May 9, 2007

Simple Concepts, Explained Simply

2007 1513 page30 capou never know how little you know about a subject than when you are asked to explain it to someone who knows even less than you do.
A few months ago I was chatting with a friend about religion and pop culture. We were on The Da Vinci Code, the Gospel of Judas, and other Gnostic works when my friend asked, “So, what is Gnosticism?”
I had just been in a class that spent three or four class periods on the topic; so by all accounts I should have at least been able to give a “Gnosticism for Dummies” account of the subject. But whether because of my professor’s disorganization, my lack of concentration, or most likely a combination of both, I couldn’t explain it for the life of me.
Since then I am happy to report that I have done some study and can give a person a working knowledge of Gnosticism. But recently I was posed with another challenge—a more orthodox one. It really stretched my brain and revealed how little I knew about our fundamental beliefs—28 of them to be precise.
2007 1513 page30Last October Pacific Press asked me to write The 28 Fundamentals for Teens, a book that would explain, in an engaging way, Adventist beliefs to teenagers. At first I was given 500 words for each belief, which was daunting. How does one explain doctrines such as the Sanctuary in a page or two? Mercifully the word count for each chapter was lengthened, but I had a deadline of Christmas, two months to write this book. And while I believed I could do this by God’s grace, I didn’t realize just how challenging it would be.
Many of us sit in evangelistic meetings and affirm our doctrines as if we have totally internalized them and understand them just by virtue of having “heard them before.” However, there is no better way to see just how much we know of Bible doctrines than to see how easily we can explain them to a child or a teen.
Tackling the Trinity, summarizing the heavenly sanctuary, and reporting on the remnant in language young people can understand without watering down the concepts was a tremendous spiritual exercise. Frequently I discovered I didn’t know things as well as I thought. There were holes in my understanding. And when the project ended—mercifully—I came to the conclusion that unless we Seventh-day Adventist Christians can articulate what we believe in ideas, stories, and concepts so that the simplest minds can grasp eternal truth, we do not understand them well enough to be able to claim that we believe them.
So my challenge is to peruse the beliefs you claim to hold, and either write out your beliefs in a concise manner that a child could understand, or volunteer in one of the children/youth divisions of Sabbath school in your church and attempt to teach a doctrine using stories and concepts they will find interesting and engaging. That’s what Jesus did, and what He has commissioned us to do: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:19, RSV).*
In addition, the Bible talks about making things simple and clear. “And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it’” (Hab. 2:2, RSV). Our beliefs are not meant to be confusing or so weighty with theological language that they drag us down. We should be able to run with them and take them to people who haven’t heard the good news.
You may never be asked to explain Gnosticism, but you will have to give an account of your faith to be a faithful Christian. Even if you are not asked about your faith; you are asked to tell about it. While you probably won’t be faulted for not being able to explain strange heresies, I imagine there will be ramifications for not being able to explain the truth.
*Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version
of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Angela, live in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He is the author of Pride and Seek, published by the Review and Herald® Publishing Association.