Don’t Be Stupid, Be Simple

Sometimes, in ministry, you think, “I wish someone had told me about this when I was studying to be a pastor!”

Sometimes, you remember that someone did. You just didn’t listen very well.

That’s happened to me a number of times in my nearly 4 years as a pastor, but recently it’s happened with the topic of simplicity.

Back when I was at Bible College, one of my lecturers used the phrase “find the simplicity on the other side of complexity,” in regards to preaching. It sounded good at the time. The trouble is, it’s taken a while to really sink in. And not just when it comes to preaching, either.

Studying theology can be an intoxicating experience for a certain kind of personality. It is, in fact, a wonderful thing; learning about biblical interpretation, trying on different sets of systematic clothes, developing a growing understanding that there’s a lot of tension and mystery in our faith. Some people find that difficult and withdraw into a hardened fundamentalism (ah, I still remember that person in my Revelation class…) but most, I think, emerge with a broader, deeper understanding of their faith.

I believe that makes theological training essential for ministry, and I reckon it’s sad that some Christians are suspicious of it. In my opinion the pros so far outweigh any potential cons, that there’s nothing I’d have rather spent the time studying than theology.

I just wanted to be clear about that, in order to put this in context: I have noticed – mostly in myself but also once or twice in others – a tendency to get caught in the spiral of complexity to such an extent that we struggle to emerge at the simplicity on the other side. The excitement of discovering new things can sometimes lead to an obsession with novelty, and at its most ugly, a desire to poke and prod more un-studied Christians with provocative interpretations of the bible.

We become theological know-it-all’s, but in reality we’re very little use to anyone except as debate partners for other theological know-it-all’s.

My worst moments as a preacher have been when I went too far down the path of novelty… when I pursued interpretations that you couldn’t discover without reading some obscure progressive theologian, and when I didn’t – in the words of my preaching teacher – leave people feeling that the bible was their book, not the book of people with theological degrees.

So, over the last few months I’ve been trying to rediscover – not just in my preaching but in my relationship with God – a simpler faith. Not a stupid faith. Not one that’s intentionally uninformed, or suspicious of the academic. Instead, a faith that takes in all the angles, does the hard work, but arrives at something more trusting and childlike.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Be Stupid, Be Simple

  1. Interesting reflection Rhett. I wonder though: What does this mean when it comes to some important topics that require a stage of cognitive dissonance? For example, I think the debate / discussion that is important at the moment (in my opinion) is that of hermeneutics (inerrancy / infallibility etc). However how do you find the simplicity on the other side when the complexity scares people?

    I’m all for letting people feel that it’s their book too – I just wish they understood the origins of their book and let it speak on it’s own terms. How do you make something so meta, simple?

    If this comment doesn’t make sense, it’s cos it’s pre 9am and my coffee is only half drunk

  2. I wish more pastors took a view of taking their people “through complexity to the simple” – if every Christian can’t attend bible college then this is a good second best in my opinion

  3. Thanks Brook. There are definitely some tensions there, as you mention, and I ask some of those questions myself. I’m not sure of all the answers.

    I suppose one place where this tension has played out for me is on the topic of suffering. In the past, if someone asked me if God caused/allowed their suffering (and I have been asked this), my response would have much more clearly articulated a system that tried to “solve” the problem.

    Now, I’m more inclined to say “I don’t know,” and instead to focus on the fact that even in that, we can trust God. So, advocating trust in place of a complex system.

    But I agree that there are complex things out there which it can help to be aware of. Plus, I WANT people to be growing in their faith and of course that included growing in knowledge and understanding. So it’s a balancing act. What I was trying to reflect on in my post was that I’ve probably fallen on the wrong side of that balance quite often.

  4. Hi Rhett, It sounds like you had the same preaching lecturer I did! Its nice to see you here again, and with such a good topic, too. I think this one gets more important as I get older. I have found that the process is one of sifting and weighing the various components that make a topic complex, such that over time what is really important comes to the fore and the secondary issues fall into the background. I concluded some time ago that what we do know is far more important than what we do not know. God, in his grace, has given us enough revelation, or sufficient.

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