From the time a child enters school when they are five or six years old to the time they finish twelve to twenty years later, they will be issued dozens if not hundreds of text books for the subjects they will study. In first grade, they will be given first grade level text books. In second grade, they will be issued second grade level books, and so on, as they progress from one level of understanding to the next, until the day they walk across the stage for the last time. Fortunately, these textbooks are provided each year as needed and not issued all at once on the day they first enter school. If that were the case, they would probably need something much bigger than their little red wagon to carry all of those books around.
As Christians, we have only one textbook. One. But just as a school’s text books can provide a wealth of knowledge and understanding through a progression of information, our one textbook can do the same for every conceivable subject under the sun. And though it was written thousands of years ago, it can provide the answers to subjects and issues not yet considered. When allowed to seek each generation’s intended trajectory through a thoughtful and thought provoking evaluation of each culture’s ways and means, its writings truly comprise the most fascinating and effective collection of material ever written.
Like any other discipline or field of study, that certainly doesn’t mean that everyone will learn the material at the same level or speed. In fact, centuries ago, differences in theology and doctrine seemed to originate from dissimilar levels of understanding of the same passages, rather than merely from differences of opinion. In this Internet generation, these interpretations are now scrutinized from all directions, and anything that will not pass intellectual muster is marginalized and dismissed. Unlike previous generations that catatonically followed in the footsteps of their family’s religious choices, millennials are not slaves to the religious traditions of their parents and grandparents. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as spiritual; in fact, they are probably more so. It just means that they won’t blindly follow religious teachings in directions contrary to intellectual analysis. In effect, millennials aren’t running away from God’s Word; they are running away from the way it is taught.
One example of this would be the pyramids in Egypt. Comparing the chronological data from Egyptian records and biblical information, the pyramids would have been built about 300-400 years before the flood that was supposed to have eradicated life on earth, not counting the centuries it would have taken to learn how to build them. And where did Moses acquire such linguistic skills for writings more indigenous to much later times, when his Egyptian training would have likely been limited to hieroglyphs? And who of these former slaves could have actually read it? And is neuroscience wrong to assume that temptation is due to misplaced neurons, making Satan just a teaching mnemonic?
We shouldn’t wait until the world ridicules the church’s teachings before confronting these issues; that is the role of the church. When we send kids to college unprepared for these types of questions, theologically they end up with dunce hats on their heads, because these things have never been explained to them. It’s not that these are hard questions to answer. It just means we have to unlearn the things we were taught for any exploration of Scripture to uncover new treasures.
Imagine that Albert Einstein was going to teach a group of quantum physics students, ranging in age from six to twenty-six. On a given day, Einstein would present twelve one-hour lessons to students grouped by age, so that he could teach each group at their particular level of understanding and aptitude. The first hour’s lesson would be to first and second graders while the lesson the second hour would be presented to third and fourth graders. This would continue throughout the day, so the last lesson would be presented at the college level to graduate students seeking their doctorate degrees. Imagine how different the first and last lessons would be from each other. Now imagine the transcripts of these twelve different presentations are published, for all to read. Which of these twelve books would actually be considered “Quantum Physics”? All of them. That is because they all cover the same subject, just at different levels.
Jesus, Himself, even chided his followers for not progressing in their ancestors’ teachings. In the Law, the Jews were told not to kill, but Jesus told them they should have progressed in their understanding of the Law, so that behavior control would be a precursor to the control of one’s spirit. The result: not hating. And it shouldn’t take a genius for anyone who has ever worn a wedding ring to understand why lust might eventually lead to adultery, based on the same reasoning. Cause and effect: progressions of understanding.
Discerning ancient writings related to what the author intended his audience to take literally or to take figuratively seems to also define the separation between milk content and meat content. The most important means of making that distinction always begins with the context of the writings themselves. Who wrote it? What motivated the author to write what he wrote? What was his intended outcome for writing it? Who was it written to? What was their education level? What was their religious background? Etc.
By pulling the camera back, the whole of Scripture can be seen against the backdrop of each generation’s paradigm. For example, although Luke may have been a doctor who included his limited understanding of biology in his writings, he could not have possibly anticipated everything science and medicine would have learned during the next two thousand years, related to heart and mind, addiction and temptation. Nor does that include how archaeology, thereafter, discovered the existence of dinosaurs or how the Wright brothers taught mankind how to overcome gravity, ultimately exposing dimensions of God not fathomable in ancient times.
That said, it was not the responsibility of the inspired writers to connect the dots; as Bible students, that is our job, as we carry out the hunt for God’s treasure. If someone thinks Moses’ description of the Garden of Eden about a talking serpent and trees with names resembles a Saturday morning cartoon, and is, therefore, metaphoric, while another person assigns the same literary device to John’s Revelation letter of encouragement to the troops back home, why should that matter to someone who doesn’t? Or vice versa?
Since the ultimate goal should be to develop a strong and resilient faith, it doesn’t actually matter how a person gets there. However, generations of Christians who were indoctrinated into their faith while not being allowed to question their teachings, should not expect college students and millennials of this Internet generation to fall prey to the same tactics. By the same token, millennials should not expect everyone to buy into their own way of interpreting the Bible, either. After all, unity of spirit is not dependent on unity of thought. Being on the same team means everyone being focused on achieving the ultimate goal of living the love of Jesus, rather than worrying about how everyone arrived at that conclusion.