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Future Pastors the Church Does Not Need

May 18, 2008

I would like to share a story with you that I found very disheartening:

This past semester at University I had one seminar style class that was cross listed with the seminary on our campus. The class was focused on the Gospel of Mark. For those that don’t know in a seminar style class each student will take a turn studying a pericope in depth and leading the other students in a study and discussion of the material.

In this class there were University students and the were Seminary students. Now what really shocked me is that during the course of the semester almost every single student in the seminary began their presentation with these words: I’m not a theologian but…

Those words have haunted me since; “I’m not a theologian but…” The persons that were being trained to go and lead churches and the very first thing they say when they have to get up and talk about the Gospel of Mark is, “I’m not a theologian but…”

It is my contention that if you call yourself a Christian then you are a theologian; the only question is whether you have a good theology or not. It’s OK if you disagree with me (you would be wrong of course) but I would assume that at the very least we want our pastors to be theologians. There were generally three groups of persons in this seminary group.

The first group: I’m positive most of these persons were quite confused by what it means to be a theologian. Unaware of first order practice and second order reflection. They confused the first order practice or embedded theology that you have to some degree assumed and live day to day with the second order reflection or deliberative theology that characterizes teaching – academic and Church. There is still hope for these people.

The second group: for these people it was an excuse to not deal with the text; a refusal to think critically; and an excuse to pass off Sunday School embedded theology. These are the pastors that will for the rest of their life just regurgitate sermons they and you have already heard a thousand times. For the most part these people are characterized by an over inflated sense of what they are supposed to do “for God.” They will spend the majority of “their ministry” answering questions that nobody is asking.

The third group: these persons were still characterized by a refusal to think critically or deal with the text but had some sort of hand me down deliberative theology. They had been told what the texts meant; what the rules were; and how to get in to heaven. And they were prepared to aggressively defend their ready made positions.

These persons I have a name for: modern evangelical neo-gnostics

Some context for those that have not heard of the gnostics: Gnosticism was a religion that had some variation but one of the features that characterized much of it was an elevation of knowledge. This is where we get the name for Gnosticism it comes from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge. For the gnostics special knowledge was very important in salvation and restoration.

I’m sure that many of you may see the parallels with out anything I have to say, but if what you “believe” is on a one to one correlation to “salvation” you might be a modern evangelical neo-gnostic. If your “knowledge” and ordering of the rules of what the Bible “really” means makes you feel superior to other Christians and causes you to wonder about their salvation you might be a modern evangelical neo-gnostic.

I could further explore the parallels of the gnostics platonic worldview and the platonism that can characterize some of modern evangelical neo-gnosticism, e.g. “this is what this text ‘really’ means” or the devaluing of physical things and the new gnosticism hiding in our churches would be even more apparent. Eighteen hundred years later and gnosticism is still thriving in our church. I wonder what Iranaeus would say?

A final warning to all three groups: ready made, assumed, and pat answers are often shattered by the sledgehammer of experience on the anvil of life.

And by the way: I am a theologian

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. funnyfunnygalssis permalink
    May 18, 2008 1:09 pm

    Yeah and Amen!

    Pastors who claim they are not theologians could be dangerous!

    Congregats who choose not to be theologians should beware!

    We are all building our own theology, whether we are spoon fed, or not!

    And we ought to know what foundation we are building upon, and whether or not the next brick fits the frame!

  2. May 18, 2008 2:58 pm

    I would contend that everyone is a theologian, whether they know it or not or like it or not. Sure, some have not made theology their vocation but to have a view on God certainly suggests that you have a theology and therefore, are a theologian (to some degree).

  3. May 18, 2008 6:59 pm

    Some people have taken the command to “work out your own salvation” WAY to literally, and what you get is the impression that each person can make up their own reality of how to get to heaven. But yes, I think to some degree all Christians are theologians. At the very least, we should each learn to identify the reasons why we believe what we believe. Their are plenty of Christians who can’t even do that.

  4. May 18, 2008 7:33 pm

    Interesting website and discourse with plenty of food for thought. I invite you to visit http://www.thedailylily.com and comment on a food for thought blog “A light Behind”…I think you will find it different and also interesting.

  5. May 18, 2008 8:12 pm

    Scott,

    Serious question (and by the way all the q’s I ask you are actually serious–I do want to know what you think. So you need to get busy)…

    Is the crisis neo-gnosticism or faith in God that has no basis in experience at all?

    If God is real (and I believe He is), then why is it few Christians can point to any real, demonstrable experience of God’s actions in their lives?

    It is easy to be indignant with those who refuse to accept the title “theologian”, but this is typically based in false humility. They see themselves as students of God; they just don’t see themselves as a Grudem. (He’s my Theo of choice.)

    But when was the last time most Christians you know had any real series of daily amazing co-incidences in response to their fervent prayers? Ought that not to be the regular experience of the children of God?

  6. May 19, 2008 12:06 am

    Thanks for that post. I have been pondering theological gnosticism much recently. Of course I want a pastor who is absolutely certain that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and will return again. An easy way to distinguish the neo-gnostic is to ask something that he probably doesn’t understand and isn’t related to theology and see if he still has a non-negotiable position: Should the church server use DDR2 or DDR3 RAM? Should it be based on an Intel, Tyan, Asus, or Supermicro motherboard? If you still get a definite answer, you can be certain you are dealing with a neo-gnostic. He probably has a bloody minded opinion about everything.

  7. May 19, 2008 5:26 am

    Kevin,

    Brief answer. Basically, what a Greek gnostic position leads towards is always dualism. And very often dualisms lead to compartmentalization.

    What becomes important in this compartmentalization as far as religious life is concerned is “being right.” There are no margins for spirituality and for Sabbath. None.

    I am unsurprised when people make no time for God in their lives that they do not experience him. Knowing some facts about him and congregating from 10:00 to 12:00 on Sunday morning to hear another fact is hardly knowing God.

    ———————

    Looney,

    Clearly Scripture teaches a DDR3 server with a Supermicro motherboard. Any other position is un-Christian and may make one liable to the flames of hell.

    Now you know.

  8. May 19, 2008 9:39 am

    Theology is putting religion in a philosophical connotation. Thus, you could be theologian or just religious. Peace.

  9. May 19, 2008 10:54 am

    jorgipogi,

    I actually like Trevor Hart’s definition: “Theology is the critical reflection by the community of faith on the Gospel.”

    “Theologian” or “just religious” is a false dichotomy.

    How could you be just religious? The second you say, “I worship and believe in God,” you have made a theological statement. Thus, you are a good theologian or a bad theologian.

    Peace

  10. godwinners permalink
    August 23, 2008 10:39 pm

    An apt observation.People don’t understand that negative affairnation does not deny their identity.By their expressions we still read their deep rooted thoughts of the the thing they claim they are not “theologians.

    God winners

  11. March 9, 2009 6:56 pm

    Very well said. Thank you Scott.

  12. August 19, 2009 9:24 am

    Doesn’t exactly give ACTS a good name…those poor Mdiv students…

    • August 19, 2009 10:16 am

      Mike,

      I suppose now that people identify me as being at a different campus then when this was written: this does not refer to ACTS students…

      I was interacting with students from a different seminary at the time.

  13. Steven Webb permalink
    September 1, 2009 7:29 am

    So, if one says that they have faith that Christ died on the cross to pay for their sins in full, thus securing forgiveness and eternal life. Does this imply to you neo-gnosticism? Casting ones confidence upon something is, in my humble opinion, more than the understanding of an idea, but also an exercise of choice and a mental action requiring the conscious acceptance of a truth. Such an act of volition requires trusting. In reference to experiencing Christ, this case trusting in the validity of a promise made. Those who accept Christ as their savior, believing He died on the cross to pay for their sins in full, have opened to them the Kingdom of Heaven, and the benefits of communion with God. Hmmm; keep it simple, love and accept each other, and no judging okay. Establish liberty among yourselves. Protect the innocent, Love justice, show mercy, and be gracious, work to end oppression, and remember to remain humble before God, and thankful to Him for His many blessings each day. Now go and love one another.

    • September 1, 2009 7:50 am

      Steven,

      There is a nuance here. The third group that I am talking about think the opposite of faith is doubt. The opposite of faith is not doubt it is certainty. When they confuse their certainty with their salvation I think we begin to enter the territory of the modern evangelical neo-Gnostic.

  14. Jon permalink
    January 9, 2010 10:41 am

    Timothy Keller wrote in his book “The Reason for God” that belief without doubt is like the body without antibodies. Instead of being afraid of our doubts and pretending they don’t exist, we should embrace them-use our faith-and search for the answer through critical thought…knowing the answer may well be “not known” or “undetermined”. But I must say, at the risk of being labeled a neo-gnostic, that when one of my zillions of questions gets answered in a reasonable, critical manner I get so psyched and tend to cling fiercely to it in an effort to break the curse of “Sunday-School” thinking I was steeped in (no offense to the any good-hearted Christians that started me on my way). I’m no professional theologian-and I would love to have the resources to go to a good school-but I’ve been blessed with a good internet connection and great sites such as these and Dr. Heiser’s blog (paleobabble, the naked bible) which have introduced me to the best ways of thinking of the text, etc. But I digress, I do sometimes fear that I am so gleeful about the knowledge I receive that the Lord my resent it and I have certainly been guilty of feeling superior, and avoiding the ignorant at all costs. Today I am reminded of the arrogance of such behavior and wish to repent publicly and use this as a reference point: I’m not better than other Christians who know less theology or whatever even if it’s hard not to become very, very upset at the level of ignorance I allowed myself to believe and still see in others. So. For the record: Jesus, I do NOT want to become a gnostic or any wierd thing not centered on you and your grace. (You did warn me, be careful what you pray for, wisdom, etc.). Thank you scotteriology for keeping it real and good looking out! Say a prayer for those of us struggling to break free from the painful mental dullness of the common sunday service while trying to remain as humble and spiritually sensitive as possible.

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