One of the silver linings of the dark COVID-cloud has been the explosion in online services by all Christian denominations. I watched an excellent sermon on Sunday (not Anglican) that began with this disturbing claim: “Bible knowledge that does not draw you closer to Jesus leads you away from him.”
That is a very strong statement saying a very serious thing: More than just being neutral or harmless, there is such a thing as harmful Bible knowledge! This would be particularly challenging to those who study the Old Testament as I do. I am so deep into the historical geography of the exodus at present that I pretty much only read about Jesus when I hear a gospel- or epistle-based sermon (thanks, Brett!), or when a ‘Jesus’ quote passes through my social-media newsfeed (thanks, Universe!).
In 2018, I wrote a Masters thesis on the chronological parallels between Passover Week and Holy Week and never felt so emotional about the crucifixion and resurrection as I did then. But I can’t access those feelings now as I slog through the wilderness narratives comparing text to text and matching text to terrain. My 'knowledge' is presently leading me away from Christ -- literally if not spiritually.
In her sermon, the young woman examined this confronting possibility much more extensively (for 45 minutes!) than I can relay here. The Pharisees and lawyers of Jesus’ day (and the Apostles’ time) had amazing Bible knowledge. Many of them could recite scripture by heart, and their lives (like mine) were devoted to its study. Yet some of Jesus’ strongest language is reserved for them: “You always resist the Holy Spirit”… “blind guides”… “snakes!”
The scholars’ tragedy is that they missed the point to all their knowledge. There has been a singular purpose to all revelation since the beginning of time -- and his name is Jesus Christ. If our knowledge doesn’t lead us to talk to him we have fallen into the same trap. Unlike every other person we read about in Scripture, Jesus isn’t dead. We can know him now so that at his coming we will not be meeting him for the first time.
Christian faith is not beliefs or ideals such as “I believe in kindness, justice, and saving the earth” although these are worthy aspirations. It is not about studying the divine but about having a ‘relationship’ with the divine. This word “relationship” is a tired cliché -- I always ‘bounce off’ when someone uses it to describe faith. But it helps to be reminded that God is not a concept, rather, God is Being itself, a real 'someone' to engage with.
Bible knowledge can teach us principles and values, but these are not worth anything if they don’t translate into a living here-and-now interaction with Jesus. We should serve Jesus, not out of duty or ‘enlightenment’, but because we know him, we love him, and we have an intimate one-on-one connection with him. It is love that brings wisdom, not knowledge.
In the ‘judgement’ scenario, Jesus doesn’t ask for explanations but simply says “I don’t know you” (Matt 7:21-23). These are the most chilling words in the Bible -- no contenders. So in the face of the 'knowledge' challenge (as above) I am relieved to realise that my prayer-walks chatting to God honestly, incoherently, often in anguish, have nothing (and paradoxically also everything) to do with my study.