As a Professor, Here’s Some Dumb Things I Said & Thought When I Was a Student
perfected my healthy caffeine addiction while pulling all-nighters to finish term papers in college. I really had a healthy caffeine addiction before graduating high school, but college sort of topped it off. I pass the whole “moderate amounts of coffee are good for you” by about 8AM every morning.
I’m now going into my fifteenth year in higher education. I love what I do. I love to teach. I love all the related activities as well, like writing, recruiting, and building relationships with graduates and donors.
It’s different than I thought it would be, mostly all for the better. But looking back at my too-many-years in course work preparing for this job, here’s a few dumb things I remember thinking and saying:
One, educated people are smarter.
The smartest people I know don’t have terminal degrees. You can call it life skills, common sense, street smarts, discernment, or wisdom: education can’t give any of them to you. People pursue education for a lot of reasons, and have the degrees and Sallie Mae Loans to prove it. That doesn’t make them smarter.
Here’s the scoop, people with PhDs spent a lot of time studying a really small area. They’re not experts on everything, though they might pretend to be. You can frame a piece of paper and slap it on the wall, but it isn’t synonymous with good old fashioned wisdom.
Two, educated people are more spiritual.
Also false. Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul warned us that knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8) and then later encourages us to use our gifts in love (1 Corinthians 13). You don’t need a degree to better love God and neighbor.
Knowing a lot of stuff doesn’t make one more spiritual. If you are going to grow spiritually it will involve growing in knowledge but it will also involve growing in your affections for God and others. Unfortunately, education often divorces knowledge and application.
Sometimes I pick up on a subtle notion that regular church members aren’t able to read their Bibles with the kind of clarity that seminary graduates can. Perhaps that’s why the doctrine of the simplicity of Scripture is called “perspicuity.” Academics have to use a confusing word to make it sound more sophisticated. It’s simple. Anyone can read the inspired Word of God and apply it to their lives through the power of the Spirit. You don’t need a degree.
I once heard someone say that if you aren’t reading the Bible in the original languages then you aren’t really reading the Word of God. Yeah, no. The majority of the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament show that the Apostles, and Jesus himself, read and quoted from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Yep, Jesus and the Apostles used a translation too.
Requiring modern readers to know the original languages is not a barrier we find in the Bible. Mr. Seminary prof, tear down that wall! It was not meant to be there.
And just a side note to the haughty first year Greek student, or even seasoned Greek professor, who might be reading this: in general I wouldn’t trust your expertise to extemporaneously translate a passage of the New Testament over the large group of scholars who worked and debated and labored to pass along an English translation. Sorry, not sorry.
Three, educated people are better church members.
Some of the most divisive people I’ve met in ministry have seminary educations. There are a lot of seminary students who love, serve, and bless their churches during their time of study. But that’s not always the case. If you aren’t prone to love and serve without an education, getting a degree won’t fix that.
I don’t think the solution to any of this is to burn seminaries to the ground. Please don’t. I love my seminary and visit it every chance I can. I’m profoundly thankful for Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the contribution it made to my life and ministry. But looking back at those seminary years, I realize I had said and thought some dumb stuff.
Thankfully God is patient with all of us. Life has a way of kicking the dumb ideas out of you if you let it.
I’m a professor. I couldn’t do this without my education. But I realize none of my education makes me smarter, more spiritual, or a better church member. The Bible is sufficient for all of that, and if you are a follower of Jesus that means you have all you need for life and godliness (even using an modern translation of the Bible!).