Len Hjalmarson discusses biblical literacy, questioning whether the level attained even by pastors and leaders is typically adequate to interpret the theological significance of the text. He questions this not to disparage the pastors and leaders in our churches or to bemoan some belief that the biblical text is just too difficult for any but the experts to properly handle, but simply to highlight a particular issue before the biblical interpreter. Understanding the issue at hand, one may be better able to address it — or to at least avoid the worst effects of its impact. I haven’t asked Len if this is precisely his approach, but perhaps he’ll step in and clarify if necessary. ;^) He writes,
when we work from a particular passage, to the extent that we lack the ability to see the passage in the broader narrative, we distort what we see. We always see in part, and it is only honest to acknowledge this. But we will see in a much smaller part when we don’t know the wider story.
Without attention to the narrative sequence we handicap the body of Christ and rob the community of the fulness God intended. We may create a community that understands the boundaries, but we will not have a community that is creatively free within them.
This is well-worth some consideration, and I like the way Len puts it, which may be more apropos than the cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees. In a sense, it’s a description of those who understand “the letter of the law” but have lost touch with the wider purpose — or story — of the document as a whole. In a story of freedom, this deficiency traps us to legalism.
He concludes with a question about a possible solution.
While it may seen counter-intuitive, I wonder if our encouraging the memorization of individual verses only adds to the problem. It’s a stretch to encourage the memorization of whole chapters, but why not? It’s not nearly so difficult as some think.
He’s right about the memorization, as may be attested by those who remember having memorized the first or 23rd Psalms at one time or another. I’ve known people to have memorized an entire epistle here and there. I’m not entirely convinced that this is the best answer, though it probably forms some part of the appropriate adjustment.
My kids memorize Bible verses regularly for school (a Christian school, obviously), and learn something of the Bible in that context as well. In our home church as we consider what and how to teach our kids over the next while, this subject came up a few weeks ago (at my instigation, I admit). From my perspective, it seems advisable to teach our kids about the overall arc of the story of the Bible, so they begin to know which characters were contemporaries and who lived before whom, and where or when.
I’m reminded of the Easter tradtion we began with our kids a few years ago to encourage them to learn the story of Easter rather than just a few verses and the basic concept. I’ve even been known to pull out the little mnemonic figures as the adults share a meal together on Maundy Thursday and simply review the story, passing the items around the table as we did this year.
The reasoning is the same — we understand that context is important, but how often to we include it as an integral part of the way we teach rather than just an incidental part? The parents in our house church have therefore decided to put together an outline that covers the entire story arc of the Bible, splitting it up into the various epochs of its history. We will insert a few broad lessons into each section to fill in some detail. Over the course of covering the outline, we plan to construct a large scroll using a 36″ wide roll of paper which will roll from one spool to the other, creating a Bible timeline as we fill it out each week with whatever the kids will insert.
We aim to spend a bit of time sketching it out over the coming weeks, but won’t get it rolling until September when we begin the Pentateuch. Our hope is to hit the birth of Christ around Christmas time, when Advent will have (hopefully) taken on a deeper meaning for them. We will conclude next spring with lessons on church history, where we are now, and a little does of eschatology. After all, it will only make sense by then to fit ourselves into this grand narrative. If anyone has ever tackled a project of this type or knows of some good resources for it, I’m all ears. (Guess who got tasked to piece together the initial outline?)
More to the point, what about this assertion that we must take greater care than we have in the past to fit each story or account into the greater narrative of Scripture?