BRAIN DRAIN IN THE CHURCH: PART ONE

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

Sociology Stud
Sociology Stud

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.

Click here for Part Two

THE NIGHT JESUS TALKED ABOUT YOU KNOW WHAT

Jesus is famous for his metaphors and earthy teaching–mustard seed, building foundation, lilies of the field and other such niceties.  But if we look properly, we find he also used some rather crude, dare I say vulgar analogies to describe the most important of all spiritual realities.

I’m thinking about John this week–reading through it, and also specifically John 3 because it was the subject of the small group lesson at the church I visited on Sunday.   John 3 is a favorite of many because of the clarity of John 3:16 for summarizing the key divine attribute, the missio dei, and the responsibility of people to believe.  However, there is a lot going on here.  Not the least of which I have enumerated below for your reading pleasure.

1.  Nicodemus is an important person.  That is why we learn his name (unlike the woman at the well (John 4) or the man born blind (John 9).  He makes a couple of other cameo appearances in John, the most important of which is at the burial of Jesus.  It appears he aided Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus.  It is odd that he doesn’t appear in Acts, but that might be because he was killed early due to his high profile position.  It would be neat if he was one of the 120 in the upper room, and it makes logical sense.

2.  Born again is an ambiguous term.  Reborn would be a good way to translate it, so too would be “heavenly born” as the word “again” can also mean “from above.”  To be born again means that you are born as a child of God in the 1 John 3:1 kind of way.

3.  Now back where I started this blog–Jesus actually uses rather delicate language to describe the issue.  Of much debate is the role of “water” in verse 5 when Jesus elaborates on what being born from above means.  People try to sanitize this spiritually, I think by saying it is a reference to baptism.  Jesus has baptism in mind, I think, but it is not here.  Water here may mean semen as the seed of birth or it might refer to a pregnant woman’s ‘water breaking’ at the onset of child birth.  Either way, it is an earthy image that Nicodemus would have gotten.  In case Nicodemus didn’t, Jesus spells it out.  Notice the two verses (ESV, bold and italics mine)

[5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

[6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

I find in these verses typical Hebrew parallelism.  Water is flesh, spirit is spirit (or the wind, v. 8)  Flesh likely means sex.

4.  Here is where I think it really comes together with baptism, and that is the way Jews of the first century understood baptism.  Baptism was not a novel concept, but an old practice used to symbolize the birthing process for non-Jews who were undergoing the process of adopting Judaism as their faith.  After such baptism a person was referred to as a child of Abraham (c/f 1 John 3:1).  Jesus is arguing that not just non-Jews, but even Jews, need to be  baptized as an act of repentance and belief in order to begin this rebirthing process.  Baptism is the key to being born from above.  The testimony of John the Baptist at the end of the chapter punctuates this point.

5.  These are complicated lines of thought but Nicodemus, a teacher, should understand the symbolism of it all.  This is not simplistic stuff here but very nuanced ideas.  We do violence to the text if we try to make it simple and easy.  It is not, so much so that Nicodemus, though sympathetic and learned, did not readily understand.  Specifically NIcodemus and the teachers in Israel had not embraced John’s baptism.

6.  The reference of the serpent, in the desert, alludes to the weird tale in Numbers 21:4-9 where the great plague broke out and a snake is put on a pole for healing (for a cross-cultural religious parallelism, consider Asclepius) to the Jews who had sinned.  Again, Jesus is laying out bread crumbs.  Just like with semen, bursting birthing fluid, and wind even Scripture has a deeper spiritual revelation in Christ and his mission.

7.  One more thought.  I don’t care what your red-letter Bible says, Jesus stops talking most definitely after verse 15 (and maybe even verse 12).  John the evangelist is the one who synthesizes the complicated message Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus in verses 16-21 with his typical symbolism of light, truth, and love.  We cherish verse 16, but look at the whole thing again and you might find that verse 21is the best summary–our works show whether or not we are ‘born from above’–carried out, or worked–birthed by God.