Hacking Christianity was featured at the Wesley Report regarding our recent post on “Seminary Education is Dangerous for Pulpits.” The Wesley Report feature focused on hints of intellectual elitism that seminary students “typically” have, and exhibited HX‘s post as endemic of this disease of elitism and bible-snobbery.
I enjoyed the post and the pointed commentary (and several twitters of “you intellectual elitist!” from Blake). My post seems to be characterized like a scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon and a Harvard elite are dueling over education in a bar (video):
Will Hunting: Look, don’t try to pass yourself off as some kind of an intellect at the expense of my friend just to impress these girls. The sad thing is, in about 50 years you might start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and by then you’ll realize there are only two certainties in life. One, don’t do that. Two — you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda’ picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
Harvard Boy: Maybe. But I will have a degree, and you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive through on our way to a skiing trip.
Read on to see how Shane and I find common ground in defiance to biblical certainty.
To me, this is exactly how Shane’s post characterizes the tension in the church between seminary-educated clergy and laity.
- Intellectual elites think they know the right answer because they got the education….but the people in the pew can know just as much as they have, especially these days with the internets.
- Intellectual elites say that a piece of paper (a degree) means they are better than the people in the pew…..but as Shane’s post indicates, that won’t get any pull in most parishes.
Funny thing is….that I’m actually with Shane on this, and I said so in my first paragraph. There I was, a laity, sitting in a pew, wondering why the pastor was glossing over theological and biblical subtleties. I said so in the first paragraph, and yet then I get characterized as part of intellectual elitism. Reading Shane’s post, it seems it all hinges on the opening paragraph where I there was a failure in my post to articulate that there are differing levels of agreement among scholars, to which Shane jumps on and challenges my certainty. I can agree with that and accept his comment.
What I do not accept is that this is intellectual elitism. In fact, the post was against intellectual elites who say that people are below acknowledging the debate over biblical topics and authorship! That’s what frustrated me in the pews is that the preacher consistently glossed over important biblical debates! What the truth or fact is is irrelevant…but it is fundamentally dishonest to think laity should not participate in the debate over topics. This is not about intellectual elitism, it is about intellectual responsibility to be honest about the debate!
I have an intellectual responsibility to be honest with my parish. For instance, during the Scripture readings, I say “the author of John’s Gospel writes in the third chapter…” Did I say that John the Apostle wrote it? Did I say that a community of faith who struggled with Jesus’ message and compiled a vision of Christ drastically different than the Synoptics wrote it? Did I claim either with 100% certainty and thus intellectual snobbery? I don’t think so. By phrasing it this way I give honor to the debate while also not being mired into it. It’s easy to do…why don’t we do it?
I have an intellectual responsibility to be honest with my parish. For instance, I will say when I hit a difficult passage that “I’m looking at it with my own lens.” Adam Hamilton does the same thing in his sermon on Homosexuality where he talks about comparing biblical texts with “the lens of Jesus.” John Wesley did something similar where he compared biblical texts with “the character of God.” By acknowledging I am using my own theology of the bible, then I invite others to use their own theologies. It’s easy to do, why are we afraid of losing authority if we do it?
While Shane and I have taken some shots at each other in honest difference of opinion, at the end of the day, Shane and I have the same frustration and it is not intellectual snobbery, rather, it is unquestioned biblical certainty. And my beef is that clergy of all levels of theological education gloss over debate and preach interpretations that are presented as fact. Maybe because of the myriad of reasons that Josh outlined in a comment on the original post, I don’t know. But it is frustrating and elicited the original post not as a holding up of intellectualism, but as a rallying cry against it. Sheesh!
The Wesley Report piece has it right: preachers are not the sole guardians of knowledge for our parishes. Like Good Will Hunting, most of our knowledge can be gotten in the public library or on Wikipedia (well…most) or by attending a few lectures. Clergy need to adapt from dispensers of knowledge to embodiers of how to interpret, live, and breath the texts. And if we can’t embody the debate, if we gloss over debate and accept the status quo, then we will frustrate laity like Shane who know otherwise.
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