Two fish were swimming in the ocean when they were approached by another fish. “How’s the water,” he asked.
After he swam away, one of the two fish looked at the other and said, “What on earth is water?”
The story was told at a 3-day workshop called “Helping Men to Change.” The speaker told the story to illustrate how unaware we are, men and women, of the cultural assumptions in which we swim. In this case it was the rules we accept about men and how they are to conduct their lives. For example, “Men can’t cry” – the number one rule for men, and “men must fix things.”.
It made me think about the religious rules in which we swim and of which we are totally blithe. If the ocean was the church and the fish were Christians, the question we’d be asking is “What on earth is theology?”
These include rules or assumptions about who God is and how God functions. Other assumptions include how to interpret scripture, how to live in church communities, what is moral and immoral behavior, and a host of others. All of this is theology, and it is full of historical assumptions. Swim with care.
Church planters are in a unique position to challenge people to question the assumptions by which they measure their lives as disciples of Jesus. Many, if not most, of these unexamined ideas have been developing for centuries, and we are scarcely aware of them.
A simple example will illustrate this. Plotinus was a Greek-speaking philosopher (204/5-270 AD) of the Platonic tradition. Even though he was in the Greek tradition and not a Christian,, his teaching inspired centuries of Christian thinkers. This included St. Augustine (354-430 AD) whose writing heavily influenced the development of Western Christianity.
A wise church planter will work to insure critical thinking skills when it comes to interpreting scripture for his church, including teaching a healthy skepticism about the origin of ideas. Such skills give disciples of Jesus strengths which will aid them in the growth of their lives as followers of Jesus.
Like the two fish, we are all swimming in the same ocean. We probably do not give much thought to the “water,” but it is there nonetheless. So we should be asking, “What on earth is water?”