Culturally dysfunctional?

It was supposed to be another hot cup of java before teaching morning classes at CSU. Instead, it was a teachable moment when two young women provided a tutorial about spiritual ideals right here in the Bible belt. They were having coffee at the next table. Like any observant and effective pastor type, even a retired one, I eavesdropped on their conversation. Evidently they met weekly after leaving their boys at one of the more prestigious private religious schools. One of the women commented that she and her husband had decided to enroll their son in a public middle school next year. Their reasoning for making the move was a surprising addendum to my grasp of the times.  She said, “We’re moving him because he’s getting too much Bible teaching. We’re afraid he won’t be able to function in the real world. We really don’t want him to become culturally dysfunctional.”  Her friend nodded approval.

Choking on a grande Verona was my instant reaction. In sixty-eight years parental concern about Bible learning and cultural influence had typically occurred in the reverse of her reasoning. Up until that moment the usual storyline had been that children were not receiving sufficient biblical literacy and would therefore be unable to cope with the real world. Evidently American worldview dynamics were shifting at a more rapid pace than depicted in the mountains of research about our spiritual landscape. These young Gen X women were seriously discussing the possibility that their children would receive too much Scripture orientation about life and would therefore be clueless in facing the demands of adolescence, the teen years, and adulthood. Culturally dysfunctional? Lord, help us!

Pause for two sidebars. (1) Are most believers prepared to give a reasonable response to such thought? Many are equipped to offer an apologia of the hope that defines faith (see 2 Peter 3:15). But, honestly, few of us have wrestled with the spiritual oddities of our times, and prepared rational biblical responses to them. Perhaps it’s time to address them!  (2) How we educate our children wasn’t the real agenda that morning. Every parent will have to evaluate their personal circumstances to decide whether their children will learn in public, private, or home school settings. Let’s save that discussion for another time. That morning, and now, in retrospect, two questions seemed most compelling in forming a response to such concerns-

Can any of us learn too much Bible?

Does Bible teaching make us culturally dysfunctional?

Of course, an emphatic “NO” is the short answer. The reasoning that follows was constructed around five biblical headings, the sum of which affirmed the value of Bible study and the role of Scripture in our lives.

(1) Bible education is the starting place.

It’s always been interesting that instruction in systematic theology usually begins with the study of God’s Word. This is because our positions on the origin, authority, sanctity, and absolute truth of the Bible are central to our understanding of all things. Evangelicals typically hold a high view of Scripture. We believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Word with authority over every aspect of human experience. If the study of God begins with instruction about Scripture it must be a central tenet of faith. That being so, there’s little possibility that any human could receive too much of God’s Word. Jesus said, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (John 8:47, ESV). That would be a life continuum according to Scripture.

(2) The Bible is our learning system about the ways of God.

King David wrote many Psalm verses about learning, knowing, and being observant of God’s ways. He prayed for guidance in meditating on the statutes, precepts, and instructions in the Torah, the revealed and written Word of God. There are many Scriptural examples of this heart desire—

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me. (Psalm 25:4-5, ESV)

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (Psalm 119:15, ESV)

Humans cannot receive too much biblical guidance in the ways of God. Like King David, Bible learning is our path to know God’s ways and pursue them.

(3) The Bible is our sure protection from the dominion of sin.

Once again King David provides additional rationale for life-long Bible learning. He wrote—

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11, ESV)

When the moral and ethical standards of society are trending downward, there’s a tendency to overlook the powers of darkness, evil, and personal temptation. God’s Word in our heart, that is, a ready familiarity with the Word of God, is a sure defense against the living under the dominion of sin.

(4) The Bible actually prepares us to be culturally relevant.

The Apostle Paul wrote powerful words to his younger apprentice Timothy. This wonderful passage explains the inspiration of Scripture and the value of learning the Bible.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

Is there any possibility that the Apostle would have instructed Timothy to limit or minimize his being “thoroughly equipped for every good work”?

Surely not.

(5) The Bible prepares us to live productive and effective lives.

The life and ministry of Simon Peter resonates with most of us. In many ways he is our blood brother in faith, an impulsive man with rough edges. His denial of Christ would make us avoid him were it not for his restoration and leadership in the Acts of the Apostles. His two Epistles are in many ways reality therapy for struggling believers.  2 Peter Chapter 1 gives us a glimpse of his personal reliance on the provision of God for life—

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1: 3-8, ESV)

This confession is about God’s divine power and his precious and very great promises. These provisions of God, revealed in God’s Word, enable us to supplement our faith with the graces and disciplines that can “keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Hey, I’m no systematic theologian. Any other believer could prepare and present a more thorough apologia in response to the two questions that seemed so significant that morning. These are a personal reflection of how Bible learning has impacted my life and ministry. I pray not that you necessarily learn or apply them to your life. But, more, that each of us will observe the times, and be ready to respond to them. Being oblivious may be the real case of cultural dysfunction.

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