There is an often quoted passage in the Bible from the book of Ephesians (Eph. 4.1-32) where Paul suggests to the Ephesian church that God has provided some gracelets for their training. Eugene Peterson translates a part of that passage this way.
He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers… (italics mine)
It has occurred to me over the years that one of the dynamics of being a Christian is often left in a state of being anemic because we have become infused with folk theology. What the heck is “folk theology” you may be thinking? Here’s a brief overview of that idea:
Folk theology can be seen in every religion, denomination, and among those who do not consider themselves a part of a denomination. Spiritual piety and intellectual reflection are seen as antithetical to one another. Folk theology is often experiential and pragmatic; the criteria for true belief are feelings and results. Folk theology is often expressed by Christian bumper stickers, shallow choruses, and clichés. The church has been duped into believing almost anything. One that made the rounds several years ago was that God has hidden a special code in the original text of Scripture that provides the true meaning of the text. Folk theologians often seem to be living by the old quip, “Don’t confuse me with any facts; my mind is already made up.” Folk theology encourages gullibility, vicarious spirituality, and simplistic answers to difficult problems that come when living in a secular and pagan world.
Folk theology begets sacred cows. One can starve and be “tossed by every wind of doctrine” if sacred cows are not butchered. Sacred cows make great gourmet burgers!
Folks simply don’t really know what the Bible says about what they believe because they have been taught implicitly and explicitly how to debate what Scripture says rather than being trained to read Scripture. We have been taught that the Bible is a rule book, one downloaded directly from a heavenly cloud to provide us specific instructions on how to be Christian. Because individualism has consumed us, we have argued our points of view believing that anyone that reads the text other than in a literal sense should be shamed, demonized, and shunned.
There is really nothing wrong with Scripture. However, there is something wrong with the presuppositions that we come to Scripture with. When we try to impose a modern reading impregnated with no regard for the historical and cultural backdrop of the stories that we are reading, we are most likely going to make the text say something other than what its author meant it to say.
So What? Why is this important. Because anemic folk theology produces anemic Jesus followers, like “small children who are an easy mark for impostors,” (Peterson).
Thus, the materials here on Training Jesus Followers are created to help folks discover that there is meaning in the sacred text that is still applicable to those of us living in the twenty-first century and it can be found within the cultural and historical study of the text. Why? As Peterson says, “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything.”
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