Confessions of an Intellectual Sellout

Photo by Timmy BristerWhen I started Bible College in 1999, I discovered a completely new world. The syncretistic revivalism I had imbibed from my home church stood in stark contrast with the majestic fortress of Reformed Evangelicalism. My conversion to this new religion was quick. Why? I feigned a careful study of the issues, but in the end, I just wanted to join the club. I wanted to play the scoffer. My pride swelled as I imagined how rapidly I was outgrowing the simple faith I left behind.

Then the conflicts began. Pastors, deacons and even my wife drew the ire of this fledgling theological Pharisee. The whole of my educational became a covert smuggling of ammunition. What a powerful arsenal I discovered! Hermeneutics, Calvinism, Church History and even Ethics were the choice weapons of my coup d’état. However, it was conflict without confrontation. When my pastor revealed his theological deficiency, I did not ask for a meeting. Rather, I scoffed-slandered-judged and left. Why try to understand? He was a false teacher who clearly did not evidence a love for God’s Reformed Word.

Eight years later, I am back in Systematic Theology. I look around and see my story on the faces of my peers. Just nod. God continues his humbling work in my life. Every week, I am amazed at how much I do not really understand. I have adopted a new posture toward learning. Before I would mark the zingers in my text, now I look for the frailty in my own positions. A right understanding of God (a.k.a. theology) will promote humility rather than pride. I read for weakness rather than strength. What does this argument assume? What fallacies are invisible when I assume my own inerrancy? Why do so many godly Baptists reject these ideas?

At the end of the day, my own questions drive me back to Christ. My intellectual weakness requires his strength. My pride requires his cross. My faltering answers require his truth. Ultimately, humble questions are compatible with a reverent sprit. And both are required to learn at the foot of Christ.

(Photo by Timmy Brister)

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15 Responses to Confessions of an Intellectual Sellout

  1. Aaron says:

    Wow, thank you for your honesty there Tony. I think many of us would have the same story if we were honest with ourselves. I think this is perhaps the single most needed message / lesson in Theological circles. I totally agree with you… we (I) must always remember that the scriptures are a mirror, not crosshairs! May we continually sit at His feet and learn humility :)

  2. Trevin Wax says:

    Great post, Tony. A good warning and exhortation for the rest of us, too.

  3. Ann Addison says:

    Excellent! Thanks. … even laypeople fall into this trap. : /

    1Co 8:1-2 …this “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.

  4. Very helpful: both the article and the comments.

  5. Brother, thank you for this post. I have a friend that you just described to a ‘t’. I pray daily that I do not get head full and heart empty. My question each day is how can I apply what I learned in my studies. I also seek to be consistent with my convictions and beliefs. I struggle daily with the lack of consistency. Thank you for opening up your inner thoughts to us in this. I believe this is a blog entry that many need to read–especially me.

  6. Brother Hank says:

    You’re right on brother. I was in your same boat, not too long ago (zingers and all). Now I hate it when I see that same theological arrogance in other people…but more because it reminds me of me, than anything else.

    I thank the Lord that He not only saves us from “our sin”, but that He also saves us from “ourselves”.

    O, to grace, how great a debtor!

  7. G. F. McDowell says:

    Tony, this is a great post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us. I hope I can figure out how to be humble before too long here.

  8. Terik Ororke says:

    As Methodist, your lack of arguments seem pretty weak and rally not scriptural at all except open to your own interpretation–thus creating your own theology..maybe you need to get back to your roots and look carefully for what you never understood in the first place instead of coming off half cocked.

  9. Aaron Hawk says:

    These two scriptures are a constant paradox to me…

    Proverbs 26:4-5

    4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

    5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

  10. Aaron Hawk says:

    …so often I am at a loss

    Proverbs 30:2-3

    2 Surely I am more stupid than any man, And I do not have the understanding of a man.

    3 Neither have I learned wisdom, Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.

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  12. Santiago says:

    Great post!

    To learn truth in a fallen world is to carve away at the lies that have clouded our thinking. The more we carve, the bigger the (w)hole of truth appears and more we realize how vast and deep it is. Can one focus unduly on one point without making the rest out of focus?

    Our strength in this world is in our capacity for self-delusion. Would we rely on our strength or set it aside and rely on God?

  13. Santiago says:

    Aaron, the key to understanding theological tension such as Proverbs 26:4-5 is to understand the intent rather than the letter. Here, the intent is in the second half of each verse and the letter is in the first half of each verse. In this case, I believe it indicates that we should judge wisely in how we answer a “fool” for the intent of not being likewise foolish or enabling him to continue to be foolish. In other words, we need to pick our battles carefully.

    Often when we are foolish, we offer arguments that serve to obfuscate rather than clarify. The wise man seeks to clarify rather than fuel the obfuscation. This goes back to the intent of this post. Pride in knowledge fuels obfuscation for the person occludes the truth. Humility is necessary for clarification so that the truth is evident despite the person.

  14. Aaron Hawk says:

    Santiago, I appreciate your candor and your gentleness in your answer. You seem very sincere. However, I was not asking a question, I was making a semi-veiled point about the comment immediately preceding mine ;)

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