Two years ago the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a survey testing the religious knowledge of Americans. Some of the findings were surprising. Of all religious groups surveyed, atheists and agnostics knew the most. On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest. Whatever else that it shows, the survey is another reminder that religious knowledge is not enough.
For Christians, it’s also a reminder that what we call ourselves makes a difference. What do Christians most often call themselves (other than “Christian”)? The term that I hear most often is “believer.” Yet the Bible calls Christians “believers” only twice. By contrast, “disciple” is used 29 times in the book of Acts alone.
The difference in how we understand and use those words indicates that what we do with what we know does matter. Too frequently for Christians, “believing” constitutes little more than mental agreement to a list of doctrines. As a result, what we call ourselves does inform and influence how we live.
Every genuine believer desires to be a follower of Christ, a doer as well as a hearer. Yet reaching for that is more of a struggle for most of us than it should be. What moves us beyond belief? Consider John 4:1-42 as an illustration.
In this narrative Jesus talked with someone whom we call “the woman at the well.” Artists have typically portrayed the woman listening intently to the startling words of this man who interrupted her routine. But like the picture on canvas, this moniker misses the most important part of the story. She didn’t stay at the well.
The reason that she did not is that Jesus purposed to make her a disciple. How was that accomplished? She listened intently to every word that Jesus spoke to her. As a result she sensed deeply that she was in the presence of the Messiah. Notice what Jesus did not do. He worked no sign or wonder. He spoke. She listened. She responded.
Maybe we should give this Samaritan a new title: “the woman [who found people and introduced them to Jesus] at the well.” Alright, that is a bit long. But it is time for a change. Someone should paint a picture with the woman returning to Jesus at the well, a crowd of men following her, drawn to find out what kind of man could convince this woman of very ill repute that she had met the Holy One of God.
Another change is needed. Jesus speaks not merely to inform but to transform us. This transformation is accomplished as we learn to read and understand Scripture with new vision.
Sixteen years ago I studied the book of Mark under a pastor who taught in a way that I have not heard from anyone else, before or since. For several months, I participated in a journey of discovery that is still profoundly altering my walk with Jesus.
This pastor has recently started a new ministry that is teaching ordinary believers how to study the Bible in a way that can make them eager, growing disciples. This ministry, which I will introduce in my next post, offers a simple approach. Instead of starting with what people don’t know about the Bible, it uses what they already know and use to read in order to teach them how to understand the Bible.
This approach is fresh, thoughtful and engaging. Join me in this journey of discovery and change.