In Response to: Academics in the Church

Chuck left this huge comment on my post this morning. It was so large, search that it would be better presented as a blog post on its own. With his permission, I present his critique. Full disclosure: Chuck is one of those dreaded educators that Donald Miller is railing against.

Dr. Charles Hackney is Associate Professor of Psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary. He is also the author of the book, Martial Virtues.

In response to Academics in the Church:

Oh for goodness’ sake. Where to start?

What we need is more scholarship in the church, not less. More scholarship in the church, and Mr. Miller might have known that one of the most common terms used by people to address Jesus was “Rabbi,” and that “Rabbi” means “teacher,” not “counselor” or “social worker” or “buddy” or “he-don’t-know-much-but-bless-his-heart-he’s-trying.”

More scholarship (in this case, church history) in the church, and Mr.Miller might not be under the impression that the church was an arm of the government until the printing press was invented. More scholarship in the church (in this case, basic history), and Mr. Miller might have known that clerics were in fact NOT the only ones in the ancient/medieval church who knew how to read.

And, speaking as an academic, I am offended at some of Mr. Miller’s characterizations of academic work. As a professor, I do a LOT more than just lecture and study for my next lecture.

Mr. Miller describes academic development as a “distortion” of true spiritual growth, saying:

“If you want to grow in Christ, you should study more. Christian growth, then, is an academic path. And like educators, we only advance to become higher level educators. The point of learning is always teaching which produces further learning and then more teaching. The only difference between the church and another educational institution is that nobody ever graduates from the church. We just keep going to school.”

How is it a bad thing to study the Bible deeply instead of shallowly? How is it a bad thing to grow in knowledge and then pass that knowledge along?

And how is it a bad thing to have the attitude of always learning? Mr. Miller presents “graduation” as if it means the end of learning and the beginning of work. That is precisely the wrong attitude. Graduating does not mean that you know enough, it means that you are equipped to continue learning.

One of the great things about being married to a grad student in theology is that every conversation has the potential to open my eyes to new ways of understanding theological issues that I used to think I fully understood (and I’ve been reading the Bible since I first learned to read). This attitude of perpetual study has actually helped me to overcome denominational differences, rather than worsen them, because I can have a better understanding of why my brothers and sisters in other churches do what they do, and that they are not necessarily wrong (Mr. Miller, if you don’t understand your Lutheran friends, maybe the solution is to read a book or two about Lutheranism).

And where does this leave Christians who have an aptitude and inclination toward academics? CS Lewis once said, “I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Would Mr. Miller argue that Lewis’ take on intellectuals’ spiritual growth is a distortion? Should thinkers turn off their brains when they enter a church? Maybe at least Mr. Miller would suggest that we should avoid church leadership, because the last thing we want in a leader is someone who thinks too much.

8 thoughts on “In Response to: Academics in the Church

  1. Absolutely we need more academics in the church!! I was on my way out of attending any church until we ended up in seminary at Briercrest. FINALLY a place for questions to be asked and discussed, wonderful church history to discover, unpacking all the years of church teaching that meant so little to my life, finding out that taboo subjects in churches were exactly the subjects we could learn about at last, realizing that I was right that many of my pastors had no more idea of what real theology was than I did…….seminary was liberating on every level. My closeness to Jesus has grown and grown as a result. I discovered that while I am a poor academic thinker, I can certainly think and learn more than I thought I could and even what small things I was able to grasp in a seminary classroom began to revolutionize my theology and better prepare me to share my Christian faith. I will never be a great theologian but not only am I a better theologian after my time in a seminary setting, I know for sure now that I am right to just be quiet about things I don’t understand, and do some research, rather than entering into heated church discussions that are little better than the blind leading the even more blind. Bring on the good theological teaching in the churches.

  2. Thanks for posting this! I’m a Regent College student and just attended convocation here, where our incredibly brilliant history prof, Sarah Williams, gave a charge to the graduates about the text “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” She referred to this post of Don Miller’s (didn’t mention him name, but we put two and two together), and talked about how it is unfortunately true that academics are sometimes tempted to use their knowledge to show others how clever they are or make others feel stupid. This, of course, we must guard against (and I’m not insinuating this is the default attitude of all academics). But she went on to say that the “air” that “puffs up” is pride, not intellectual learning. The intellectual life, like all areas of life, can and should be celebrated as a gift from God that can greatly bless the church. And it is the responsibility of those with that calling to use it well, to deepen the understand and faith of all. But we must remember to do so with great love and humility, or else it is nothing but a ‘clanging cymbal’. It was the perfect message for graduates. Yes, rejoice in the education you have received. Continue learning. Teach others. And do so in love and for love. It’s sad that Donald Miller didn’t seem to make this distinction between knowledge and pride, but I’m grateful for this post for reminding us that Jesus was a Rabbi, and learning is a good thing!

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