I am featuring guest posts this week, and this one is by my friend Dr. David Caddell. David is a university professor and sociological heavyweight. One of the most viewed posts on the Pastor Greenbean blog was one he wrote back in 2012 called Political Insanity. I’ve broken this blog by David into two posts because there is more information in here than one post can handle in here. This is Part One. Click here for Part Two.
I was excited when Jamie asked me to contribute to his blog once again. As one of my dearest friends, Jamie
has a way of sensing when my head is about ready to explode because I have not had the chance to write about a particular issue we have been discussing. As Jamie always had plenty of ideas to write about on his own, I can only assume he is allowing this for the sake of my own mental stability. Regardless of Jamie’s motives, I hope you benefit. If not benefited, I pray you are challenged.
That Awkward Moment…
Just prior to Thanksgiving last year, I was sitting in our Bible study group at our church, accompanied by my wife and my in-laws. The topic of the day was Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3, where Jesus instructs the religious leader that he must be born of the Spirit in order to see the Kingdom. Of course, Nicodemus finds Jesus’ logic confusing—after all, who wouldn’t?
What surprised me was how quickly the group’s attention became fixed on the following passage from John 3:9-12:
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
My surprise was not at the quote itself, although the rest of the first twenty verses of John 3 carry so much freight for consideration in terms of Christian theology and lifestyle. Instead, my discomfort came from how several of the group members (while others remained silent) used this passage to demonstrate how intellect and education obscures one’s ability to see and understand spiritual realities. One brother expounded on this sentiment by stating that this is especially true of people who are educated in “those northern universities.” He was very intentional to point out, however, that the problem related to “thinking too much” is nearly universal.
It might sound odd, but I was neither surprise or offended by his comments. I hear these sentiments frequently within the church, as I have for the past twenty-five years. I would find it amusing if I was not so saddened by what this anti-intellectualism means for the future of the church. Much of the writing that Jamie and I have done over the past few years has grown out of our concern over this anti-intellectual bias, or perhaps a non-reflective approach toward studying the scriptures that has dominated much of evangelical Protestantism, leading to the “de-skilling” of Biblical and doctrinal teaching in the churches. Those who have little intellectual preparation to teach the scriptures are routinely placed in positions where such preparation is necessary.
Wait just a minute! If a faithful member of the Body feels God’s call to teach, should she or he not be allowed to do so, trusting that God will give them all the preparation they need? I think not. I would suggest that if someone truly senses the call of God, they will certainly not resist any opportunity to gain the requisite preparation for whatever calling they have envisioned. If someone who plays no musical instrument at all were to feel God’s call to play the guitar on Sunday morning during worship, it’s laughable to think that person would be handed a guitar for the worship service and expect God to reward a lack preparation and practice. Yet, we do this very thing when it comes to the vital function of teaching in the church.
Elitist? Oh I Hope Not
Does this sound elitist? I would be surprised if it did not. It even offends my own egalitarian sensibilities. Yet, I am unrepentant. While we may prefer the democratic, egalitarian social notions that all individuals are equally valuable to God and His work, we need to examine these notions in a more Biblically nuanced way. First of all, we may like the idea that God considers us all equally worthy, but nothing could be more unbiblical. According to the scriptures, any value we have is not inherent or natural, but bestowed on us by God Himself. Nowhere in the Christian Bible is it even implied that God loves us because we are indeed worthy of love, or even have any inherent value. Quite the opposite. God loves us because God is love. Thus, whatever value each individual possesses resides in God, not in persons. This hardly gives any scriptural grounds to suggest that all individual gifts or talents are equal. In fact, C. S. Lewis proposes that the inequality we experience within the Body of Christ is as much redemptive as it is part of God’s plan. Besides suggesting that the authority of the learned over the simple is as part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast, Lewis gives a wonderful analogy when he suggests that
Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows nothing of it. Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live. Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body of Christ, we step outside that world which says “I am as good as you.” It is like turning from a march to a dance. It is like taking off our clothes. We become, as Chesterton said, taller when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct. It delights me that there should be moments in the services of my own Church when the priest stands and I kneel. As democracy becomes more complete in the outer world and opportunities for reverence are successively removed, the refreshment, the cleansing, and invigorating returns to inequality, which the Church offers us, become more necessary. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
So, while I would suggest that all in the Body should be extended the same love that God, in Christ, has shown us, I also propose that a more realistic (if less romantic) view of the relative giftedness of all of our individual members.