Posted by: Alex | May 10, 2011

Sneak Preview and a Few Ground Rules

Before we really get underway in the next couple of days, a few thoughts from the book that will bring our summer to a close that I think serve to set up some cautions and ground rules for our project here.  Andy Byers writes in chapter 6 of his book Faith Without Illusions about the problem of “anti-intellectualism” in American Christianity, especially the evangelical community.  I have to confess that a large degree of my frustrations with my evangelical heritage have stemmed from exactly this problem.  But Andy, who always manages to keep things well balanced, has some cautions for us that I think are well worth hearing.  In discussing the cynical response to anti-intellectualism, Andy references German professor Helmut Thielicke’s book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians:

He [Thielicke] contends that the spiritual maturity of novice theologians is often less developed than their head knowledge: “There is a hiatus between the area of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena.”  He goes on to write that young theologians manifest certain trumped-up intellectual effects that actually amount to nothing.  Thielicke urges young Christian scholars to ensure that their intellectual training never exceeds their spiritual maturity (or to at least be aware of the potential gap between the two).

A little later Andy goes on to write about how that gap between intellectual knowledge and spiritual maturity frequently manifests itself:

In claiming to honor the first commandment of loving God with everything, including our minds, intellectual Christians may break the second commandment by failing to love those neighbors who may not care about the latest title from the Society of Biblical Literature or the latest debate at the American Academy of Religion.  There is a problem when those who can read the Bible in Greek suddenly feel more important than the linguistically limited masses.  There is a problem when someone gets snubbed or laughed at because he or she has never heard of Karl Barth or Albert Schweitzer.  There is a problem when we feel spiritually superior because we read Miroslav Volf instead of the trendy bestsellers displayed in the Christian book section at Walmart.  Gaining insight tends to inflate egos.

These insights from Andy are being posted here today to serve as indication of what this blog is NOT meant to be.

As a graduate student, I am often made (painfully) aware, as I interact with professors and students farther along than I, of just how much I do not know, how much I have not read that I should have, how much more work I have to do before I can really call myself an “expert” in the field I claim to do scholarship in.  As a divinity student who is also often involved in ministry to some degree or another, I am also aware of the fact that as a graduate student in the West at a prestigious university, I have had opportunities to read and study and learn about things most people, including most Christians in the pews, have never even heard of.  What this blog should not be is an exercise in showing off that knowledge.  I want to strike a balance between critically engaging with the things we will read this summer, an approach that is to some degree academic, and doing so in a way that is kind, fair, and accessible to anyone who reads along.  We are not here to build egos, we are here to learn.

Which means a few things.

First, discussion is extremely welcome, especially if you disagree with me.  So long as we all “keep it clean” then the more the merrier.

Second, take this as an invitation to correct me if I am wrong about something and to call me out if I am being less than compassionate or fair in my presentation.

Third, as we work through this material together, we need to strive for mutual understanding or “sympathy.”  I recently wrote a post for the “Rally to Restore Unity” that Rachel Held Evans put on about this which you can read, if you like, here.  To put it very succinctly, a friend of mine today put as their status on Facebook a quote from John Piper, whom we will be reading soon, that said “Do unto authors as you would have them do unto you. You really don’t like it when people say you mean what you don’t.”  For this to be beneficial, we have to strive to understand what one another mean in the things we say.  If you are not willing to put in that effort, it may be best to not put in your two sense worth.

What do you think?

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Responses

  1. I read Helmut Thielicke’s book after Andy suggested it in chapel. It is short and to the point. Good little read


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