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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The Detox Diaries: I’ll Never Be an Academic

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Gentle Reader,

Dude.

I love me a good commentary. I’m really glad that there are people way smarter than me who can help me to understand what a Biblical texts says or means.

But academics think too hard.

And that’s coming from someone who thinks too hard.

I remember having this problem when I was in college, studying theology. I did well in the classes that required a straightforward analysis of the text. Of course this required taking context, both historical and literary into account, but there wasn’t a whole lot of fuss and bother about it. For example, if a Psalm’s superscription read “of David,” then it was either written by David or by a school of musicians who styled themselves after David. No further discussion was necessary.

There were a few classes, however, that were very difficult for me because the thinking I had to do was…fuzzier. That’s the best word I’ve got for it. The words got longer and the concepts loftier. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the language or the ideas. I did. I still do. It’s that I found the whole thing frustrating. Why take five paragraphs and use words that contain more letters than the alphabet has in total to tell me that Jesus is cool? Why not just say that Jesus is cool?

I didn’t do so good in those classes.

I’m not bashing the academics. We need them. They’re the ones who know the ins and outs of the original languages. They’re the ones who “do” theology. They have gifts and talents from which we can all benefit.  I’m just not one of them, so this blog isn’t going to get “smarter” any time soon. Sorry if you were waiting for that.

To me, “doing” theology and knowing all the right, complicated, Latin- Greek- and Hebrew-derived words doesn’t mean squat if you can’t bring it down to a practical, simple-as-possible level. That’s where I’m living right now. I’m not “doing” theology. I’m “living” theology. Give me the hard-and-fast basics about God, the things I can absolutely count on. I think of my journalism professor, who constantly told his students to cut out the “fluff” and boil the story down to the core. The essence.

There was a time when I enjoyed debating things like Calvinism vs. Arminianism vs. Somewhere-in-the-Middleism. I tried to unravel the mystery of why God created everything in the first place. Maybe I’ll enjoy that kind of stuff again one day, but right now, just tell it to me straight. Tell me about Jesus. I don’t have time or energy for the finer points.

Thankfully, God knows that. He speaks to me rather bluntly. Always has. I don’t experience my relationship with Him as some esoteric thing. He’s to-the-point. He’s direct. What’s funny about this is that I’ve started studying the book of Ezekiel, with it’s freaky-deaky visions and bizarre, symbolic acts. But in all that I see God pointing at His prophet and saying, “This is what’s wrong and this is how it can be fixed.” God cuts through the garbage and gets to the heart of things.

That’s what I want. That’s how I think. That’s how I view life, the universe and everything else. Not that it’s all strictly black-and-white or that many things aren’t hard to understand. Just give me Jesus. Just give me the One who can break through all the chaos and make it all so beautifully neat.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.