I received a letter (not an email, a letter–you know, one of those things in an envelope that someone actually types or handwrites only to you, remember?) from a friend who taught my Bible class when I was very young. We have been corresponding about John Mark Hicks’s and my book, Down in the River to Pray.
Among the many things she is disturbed about in the book (most people are troubled by chapter 10), she called for me to stop using commentaries and simply read the Bible. This has been a common mantra in primitivistic churches (meaning ones, like Churches of Christ, that want to restore the early church as closely as possible). Mix with this the idea of individualism and the modernistic idea that we can know all flawlessly by simply investigating it ourselves, and it’s not surprising that my friend wants me to ditch the commentaries. There is also a long-standing suspicion of higher learning (hey, I’m not exactly an ivory tower, Greek and Hebrew spouting scholar!).
After the first of two letters from my friend, I wrote back with as much tenderness as I could muster. I want fellowship with Christians like my friend, even if they feel strongly against what I am doing. And by the way, the book is full of straight biblical exposition – what my friend is picking up on but doesn’t have a category for is the fact that the book is “historical theology” while at the same time a re-examination of a sacred cow and one of the more appropriately highly regarded and practiced doctrines in the church of Christ. But the historical doctrine part, by necessity, looks at Old Testament thought about baptism, early church fathers, New Testament texts on baptism, Reformation, Restoration, and modern day interpretation. Each of these major areas is covered in a chapter, then there are several application chapters. So the thought of Christians through the ages is discussed, and it would be arrogant of us to think we could just skip the valuable thought of Christians through the ages.
So I will likely write back to my friend and resist the urge to say, “In that case, we need to stop reading one another’s letter commentaries on one another’s beliefs.” No, I won’t say that, but I will continue to sensitively and with grace and concern (as God’s grace for me is exaggerated and overwhelming and undeserved), dialogue and try to remain in fellowship with some of my brothers and sisters who believe what I’m doing is wrong.