A number of years ago I was in a church where the pastor constantly spoke of the need to “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” What this meant was that preachers and teachers should make truth accessible to everyone in the church; to follow the metaphor, the baby Christians in the church should be able to reach the cookies. This is commendable—no pastor should preach in a way that opaque, technical terms are so loaded into a sermon that only specialists can understand. Implicit in the statement, though, is that the church should all remain eating cookies taken from the bottom shelf. It was definitely the case that this pastor did not want his congregation to grow beyond his sloganeering of theology; he came across as intelligent and profound, but I believe that there was an element of fear on his part that to have congregants surpass him in knowledge put him on the defensive.
While this scenario doesn’t work itself out in every church, there is a sense where Christians are kept from progressing in their knowledge of the faith. Whether from fear, or the lack of desire to do the grunt work of theological learning and teaching, churches leave their members gurgling on the milk of theology, when they could all be dining on grade A steak.
William B. Evans makes a similar observation in his essay hosted at the Reformation21 site called, “Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance: A Reply to G. I. Williamson.” Evans, who is Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, discusses the common misappropriation of the perspicuity of scripture among Reformed Christians. Continue reading