True Scholarship

We are bombarded today with the opinions of self-styled scholars. However, not everything that calls itself scholarship is worthy of all acceptation. Neither is everything that pridefully poses as intellectualism to be swallowed. The Gnostics presented themselves as “the knowing ones,” men who had superior knowledge. Yet the Apostle John told the believers that they did not need that kind of teacher. Scholarship without spirituality can be a curse (1 Cor. 1:19-21, 26-29; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20-21). Combined with spirituality, it can be of untold value.

We don’t need the kind of scholarship that twists and distorts the Scriptures until, as Spurgeon said, there is not enough left to make soup for a sick grasshopper. For example, we don’t need the “experts” to tell us that the Bible contains the word of God or becomes the Word of God in personal experience but is not itself the Word of God. We can do without the perverting of the Bible that teaches that the primary meaning of baptism is immersion, but that the word is never used in its primary sense in the New Testament. Or the finagling of God’s Word to teach that there is no difference between men and women as far as roles in the church and home are concerned. Or the nonsensical definition of headship as self-giving love and service within the relationship of mutual submission. Or that it does not really matter if Jesus actually rose from the dead; it’s the Easter faith that is important. Or that there was a time in the life of Jesus when He did not know that He was the Messiah. As George Orwell said in a different context, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” Time magazine added, “He had glimpsed something in ordinary folks that has endured in this difficult world. It is called wisdom.”1

We should not blindly follow a man just because he is reputed to be a scholar. He may begin well, writing books defending the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. Yet in order to be accepted by the intelligentsia, he may start making compromises and speak in tones of doubts and denial. All men and all their teachings must be constantly tested by the sacred Scriptures.

Those who would be scholars face the danger of pride of position. William Kelly writes: “There are no men less to be trusted than mere scholars, because, being scholars, they are naturally apt to be proud of their scholarship; and whatever we are proud of is the very thing in which God will humble us. Here is the mistake that Christians often make. They very often overvalue the knowledge of a little Greek or less Hebrew. Depend upon it, that to know the English Bible well is far better than to know somewhat of Greek or Hebrew; and I have rarely found that knowing a little of these languages has any other effect ordinarily than to give a good deal of conceit. It enables persons, of course, to talk about knotty points, especially to those who do not understand them; but I do not think that it is profitable for either party.”2

In another place he says, “The assumption that because a man is a profound scholar, he is a safe expositor of Scripture, is a grave mistake.”3 And Vance Havner wrote, “Head knowledge is useful, but unless it is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, it can be the most dangerous thing in the world.”4 When will seminaries and Bible colleges learn that deep piety combined with the ability to teach the Word in a life-changing way is more important than advanced degrees that satisfy an accrediting agency?

When will we learn that God characteristically passes by the great people of the world and uses nobodies; “While Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). Havner expressed it well: “God does not always send His prophets through the conventional assembly line lest they come out wearing a stamp that does not become them. Fig pinching seems poor preparation for Amos, and Amaziah may view him with scorn. Micaiah was the odd number after four hundred false prophets bade Ahab and Jehoshaphat go up against Ramoth-gilead and prosper. The world hates the four-hundred-and-first prophets, as Joseph Parker said long ago. God’s hand often passes up the wise, mighty and noble for a Moody or a Billy Sunday . . . without benefit of theological training.”5

Dr. Jowett said of Moody, “His excellency was in an earthen vessel, and many doctors of divinity have wondered at the strange association. There were thousands of speakers more eloquent than Moody, but the treasure was not there in overwhelming glory. Moody may have been uneducated, untutored, and unskilled in public speaking, but when he spoke, the power of an unseen world seemed to fall upon the audience.”6

Richard Foster wrote in somewhat similar vein: “We think the position guarantees the power. Give someone a Ph.D., a professorship, and then he or she will be able to teach! But we all know people with Ph.D.’s and professorships who cannot teach worth a lick. The position does not guarantee that the power is there . . . . To the eye of faith, positions in the human order themselves are really powerless, ignorant of the way of God and the life of spiritual power. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see repeatedly the clash between powerless officials and official-less power. The authority of Peter, John, and the others was shocking to everyone because they had no human credentials of authority. They had no degrees, no titles of distinctions, no human authorization. Since their ability (power) came from God, human authorization was irrelevant.”7

A. T. Robertson adds his testimony: “It must not be forgotten that Jesus chose His apostles from the unschooled fishermen and artisans of Galilee save Judas the Judean. He passed by the rabbinical theological seminaries where religious impulse had died and thought had crystallized.”8

Shortly before his death, A. W. Tozer wrote of the threat to the evangelical world from men who pose as scholars: “In the Western world the enemy has forsworn violence. No more does he come at us with sword or stick, but he now comes smiling, bearing gifts. He raises his eyes to heaven and swears that he too believes in the faith of our fathers, but his real purpose is to destroy that faith, or at least modify it to such an extent that it is no longer the supernatural thing it once was. He comes in the name of philosophy or psychology or anthropology, and with sweet reasonableness urges us to rethink our historic position and be less rigid, more tolerant, and more broadly understanding.

“He speaks in the sacred jargon of academia, and many half-educated evangelicals run to fawn on him. He tosses scholarly degrees to the scrambling sons of the prophets, much like Rockefeller used to toss dimes to the children of peasants. The evangelicals, who with some justification have been accused of lacking true scholarship, now grab for such status symbols with shining eyes. When they get them they are scarcely able to believe their eyes. They walk about in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, as might the soloist of the neighborhood church choir if she were invited to sing at La Scala.”9

True scholars do not glory in their attainments or call attention to their academic degrees. Rather they lay all these things adoringly at the feet of the Saviour. And they gladly acknowledge, as godly saints have always done, that they are nothing but bondslaves of Jesus Christ who know nothing except as they ought.

1 TIME Magazine, Nov. 19, 1984, p. 69.

2 Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, Denver: Wilson Foundation, n.d., p. 13.

3 Isaiah, Oak Park, IL.: Bible Truth Publishers, 1978, p. 210.

4 Hearts Aflame, Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1952, p. 69.

5 Lord of What’s Left, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982, p. 19.

6 Quoted in Herald of His Coming, Feb. 1989, p.1.

7 Money, Sex and Power, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985, pp. 215-216.

8 The Glory of the Ministry, N.Y.: Fleming H.Revell Co., 1911, p. 153.

9 Quoted in MASTERPIECE Magazine, Nov./Dec. 1990, p. 23./Dec. 1990, p. 23.