Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Is Faith Without Study?

A central component of Judaism is Talmud Torah (Bible study). As Joshua 1:8 states:

This book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth; you shall meditate therein day and night, in order that you observe to do all that is written in it, for then will you succeed in all your ways and then will you prosper.

The Book of Psalms similarly begins:

Praiseworthy is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked, and stood not in the path of the sinful, and sat not in the session of scorners. But his desire is in the Torah of the Lord, and in his Torah he meditates day and night.

There is an extremely practical dimension to these teachings. As Moshe Rabbeinu instructs Israel in Deuteronomy 32:46-47:

Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life...

If we do not study the words of the Almighty, how can we fulfill the will of the Almighty? How can we cultivate the midot (character traits) Biblically commanded of us if we do not immerse ourselves in the Bible on a daily basis? (Such immersion can take several forms including reading Tanakh, listening to shiurim, studying the Mishneh Torah, Chovot HaLevavot, etc.) As Rav David Bar-Hayim notes:

"The purpose of the Torah is not only that one know it but that it be internalized. In order for it to be has to be constantly dealing with it and learning it anew, even things that one has already learned."

Thus, just as Talmud Torah is a commandment, Jews are to avoid bitul Torah (wasting time from Torah study). For example, getting drunk at a bar and watching MMA fights doesn't exemplify a Judaic lifestyle.

In America today, religion is often about personal sentiment and preference instead of doctrine and obedience. The preacher Paul Washer has stated in this vein:
  • "When you take a look at American Christianity, it is based more upon a godless culture than it is upon the word of God."
  • "Most of our Christianity is based on cliches that we read on the back of Christian t-shirts. Most of our Christianity comes from songwriters and not the Bible. Most of what we believe to be true is dictated to us by our culture and not the Bible."
  • "What happened to our theology? What happened to our doctrine? What happened to our teaching? It went right out the window. No one wants to study doctrine anymore. They just want to listen to songs and read the back of Christian t-shirts."
These remarks are at 8:50, 22:00, and 38:25 of this link. Having spent ten years as a missionary in Peru and other countries like Nigeria where affirming Christianity can jeopardize one's life, Washer has earned his outrage. Theologian R.C. Sproul and author Stephen Mansfield similarly observe regarding contemporary American evangelical Christianity (at 9:10 and 9:55 of this link):
  • "We tell people they don't need to repent because God loves them just the way they are. And the only reason to come to Jesus is to have greater peace or greater happiness or a better 'trip' than they'll get from drugs. That's not the Gospel at all."
  • "The standard evangelistic approach is to tell non-believers, 'God loves you just the way you are.'...We've got to get rid of that kind of humanistic nonsense."
Perhaps anticipating such trends, George Orwell wrote in his 1935 novel A Clergyman's Daughter about one of the ways an English clergyman could keep his congregation:

" daringly modern and broad-minded and preach comforting sermons proving that there is no Hell and all good religions are the same."

Related to this Biblically alienated approach, in a sermon on 1 Timothy 4:6 Washer addresses what he considers the deficient state of Bible study among American Christians. He states regarding Christian leadership and laity:
  • "The word of God is the only thing we have. You cannot lead your family, sir; you cannot do it apart from being constantly nourished on the words of the faith...You cannot be godly, you cannot be an instrument of God, you cannot grow. It is an absolute essential, but it is the very thing that we do not do."
  • "So many Christians struggle and suffer in so many areas of their life because of ignorance of God's word, direct disobedience to God's will. And it seems as though they're not even aware of it."
It's not hard to discern if someone's profession of faith is meaningful, because they tend to behave in certain ways. Consider three Christian verses:
  • "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." (James 1:26)
  • "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11)
  • "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Someone who has studied these verses and internalized these verses probably won't talk about idle or immoral matters. He probably won't have a bumper sticker that says, "Not perfect, just forgiven." He probably won't talk about enabling two abortions for an ex-girlfriend in his youth and then say, "But Jesus forgave me for that." (The final example is something a Christian once told me.) In short, having taken to heart the ethics of his faith, he will act accordingly.

Likewise, a Jew who has taken Torah ethics to heart won't be a chatterbox (Proverbs 10:19), lust after wealth (Proverbs 23:4-5), boast about the future (Proverbs 27:1), or go shopping on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). But these ethics can't be taken to heart if one doesn't know them to begin with.

Alienation from scripture spawns all kinds of incoherence and arrogance. Daily, intense Biblical engagement promotes reason, humility, and adherence. For those who call themselves believers, the choice should be simple.