Monday, May 21, 2012

What Star Trek’s Borg Can Teach Christians about Bible Comprehension

The Borg? Yes, the Borg. The Borg and Bible comprehension? Yes, the Borg and Bible comprehension. Let me get to the illustration and then the point (and for those of you who have no idea regarding Star Trek matters, shame on you ). In an episode of Star Trek Voyager (the one with the female Captain, Janeway) a crew member named Seven of Nine, often simply called Seven, who was part of the Borg collective but now rehabilitated into much of her former self and a member of the Voyager crew, decided to download all of the ship’s data into her “core” (located in her brain and part of the few but essential cybernetic implants which could not be removed during her rehabilitation and remain permanent parts of her body).

The result of this massive download into Seven’s core was Seven formulating and concluding a series of conspiracy theories based on all of this new data in which several key senior officers were suspected of nefarious motives and activities in which Seven, believing these to be indisputable, took action, extreme action, to stop the conspiracies from taking place. Some of her theories contradicted other ones but none of this seemed to be a source of disturbance for Seven. In the end Seven of Nine was able to be reasoned with by the Captain and recognized her obsessive reaction. The episode's ending scene has Seven interacting with an adolescent on the ship named Naomi Wildman whom Seven mentors from time to time. Naomi enters Seven’s personal quarters (which is actually a storage bay) where an “Alcove” is set up for Seven to step into and regenerate her core (the thing in her brain) which is a requirement of the cybernetic device, not to mention Seven’s ability to function. So here is the dialog and then an observation/application for readers:

Naomi (speaking to Seven): “Guess who assimilated 3 books and 10 reports in 2 days?”

Seven (replying matter of factly in with mild animation): “Naomi Wildman.”

Naomi: “That’s correct”

Naomi: “Are you taking your new Alcove apart?”

Seven: “Yes.”

Naomi: “Why?”

Seven: “My attempt to download Voyager’s database failed.”

Naomi: “Maybe you can fix it.”

Seven: “The alcove functioned within expected parameters. Unfortunately I did not. Three books and ten reports is impressive but quantity is less relevant than quality. You must be able to interpret the data, and enjoy the process.”

The Damage of Information without Interpretation

When we approach the Word of God we should never be in a hurry nor should it be a contest but often this is how it is handled, particularly with Bible reading. We are like Seven or Naomi who came away impressed with the quantification of the data that was reviewed or stored in a way that might appear impressive. We, like them, can be fooled with quantified measures of bible engagement. The problem? The problem is whether we learned anything properly or not.

Imagine giving your forth grade son or daughter a math book and telling them to read a chapter a day. At the end of one year he or she might be all the way through that book as well as many more books all the way to advanced calculus, but have they learned anything? Probably not much because math must be taught by a master of the subject and its basic principles must be learned and then mastered by the student and this entails repetition and very modest progress. And so even if they read all these books fifty times, they still would not understand much of what it was they should understand because it has not been taught to them.

But suppose they do pick up some of these intermediate and advanced concepts, at least in some part, form or fashion. What is the problem now? Clearly they will be tempted to engage with this partially understood mathematics. The result will be wrong answers which, itself, will result in frustration for the student. They have data but cannot fully interpret it.

And this is true of anything. As children watch their parents drive a car at somewhere around ages five to seven years old, they imagine that its operation is not that difficult since they have learned to ride a bike and the fundamentals appear quite similar with a car. And in truth, they recognize correctly that steering is fundamentally the same. However, it is the data right before their very eyes which they are not able to interpret which leads to their faulty conclusion that it is very likely that they can, indeed, appropriately operate an automobile. They simply do not recognize the other elements of operating an automobile that are quite unlike riding a bike because they “must be able to interpret all the data” and they cannot at this point.

Theological Development

The best and most modeled way of learning God’s Word is to be taught it by one who has mastered it. This is not phenomenal but normal for any subject. What is phenomenal, of course, is the enlightenment of God’s Spirit and those gifted to teach at various levels. But even the most basic of doctrines can and should be taught by those who have mastered it to students who are learning. However,  this will never occur if you are in a hurry or if you skip elementary levels.

When I meet charismatics or their sympathizers I am always amazed of how consistently they are like Seven from Voyager. They have data but cannot interpret it correctly. They have amassed information but have failed to understand its correlation. However, it is not only charismatics, it is far beyond them and well into much of Evangelicalism, conservative and of course liberal brands.

When we develop our theological understanding it must be done interpretively. That is, when we come across a passage or a concept we must understand it properly and thoroughly. We cannot jump to conclusions because something “seems” one way or the other. This is precisely where charismatics come from in their theology about the temporary spiritual gifts. They see data reflecting its existence at some point in time but are ignorant of its interpretation.

Unlike Seven who, in a television script, could be reasoned with charismatics have gone to great lengths to prop up their conspiracy theology of these temporary gifts still operating. That is, in the face of practical realities (like the fact that temporary gifts and their operation in the Gospels or Acts cannot be found existing anywhere though the permanent gifts can be found operating just as they were from the beginning, but don’t let that bother a good old charismatic) and theological failures (their arguments being based on lesser texts and imprecise exegesis or texts which are not determinative) they aren’t interested in seeing the error of their way. So they persist in the conspiracy theology.

But again, and even beyond the charismatics, Evangelicalism is filled with Teachers and students who have missed many elementary and intermediate doctrines as they attempt to address nuanced and sophisticated topics. I read the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) blog now and then and place comments there. I am astonished to discover the high degree of topics being written about and discussed by men who are blatantly ignorant of some essential elementary and intermediate mastery before they should speak on certain topics.

One recent topic was on immigration. The writer had the impression that the directive in Leviticus to the Theocracy of Israel on how to treat an alien, sojourner or as was creatively translated, illegal-immigrant, was now applicable to Christians in the United States. The display of ignorance regarding the distinction between contexts and then the inability to recognize, even a principled application, was stunning. But even more eye-popping was the celebration of this ignorance by others. This person has biblical data but is unable to interpret it.

What about You?

Never mind the charismatics and their error, what about you? Are you taking the time to be sure you have interpreted the data correctly? Are you open to even being corrected? Did you race far ahead trying to master theological trigonometry before you mastered theological fractions? Is this possibly why you lose in debating exercises so often and are reduced to philosophical and moralizing arguments?

Maybe you have been busy quantifying instead of qualifying. The Word of God is a life-long process and then an eternal one on the other side. When someone tells you they have read the entire Bible fifty times that is good, I suppose. But then ask them how many times they have interpreted the entire Bible and you might have a better understanding as to the point of this principle.

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