Twenty years ago when I learned to drive I had to face the dreaded UK driving test. Nowadays there are two tests: the practical test that I took, and the theory test. Ron is in the midst of all this as he needs to get his UK driving licence to be able to continue to drive here.
With all this fresh in the mind, Ron made the simple observation during a Cor Deo session last week that there is no theory test in the Bible. We are people, trained by our western philosophical heritage to assume there must be a mind and categories approach to life. But the Bible presents life only in terms of the practical, the participatory, the engaged test of living out real life.
I remember wrestling with the historical context of Romans for my MA thesis. So many have viewed Romans as being essentially a “generic” presentation of the gospel: that Romans is what Paul was typically preaching everywhere, rather than targeting his message to the specifics of the church situation in Rome. I ended up strongly affirming the opposite, that to suggest Paul was unaware of issues in the Roman church because he hadn’t been there yet was about as likely as us being blissfully unaware of what’s going on in government because we haven’t sat in the public gallery recently.
Anyway, I remember quoting one scholar who rejected the idea that Romans was a generic treatise on the gospel. He made the point that for Paul there was no such thing as the gospel in a vacuum. Paul nowhere expounds abstract theology, but only the gospel as applied in concrete exhortation. No theory test in the Bible, only the practical.
If asked, I’m sure we all would agree that life is not really about knowledge as abstract theology, ability to answer Bible trivia questions, etc. This mental categories approach is one that we have imbibed through our educational system.
So what are we to make of passages like the start of Titus where Paul writes of “the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness”? Perhaps we need to shake ourselves free of our pre-commitment to knowledge as categories filled with abstract information. Perhaps we need to think instead in terms of living life as our response “in concrete” to the Word of One whom we know personally.
Our great privilege, as believers, is not to have received information that we might know things. We have received revelation that we might know God. That kind of knowing should lead to a devoted piety to three persons. That reality is lived out every day in the practical test of life.
There’s no need for a theory test, after all, because who we know shows in how we live.