I first attended the local men’s theology meeting last summer because I like to watch the minds of preachers work. I like to observe while they open the Bible and ponder hard how its principles trail into a hundred complex, everyday, pastoral applications. The pastors told me I could come, despite my sex, if I brought brownies and didn’t speak. They meant that in jest, of course. I liked the meeting so much I come back every chance I get.
The time these men spend in the carpeted Sunday school room of an empty church on Thursday mornings becomes sweeter because of its scarcity in our region. You do not find glad and gentle men wrestling over deep doctrines at many tables in upstate New York, or singing with a vigor bigger than the room, while the tears bead and the third verse grows foggy.
My theology professor in college warned us about treating the Bible like a frog. Some people, he said, pin the Bible up to the wall and look at all of its organs, when the Bible should pin them up to the wall. We don’t have power over God’s words. God’s words have power over us.
I have witnessed—and participated in—plenty of “pinning down the Bible” for the sake of pride. It makes everything easier, sometimes. But as I’ve grown close to believers with different creedal ideas from mine, God has exposed my pride—like the church in Ephesus that knew how to avoid false teachers but had lost its love.
Since college I’ve grown a little weary of theorizing about God. So last Thursday I attended the meeting with eyes sharpened to see whether the men would pin the Bible to the wall, or if the Bible would pin them. I wanted to see if they pursued creedal correctness merely. Did the Bible act on them, or did they act on the Bible?
Dave thundered music out of the piano. As the only girl, with a voice much more timid than the others, I couldn’t carry my line on the old, bobbing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” But I couldn’t escape the joy of it.
After the songs, we sat and Dave prayed that the Holy Spirit would come. Many intelligent references appeared in conversation throughout the meeting—from Paul to Russell Kirk to Kierkegaard. It became clear to me immediately that some men overstuff their dry egos with books, and others read their hearts out. And glory be, I was sitting with the latter. Their hearts showed in their voices. They splayed their hands like spiders, tapping on the ceramic tables, and pronounced that they sought not a new codification of law that directed their feet, but the development of hearts that loved Christ.
“No one understands Romans 7 but me,” said Reid. Everyone recognized his outrageous joking and cracked a smile.
“No, I do, too,” chuckled Otis, nudging him and letting a toothy smile leak from his mustache.
Nothing compares to the companionship that happens when joy fuels biblical study and biblical study fuels joy. We broke for our ritual expedition to the clattering Chinese restaurant where we suck up every last bit of each other’s company.