Last night, we gathered for our weekly Bible study. Right now we’re studying our way through Isaiah; last night was chapter 40. After listening to Max read the chapter, we tossed about questions, observations, and several tangents. We wrapped our investigation of the chapter in a haiku and then the synergy began.
A bit of background is necessary before laying out the synergy. A few weeks ago, we took a bit of a break from Isaiah to listen to John Mark Reynolds’ three part offering in the Norton Lecture Series (see here, here, and here), in which he talked about how science and religion might have a more fruitful dialogue. As we listened to the series, the means of creation became a frequent topic: we differ in our opinions.
Back to last night’s synergy. In Isaiah 40, God repeatedly declares himself the Sovereign Creator, making the point that there is no power in existence that compares. For one of our members, this once again raised the question of creation. What followed was an amazing synergy of ideas, as we talked through Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Hebrews 1, gathering ideas together into theological theories we could all affirm: God is the only god, he alone is Creator, and however creation occurred, Scripture and science, in the end, will not be in conflict. Honestly, the synergistic dance developed a better understanding of theology than the questions and observations of the bible study proper.
The experience raised a question.
How can such times of theory development better equip us for training in ordinary life?
Orderliness. The structure and flow of thought in the text reveal meaning and significance, and instruct the orderliness of together uncovering this structure and flow of thought. By this orderliness, we shape the structure of the gathering and of our thoughts. In the mutuality of the community, we better align our mental lives with the truths of Scripture.
Responsible Creativity. The stable foundation of the text provides a secure space for persons to exercise responsible creativity, together playing with the various perspectives to create connections across Scripture and throughout life. When done in the context of a group that waits on and listens to the Spirit, this exercise of creative thinking can produce a synergy that results in an end greater than the sum of its parts.
Image Bearing. In addition to ordering and shaping our individual and communal mental life, a structured, yet playful engagement with Scripture helps us develop an increasingly accurate understanding of the task of image bearing. This understanding, in turn, informs ordinary life together, resulting in a common life that more naturally follows the Spirit and images Jesus.
Wise Living. An increasingly accurate understanding also develops holy fear that gives birth to wise living. A decidedly communal study process creates a laboratory in which ideas can be tested in the context of relationship. With in these relationships, each person helps to refine the understanding and wise living of the others.
Now, even as I finish writing this, I realize the loftiness of it all. Is this too much to expect from a casual gathering of siblings? Possibly, but I do not think so. The theological theory learned and refined during such study gatherings, provides conceptual underpinnings that give freedom in ordinary life. In turn, the practices of ordinary life feed back into our theory, prompting further refinement.
While developing and refining theory is not training, it does, as described by a member of the study last night, lay the foundation on which the house is built. Theory is crucial, but it is not the house. Ordinary life in Christ in the house.