As with so many areas in the Christian life, certain issues can result in rather polarising views. Believers can be of two minds when it comes to theological education. Some think going to a Bible college or seminary can be a very good thing indeed, while others might pooh pooh the idea altogether.
The former group think there is a place to learn more, study more, and grow in one’s biblical and theological understanding. The latter group however seems to think they have the Holy Ghost and a direct pipeline to God, and that is all they need. They tend to look down on learning, book study, theology, etc.
As always, there are two unbiblical and unhelpful extremes to avoid here. One is to think that having lots of degrees after your name makes you something hotsy totsy in God’s eyes. There are plenty of educated fools out there who are nowhere near to God.
But the other extreme is to despise and look down on all education, including theological education. Jesus commanded us to love God with our minds, and he is not pleased with intellectual laziness. He calls many of us to further education, and it can be a very valuable thing indeed to use for Christ and the Kingdom.
So we must keep the biblical balance here. Not everyone is called to go on to further studies, including theological education. But many are, and we must not look down on them or judge them for doing what they feel they are called of God to do.
But those who do keep on studying, including formal education, must not look down on these believers who do not sense a call for such ongoing study. Sure, they should study the Word of God daily, and avail themselves of good teachers and teachings, but not all must be seminary grads.
Both sides can go off into deep error and displease God if they are not careful. We all know of great intellectuals, academics and theologians whose minds are full but whose hearts and souls seem empty. Simply having a heap of theological training does not necessarily make you a godly and loving Christian.
Some believers are puffed up with all their learning and knowledge, and their arrogance and pride simply turns people off, and damages the cause of Christ. But of course their faulty intellectualism is no reason to discount or attack the importance of theological education.
And then we all know of those believers who are equally proud and smug, looking down on those who are into study and theology. They think they have a corner on the truth because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and they actually think those who study elsewhere are wasting their time or being carnal.
Many will criticise seminaries, calling them cemeteries instead. Now one can indeed leave a seminary spiritually dead if one is not careful. But this certainly need not be the case. There are many excellent seminaries out there doing a great job, helping to train new generations of Christian leaders.
So it is wrong to run with either extreme. We need to stop judging each other and accusing one another here. If God calls someone to go on with further formal theological training, fine. If he does not call others to do that, fine as well. We need to avoid looking down on theological training and we also need to guard against cold intellectualism.
John Piper once put it this way:
So I don’t want to overstate the case. It’s not about going to school or getting degrees or having prestige. It’s not about the superiority of intellectuals. It’s about using the means God has given us to know him, love him, and serve people. Thinking is one of those means. I would like to encourage you to think, but not to be too impressed with yourself when you do.
While both extremes must be shunned, I would say that the bigger problem today is with those who decry the use of the mind, the importance of study, and the use of reason. The pendulum has swung too far in that direction of late. So while arid intellectualism must be avoided, our more pressing problem today may be getting believers to actually think.
We are called to love God with all our minds. That is the greatest commandment that Jesus spoke about in the three Synoptic gospels. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:34-40, how did he answer?
In vv. 37-38 we find these words: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” This is also found in Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-8.
So there is no escaping this basic truth: the true disciple of Christ will use the mind God gave him for the service of Christ and the Kingdom. No one can opt out here. To refuse to think for the glory of God is to live in rebellion against God.
Whether or not that means going on for some formal theological training is a moot point. It may well be the case for some of you. So if you have already told God you will never go to Bible college, you may need to double check and make sure this is God’s clear will for you.
A few closing quotes will help to make my case here. John Stott said this: “Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.”
William Lane Craig put it this way:
It’s not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. 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. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.
Or as C. S. Lewis put it:
God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book [The Pilgrim’s Progress] that has astonished the whole world.
If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
So think and study, as God leads, for his glory.