About a year ago I decided I would start to keep it a secret that I was a seminary student. Why? I was tired of snide remarks (from Christians). But keeping it a secret did not last…I am an enthusiastic student and count it a privilege to be able to learn in seminary. I simply could not keep it to myself. I also get contradictory remarks from people. Several people have told me that I am a clear communicator. I have the ability of taking complex issues and explaining them in a simpler, everyday way. Yet, I have also been accused of the exact opposite – of being highfalutin, and only wanting to talk about super academic subjects. So, which is it? I am confused! I finally realized that these later accusations were not necessarily personal, but likely directed at the stereotype of “bad academics”.
Academics can be good or bad. Some people get more obscure by degrees! Scholarship can bring dimness, just as it can bring light and clarity. In the spiritual realm, seminary can destroy ones faith, or strengthen ones faith. Biblical and theological knowledge can make one more spiritual, or less spiritual. Likely we have all known some highly academic believer who was a real butt-head (pardon my language), and sorely lacking the fruit of the Spirit. What gives?
I think it comes down to our underlying motivations. Why are we pursuing spiritual knowledge? Where do our priorities lie? And are we as concerned with learning, as with applying what we learn? If what we learn is not changing how we live, then we have failed. I appreciated this statement by J.I. Packer:
If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it…We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.
As I discussed in a previous post, the proper “order” is imperative. It is faith seeking understanding, not understanding seeking faith. Getting this backwards can cause so many problems. In addition, if we are learning simply for the sake of learning, we will just end up with a bunch of head knowledge that does not transfer to our everyday life. God wants our heart and mind. Not just our mind, and not just our heart. He wants both.
Luke 10:27 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” This single verse is actually a great summation, isn’t it? God wants our hearts and our minds, which should lead to a changed life (loving our neighbor).
Proper theology should move from the heart to the head to the hand.
Even though academics can get a deserved bad name, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Romans 12:2 does not say “be transformed by the removal of your mind” – it says, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.
Not everyone is called to go to seminary. Not everyone has the intellectual ability, or life situation to go to seminary either. But I think ALL believers are called to be growing in their knowledge of the faith. A lack of biblical and theological knowledge can lead to so many problems:
- If you don’t have a proper foundation, you will be more likely to fall for false religious groups or cults or just improper teachings. Ephesians 4:14 warns us that we don’t want to be “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting”.
- If you don’t have proper biblical and theological knowledge, you could be improperly living the Christian life (without even realizing it). What you believe affects how you live. Doctrine determines your attitudes and practices in life. Inadequate or inaccurate knowledge about God can lead to inadequate or even sinful behavior. How sad that we could be living our Christian life based on false assumptions or misunderstandings!
On the positive side, theological knowledge can also enhance your faith. Some might think, “who cares about deeper knowledge of the Trinity or substitutionary atonement! There is nothing practical in that?!” – Yet, I would say that there is much practical in it. If you gain a deeper understanding of all that Christ did on the cross for you (substitutionary atonement) this can lead to a more profound gratitude, appreciation, and love for the Lord Jesus. It puts the amazing back in grace! And when you are filled with love, gratitude, and amazement – this greatly enhances your walk of faith. We are more motivated to live for the Lord when we are overcome with love for the Lord.
Yes, academics “gone bad” can be dry, boring, disconnected from real life, and lead to less spirituality. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and shouldn’t be that way! I’ll close with a quote posted on facebook by a fellow seminary student who felt…
“disturbed at the continuing trend of anti-intellectualism amongst persons of faith. Oxymoronical as it may sound, thought and intellect are not the enemies of faith, but rather its loving brothers who encourage it to be greater and inspire it to be grander.”