“I’ve been reading this book lately that has really been helping me understand God’s love for me in Christ. I’m sure you are way beyond it, but I’m really enjoying it and feel like I am learning a lot.”
In the last two weeks, I have had someone tell me something along these lines at least twice. And it just about broke my heart each time. Having been a seminary student for two years now, I have come to realize that there is a perception among many people that we are the Christian elite – the ones who really know God and are beyond all of that basic stuff like a simple book that helps you understand the Gospel. I have seen the glassy stares that stall the conversation once the nature of my graduate studies is known. The word “theological” has shut down more dialogue than before when I was able to tell people, “I work for a church.”
Granted, in some ways I think it is deserved due to the arrogance that often accompanies intellect. I’ve been told that there used to be an old “joke” about Dallas Seminary alumni that went something like this:
“You can always tell a DTS grad – you just can’t tell them much.”
Personally, I am baffled when I consider how anyone can graduate from seminary without humility. If I have learned anything during my studies it is that I know so little about the God I love, mainly because I have a clearer understanding of His grandeur and limitlessness. He is infinite by nature, which means we will spend all eternity learning more of Him. Our goal as Christians is not to master the Bible, doctrine, or ministry in order to arrive at a theological plateau, but to be mastered by the Word that became flesh.
Those very innocent comments (“I’m sure you are way beyond it”) weighed on my heart because the assumption is that a seminary student like me is too smart and experienced to stoop back down to the infantile simplicity of the Gospel. My studies have advanced me to the executive level so that now I can spend my time with greater and more valuable treasures that don’t belong to the common person.
If the qualifications for Christian maturity included a library full of systematic theologies and advanced degrees of education, the majority of our faith would be in trouble. The Bible does not measure the maturity of believers by intellect, but by love (Matt. 22:34-40). Learning and deeply studying are not immoral endeavors (I am paying too much in tuition to believe that!), but neither are they guarantees of growth. Knowledge and intellect are means to an end, but they don’t always reach that end.
The simple truth is that so long as we are sinners, we will never move beyond the Gospel. Wherever he went, Paul preached that message as “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) and at one point vowed to know nothing besides it so that the message of Christ would be demonstrated through the power of the Spirit rather than eloquent words of wisdom alone (1 Cor. 2:2-5). There is no truth greater than the Gospel. All other doctrines are peripheral and find their substance in it. Thomas à Kempis once said, “I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.”
While it may be easier to understand that Christ died for us while were His enemies and offers salvation as a gift of grace through faith, it is a message we must relearn daily.
If the phrase, “Jesus loves me” fails to move you then your theology has missed the point because there is no more beautiful truth known to man. If you find that phrase childish, then you don’t actually understand the depths of your sin, which Christ paid for on the cross out of His love for you.
I say again, theological study is a means to an end. And to be frank, at some level everyone is a theologian because everyone has an opinion about who God is/is not, but in the end, its purpose is to point beyond itself and tether our affections more fully to Jesus Christ.
If you are a seminary student, never let yourself become so arrogant that those around you are rightly convinced that a deep relationship with Christ is unattainable without a degree to hang on the wall. And if you are not a seminary student, understand that a walk with Christ is about obedience and submission to Him. As long as we are sinners, we will never move beyond the Gospel, which means we will need to relearn that message daily until we go to be with Christ in glory.
God owes us nothing. He has never been obligated to give us anything but His justice for our sin. And yet, He has graciously spared us by offering His Son as a ransom for our crimes. Forgiveness is extended to us as a gift on the basis of faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Gifts should not make us arrogant or divided.
Rather, this one in particular should lead us to wonder at the God who would love us enough to spare us His wrath by giving it to His Son so that we could walk in His love and mercy instead.
That is not a childish message reserved only for a Sunday school song. It is a message that brings the dead to life, transforms broken vessels into new creations, and gives hope where there was none previously. It is the Gospel that grants us the resolve to press on because one day, when all is said and done, Christ will return and we will enter with Him into our eternal home.