Dangerous Dichotomies

Posted by on May 2, 2011

I recently heard a speaker compare discipleship to riding a bicycle. He was urging his adult audience to get involved in the process of helping younger people walk with the Lord. I believe his motivation was, in part, to encourage people to take on the challenge even if they had no formal theological training or had not studied the scriptures all that thoroughly yet.

“It’s like teaching someone to ride a bicycle,” he said. “How many of you learned how to ride a bicycle by reading a book?” Of course no one raised their hand. Instead, people chuckled. He had made his point but still felt the need to belabor it. “You don’t teach someone to ride a bicycle by telling them to read a book. You get ‘em up on a bike and hold the seat while you run along side and urge them to keep pedaling.”

My immediate thought was to wonder if he was despairing of all intellectual aspects of discipleship. I often have my radar up for such things and have become  rather sensitive to cracks about seminary being a “cemetery” or the deadness of academic Christianity, etc.

My fears were confirmed a few minutes later when he drew a dichotomy between those who live the Christian life and those who stay in classrooms discussing it. In his final appeal, he made my jaw drop when he asked people to volunteer to disciple younger people. “I don’t care what you know,” he barked. “If you’ve got a heart for people and a heart for the Lord, we need you.”

He doesn’t care what people know? Surely this must have been an overstatement. But maybe not. I’ve heard this guy before and he obviously has a chip on his shoulder against thoughtful faith. Maybe his seminary experience was under professors who were theological eggheads who “only” wanted to discuss the faith rather than live it. He has implied that several times.

But that hasn’t been my experience in two installments of seminary training (three years at the master’s level and three more pursuing a doctorate). The professors I know and have sat under have tremendous hearts for God, deep concern for godliness, and years of experience in pastoral or missionary roles. Most of them still serve actively in their churches or mission agencies and diligently disciple their students to love God with all their hearts and minds.

Most disturbing to me was this speaker’s ignoring of all the places in scripture that call us to engage intellectually with God. We are to correctly handle the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15), renew our minds (Rom. 12:2), take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5), and meditate on God’s law (Psalm 1:2). For a stimulating project, do a concordance study of the word “think” in the scriptures and see what’s involved in that all-important task. Oh, and don’t neglect the fact that when God chose to reveal himself to us, he chose to do so with a book – a rather big one with many intellectually taxing passages.

Is discipleship like teaching someone to ride a bicycle? I see far too many cautions in scripture against wrong thinking or bad doctrine to settle for such a simplistic comparison. We dare not construct dichotomies between the intellectual side of our faith and a so-called practical side. That would be like trying to ride a bicycle with only one pedal.

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