Once there was a little boy who very much wanted to be a doctor. He knew that doctors helped people, were very well respected, and made enough money to live as they pleased. He had been told that it was hard to become a doctor since it took lots of study and work and intelligence. But even knowing that it might be hard, he still thought it was the right and best thing for him to do. He really wanted to become a doctor, and spend his life doctoring. He was passionate.
One day this boy, now grown to be a young man, entered college and began his first class in preparation for medical school. He sat through a lecture in which the teacher used many big words, and spoke of many complex things that the boy just didn't understand. This made him quite sad, and even mad. But his passion led him on and he returned the next day determined to become a doctor. But the same thing happened that day, and the next, and all that week. He was very sad, and now more than a little mad.
On Friday he stayed after class and spoke with the teacher.
"Sir" he began, "I am passionate about being a doctor. I know it is what I must do with my life. I am committed to it. But you, sir, are in the way. You are making it very hard if not impossible for me to become a doctor by using big words, and talking about things that are very hard for me to understand. You need to make it simpler for me, and for everyone else in the class. The world needs more doctors, and very few of us will make it if you don't make it easier for us."
The teacher just looked at the boy, seemingly unmoved by his passion. After a long and awkward silence the teacher made his reply.
"Young man, being a doctor takes more than passion. It also takes a desire to do whatever it takes to be a doctor. And that begins with being willing to look up words so you know what they mean, go over and over the concepts and ideas they explain, and pursue whatever needs pursuing in order to master them. The things a doctor needs to know are not simple, and cannot be explained in simple words. The things a doctor needs to know will mean the difference between life and death for the patient. If you want to be a doctor you'll have to take up the challenge of listening and learning, of deep contemplation and study, of enlarging the capacity of your brain and the sphere of your knowledge. If you want to be a doctor, you have to learn doctor words, doctor ideas, doctor concepts, and doctor ways. If you want to be a doctor you'll need to give up the idea that great learning comes easily, that depth of thought can be accomplished through shallow means, and that intellectual maturity can be attained through childish games."
With that the teacher turned on his heel, gathered his materials, and walked to the door.
"If you ever decide you not only want to be
a doctor, but that you actually want to doctor,
you're welcome to begin this course of study all over again."
And closing the door behind him, the teacher left the boy alone in the room with his thoughts.
"I guess I'll just find another passion" he thought. "One that still makes me feel good, and useful, but won't make any hard demands on me. Yes, that's what I'll do!"
Sadly, the boy not only left the room, but the college, and ultimately, all of his dreams and passions behind, never to be heard again. What he needed was always more than what he wanted, and no one seemed willing to give him big ideas and important concepts in little words and little ways.
I write this story as one who is too often asked by well-meaning Christ-followers to make the Bible accessible and simple, easy to know and understand. They want their theology "to go", their biblical knowledge packaged in Cliff Note form, and the deep things of God easily defined and understood in three simple sentences or less.
"Pastor, I just don't like it when you say 'propitiation.' I know you explained it, but why do you have to use such big words in the first place? My wife and I just want the simple truth, like Jesus taught it. Remember, he said we should come to him as a child, right?"
"Pastor you are being much too academic with us. Always remember that none of the disciples ever went to Seminary. We need you to put the cookies on the bottom shelf!"
I will admit that it is wrong to speak in ways that go over people's heads. Not everyone has had the advantage of going to bible classes, or attending a bible college or graduate school. Not everyone has been in church growing up, or spent time reading and studying the Bible.
But that isn't really the problem today. I don't know of any pastors who prepare their sermons for the bible college graduate or seminarian. We left that level behind years ago. Today we aim at the high school level of biblical knowledge and the travesty is that even this is now over the heads of some. But it doesn't have to be!
The problem isn't ability, it's desire. It isn't that some people today can't understand biblical themes and theological vocabulary; it's that they don't want to because they believe it isn't important. More, they believe that anything worth knowing about God shouldn't take any work on their part.
I find it very distressing that some Christ-followers are content not to learn what is necessary to plumb the depths of God, the nature and work of Christ, the ministry of the Spirit, and a whole host of other doctrinal truths that once were considered elementary things taught to children through the catechisms.
We have a great problem today. There is an intellectual boycott against deep thinking. There is a quasi-pious reaction against words like justification, propitiation, sanctification, redemption, regeneration and a whole host of other significant and essential theological and biblical terms. The great problem is not only do folks want the cookies put on the bottom shelf but that they are actually satisfied with cookies.
Who was it that thought the meat and potatoes of the Bible and theological understanding could be made into cookies in the first place? They can't. The things a mature Christ-follower needs to know are not simple and cannot be explained using only simple words. If you want to be a Christ-follower you need to learn God words, God concepts, God ideas, and God ways. If you want to be a Christ-follower you'll need to give up the idea that great learning comes easily, that depth of thought can be accomplished through shallow means, and that spiritual maturity can be attained through childish games.
The deep things of God are deep. The complexities of God's redemptive plan are complex, and attempts to turn them into cookies for childish Christians to taste has not only minimized the truth but it has largely marginalized the God of the truth.
But, alas, this problem is really not new. The writer of Hebrews let his frustration show when, after several chapters of solid theological and historical instruction he exclaimed "for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food"
(Hebrews 5:12). Turns out he was not only unwilling to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, he was at least making them drink their milk!
But milk, while necessary for infants will never be the stuff of maturity and Christian usefulness. And it isn't enough to be passionate about maturity. You also have to diligently pursue it. And that will mean thinking beyond your present capacity, learning and contemplating and questioning, and searching to find the answers, and then digging deeper again. It will mean listening to sermons actively, demanding as much of yourself as you do of the preacher. It will mean reading and re-reading great classical Christian literature, and dialoguing with others on the journey so that iron can sharpen iron. And all this is for the grand purpose of falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus Christ so that our lives can be useful to him, through the Church, until he comes again.
If you want to be a doctor, you have to commit yourself to doing and learning all that it takes to be a doctor. If you want to be a mature, vibrant, useable Christ-follower, you have to commit yourself to doing and learning all that it takes to be such a person. And here's the good news: this is exactly what Jesus calls us to!
And whatever he asks of us, he is faithful to enable in us.
Just depend on him every day,
and live for him in every way,
and pursue his glory until you hear him say
Hope this helps,