A Curious Statement
August 11, 2015
I was eager to read G.K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd’s latest book, Hidden But Now Revealed, this summer. And I was not disappointed. Reading this book helped me to learn more about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. By a thorough study of the use of the word mystery in the Bible, the authors teach both the continuity and discontinuity of the Old Testament in the New---what was hidden, but is now revealed.
But I would like to talk about a different mystery. There was a statement made in the introduction about the target audience for this book that I found perplexing. Of course, it is good to clearly state who the book is intended for. And the looks of this book can be a bit intimidating. It is close to 400 pages and it’s written by a couple of professors. So is this a book aimed at seminary students? Not exactly. The authors tell us, “This project is intended for students, scholars, pastors and laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures” (26).
That statement made me pause. Well, it was the last part about laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures that made me pause. Shouldn’t all laypeople seriously engage the Scriptures? Isn’t that both the delight and duty of the Christian?
And yet, I don’t blame the authors for making this distinction. Given the market of so-called Christian books, this qualification needs stating. And let me be clear that Beale and Gladd do not mean that they have written an academic book that a small percentage of sharp and conditioned laypeople may have the fitness to read. In the same paragraph they explain that they have been carefully purposeful in the organization of this book to make it more accessible to the layperson. I can affirm that they are successful in their mission.
One reason for making a statement like that about the readership is that Beale and Gladd are dealing with texts in Scripture that have perplexed many able scholars. But as a layperson, that makes me even more eager to want to learn from those who have been equipped to teach on these complex themes in Scripture. After all, the Holy Spirit included it in the Word of God for a reason.
When I hear a statement like “This project is intended for…laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures,” it gets to me like the “You must be at least this tall to ride this ride” sign. Sure, brand new Christians have a lot to learn, and it will take some growing in the basic doctrines of the faith, a routine of reading through the Scriptures, and sustained membership in the covenant community of faith before they grow tall enough to reach the line where they can ride some of the loop-the-loops. I get that. But a growing child anticipates that great day when they can reach the line to ride. The sign gets to them. It is their goal.
This statement made me think about how the genre targeted for a popular reading audience has perpetuated theological weaklings. And I say that as someone who has written two popular level Christian books. They are meant to be targeted to laypeople who are interested in further biblical teaching on different topics. I take that very seriously. Popular level books should help us to grow. They should challenge us.
And yet there is a large percentage of books targeted at a popular level that are equivalent to the Tea Cup Ride in Disneyworld. You don’t even need to remove your binky to get on, and everyone screams with delight as if they are on a thrilling ride. It’s actually called the Mad Tea Cup Ride, which is fitting to my analogy, because the vast majority of popular level Christian books are filled with disturbing interpretations of Scripture. And yet they are so pretty and whimsical, many consumers are tricked into thinking they are reading something important. Popular level books should help build theological muscles and help us grow strong in the faith, not stick a binky in us while letting us go on believing that the dream we wish will come true.
Laypeople are students of the Word. We should all seriously engage the Scriptures. Maybe we aren’t all tall enough to ride some of the more mature books yet, but that should be our goal. After all, the Bible is not watered down for the toddlers.
Reading Hidden But Now Revealed made me a better student of Scripture. But it also inadvertently revealed a mystery about popular level books to me. They should be helping us grow. But too many are doing the opposite; they are stunting the growth of Christians. Even worse, many of these books are deceiving people into thinking they are in the faith while they are teaching a different gospel. For that reason, I am thankful for the faithful publishers and authors who have helped me grow enough to ride the rides.