Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Academic Christian’s Concern: Don’t Be a Snob

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB 1995 updated edition.

Caveat: As someone who either thinks she is an academic or actually is one, I’m writing this piece mostly to challenge and convict myself. I strongly believe there’s nothing wrong with being an academic, and I spend a lot of time defending academics, but I would be wrong not to point out how many academics can become arrogant and infatuated with the mind, ignoring the importance of the other gifts which God has given people. Making the mind a god, like making anything a god, is idolatrous, and therefore, it is very dangerous.

It’s really easy for academic Christians to be snobs and look askance at lay Christian organizations, people, and churches. We sometimes pretend we know so much, when in fact, we know very little, and God is singularly unimpressed with our ridiculously inflated egos. We also are tempted to ignore the many wonderful people God has used and is using just as effectively as He is using Christians in “higher education.”

On the first day of class, my Greek professor warned us not to misuse our eventual knowledge of Greek by trying to impress people with it. If you think about it, attempting to impress people is a colossal waste of time. What am I accomplishing by doing that? Certainly not anything good, and definitely something that has a lot more to do with my own pride and puffery than with spreading the gospel. (There’s a huge difference, for example, between spreading “oh-look-at-me-write-in-Hebrew-letters” and using such knowledge to spread the message of the gospel. Don’t be snobbish, like this caterpillar.)

So instead of creating more and more people in the church who despise intellectuals or who equate the word intellectual with pompous snob (and I do think that intellectual arrogance helps to spread anti-intellectualism rather than hinder it), maybe we should remember to keep things in perspective. If we think that an academic ministry is any more important than a janitorial ministry, for example, then we have an over-developed sense of self-importance. To allude to a comment made by Jon Arbuckle to Garfield the cat, we have a “self-esteem problem—too much of it.” (I think the term self-esteem is inherently problematic from a Christian perspective anyway. Isn’t holding ourselves in high esteem a bad thing, as in “arrogant”?)

Here’s something that every Christian, academically oriented or not, should keep in mind:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

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