Dumbing down - February 16th 2020
One of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century was Karl Barth. He wrote a series of books called Church Dogmatics. They are unquestionably brilliant expositions on the Trinity, the Bible and Lord knows what. One of his students once asked him if he could sum up what was most important thing he had discovered in his life’s work. Karl Barth replied in the words of a song his mother taught him: Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so.
Now you might think that is dumbing down. Or is it just getting to the heart of the matter? This is dumbing down! is one of the accusations I have had to fend off throughout my ministry, as people throw their hands in the air at simple messages in family services, or hymns that were written after 1850. Now, with the Methodist Report on Marriages and Relationships, the same accusation comes out: we are reducing standards, and settling for lower moral, and ‘unbiblical standards’.
I have always found encouragement in that the same accusations were levelled at Jesus. Why do your disciples do this? Why does Jesus eat with those people? And on the Sabbath day! The Pharisees were excellent people, and wonderful guardians of public morality, and their standards were beyond reproach. There was just one problem. They were reducing the law to rules and regulations and they had forgotten what was at the heart of it: love. And they needed saving from that as much as any sinner they despised.
Jesus did not call people to be good. He asked them to love. He loved those that didn’t tick the right boxes in some people’s eyes. He stopped people in their tracks: You have heard it said… but I say to you… He also made people look at the things that stopped them loving. And he loved people to death - quite literally.
Maybe that is dumbing down. It’s not for me to judge. But I suspect Karl Barth would not think so. Neither would his Mum for that matter.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother or my sister, it’s me O Lord standing in the need of prayer.
Lord forgive me when I have dumbed down your love and settled for less. Amen.