On Monday afternoon I went down to fetch my mail and I was delighted to see the August edition of Christianity Today at the bottom of the pile. Brushing off the junk mail, I saw that my Mom was on the cover. I already knew she was going to be featured in one of the coming editions but I’ve found there is very little by way of preparation for a moment like this one. It is difficult to describe to you the feeling of seeing the face of the one who bore you on the cover of a magazine. I do not mean this in a pompous way because it is not a feeling of pride. It is a feeling of great sobriety.
During that moment the butterflies in my stomach were akin to the ones fluttering around on the day my Mom spoke during chapel hour when I was a sophomore at Baylor University. Or the evening Mom spoke at Founder’s Week during my first year as a transfer student at Moody Bible Institute. I have, on numerous occasions, watched Mom speak in venues with 20,000+ people and it not even fazed me but these two gatherings were different. The events at Baylor and Moody were composed of a whole bunch of people I knew, people I loved and respected. Mom’s been in a bunch of magazines over the years. But Christianity Today is the one and only Christian magazine I actually read. Although “they” don’t know me from Eve, I feel like I know them. I laugh with them, cry with them, “amen” with them, and I even argue back and forth with them. These folks are supposed to be my friends, right? So this time when I picked up the magazine it was a little bit different. It hit closer to home.
It was a little bit more vulnerable.
You may think that it is the fear of criticism that is so sobering about a moment like this one, yet that is not exactly true. Sure, criticism is tough but far worse is the momentary thought that, for better or worse, I sit as a passive observer while my Mom’s value is being weighed under the critical scrutiny of a bunch of my peers and professors. Please understand what I am saying, even if the responses are exuberant and laudatory in nature, it is the careful scrutiny of a parent that is the rub. It is, of course, also a significant part of the life God has graciously and providentially given to me. And His tenderness never fails me in moments like these.
As I held the magazine in my hand, the daughter in me said, “Proceed with caution. You might get hurt.” But the student in me said, “Come on, Melissa. There are no questions that are off limits. No one is above question, observation, or criticism.” Eventually I mustered the courage, put on my cloak of “objectivity,” and took the plunge.
As I made my way through the first article, I found I could understand or identify with the bulk of it. I saw my Mom represented on the pages in more than just photographs, and whether the words were kind or critical, I found them to be fair. Again, no one is above careful observation because we all err in many ways. We all need each other to get this thing right. Even I, the biased observer, can recognize that much. Christianity Today’s ability to represent a diverse set of viewpoints is the primary reason I read their work in the first place. There are very few voices left out of their articles and conversations and that spirit of diversity contributes, I think, to an overall appreciation of the richness and variety in the church, even if it is mostly the evangelical church that is represented.
So as I finished the last sentence of the first article I took a deep breath. “It’s over and I’m still alive,” I thought.
Just kidding. It really wasn’t all that rough.
But I had yet to read the second article.
As I began to read the second article entitled “First Came the Bible,” some things started to become a bit opaque for me. I do not want to get too pedantic and I certainly do not want to bore you all to tears, so I’ll get to my point. And at this point you’re hoping I have one, right? Wink. What troubled me most about the second article was a paragraph that purports the following (again, this can be found in the August edition of Christianity Today on page 27):
Moore is truly a Bible teacher. Her teaching is rooted in her strong affinity for Scripture. She does not show much interest in theology or tradition, distrusting the way the academy has, at times, handled the Bible. “Godless philosophies have not been my temptation,” Moore comments. “In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture.” Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them, she argues, “Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun (27).
As I began to read through this paragraph, something just did not sit right with me. The first half sounded sort of like Mom but the language was peculiar and the harsh indictment against seminaries took me by surprise. I assumed that if Mom said such a thing about the pride and arrogance of the theological and/or seminary world, she was most likely speaking about me. And frankly, it would have been warranted. I was one single theology class into my education when I began anathematizing every Christian I knew, including my Mom, Dad, Pastor . . . And I could go on. So, in light of my own interests and experience, I began to wonder where these quotes were pulled from and the context in which Mom stated them.
Even though I am intimately acquainted with Mom’s writing and speaking, I still didn’t know where exactly these quotes originated. I came to find that, to the best of my knowledge, the various pieces were pulled from Believing God (the trade book) and Stepping Up (the bible study). The first quote, “Godless philosophies have not been my temptation. In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture,” was pulled from Believing God. Although the quote is fairly clear in isolation, when you read the immediate context carefully, you find that Mom has tempered her claim by statements such as “Thankfully, many churches and Christian institutes of higher learning teach the God of Scripture, but why do so many others default to a lesser-God theology?” and even stronger, “Flawless churches and Christian universities don’t exist because they are full of flawed people just like me.” Should you be interested in reading further please look in and around pages 47-50 of the Believing God book, not the bible study workbook.
I think you will find that Mom is not writing about her hostility toward “the academy” (a term that needs to be clarified in the article itself) but the tendency in all of us to minimize God in our pursuit of the knowledge of Him. Mom presents academic institutions as the most influential place where this minimizing can be found, but very clearly acknowledges that the tendency is not to be limited to the academic world, or even descriptive of the academic world.
The second quote is far more bothersome because it implies that Mom only reluctantly admits that seminaries have any value. After a bit of searching I made my way from Believing God to Stepping Up because of the author’s mention of Psalm 131, a Psalm of Ascent. None of these sources are referenced in this particular paragraph in the article, by the way, which made these “quotes” really *fun* and convenient to track down. Please raise your hand if you think magazines should abide by Turabian! Thank you, nerds of the blogworld. I’m going to quote the second part of the paragraph from the article “First Came the Bible” again:
Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them, she argues, “Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun (27).
First, the way the author has set up the quote is nothing short of misleading. Mom has never said that she believes seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them. Instead, the author has combined snippets of three different portions of text from Stepping Up. When the order has been changed and all three snippets are worded together, they, at the very least, produce an exaggerated claim. At the very worst, they produce a disfigured one.
If you would like to see this clearly for yourself, you can consult Week 5 Day 3 of Stepping Up and make your own conclusions about the way the quotes were construed. For those of you who do not have the workbook, I have also typed a large part of the text myself and included it here so that you can get an idea of what is going on. There are various breaks in the text because I don’t have time to type all of Day 3. I have, however, typed quite a bit of it. I figure the more context I can give you, the better. You can tell where the author of the magazine article is drawing the quote by the text I have in both bold and italics. Week 5 Day 3 is entitled “Things Too Great” and it is a study of Psalm 131, one of the shortest of the Psalms of Ascent: A Song of Ascents, of David. O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. 2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.
I am now going to begin quoting Mom starting from the top of page 131 in Stepping Up:
“Like so many in the Gospels, the metaphors of the psalms came from common scenes and experiences in the daily lives of God’s people.
- Psalm 126 pictured seeds watered by tears turning to sheaves of joy.
- Psalm 127 sketched sons, like arrows in a quiver, defending their father.
- Psalm 128 centered on the family table with moms like fruitful vines and children like olive shoots.
- Psalm 129 drew us the unforgettable picture of plowmen leaving furrows on the backs of the oppressed.
- Psalm 130 painted the image of a night watchman on a city wall.
God drew each metaphor from a common sight seen by a common people. Perhaps no sight was more ordinary than the one etched in Psalm 131, particularly as throngs of Israelites made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. It’s the same common sight I see every time I go shopping: a child in a mother’s arms.
Psalm 131 reminds us the words of God are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun. The words of God are for people who run late to work, hop out of the car, and spill coffee on their crisp, white shirt. It’s for people who run to get their trash to the curb before the garbage truck comes and end up strewing it all over the driveway. It’s for people who need to change the litter box and who realize something green and furry is growing in their fridge. The words of God are for people whose neighbors drive them nuts. And mainly, I suppose, for people who drive themselves nuts. Like me. Maybe like you.
If you’ve concluded that Scripture is for how you do church, teachers like me have failed you. Scripture is for how you do life, whether at home, at work or on a date, at a baby shower, at a funeral, or at church. Scripture is for servicemen defending their nation and for mothers nursing their babies…if they can keep their eyes open. Today we will be wholly preoccupied with the first verse of Psalm 131, and actually, we’ll have to work diligently to limit ourselves to this space.”
[Break in text & some interactive questions]
“The term ‘haughty comes from the word high’ and in the context of eyes it describes people who look down on others. Of course, none of us is going to immediately admit, ‘That’s me!’
We recognize snobbery and pride pretty easily in others and despise nothing more. Somehow when we are the snob, however, the thin air at the altitude where we keep our noses impairs our judgment. The Bible tells us that God abhors pride and probably for no few reasons. Both you and I have had tug-of-wars with God – however ridiculous and futile – that revolved around our pride.”
[Break in text for an interactive question]
“Since I made you answer such an exposing question, I’ll offer a few reasons of my own. I am convinced that my pride over a specific matter was a tremendous contribution to the horrifying sifting season God put me through a few years ago.
I also think God cannot bring the kingdom increase to our harvests that He desires (John 15:7) until our egos decrease.
Finally, I think our pride is a strobe light flashing how ignorant we are about God, despite our lengthy quiet times and in-depth studies. Above all things besides love, humility is the truest sign of intimacy with God. Like little else, a humble spirit says we really do ‘get it.’
Though Psalm 131:1 certainly applies to haughtiness and pride in general, when we consider the congregational aspect of the Psalms of Ascent, I think a tighter interpretation may be what we could call theological pride: arrogance regarding God, His words, or ways.
Stunning arrogance slithers down the halls of many academic institutions of theology. Thankfully, some professors are wise enough to slam their office doors and refuse to let the snake bite them, but they must be overtly intentional to resist a lure as old as the garden.
I wish the problem of theological snobbery only resided at institutions of higher learning, but it doesn’t. Every one of us, until life pummels us into knowing better, is drawn to things that feed our flesh and make us feel smart.
Reflect on the words of Psalm 131 again: I do not get involved with things to great or too difficult for me.” I think this verse could very well refer to times when we get our big heads into matters we know nothing about- times we have the gall to speak for God or explain His actions when a wiser person would have kept their mouth shut. God has a fitting expression for it.”
[Break in text for interactives, etc]
“Obviously God is not saying that we are never to offer possible explanations for the deeper things of Scripture and its divine Author. Furthermore we most assuredly need higher institutions of theology and well-trained professors. And a good debate between them can be tremendously insightful.
So, where’s the line? How do we know when a matter is too great for us? Deuteronomy 29:29 may offer the best example.”
[Break in text for Interactive and several paragraphs]
“Over and over Scripture attests that God can do no wrong. It also blatantly assures us He is sovereign and could stop any ill. How can I make those ends meet? I can’t . . . but God can and one day will. Between His arms that seem at times outstretched in opposite directions, you will find His heart. Out of the ashes of the unfathomable, sooner than later Lazarus-faith must rise from the dead- questions still unanswered- or the Devil has won. Perhaps Anselm, an eleventh-century English monk, voiced an approach that draws today’s lesson to the best conclusion:
I do not seek, O Lord, to penetrate thy depths. I by no means think my intellect equal to them: but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.”
End of quote.
Please note that the chunks of text the author pieces together are not in consecutive order and her summary does not include the necessary qualifications to do honest justice to Mom’s writing. One primary example is that she pulls the phrase, “theological snobbery” from its immediate context where Mom has clearly qualified her statement to encompass not just institutions of higher learning BUT “every one of us.” This is a very real misuse of Mom’s work. Again snippets of quotations from Stepping Up have been combined to create a new meaning, one that Mom herself does not support. Various qualifications that Mom made in the text have been ignored or left out of the article. Another example is the author’s use of the word “despite” to head the sentence. Although the word “despite” is not in quotations (signaling that Mom herself did not say or write it), it is misleading as a header for the entire quote. On the contrary, when Mom wrote, “Furthermore, we most assuredly need higher institutions of theology and well-trained professors. And a good debate between them can be tremendously insightful,” her words are accompanied by an enthusiastic tone, not a reluctant one like the author inserts.
While Mom’s use of biblical and theological scholarship may fail to meet this author’s standard, it does not necessarily follow that Mom’s voice echoes Tertullian’s famous cry: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What communion is there between the academy and the church?” The chasm between Mom’s faith and intellectual inquiry is surely not as wide as this author asserts. If you read the text from Week 5 Day 3 that I recorded above, you might have noticed Mom’s quotation of Anselm at the end: I believe, that I may understand.” Anselm’s maxim is a basic motto in many Christian academic institutions, for it has often been identified as the appropriate bridge between the church and academic inquiry.
I would hardly find it significant enough to mention this misuse of Mom’s work, if I did not also think that it misrepresented Mom’s heart on the matter. Unlike Amanda, I was never interviewed by the folks who wrote these articles. So in brief, I want to say what I would have told them if I had been: Mom has, more than anyone, stimulated my passion for academic study of the Bible. I will never forget the day she called me from Oxford University in England. I could hear her voice breaking over the sea that stood between us as she described to me how inspiring it was to walk on a campus that had been a home to so many great minds. She has been a constant support during my entire theological education- spiritually, emotionally, and financially.
From the semester I first learned about the JEDP theory in my Old Testament class at Baylor, to my transfer to Moody Bible Institute’s Bible department and even on through my days as a little metaphorical P.O.W. in the Biblical Exegesis Program at Wheaton Graduate School. When I hadn’t slept forty eight hours straight because I was up late writing yet another exegesis paper or reading Calvin’s Institutes, she reminded me why I was going to school in the first place- in her words, “ to get your feet planted firmly on the ground (biblically & theologically), with your hands raised straight up in the air.” She was also the one who taught me my first great piece of hermeneutical advice, “If you’re completely alone in your interpretation of a certain verse, then you’re most likely wrong.” Apparently her mentor, Buddy Walters, had passed that one down. I’ve never forgotten it all these years. Even more stunning and meaningful to me has been Mom’s love and support for me over this past year when I completed a Th.M. in New Testament at a PCUSA seminary that assumes a completely different doctrine of Scripture than she does. She has been my primary dialogue partner in this quest and brave enough to support me in my theological journey even when it has gone beyond her own theological comfort zone. Now, Mom is certainly not an academic in the technical sense, but equally true is that she is no mocker or skeptic of the academic world. Mom not only rests on the work of many academics in her research, but she goes to great lengths to express her great indebtedness to them along the way. Academics who spend each day in the pedantic little details of exegetical methodology and at the same time love God with all their hearts are Mom’s heroes.
Well, as you can imagine I called Mom to speak with her about the article as soon as I closed the final page. I said, “So what did you think?” She replied, “They were kinder than they had to be. And I learned a lot.” I said, “You learned a lot? Seriously?” Apparently she learned a lot. Now that is just vintage Mom. I told her that although I was moved by her humility, I was also troubled by this little paragraph in the second article. While, I too, think being teachable is a virtue, I also wonder if there is not an appropriate time to express some concern about what may appear to be a misunderstanding of Mom’s work. Only once someone is properly understood should he or she be criticized.
It seems to me that for the most part using criticism constructively would imply that the criticism is legitimate and in this particular case, I do not think it is. Even if I got this all wrong and Mom very coincidentally said these exact words in another work or speaking engagement, I would not find them to be warranted in a discussion of the four fundamental themes that are threaded throughout all of Mom’s writing. The reason I felt burdened to write this blog for you is that I think you deserve to know that Mom, and so also Living Proof Ministries, tremendously respects and makes regular use of trustworthy biblical scholarship. Now, I, would argue until my dying breath precisely what Mom said about Scripture being for everyday living and not primarily for the academic world. But does that undermine my passion for biblical and theological scholarship? I don’t think it does.
We love you and esteem you enough to carefully walk through something that could be confusing.