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So What?

Posted: 26/11/14

A number of Ridley faculty and tutors attended the Evangelical Theological Society and Society of Biblical Literature Conferences. While there, Andrew Malone had an encounter that reminded him to ask ‘so what?’

Think NASA. Think Boeing. Eleven Ridley teachers are just checking out of a major international conference in San Diego, and we’ve been hosted in a massive, kilometre-long convention centre that’s nestled among the 30-storey towers of the Hilton and Marriott and Hyatt hotels and that puts aircraft hangers to shame (pictures and stats at visitsandiego.com/facility). Like every other meal, last night the NASA-Boeing galleries disgorged 15,000 delegates to plunder the adjacent restaurant quarter.

It was at a terribly clichéd-sounding corner – Fifth Ave and E St – that a colleague and I met Amy. Walking her dogs, she stopped us to ask probing questions about the conference and its attendees. The conversation ran for half an hour, but her persistent question was incredibly simple. ‘If these people are here to study the Bible and discuss Jesus, why have they all streamed past the array of homeless people on every street?’

We could offer a number of safe answers. Not everyone at this conference is studying the Bible from religious convictions, and not everyone debating religion here shares the Christian worldview. But safe answers cover only a proportion of people claiming interest in Jesus. All too many Christians known to us and to Amy are simply lazy or selfish when it comes to putting theory into practice.

In many of the classes I teach, I want to ensure that we reach the ‘so what?’ application. What does it matter if Genesis outlines six 24-hour days or otherwise? What difference might it make if the Greek phrase before us is a subjective genitive or objective genitive? Why does it matter if Hebrews or 1 Peter was written to an Hebraic or Hellenistic readership? There are answers to these questions, but we have to make sure that we don’t get bogged down in academic minutiae as an end in itself.

With Amy, we could give the safe answers. And we could apologise for the state of God’s church. Perhaps most importantly, we could feel again the weight of the responsibilities that Christian teachers and leaders ought to feel. It’s our job to ensure that the members of God’s church for whom we’re responsible (and we ourselves) are adept and conscientious at asking ‘so what?’ and putting the theory into practice. Yes, we need to know how to distinguish Greek genitives and to rightly interpret Genesis and Hebrews. And we also need to know why and how to share Jesus’ compassion with a sin-laden society that’s made in God’s image, a compassion that quells physical hunger as readily as it strives to furnish spiritual nourishment. And we need to get on with it.

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