CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Theological Education

Oct 24, 2017

As with so many areas in the Christian life, certain issues can result in rather polarising views. Believers can be of two minds when it comes to theological education. Some think going to a Bible college or seminary can be a very good thing indeed, while others might pooh pooh the idea altogether.

The former group think there is a place to learn more, study more, and grow in one’s biblical and theological understanding. The latter group however seems to think they have the Holy Ghost and a direct pipeline to God, and that is all they need. They tend to look down on learning, book study, theology, etc.

As always, there are two unbiblical and unhelpful extremes to avoid here. One is to think that having lots of degrees after your name makes you something hotsy totsy in God’s eyes. There are plenty of educated fools out there who are nowhere near to God.

But the other extreme is to despise and look down on all education, including theological education. Jesus commanded us to love God with our minds, and he is not pleased with intellectual laziness. He calls many of us to further education, and it can be a very valuable thing indeed to use for Christ and the Kingdom.

So we must keep the biblical balance here. Not everyone is called to go on to further studies, including theological education. But many are, and we must not look down on them or judge them for doing what they feel they are called of God to do.

But those who do keep on studying, including formal education, must not look down on these believers who do not sense a call for such ongoing study. Sure, they should study the Word of God daily, and avail themselves of good teachers and teachings, but not all must be seminary grads.

Both sides can go off into deep error and displease God if they are not careful. We all know of great intellectuals, academics and theologians whose minds are full but whose hearts and souls seem empty. Simply having a heap of theological training does not necessarily make you a godly and loving Christian.

Some believers are puffed up with all their learning and knowledge, and their arrogance and pride simply turns people off, and damages the cause of Christ. But of course their faulty intellectualism is no reason to discount or attack the importance of theological education.

And then we all know of those believers who are equally proud and smug, looking down on those who are into study and theology. They think they have a corner on the truth because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and they actually think those who study elsewhere are wasting their time or being carnal.

Many will criticise seminaries, calling them cemeteries instead. Now one can indeed leave a seminary spiritually dead if one is not careful. But this certainly need not be the case. There are many excellent seminaries out there doing a great job, helping to train new generations of Christian leaders.

So it is wrong to run with either extreme. We need to stop judging each other and accusing one another here. If God calls someone to go on with further formal theological training, fine. If he does not call others to do that, fine as well. We need to avoid looking down on theological training and we also need to guard against cold intellectualism.

John Piper once put it this way:

So I don’t want to overstate the case. It’s not about going to school or getting degrees or having prestige. It’s not about the superiority of intellectuals. It’s about using the means God has given us to know him, love him, and serve people. Thinking is one of those means. I would like to encourage you to think, but not to be too impressed with yourself when you do.

While both extremes must be shunned, I would say that the bigger problem today is with those who decry the use of the mind, the importance of study, and the use of reason. The pendulum has swung too far in that direction of late. So while arid intellectualism must be avoided, our more pressing problem today may be getting believers to actually think.

We are called to love God with all our minds. That is the greatest commandment that Jesus spoke about in the three Synoptic gospels. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:34-40, how did he answer?

In vv. 37-38 we find these words: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” This is also found in Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-8.

So there is no escaping this basic truth: the true disciple of Christ will use the mind God gave him for the service of Christ and the Kingdom. No one can opt out here. To refuse to think for the glory of God is to live in rebellion against God.

Whether or not that means going on for some formal theological training is a moot point. It may well be the case for some of you. So if you have already told God you will never go to Bible college, you may need to double check and make sure this is God’s clear will for you.

A few closing quotes will help to make my case here. John Stott said this: “Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.”

William Lane Craig put it this way:

It’s not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith.
People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.

Or as C. S. Lewis put it:

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book [The Pilgrim’s Progress] that has astonished the whole world.

And again:

If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

So think and study, as God leads, for his glory.

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9 Responses to On Theological Education

  • Excellent article, Bill. You covered it with wise balance and insight. Great quotes from William Lane Craig and C S Lewis.
    I have found some Christians are just not ‘geared’ for academic study, even if they don’t look down on it. Some are of a very practical bent. No doubt this may be why theology can go over many Aussie heads as seeming too abstract for the ‘real world’. But it is the heart and mind that is yielded to the will of God, as they best understand it, that brings a real sense of God’s transforming power. As Andrew Murray noted, it is obedience, not simply head knowledge, that brings the true encounter with God many are looking for. And that is open to all Christians, whether they have degrees or not.

  • It might be appropriate to hear a few words from that famous American theologian, Daniel Boone. It comes from a letter he once wrote to a sister-in-law, and which was quoted in chapter 19 of Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness by John Bakeless (1939).
    Relating to our family and how we Live in this World and what Chance we Shall have in the next we know Not for my part I am as ignurant as a Child all the Relegan I have to Love and feer god beleve in Jeses Christ Dow all the good to my Neighbour and my Self as I Can and Do as Little harm as I Can help and trust in gods marcy for the Rest and I Beleve god neve made a man of prisepel to be Lost and I flater my Self Deer Sister that you are well on your way in Cristianity.
    To which one can only say, “Amen”.
    malcolmsquirks.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/daniel-boone-on-religion.html

  • Thanks Bill for your thoughts on this topic. Please pray for me as I have to email the Attorney General Hon. George Brandis QC. I have found out from the Victorian Australian Nursing and Midwifery with their professional indemnity insurance officer that there is no professional indemnity insurance available anywhere in Australia for healthcare practitioners to falsify any legal document including birth and death certificates and patient’s medical records despite Australian governments attempting to introduce new laws which falsify these legal documents so they will no longer protect the public from harm. Also, healthcare practitioners will be charged with perjury in court if they provide misleading, dishonest, inaccurate or fake certificates/ documents/ information such as a falsified marriage certificate.

    What is the truth? The legal practice of changing a person’s gender on their birth certificate will falsify their birth certificate which will falsify the patient’s medical history. Also, This practice doesn’t protect the public from harm as a biological female is at risk of experiencing a sexual relationship with a biological female, and the LGBTIAQ party dictators claim it is discrimination for biological men to discriminate against people who dress like women with a penis. The legal same-sex marriage will falsify the marriage certificate and this will falsify a patient’s medical history and lead to a falsified birth certificate when parent A and parent B aren’t the biological parents. This means a person becomes at risk of experiencing a sexual relationship with a close relative because they don’t know their real biological father and or mother. Plus, a legal assisted dying practice will falsify the patient’s death certificate as the government wants medical practitioners to record the patient’s terminal illness as the cause of death rather than the truth in the patient’s medical history which will show evidence the lethal drug prescribed by 2 medical doctors was the real cause of death.

    All around the world and over the centuries there has been millions of people including medical doctors and registered nurses who have sworn on the Bible to tell the truth in court. If the historical book of the Bible had been a fantasy story like “Goldilocks and the three bears” then the Bible would have never entered a court room let alone be used as a book to discriminate the truth from a lie. The LGBTIAQ party dictators are attempting to falsify the historical records of the Bible with gender fluidity and a legal same-sex marriage with a public wedding ceremony and deny marriage is a lifelong, faithful “one flesh” union between one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve) in order to fill the earth with people.

    The LGBTIAQ party dictators have created the idea “marriage is between any 2 people” which is a satire as the word “people” include children, parents, siblings, nurses, patients, doctors, teachers, students, sex workers, clients, nuns, priests and parishioners etc, and the government has control over personhood as banks and companies have personhood in Australia. Therefore, the government can give a legal personhood to robotic sex dolls and or animals etc. Government authorities can be a legal carers of a children such as a healthcare practitioner, teacher, childcare worker and social worker etc. The professional code of conduct for nurses makes it unprofessional conduct for an adult consenting sexual relationship between a registered nurse and a patient, let alone call this relationship a marriage. However, if the Marriage Act is changed because “love is love” and people can’t choose who they fall in love with, then the Nursing regulations will have to change because people also can’t choose how long this love will last nor the type of love they will experience. The domestic and family violence legislation includes married couples which means “love ain’t love.” The LGBTIAQ party dictators’ idea that “people marry the person and not for sexual intercourse” is only an opinion which Christians and conservative married people can reject.

    The psychology/psychiatry words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are both equally a person but these words remove the person’s biological sex which is based on the binary genders so they become only a person’s sexual orientation. However, the Bible doesn’t include psychology/psychiatry words nor the sexuality and gender theories with the identities of a “homosexual” or “heterosexual” nor “heterosexual marriage” or “2 persons marriage” or the future “cuffing marriage” – this marriage doesn’t discriminate whatsoever between sexualities and genders as they are committed loving non-procreative sexual relationship which usually occurs over the winter months and then they’re free to “uncuff” when they no longer love.

    Christians and conservative married people will have to separate their “one flesh” marriage from a deregulated civil registered marriage practice by identifying as an “independent marriage.” This is in order to maintain and defend their public commitment to a lifelong, faithful “one flesh” marriage between husband and wife as they can naturally procreate, nurture and raise new-life (natural human reproduction). A “one flesh” marriage is self-sufficient as they can support and protect of their family members including husband-wife-children, and “one flesh” marriage doesn’t want the marital status of “civil registered marriage” nor a no fault divorce nor any government welfare benefits. A “one flesh” marriage is the only sexual relationship which makes it impossible to get an STD and the anxiety which comes from experiencing a STD, and or a out of wedlock pregnancy that can lead to an abortion with the risk of death. All other sexual activities has a risk of an STD. This is extremely important because of the increase cases of HIV/AIDS/HPV and drug-resistant STDs such as gonorrhoea are spreading all around the world causing infertility, cancer and shorten life-cycle. The World Health Organisation has been warning for years that unless new drugs are developed then common infectious diseases, STDs and surgical procedures would lead to death.

    The civil registered marriage practice was originally established to register a marriage in order to regulate the harm of adultery and divorce but it is now being redesigned for the future “cuffing marriage” with a no fault divorce. This is equivalent to the registration and regulation of sex workers in order to protect the public from harm, but instead the state allows them to purchase a state registered marriage certificate for a public wedding ceremony which provides a marital status “civil registered marriage.” This allows them access to a no fault divorce and other government welfare marriage benefits such as immigration, paying no stamp duty when property is exchanged etc. However, the Australian government can change all these marriage benefits especially when it discovers that a deregulated civil registered marriage practice has created a non-exclusive and non-procreative sexual relationship which is like sex workers and their clients because married “one flesh” couples have separated from this practice. There are different types of “traditional marriage” within different cultures so Christians and conservative married people will identify with “independent marriage” like “independent midwives” so this provides them opportunity to explain why they have separated from the practice.

    The idea that “people can choose their gender” is misleading as people can change their minds. Patients have a biological sex regardless of a language barrier such as non-verbal or non-English speaking background. Patients can be unconscious, confused, incoherent, an infant and or frail etc. The sexuality and gender theories will lead to a dishonest healthcare practice as it will confuse the English language and scientific evidence in order to falsify the historical records in the Bible and legal documents. Also, this will lead to inappropriate care and treatment and even perjury in court. Both nursing and medical treatments have been based on patient’s biological sex with the binary genders of male and female. In cardiac care, men and women experience chest pain differently, and the LGBTiAQ idea to treat them as if they were both only a person with no gender would lead to inappropriate care and treatment. Registered nurses and medical doctors have recorded accurately in patient’s medical histories the patient’s biological sex based on the binary genders of male and female which can be measured and tested worldwide, and healthcare practitioners have been doing this practice for centuries. Therefore, Christians, healthcare practitioners, educators and lawyers need to inform the Australian government about the truth about man-woman “one flesh” marriage in order to protect harm to children, marriages and families. Also, the serious problem of falsification of the historical records of the Bible and legal documents. Plus, prevention of inappropriate education, healthcare and treatment, and perjury in court.

  • Thank you Bill for this article, the timing was apt. I confess that I am a layperson when it comes to intellectual philosophy, and I don’t mind that at all. However, more recently I have had an almost insatiable hunger to read and study more of God’s Word and great works by his followers alike. Thank you for your clear and sound scriptural message relating to all the issues we face. I particularly liked the comment by William Lane Craig where Christians are idling intellectual neutral.

  • I suppose the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is encouragement enough to use and value the intellect. Helpfully the fine music ABC FM 105.9 is daily remembering Luther – and Bach with great settings of ‘A Mighty Fortress’ and generous mentions of 95 theses and the Augsburg Confession. It’s great to have an ABC with staff and presenters who are able to discuss liturgy and theology in depth. I trust your local church is able so to do. (Other times they include Psalms and liturgical settings appropriate to the Church year.)

  • Thanks Bill, as usual, you are spot on.
    In my personal sphere, there are too many intellectual Christians who love to sprout their Christian learning but are completely baffled over the same sex marriage question. I think their studies have become a stumbling block to true faith.
    One person I know who was the leader of a 200 + youth group told me that before he went to Bible college he saw many things as black and white, but after studying at the college, everything became shades of grey. BTW he agreed with SSM and tried to justify his stance using the Bible. Needless to say, six months after our conversation he publicly renounced
    his faith completely.

  • Thanks Roseanne. Yes there are Bible colleges and there are Bible colleges. Some are theologically quite liberal with a low view of Scripture. Some are much more conservative and biblically based. So not all theological education is equal! We must choose wisely here.

  • While scholarship must be valued and used in the service of the Christ, the everlasting Word, who is for us the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), we must never forget that the Father has revealed certain things to babes and hidden them from the wise and intelligent (Matthew 11:25). Even the learned amongst the flock of Christ must be prepared to be taught of God by a child!

  • Speaking as an enthusiastic amateur I have to agree. I would have loved to have had some decent training but after a couple of bad experiences with colleges teaching very poorly, to say the least and with family commitments, I was forced to study on my own. Not ideal but I have experienced some of what you say, Bill.

    Many Charismatic and Pentecostal churches preach that the Holy Spirit will simply lead us into all truth with no effort on our part. They base this on scriptures such as:-

    Joh_16:13 However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatever He hears, He shall speak. And He will announce to you things to come.

    1Jn 2:27 But the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true and no lie, and as He has taught you, abide in Him.
    (MKJV)

    On the face of it this could indicate that you don’t need to study until you recognize that the people Jesus said this to had spent three years in training first and John said this to people who he was actually in the process of teaching. Yes on rare occasions people can get things right easily and some naturally abide in the Holy Spirit as even some Old Testament people did, but the scriptures don’t point to this being anything like the norm. The fact that so many churches get their doctrine so wrong and so often contradict themselves and each other, definitely proves this. Paul’s fatherly advise is definitely called for:-

    2Ti_2:15 Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
    (MKJV)

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