Take Your Best Shot

Since they don’t have any university classes right now, St. and T. and I are meeting together just about everyday to study the Bible together and work on my Chinese. Today we worked through some Psalms together, started on the letters to the churches in Revelation, translated two songs for us to sing in our services, and discussed all kinds of church matters, mainly our principle goals for the year and how we’re working towards them. Gives me a bunch of good language practice and, I think, really is helping to speed their growth.  

Something that’s really been an unexpected place of challenge since we’ve begun this work has been the constant push at the edges of my theology. When you’re preparing to come to the mission field, there’s kind of this feeling (at least in my mind) that you know so much more about the Bible than these people who have never heard anything about it, that you won’t feel the least strain on your own theology for quite some time. While it’s true that my knowledge of stories and characters and phrases and chronology is, by reason of use (meaning I cheated and started a long time before them), quite a bit past these guys, my theology – or the relation of truths of Scripture to each other, to God, and to us – has been challenged and tested more than I ever would have imagined! 

I just hold my breath whenever someone says, “Hey, I’ve got a question…” Afraid that it’s going to be the question that I can’t answer. Beyond that, the answers that I’ve always happily popped without the tiniest hangover sometimes are returned with looks of puzzlement or doubt. For example, St. wanted to know why James 2:24 and Romans 3:28 seem so opposed to each other. No problem! I’ve got Bible training! So I shot out the answer that I’ve heard about a billion times and every guy at the table is still looking at me like, “That’s all you’ve got?” Ouch.  

I’ve been asked over and over why God wills people into existence that He knows will end up in Hell, where sin comes from if God created everything, how do we know that babies go to Heaven… the list goes on. I guess that as American Christians, there might be a tendency for us not to search so deeply for answers to these kinds of questions because of our culture’s historical alignment with the Bible. There was always something in my church-raised brain that shrugged, “I’m sure someone has already thought of that question and written a book resolving that question.”  

Enter the mission field. No more cultural alignment. Rather cultural enmity. Benefit of the doubt doesn’t go to the Bible, but it’s critics. Unresolved questions call for doubting God rather than doubting self, culture, family, and influences of every category. When they hear the Gospel, they’ve got three pages of questions gleaned over a lifetime. Questions that teachers have used to ridicule the existence of God. Questions that their own suffering has lent them. And questions that spring from a book as diverse and as damning as the Bible. As soon as they entertain the notion that all this is true, as soon as they open the “God” closet in their heart, they’ve got some real baggage to sift through.  

So some observations about this situation:

1) The closer to the front lines, the more your Sword is necessary – my time here has shown me that serving on the mission field doesn’t require less Bible knowledge, rather it demands more thorough, rigorous theological preparation.

2) Patience and consistency in teaching are critical – I’ve answered the same questions over and over and over and over and over and over. And I’ll probably be answering them for the next 40 years. When I get frustrated that the answers aren’t sinking in, I have to remind myself of how long it took me.

3) We have to retreat to the Bible rather than away from it – I usually find that me trying to explain my way around something isn’t nearly as effective as going to some difficult chapters and digging our way through it. And I think it really gives us some credence that we consistently go to the Bible, consistently put the authority on the Word of God rather than on our heads.

2 Comments on “Take Your Best Shot”

  1. Chris January 31, 2008 at 2:16 pm #

    Beautiful article. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Kelcy February 7, 2008 at 1:19 am #

    This is great stuff…thanks for the insights. My wife and I really are encouraged your blog.

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