The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?* Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
–Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard
*No, I am not actually decrying Christian scholarship. I’ve entertained the idea of further Biblical studies myself. But even that thought strikes a certain holy fear within me, a fear that papers and studies and lectures could become an intellectual routine that places a damper on the fire of the Spirit in my heart. (This reminds me of Sheldon Vanauken’s suspicion that the Yale scholars with whom he studied were people who “forget in a world of grey stone and parchment that stars shine on a tree in the quad, that the poem sings.”)
But how long would I need to partake in Christian scholarship before I finally reach the conclusion that Jesus is calling me to live a life very different from the one I now lead? That his definitions of comfort, safety, and success are very different from mine? Maybe I don’t need another master’s degree. Maybe I need to be a little more literal.