The More You Know

· Bible,Ethics

Remember those PSAs called “The More You Know”? Each one featured a celebrity addressing teens and tweens about growing up. Being good people required that we learn and put our knowledge into action. I loved watching Will Smith dance around while telling us to use our heads, not our fists.

Another idea keeps confronting me, whether it enters my inbox or is raised in the classroom. We don’t need to learn very much to live a good life. We can act well without knowing a lot. And acting well is what counts. John Maxwell, for one, caught the attention of many pastors by claiming that most Christians are educated far beyond their level of their obedience. He’s not the first. Thousands of years ago, James told the recipients of his letter to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” Spoiler alert: I fully agree with James, and I think Maxwell takes his audience to be only hearers of the word.

Formal education in Christian studies, whether in theology, scriptures, or ministry, is declining as the church declines in membership. But even twenty years ago when I darkened the doors of a Bible college, I was told by more than one student to be careful. Some of the courses—especially the Bible courses!—might cause me to lose my faith. Considering what might be underneath a surface level read of scripture would lead me to question what I had learned in Sunday school, sermons, and Bible studies. And questioning is a threat to faith. I should take what my profs said with a grain of salt.

This never sat well with me. I went into Bible college knowing that Jesus could read and interpret the scriptures well enough to inform expert discussions about them. And in all three synoptic gospels, Jesus teaches that the second greatest command, to “love your neighbor as yourself,” is grounded in the greatest commandment: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37‒39; Mark 12:30‒31; Luke 10:27). Action is important. But using the mind is not optional. It is part of who we are as followers of Jesus. It is part of how we love God and neighbour.

Karl Barth taught his students that the best way to live a Christian life is to have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. He didn’t mean to say that the two were equal. While Christians are informed by the newspaper about what is going on in the world, we are formed by the Bible. We use the Bible to interpret the news. Working this way requires us to be curious and inquisitive about what God is saying to us when we hear the scripture.

None of this means that every Christian must be a scholar. Nor does it mean that Christians whose brain functions are affected by developmental disorders or other health conditions are any less Christian than the most erudite theologian. But as an ethicist, I find myself wanting to ask questions. “Why did Jesus say those words?” “Why did Jesus act that way?” Exploring questions like these encourages me think critically about why people speak and act in the ways they do today. They help me discern good approaches the problems I face. I want to make decisions about how to act well that reflect my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. And I cannot do this without using my mind.

So let’s take Barth seriously, holding the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Try doing this: Open your preferred news media source, whether digital or an old-fashioned newspaper, and select a story at random. Now open your Bible (again, whether digital or an old-fashioned paper Bible) and select a text at random. Read the Bible—just a short paragraph or a couple of verses. Now turn to the news story and read a paragraph or two. It's not likely that the two sources will have much in common. But pause and
reflect. Ask yourself some questions. How does reading the Bible help inform what I am reading in the news story? How does the news story challenge me to know more about what God is saying through scripture? As you repeat this once or twice more, other questions might come to you.

’Cause the more you know….