My Not-so-tongue-in-cheek Look at the World of Non-thinking Christians
Note: these are just some "ramblings."
The longer I work in the field of academia, the more I am convinced that there is very little independent thinking going on within the Christian church. Of course, I include myself as well, for I am making a very sweeping, generalized charge.
Most of us fancy ourselves to be the exception to the rule; after all, we don't follow the crowd, right? We certainly do not simply parrot the theology of our denomination or our heroes, right?
Now They're Thinking!
We believe someone is thinking through theological issues when that person has come over to our camp. "Now they're thinking!" we declare.
If someone leaves the opponent's camp to pitch his tent in our camp, he obviously has thought through the issues . Else, he would never have come over to our camp , right?
Are they not thinking through some very tough issues? Perhaps. But, what I have noticed is that sometimes a person simply changes one "parrot food" for another.
I am saddened and frankly simply amazed at the knee-jerk reactions that we Christians have to opposing ideas. And, I must toss myself into that category of knee-jerk reactors.
Speaking of knee-jerk reactions, I was once involved in a conversation with a couple Christians and a couple Mormons. During the conversation, one of the Christians, unwisely, asked, "Hey, wasn't Joseph Smith a horse thief?" One young Mormon nearly punched him! Sometimes I have seen Christians react in the same violent way when one of their heroes (and I'm not talking about Jesus) was attacked ad hominem .
A Condescending Smirk
One impetus for this Coffee-Talk comes as deeply from within my own lack of thinking as it does from viewing others who are reactors and not thinkers. Just recently, I read a student paper filled with theological perspectives different from my own, and rather than "listening" to his words, I found myself giving that "professorial, condescending smirk." In the midst of my arrogance, I felt the Holy Spirit convict me for my smug, self-imposed superiority. (And believe me, all professors are guilty of this from time to time.)
Haven't Heard all the Questions
I once asked a question of a group of theologians. I was not without an opinion about the topic, and I had done my own research on it long before. But, I was revisiting the topic. I had begun to "re-think through" some more issues related to the topic. One knee-jerker abruptly interjected, "Well, I settled that issue years ago." His attitude was smug, and he "tipped" his hand. Now, I saw him as not only arrogant, but as a person who felt that he had all the answers, long ago . He did not have a teachable spirit, and I knew that there would be no meaningful conversation with this man. I coined a phrase that fits well here. "He who has all the answers has not heard all the questions." In fact, people "who have all the answers" care me. It is easy to have all of your little, pat answers, but it is hard to give them up when faced with new evidence.
Of Heroes and Zeros
Another thing that intrigues me is the fact that we "heroize" the loud people. What I mean by that is that: sometimes a "new" theologian or pastor will step up to the plate and say nothing new; he may simply repeat what he has been taught, but if he has these three qualities: (1) he says what has been said for years in some seemingly new ways and (2) he has an outlet for his teachings, for example he has a television show, a big church, writes books, or a radio show, and (3) he says what we already believe , then he becomes our most recent hero, our newest "champion."
Your Major has Feet of Clay
I was astounded when I entered graduate school to meet so many students and professors who had masters and doctoral degrees in men. One of my professors had a Ph.D. in John Wesley; another one had a doctorate in Martin Luther. One of my fellow students went to Oxford in England and earned his Ph.D. in a little-known Scottish Reformer (I can't even remember the Reformer's name). Another had his Ph.D. in John Calvin. (And, not in the same category but interesting nonetheless, one of the science professors had his Ph.D. in frog intestines.)
I always found it amusing and amazing that when something came up that one of these men, e.g., Wesley, Luther, Calvin, et al., had not addressed, these "experts" felt completely at ease telling us students what these theologians "would have said." Every now and then during class, after a professor would go on and on about what "So-and-so" would have said , I would raise my hand and once called on, I would ask, "That's very interesting. But, can you tell me what Jesus would have said about this issue?" My questions were generally met with some sort of artful non-reply .
A Degree in Jesus?
I was once standing among my fellow students in grad school as they were talking about what exact majors they intended to pursue as they went on to finish their master's degrees and on into their PhDs. As can be surmised, since many of these students had so "heroized" some of the local professors, they would naturally want to "major" on the same human theologians as their "champions" had done. Some said, "Wesley," some "Calvin," etc.
So, being the anti-devils' advocate that I am, I asked if any of them intended to get a "Degree in Jesus." They all simply looked at me as though I had just stepped off a UFO.
Send comments about this, or any, Coffee Talk to Rick Walston at: CES - @ - ColumbiaSeminary.edu
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