Is there any hope for the over-educated Christian?
I hope so. For I am one.
I live in an affluent area where the largest challenge to my faith is not persecution but instead materialism – the opposite prong on the same pitchfork. My playlist abounds with countless sermons and unbridled access to biblical teaching. I live within a stone’s throw of not one, not two, but at least three faithful, evangelical churches. The number of books by dead theologians on my bookshelves that I haven’t even cracked far outnumber the number that I’ve read. At any given moment, I can be reading, listening to, or even watching centuries of commentary, study, and reflection on any biblical text I so choose.
I am, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, an intellectually fat Christian. My mind is obese with knowledge and bloated with facts. And as I loosen the belt around my heavily churchified brain more and more day by day, I wonder what would happen if my obedience kept pace with that knowledge.
The truth is that I know far more than I obey. And that causes me to wonder if there is any hope for over-educated Christians like me, or am I destined to drown in this sea of head knowledge because no matter how much I might be puffed up by it, I am no less buoyed by it. Again, then, I would ask… Is there any hope for the over-educated Christian?
And, of course, the answer is yes. It’s not “yes” because of the merits of knowledge, but because in the gospel, there is hope for all, be they the fatly-minded or the thinly-rebellious, whether they’re the younger son returning from the far country or the older son busy working in the field.
Perhaps the first step toward that help is the recognition that help is needed; that this condition of over-education is not necessarily a mark of spiritual maturity. So, then, how do you know if you are an over-educated Christian? I’d offer three ways to help us self-diagnose:
1. If you tend to have an attitude of examination rather than participation…
If you find yourself, surrounded by the worship of God, the preaching of the Word, and the fellowship of the saints, examining the methodology of those leading rather than participating in what’s going on around you, it’s very possible that you have begun to be overtaken by your education. In a case like that, you would prefer to analyze the details of the presentation rather than dwelling on the content and the presence of God.
2. If you are more excited than grieved at finding the fault…
If during that examination you do indeed find fault, and maybe it’s something relatively minor, do you feel a sense of justification? I know that feeling, too. It’s a sense of triumph that somehow you have been able to mine through all the external fluff and find that kernel of error that simply must be exposed. And if it’s not exposed to the world, at least it’s exposed in your own heart. When we feel that, we are feeding that animal of superiority that lurks in us all, that beast which craves a higher place over all others so that we might not feel so small, even for a moment.
3. If you desire generalities over personal specifics…
If, when you find yourself in a conversation with another in the body of Christ, there is no confession of sin, no admittance of struggle, and no grace to listen to another do the same, but instead prefer to deal in hypothetical “can God make a rock so big He couldn’t move it” kind of discussions, then beware of over-education. In a case like this, we keep the truth of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit at arm’s length because we fear what might happen to us if it, and He, came any closer. Surely something would have to change, and we can’t bear the thought of the magnifying glass of our gaze being turned inward.
And when, like me, you do recognize just how far your knowledge outpaces your obedience, don’t fall into despair. But don’t either dismiss the thought. Instead, renew your mind not to just know about Jesus but to know Jesus truly though doing so will involve far more cost (and far more joy ultimately) than mere intellectual learning.