I was preparing this morning to lead Romans using the new small group study book that Mike Bennett and I wrote for the UCC’s “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series.
I came across that vexing section of Romans 1, no not that one, this one: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1: 19-20).
When I wrote my A Course in Basic Christianity (which I thought of as remedial catechesis for adults) in 1994 I outlined a set of criteria and assumptions behind my method. The final assumption dealt with hermeneutics. In reading it now I see how much I was influenced by Karl Barth, Hans Frei and Brevard Childs. It is my hope that these thoughts will be useful to pastors and teachers leading adult education. Here is an excerpt:
“The communal language of the church is irreducible and must be taken on its own terms. The whole project has been guided by a set of hermeneutical assumptions that inform the way Scripture in particular and theological language in general are treated. In some respects these assumptions run counter to the assumptions that have guided the modern academic study of Scripture and theology.
Modern approaches to the Bible have been dominated by the historical–critical method. These were the methods in which I was trained in college and seminary and they continue to yield genuine insights into the truth of the texts. Nevertheless, I came early in my ministry to regard them as “good servants but bad masters” and I have gravitated toward a hermeneutic that takes the finished text much more seriously.
In a comparable way modern theologians have often accepted the ideologically driven “hermeneutics of suspicion” as the basis for their approach to Christian language. Again, I have been well–exposed to these approaches and take with appreciation their genuine insights into both the human situation and the history of the formation of sacred texts. Nevertheless, I find them all seriously flawed as the basis for either constructive theology or hermeneutics and have looked elsewhere for the proper interpretive tools to do my work.
In an article in today’s New York Times, “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans,” Laurie Goodstein reports that Americans scored poorly in a test of basic knowledge about religion, according to a new Pew poll. This will not be news to any clergy, although she writes, “Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:
Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.
Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.
Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.”
Appalled, yes, surprised, no! I can’t imagine any members of the clergy who aren’t well aware of the ignorance of most people about religion. One of the biggest perennial tasks of local religious leaders is teaching their congregants about the basic tenets of their own faith, not even to mention other’s.
And preachers are well aware that they have to fill in a great deal of background for their listeners to have a context to understand even the most well-known biblical stories.
This lack of knowledge is not just a feature of the uneducated. I have known very intelligent professional people with Ivy League educations who were biblically and theologically illiterate.
The reasons for this are complex pieces of large cultural changes, but signal a pervasive secularism that shapes even religious people.
My own passion for what I call “remedial catechesis for adults” led to my writing A Course in Basic Christianity. You can learn what it is about and how to get it here.
Are you looking for a program that will help adults gain a better understanding of the basics of the Christian faith and a deeper appreciation for the power of God in their lives? A Course in Basic Christianity is an eight-week (one session per week) course developed and used successfully in dozens of local churches. It is a refresher course for adults for whom it has been a long time since Confirmation or membership class. It is equally helpful for a new member or a long-standing one. It has also been used as a Confirmation course.
Here is what some pastors say about it:
“An excellent course for a group study, easy to follow and to lead. With well-selected readings from the great thinkers of Christian history, you will leave wanting to learn more about theology and the story of the church. Intellectually rigorous without being off-putting, this course is perfect for the thinking Christian who has forgotten, or perhaps never had, confirmation class.” Lillian Daniel, Senior Minister, First Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.
“I have held the Course in Basic Christianity 6 times and always with tremendous response from a fully enrolled class of adults.” Steven A. Small, Senior Pastor Emeritus, West Boylston Congregational Church, Massachusetts.
✤ What do we know about the creeds and doctrines of the church today?
✤ How do we pray?
✤ What is worship?
✤ What do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper mean?
✤ What do the Ten Commandments have to tell us about our lives?
✤ What is the church?
No. Ordered____________Instructor’s Manual______
Cost: Course books are $9.95 (formerly $14.95) plus shipping and handling (10% of the total). Mass. residents only please add $.93 sales tax for each book ordered or send form ST-2, Certificate of Exemption and Form ST-5, Sales Tax Exempt Purchaser Certificate for non-profit organizations. The Instructor’s Manual is $4.95 per copy or free with purchase of 10 or more books. Make checks payable and send to:
The Reverend Dr. Richard L. Floyd
33 Nottingham Drive Pittsfield, MA 01201