Elitist Jerkface

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.

– Proverbs 15:14 (NASB)

Kesiyl: fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one

Biyn: to discern, understand, consider; to perceive; to understand, know; to observe, mark, give heed to, distinguish, consider; to have discernment, insight, understanding; intelligent

Which do you want to be?

No knee-jerk answers. Really think about it.

I spent 19 years of my life in a single-wide trailer. Just before I turned 22, I moved, with my new husband, into a 450-square foot apartment. (It came with bright orange counter tops and harvest gold appliances. Classy). Eleven years later, there are still times when we celebrate that we get to keep our house for one more month. My father’s roots run deep in the soil, in farming. My mother likes to joke that her family used to be “nothing but horse rustlers and cattle thieves.”

I also had the grades that would have gained me entrance into the Ivy League (had I wanted that much debt and not been completely terrified to live that far away from family). I have debated existentialism. I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a national honor society. I’ve written three books. I read encyclopedias for fun.

So who am I?

A woman of the people?

Or an elitist jerkface?

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believes in Ephesus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). In that letter he made this profound statement:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…

– 2:14 (NKJV)

In its immediate context, this verse applied to the obliterating divisions between Jew and Gentile:

How could Gentiles ever forget that they stood outside the covenant made with Israel? Only on rare occasions could Gentiles participate in covenant observances. Had they wanted to join with Israel, the barriers were indeed great. In that condition, before the Gospel, they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. How desperate the Gentiles’ condition, according to the Jews. Gentiles were aliens, unable to apply for citizenship, excluded, and thus without spiritual rights. They were, therefore, without hope. Even worse, they were without God in the world, alone, bereft, drifting. Without access to the rituals of the Hebrew faith, what prospect for salvation did they have?

Surely the Gentiles needed a miracle if they were to be saved. Who could remove the obstacles to God for them? Who could offer them access to grace and salvation? Was there any possibility that they, too, might assume the throne, or were they always to be without hope?

In God’s plan and in God’s time, provision was made. Through the blood of Christ those who once were far away have been brought near. Access has been provided through Christ, the believer’s peace. The shalom of the ancient covenant finds its fulfillment in God’s designated Messiah, who has broken down the wall that separated them, a wall of hostility greater than the actual barrier in the Jerusalem temple that divided it into gentile and Jewish sections.

Asbury Bible Commentary 

Not only did Christ tear down the barrier between God and humanity (Matthew 27:51), He tore down the barrier between people. Everything about Jesus – His ministry, death and resurrection – was (and remains) centered on reconciliation. We couldn’t save ourselves. We pushed God away. We pushed each other away. And so He came to do the things that we couldn’t and enable us to live in peace with God and others.

Paul goes on:

…having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 

– 2:15-18 (NKJV)

Every person who believes is part of His family, part of His Body.

If you’ve been in church for awhile, your eyes are probably glazed over. You’ve heard this before.

Why is it, then, if we’ve all heard it before, we persist in creating new barriers?

In doing the opposite of what Christ did?

I watch as churches dig in and become more stubbornly anti-intellectual. “Smart people” are just full of themselves. They’re the “elite.” They probably think that they’re better than everyone else. They’re intimidating. They don’t “get” the “regular people.”

Bizarrely, people who know more than we do, who might be smarter than we are, must be stupid, because they don’t quite fit the mold.

Sit with that for a second.

We would rather keisyl than biyn.

I’m all for blowing up the ivory towers and breaking down the complex words. Theology need not be the pursuit of a special class alone. Anyone and everyone ought to have access and be able to learn.

But to learn, you have to be willing to be taught. And to be taught, you must have a teacher.

We can’t shun the “smart people.” God has them scattered throughout our congregations for a reason. The spiritual gifts of knowledge and teaching are real and necessary to the proper functioning of the church. We have belittled these gifts in a age of sound bites and memes and feel-goodness. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to grow.

But we need to.

We need the “smart people” and the “smart people” need the “regular people.” Everyone needs everyone else. That’s how God designed it. We need the person who can explain the Greek words and we need the person who finds joy in vacuuming the carpet. Nobody is better than anyone else.

It’s time we stop assuming that intelligence and arrogance go hand-in-hand. Time we stop believing that experience is all we need and there’s no value in study. Time to remove the bricks that make the wall between the “them” that sits right next to “us” every Sunday. To be humble enough to ask the “them” to teach “us.”

Because:

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. …

At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety.

5 Theses on Anti-Intellecualism

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For more, please read 8 Ways That Anti-Intellecualism is Harming the Church.

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Review: The Life Path

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Personal development is not a genre that I typically read. I have a difficult time with gimmicky, formulaic, “follow these steps and your life will be made of unicorns and marshmallow fluff!” types of books. It’s all been said and done. So when Dr. Thien Doan shared this in the introduction:

There are plenty of books out there on this subject by experts and success gurus who have conquered the world, made fortunes, and have millions of followers, fans and “friends” on Social Media. I’m not one of them.

I found myself smiling. The Life Path may not have been a title I would have chosen if not graciously asked to review it, but I can’t help but appreciate an author who is refreshingly down-to-earth.

The subject matter – planning, goal setting, leaving a legacy – is difficult for me. My eyes tend to glaze over when an author tasks me with composing lists or figuring out where I want to be in five years. This brain simply doesn’t work like that. It’s not that I don’t like planning; I do. Quite a lot. I am in fact deeply logical and orderliness is my jam. Perhaps the struggle is rooted in living with chronic illness. I simply have no idea what the next day, let alone the next year, will bring.

Thus I appreciate that Dr. Doan doesn’t pretend that life is neat. Plans must be sketched in pencil. He keeps the changeable nature of human existence at the forefront as he lays out the steps of the “Life Path.” We must take responsibility for ourselves, he rightly declares, but he doesn’t try to sell the notion that we can achieve perfection or bliss this side of eternity. Dr. Doan draws the reader to focus on God; how He has gifted and called each person. Those gifts and callings are varied. One life will not be exactly the same as the other. Several biblical illustrations are used to drive this home, from Nehemiah and his quest to rebuild the wall to the haunting question Jesus asked the man by the pool: “Do you want to get well?”

This is an honest book, outlining a never-ending journey. As we grow and change and become more intimate with the Lord, the road shifts. Dr. Doan reminds us that God is the center, the focus. He is to be our highest priority. We must be willing to lay our plans aside as His will becomes clear. That is a necessary and timely message to a church culture that is caught up in self-centeredness and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Humble and straightforward, Dr. Doan peppers his message with humor and pop-culture references, which I greatly enjoyed. One moment I was laughing…

I’m like Steve Rogers before he got the Super Soldier serum that turned him into Captain America. Beaten up and with a bloody nose, I’ll still square up and look at life’s obstacles in the eye and say, “I can do this all day.”

…the next I was thinking deeply,

God has a clear and compelling assignment for your life. Can you see it? Is your vision clear? Is it compelling enough to get your butt off the couch?

This is feet-on-the-pavement style teaching, meant to drive the reader to action.

Dr. Doan sums up the message of this book within its pages:

If you’re not learning, you’re not growing as a person.

This is the task of the disciple – to learn from and grow in the Lord. The Life Path is a good resource in that pursuit, perhaps especially if you’re not normally a fan of this kind of book.

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I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Five Minute Friday: Team

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

There’s a battle raging today, between taking a nap and having coffee in order to power through the afternoon and evening. (And by “power through,” I mean, “stay awake until 8:30 p.m. if possible”). Wonderful as a nap sounds, I think coffee is going to win. It’s mostly hot chocolate, which is very much on the “no-no” list when it comes to my eating and exercise regimen. But you know what?

Sometimes you gotta.

Kate asks us about our: team.

Go.

Your team changes.

I used to have this idea that as I journeyed through adulthood I would have one consistent set of close friends. Not a huge group. Not people who would demand I interact with them every single day, because #intj and that’s not going to happen. Just the kind of tightly knit group that would eventually sit around a beat-up kitchen table while adult children rustled about with their own kids, reminiscing about shared stupid things, meaningless to outsiders.

That’s what we all imagine.

The truth is that closeness waxes and wanes. Some people are in your life for a short season. Others float in and out. As you get older and hopefully become more like the person God intends you to be, you find that perhaps you just don’t have as much in common with that person anymore. Or you go through a crisis and find the last person you’d expect to show up is there every step of the way.

Over and over we hear in songs and sermons or read in books that relationship is vitally important. That we weren’t created to do life alone. That’s true. But really, we wind up slipping into idolatry. We worship an ideal, then feel massive disappointment when it doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

Preachers and authors point to David and Jonathan, going on and on about their relationship and how wonderful it was. While they were good friends, the best of friends (no, they were not gay), they were in each other’s lives for a relatively brief amount of time. David spent more nights in the hills tending sheep or on the run from King Saul than he did hanging with Jonathan, jamming on harps or seeing who could shoot an arrow farthest.

We have to learn to be willing to go with the flow. (How I loathe typing that. Give me control or give me death). I associate with basically the same group of people that I have for the last 5-8 years, but the way it is now, at 32, is different from the way it was when I was 25. I’ve made new friends. I see some old friends less. I have a deeper connection to others than I ever thought I’d have. This doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to care about any one person. It just means that the shape of your team changes.

No longer do I picture that gathering around the table. Or if I do, the faces are blurry. I don’t know who might be there. It makes me a little sad. At the same time, letting go of what I thought adult friendship should be like and embracing the what-is brings with it a sense of freedom. I don’t have the first clue what God has in store for me. I’ve got to enjoy the ride instead of clinging to an illusion that will leave me discontented.

Life, I think, is a constant stream of celebration and mourning, often mixed together. Much as I am a creature of habit, there isn’t really any such thing as routine. Things are always shifting. It’s tough even when it’s good.

Blessedly, there is the One Who Never Changes. The Constant in the midst of chaos. Do we ever truly pause to think about that? If the day utter aloneness comes, when this earthly team abandons ship and there’s nobody to hear the cries or see the tears – it’s not utter aloneness at all. In the invisible, just beyond sight, sits the King of Kings. Remarkably, He bends near. Gathers us close. Listens well.

Forever the Captain of the team.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Matthew Wiebe