Reading Again for the First Time

By Mark A. Taylor

“Do professors have to be boring?” Dan Ariely’s answer to the college student who asked that question offers insight for Christians as well as academics. I can imagine a secular neighbor or friend asking, “Do Christians have to be ‘churchy’?”

Jan7_MT_JNThe student’s problem, posed to the Wall Street Journal advice columnist, was this: He had recently attended a lecture by a well-known professor and “was amazed and baffled” by the teacher’s inability to communicate even basic concepts in a compelling and understandable way. The student’s question, which got me to thinking about lifetime Christians like me: “How can experts be so bad at explaining ideas to others?”

Ariely’s answer was that experts have studied what they know for so long that they forget what it was like to approach the subject for the first time. “When we know something and know it well, it is hard for us to appreciate what other people understand. This problem is sometimes called ‘the curse of knowledge.’”

And so it is that many of us Christians have known the gospel story for so long that we take for granted its miracles and marvels. We’ve forgotten the lump in the throat and the quickening heartbeat that accompanied our first response to Christ. We no longer remember the constricting fear we felt before we learned how to find forgiveness for our failures. We’ve settled into the routine and respectability of our weekly church practices and have become isolated from the desperation or cynicism below the surface in many of our friends’ lives.

And we may not realize how little non-Christians know or understand about the biblical record. I think of my mother’s friend who asked her, “Have you read those stories in the Bible? Wow, if even half that stuff is true, that’s really something!” Or my next-door neighbor who said she always got confused trying to explain Christian holidays to her Buddhist Japanese husband. Her question: “Is Easter when you celebrate the birth or the death of Jesus?”

If you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution, here’s one to try on for size: In your Bible reading this year, try to imagine you’re encountering each text for the very first time. What does it tell you about the God who inspired it? What does it offer and what does it demand of those who read it? What could it mean to the problems and questions common to everyone, especially those, unlike you, who have never encountered its truth before?

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