The Holy Spirit Flunks Out Of Seminary, Or Being Afraid To Speak

Christians love to debate each other. Opinions? We’ve got more than enough to go around – they’re like fishes and loaves in these parts. Gone are the days when the people relied on their village minister. Thanks to the printing press and the internet Christians are making smarter and smarter.

And they’re not afraid to use it.

A few times here on the blog I’ve posted things that were a risk in my eyes. I have theories and ideas and that make me climb out the window to shimmy on a limb to share them. My late night hobby is browsing my Google Reader and commenting on blogs. But sometimes I just kept my keyboard’s mouth shut.

There seems to be a sort of academic police who go on patrol and inspect every little thing you say to see if it can withstand the most advanced intellectual scrutiny. It’s intimidating. It feels like you’re on trial. I’m just trying to contribute to a conversation (apologies for sounding emergent.) It seems like the intellectual types can hijack the conversation and make themselves the authority so that their word is the final one.

Just because you haven’t gone to seminary and you aren’t defending your claim with complex theology doesn’t mean you can’t say anything at all. It doesn’t mean you can’t add anything valuable. Especially when it comes to Christianity. In this world, children see the Kingdom more brightly then the well trained teacher.

This post began as a lament, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I think we’re doing something dangerous.

I don’t think Jesus meant that only the well educated can speak with authority. He was a man/God of the people. If anything the guys who had their noses in the books all the time missed the bigger picture. The academic types have appointed themselves the keepers of truth and by their standard truth is judged.

In no way, of course, am I saying academics and Christianity are enemies. But I wonder if we’re replaced the movement of the Holy Spirit with our lofty scholarly debates. Jesus seemed to think everyone was worthy – not just the high flying experts. And I think in all of our debates it’s very easy to write off alleged movements of the Holy Spirit and instead rely on figuring it systematically.

I’m even ridiculous enough to say we’ve idolized academics and turned it into some sort of God that who sits just below Jesus yet well above the Holy Spirit. This Jesus thing is not solely an academic endeavor.

Have you encountered this fear of being picked apart by the academic police?

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19 Responses to The Holy Spirit Flunks Out Of Seminary, Or Being Afraid To Speak

  1. Some people just like to argue, and they happen to be Christians, so they argue about Christianity.

  2. David says:

    But I wonder if we’re replaced the movement of the Holy Spirit with our lofty scholarly debates. Yes sir we have. We have relegated God to an intellectual realm. We don’t want any miracles, we don’t want tongues or interpretations, we don’t want to see demons cast out – we just want people to feel loved – oh joy.

    You know that best way to love a sick person is to heal them. The best way to love someone that suffers from curses, oppression and possession is to deal with the devils. Unless we let God be supernatural, the Gospel becomes anemic and powerless. Paul said the Kingdom of God was not talk, but one of power!

    And the best way to deal with sin is repentance and receiving Jesus!

    Not sure if you meant it, but Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are one – they are different persons of the same God. They are not one above the other.

    • I didn’t mean what I said about the trinity – I was saying it is as though we’ve made the hierarchy I described.

      the difficulty people have with what you’re saying is you can’t quantify it – it exists in a supernatural realm and you can’t use human means to get there.

  3. most definitely. I am not one who goes “deep” in conversations. I have a pretty basic faith and find the constant haggling over what I consider non-incidentals to be very tiring. i write for the purpose of writing-whether people agree or not. If they do fine. If not, fine. I will not allow mud-slinging. I can remember once hearing someone say, “You know what they say about college professors and intellectuals don’t you? They go down deep and come up dry.” i stand on that (for the most part).

    • Bill – being a pastor you’re called to lead a flock – not turn them into intellectuals. and that quote is so true – academics feels so stale to me. I know to some it doesn’t and that’s great for them, but it sucks my soul dry.

  4. Balance. It is all about balance.

    Spirit mixed with application mixed with our intellect (that our Father has given us, by the way) mixed with Scriptural pursuit mixed with getting our hands dirty.


    I liked Bill’s quote about intellectuals. I’m not an intellectual by any stretch, but I do derive a certain amount of satisfaction when my Father has me pose a question to them that merely backs them into an intellectual corner they cannot escape. Yes, I am a jerk sometimes. But I’m a happy jerk. 🙂

  5. Chris says:

    Hey Charlie, hope all is well. I will pray for you right after I finish this post.

    This topic is a real hot-button with me. I’ve thought about it quite often.

    The idea of intellectual faith is a kind of good news/bad news situation. The reason for going “deeper” in questions and conversations is because in the course of our walk of faith questions naturally arise. The reason we go deeper is because we want our faith to make sense, and it should make sense. We don’t want our faith to simply be religious wishful thinking. Scripture says – “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It doesn’t say to be transformed by its removal. Although simple faith is a beautiful thing we don’t want our faith to be simplistic, otherwise we become fundamentalists who never question and who take every word of the bible literally. And isn’t this what your whole blog rails against? We naturally want to go deeper and dig more because simple answers just don’t always make sense to us at some point, especially in this day and age as you’ve noted where information that was once confined to the ivory tower is now just a mouse click away. Consequently what happens is that we embark on a journey of chasing after as much knowledge as we can so as to hopefully quell those nagging questions. Sometimes, when we’ve acquired a certain amount of knowledge and made what we think are big discoveries, if we are not mature we will smugly lord that knowledge over others so as to have the upper hand. If you think of a first year college student having his first semester of Western Civ, or philosophy, and then going home to lecture his parents as to how smart he is, you get the picture of the kind of immature arrogance that I’m talking about. People forget that there are basically no new questions and people have pondered these things before. Just because we live with new technology doesn’t mean that people fundamentally change. When I go to the bible I don’t go there to find out how to re-format my hard drive. I go there to hear God speak, about me, about Him, about the human condition, and about his over-arching plan for humankind. This is where the bible speaks quite truly and clearly I believe.

    As you’ve observed we have a lot of people running around the net today (often, but not always big name seminary students) with no sense of grace acting like the academic gestapo. Someone I know once wrote an infamous blog regarding the Phd students at Princeton. He’s pretty smart, although we don’t always agree, and he noticed the same thing here:
    I also once wrote a long response to a paper that Tony Jones had wanted to deliver at Wheaton. He’d asked for responses and so I took the time, as a layperson – not a theologian, to read his thesis and to try to respond at length.
    If you want to waste an hour you can read his paper and my response (among others) here.
    My response touched on some of the very things you’d noted. How in some ways Jesus is so remarkable that his words and actions often confound the so-called wise, and in fact make them appear foolish. Jesus called all people. The lettered and the ignorant. The rich and the poor. The young and the old. Male and female, etc. Knowledge and wisdom are good things. The bible affirms this again and again. But it’s a double-edged sword. It has to be a godly wisdom. I believe in some ways as David does. There has to be some kind of super-natural involvement in the relationship between faith and knowledge, otherwise we just flounder through our own efforts and it’s like grasping at straws.

    • wow this was a great reply. Sorry for all of the troubles you had just to get it here Chris. I loved the post from the M.Div student. I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

      You had so many great points. I think it does often come down to immaturity, and using that knowledge as though it’s a weapon. In no way do I think simple faith is something to strive for – but as you noted that quest for knowledge suddenly becomes a quest for something else – a quest for authority. A quest for justification and sanctification. I guess it just goes to show that you can’t do anything too hardcore – there is always a downside.

  6. Larry Hughes says:

    Here is my take in theology and being afraid. I am not afraid to go head to head with any one of intellectual brain power in Christian theology. The problem with intelligence is it hides the heart felt feelings of God’s will and His word. I don’t think He intended for us to debate on what He said but to edify His words in scripture as the truth and the light.

    It all depends on which author or authors of PHD dergrees you study. I once read of one (Bennet) ( Charismatic Chaos) who stated the spritual gifts ceased after the death of the last apostle. Then another (Deere) refuted that claim and posted historically that the Spiritual gifts are indeed still active. It is interesting to note that Deere ( Surprised by the Holy Spirit) was at one time a staunch theoretical Professor so intrenched in the theological aspects of Christianity that he was missing the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts all togethter.

    Intellectual knowledge is cool but it doesn’t make it right all the time. So as long a I can hear from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit ( the triune) words as the truth, I think I am safe and brave enough to take on all comers.

  7. Carla says:

    I think I have been on both sides of this discussion. I like to discuss and I like to study, so I can totally be that person that puts an intellectual spin on faith. At the same time there have been certain blogs that I haven’t commented on because I was intimidated by the level of intellect involved- or the level of debate in the comments section. I don’t think its dangerous or wrong to make intellectual discourse and study a part of faith. In fact when the debate is with unbelievers sometimes it is necessary to have a certain level of knowledge. That being said, if the Holy Spirit is totally absent from such encounters than it just becomes a pissing contest and is more about our big heads than about Christ. Have you heard of Ravi Zacharias? I love him. Here’s his website . The tagline of his ministry is: Helping the thinker Believe. Helping the Believer think. His is one of the most articulate, Spirit led speakers I’ve ever heard.

    I think when it starts getting dangerous is when it becomes about the letters after ones name. When our education becomes our source of authority instead of Christ being our source of authority. My husband was debating with a “friend” once who was also a pastor and the guy told my husband that he had gone to seminary and Mark had a degree in psychology so Mark shouldn’t even attempt to debate him cause his education was lacking. I don’t want to devalue a seminary degree, but I think fervent study of the Word and a heart led by the Holy Spirit is probably all we need to engage in such discussions. But again, I think that pastor had more heart problems than intellectual ones.

    I enjoy a good debate but I also usually state that unless we’re debating Christ’s deity and our salvation through Him, whatever we discuss is really minor. I think in all this intellectualism we forget about wisdom and discernment. If we let the Holy Spirit lead we can discern with Godly wisdom when to speak up and when to keep our mouths, or keyboards, shut.

    • such a great line – When our education becomes our source of authority instead of Christ being our source of authority. If i would have consulted with you before writing this post I could have had used half as many words. You’re exactly right that in all of the intellectualism we end up forgetting about, maybe even devaluing wisdom, discernment and I say possibly the Holy Spirit.

  8. A. says:

    Sometimes I have had a ‘sense’ that a thing was or wasn’t right (Holy Spirit talking?) but it wasn’t until I accessed good study materials that the matter was cleared up for me. That means, practically, that I acted upon the sense, but was relieved when I finally understood the why.

    People are born with varying degrees of inherent intelligence, capacity, giftings, etc. If someone is born with an I.Q. of who knows what big number, and their brain takes them out on limbs that mine doesn’t even approach, I say more power to them! I will stay on my branch but they by all means should explore theirs! Birds of a branch will find each other and tend to flock together. God did, after all, give us our minds and our curiosity-it’s no crime to use them, we just have to govern them.

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