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See For Yourself

09/27/2014 2 comments

While teaching on the college campus, I often began the semester with an announcement: “I’m not here to teach you what to think; I’m here to teach you how to think.” Many religious leaders want to tell you what to know rather than how to know. They want to tell you what to see when you read Scripture rather than how to look and see for yourself. This way has produced leaders who have borrowed doctrines with no personal experience.

Someone might object, “But what if the students don’t come to the right interpretations? Aren’t you taking a risk here?” That line of questioning comes from the same platform as those who tell you what to think rather than training you how to think. The basic assumption here is that I am right. What if the student sees something I haven’t yet seen? I would be closed to learning anything new myself.

Here are a couple of principles I learned in the process of teaching and relating to students since I began my academic career seriously in 1959. I had been an Art Student in the University of New Mexico in 1955-56, but that was before the Lord encountered me in 1957 while I was in Japan as an airman in the United States Air Force.

First: The most important thing I learned is that love precedes all true knowing.

It’s not by accident that in both the biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, the words translated into English as “to know” actually refer to an intimate relationship, like a man knowing his wife. It’s altogether possible to learn facts about a matter without intimacy with the thing itself, but that’s not learning in the biblical sense. Learning facts about your wife will never impregnate her.

This is what Jesus had in mind when he said to the Pharisees, “Go learn what this means; I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” We’ve mentioned this in another blog, but it’s very appropriate here. You may be able to spout off the dictionary definition of the word mercy and quote what theologians have said about it. The only way to know mercy is to extend mercy to another who needs mercy. Then you have the experience of mercy.

Generally speaking, those who’ve never received mercy will not show mercy. The reason they’ve not received mercy is that they actually believe they don’t need mercy. They think being right in their doctrine puts them in a place of superiority. To admit they need mercy they’d have to get off the pedestal they’re perched on. God offers them mercy, but they prefer to make all the right sacrifices (study time, tithing, etc.). Jesus came to those who need healing, not to the healthy.

Second: Words often become substitutes for reality, or a way of avoiding reality.

Proclaiming the reality of the Holy Spirit, for example, becomes a substitute for being led by the Spirit. It’s as though teaching on being led by the Holy Spirit exempts me from being led. How often have you been in a meeting where the message of healing was proclaimed but no one has been healed there for many years? We don’t need more words; we need reality.

To know the word is not to know the thing itself. Words are only pointers, or signs. They indicate which direction to look or what to do to experience the thing they refer to. On another level, words don’t actually mean anything. People use words to mean something. Any particular word can be used to refer to several different things or experiences. Words are tools. A shovel can be used to dig a hole or to fill in a hole; it can even be used to kill someone. Words are like that.

This simply means that, if you really want to know what a text means, you must ask the author. This brings us back to intimacy. I must be intimate with the Author to have the meaning of any biblical text uncovered to me. One reason I don’t expect students to come to any particular understanding of the text is that the text has meanings on several different levels. We must learn to listen to the Author to hear what he is presently saying to us. We must also be open for him to speak something different tomorrow.

“But that leaves us vulnerable to be deceived,” you say. Yes, you’re right. But you’ve probably already believed some things that aren’t true anyway. I’m willing to live with the fact that I’m human and fallible. Being a student of the Word requires this humility.

There are other things I’ve learned, but that’s it for this blog. If you appreciate what we offer, share with your friends.

Looking forward,
Fount Shults, President, On Word Ministries

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