track with mystery. Certainly education is a factor and highfalutin vocabulary (like highfalutin) or complex structuring of arguments can put comprehension of mystery out of reach for people with less schooling (as with comprehension of anything), but I’m not sure that says much about the capacities of people to live in tension or reflect or pay attention to what’s going on inside them. Those seem like a different class of skills to me: a class not addressed by Western systems of education (although potentially aided by it), but exactly the stuff a church should be pressing people to exercise.
My (perhaps insignificant) anecdotal evidence is that the less educated people in the audience I’ve taught this past year have been every bit as vocal as more educated people about their appreciation of what I’ve brought to the table for them. I could just be biased and looking for the outliers who give me a sense of justification, or I could be on to something… What do you all think?