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    Entries in Knowledge (2)


    Living What We Know

    In Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton writes:

    A purely mental life may be destructive if it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for actions. The activity proper to man is not purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.

    When Merton speaks of "man" he addresses all of humankind, both male and female, who are equally adept at the substitutions described above. Within the same chapter, Merton states, "Spiritual life is not mental life. It is not thought alone. Nor is it, of course, a life of sensation, a life of feeling--'feeling' and experiencing the things of God, and the things of the spirit."

    This understanding of the spiritual life does not exclude the mind or emotions. Merton states plainly, "It needs both." Spiritual life is human life, and encompasses every aspect of our being. Merton writes, "If man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit. Everything must be elevated and transformed by the action of God, in love and faith."

    Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets by saying that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and spoke a parallel command to love one's neighbor as oneself. Love directed toward God leads to proper self-love that overflows to those around us. Both Jesus' exegesis of the Old Testament and his sequencing is significant. When the entire self is directed toward God and then metamorphosized by God's grace, the natural result is action.

    Action within the spiritual life is characterized by living what we know. What we know is the God who has decisively been revealed in and through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John 17:3, Jesus says, "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

    In John 20:21, the resurrected Jesus sends his disciples as he has been sent. To encounter the resurrected Christ is to be incorporated into his action, his mission. Jesus is no longer a concept, but the living Lord who calls us to act as agents in his eternal kingdom, which is our newfound reality.

    God's action always precedes our own. It is grace that initiates, sustains, and brings our faith to completion. Grace also calls, activates, empowers, and sends us forth to act as servants of Jesus Christ. Knowing him, may we live what we know.


    The Void of Knowledge

    In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't, Stephen Prothero tells the story of the void in religious knowledge in America, chronicling the reason for decline and what can be done.  Prothero writes many things in this book that are of great worth, and could be seen as a great resource for those seeking a better understanding of the history of religion in America.  Much caught my attention in this book, particularly his words on the correspondence between the decline in religious knowledge and the rise of populist style evangelicalism that minimized the importance of doctrine.

    Prothero writes:

    Many have remarked on what was gained when doctrine became antiquarian.  As preachers spiced up sermons with stories, converts crowded into the pews, particularly in denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists that embraced wholeheartedly this new homiletic style.  But what was lost in the bargain is not often noticed.  Whereas the pulpit had served as a key link in the chain of memory binding American Protestants to their religious past, by the end of the Civil War few preachers were offering robust religious instruction.


    This legacy is with us today in the narrative preaching style, which according to one historian of the sermon now aims "to achieve a happening rather than an understanding."  It is with us as well in the "seeker-sensitive" megachurches, many of which have decided to stop preaching the basic teachings of the Christian tradition because marketing research has indicated that "seekers" find that kind of thing to be a turnoff.

    Unfortunately Prothero's assessment is accurate.  Calls to shirk doctrine in favor of marketability still ring forth today.  There is a need for doctrinal preaching--robust, sound, biblical, and historically relevant preaching.  This type of communication can be evocative, in that doctrine can be intellectually stimulating and compelling.  It can provoke the imagination and equip the believer to respond creatively in a diversity of challenging situations.  Rather than relying on three (or more) principles or core applications derived from the text, doctrine can serve as a reservoir from which to draw in everyday life.