Thou shalt induce no perplexity

Neil Postman’s second commandment of teleducation (yes, I know it’s horrible, so that’s why I thought a horrible word was required) is “thou shalt induce no perplexity,” since, he says, “the contentment, not the growth of the learner is paramount.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 148)

Of course, a good many things in formal education are perplexing. Some ethical and philosophical concepts may never be less than perplexing. And when it comes to the Christian faith, we had better be prepared for perplexing. Not that there is much that is not clear in biblical teaching. But any serious study of Holy Scripture will deal with perplexity head on when we meet it. Only exegesis in the style of the Bible for dummies will studiously avoid it, or gloss over it.

For Christians and converts who have been pseudo-educated by television this will surely be a shock to the system.

Physical growth and development of children requires effort from the very first gulp of air in the lungs. The child that does not learn to deal with difficulty and disease as it grows turns out to be a very weak individual — sickly and unprepared for the cut and thrust of life.

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires effort, as Peter reminds us. We need to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with …” (2 Peter 1:5-7). The list he gives in the way he gives it surely implies the interconnectedness of virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc. Not one of these things will come without perplexity. To be effective and fruitful Christians (1:8) we will need to remember, study, apply, and endure — these very things which Neil Postman tells us teleducation would have us eschew.

One cannot help but think of the frequent preplexity Peter and the other disciples faced during three years of intensive teaching from Christ. The evidence of their growth is attested to by the perplexity of the Jewish religious leaders when faced with what seemed to them ignorant and unlearned men who knew more of God and his ways than they did.

We shall have an added struggle in our effort to grow as Christians when we consider that the entire weight of Western popular culture is against us, with television in its vanguard. We, and our children, are being taught that perplexity and struggle are not necessary to learn or to grow.

No wonder so many who once ran well turn aside when perplexity strikes. “A perplexed learner is a learner who will turn to another station,” says Postman (p. 147). A perplexed Christian may often go to another church where perplexity has been eliminated from the teaching. Their comfort zone has been penetrated and their paramount contentment is in serious danger of collapse. So best move on.

But if God should be perplexing us that we should grow, then switching channels/churches will be no better than Jonah taking the ship to Tarshish. We may experience shipwreck, or similar trouble. May we not learn God’s lessons from perplexity with such bad grace as Jonah! May we embrace sanctified affliction as a divinely appointed means of growth.

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