Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Analogy: Theology as a Foreign Language

Today my wife and I were discussing why so many of those in the community in which I minister have such a visceral reaction to the Reformed Faith.  They appear to be unteachable, that is, utterly unwilling to consider the possibility that Reformed Theology is actually very clearly taught in Scripture.  Their objections are often eisogetical; or rather, they are predisposed to reject a Reformed understanding of Scripture based upon preconceived notions of what the Bible teaches, quite apart from considering the Biblical evidence. When they do consider those passages, they are bound and determined to assert that they do not mean what I am saying that they mean, even if they cannot explain how or why. What I teach cannot be true, regardless of how strong the Biblical evidence appears.

In the course of my discussion with my wife, she brought to mind an interesting analogy.   For many people, learning Reformed theology is like learning a foreign language.

How does this analogy work?  Consider that a child learns a first language quite effortlessly.  They do not need to study or be diligent about it.  Eventually, by the effect of total linguistic  immersion, they speak the language.  It is as easy as pie.  They do not even need to understand the grammar of it.  It is built into them.  Of course, their education will eventually fine tune their understanding of the language and its grammar, but the point remains true.  They initially learn the language simply by being exposed to it.

In due time, when people are exposed to a foreign language that they do not know, it is incomprehensible to them. Gobbledygook. They have no ability to relate what they hear with what they already know.  If and when they do take it upon themselves to learn this foreign language, it will not be nearly as easy as their first language..  As a matter of fact, it will be arduous for most people.  It will take time and diligence.

Our theology often comes to us like a first language.  We drink it in from early years through the well-springs of our communities, our entertainment, our churches, our friends.   Those who have been taught a certain theology in churches tend to embrace it as a first language.  There is no need to understand the grammar of it. It is simply what one accepts and believes.  Eventually they will fine tune it through Sunday School and listening to sermons.

When a different theology comes their way, it may very well sound like gobbledygook.  The terminology of the new "language" is possibly incomprehensible, not as a matter of word-meanings, or due to a lack of intelligence, but simply because of a lack of familiarity or because it challenges things that they have already implicitly accepted in their existing theology.   Continuing with the analogy, the learning of this new theology will be far more difficult than was the learning of the first theology.  It will take diligence and study.

None of this is necessitated by intelligence or education-levels.  Very intelligent people are not always educated people.  Educated people are not always intelligent people.  It simply has to do with what one has been immersed in from earliest years.  New theology is strange and harsh upon the ears. If  people are comfortable and satisfied with their current language, then at best, they may feel no desire or need to learn a different language.  At worst, they may take offense at a theology that challenges what they have been immersed in from their earliest years in the Faith.

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