I am slow. I have come to the realization – at least a full decade after more perceptive and observant thinkers – that we are no longer in the information age; we are in the networking age. Facebook is not about information, but about connecting. Due to the ease of access and overwhelming quantity of knowledge, information is no longer a priority nor a valued commodity per se. What is valued is the networking with others that directs us to the quality and relevance of knowledge that is required to fulfill our goals. An obsession with gaining personal knowledge about a particular subject in this age is self-defeating because as individuals we cannot absorb, process or evaluate all the available information. On the other hand, gaining skills to evaluate and use knowledge in relevant ways is important. Moreover, the ability to connect synergistically with those who have different skill sets exponentially increases the ability to apply knowledge to tasks and problems considered significant.
With respect to seminaries, Dr. Edmund Gibbs was probably accurate in a statement made during the NBS “Between Gospel and Culture” conference held on the TWU campus in March, 2007: seminaries should not sell knowledge or information, but give it away freely. The cost will be in the mentoring relationships and guidance to apply the right knowledge in the right situation.
What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament RELEVANCE to the lives of the believers
The implication of this shift for missions is quite profound. A common approach in missions has been to teach a “survey of the Old Testament” or a “survey of the New Testament” to new believers. As an attempt to increase the quantity of biblical knowledge, it does little to build up the body of Christ. The amount of knowledge available is beyond the ability of any one person to access, let alone absorb and utilize. Moreover, the knowledge gained from such courses is generally easily accessible when needed. What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament relevance to the lives of the believers. It is insufficient and misguided for missionaries to provide general Bible teaching as if any and all biblical information is equally worthwhile. Rather, a primary concern must be to work out the relevance of God’s revelation within that particular cultural setting. This requires the development of a network of people with a variety of skill sets rather than a one way dispensing of knowledge from the teacher.
As an example of the importance of networking in missions, consider Bible translation. The task is too vast and complex to be trusted to one person. However, by utilizing the skills of a variety of people – translators whose mother tongue capability allows them to communicate the message coherently and fluently, scholars who are able to consider the accuracy of meaning, consultants whose experience leads them to ask penetrating questions – the final product has a level of quality and significance that would not otherwise be possible.