The following was recently tweeted by Dr. Peter Sloane:
In response to things I see here: academics are no more intelligent than the general population and no more skilled than a plasterer or electrician. We don’t do a PhD because we are super bright, or become so because of it, we just happen to love our vocation as others do theirs. I don’t enjoy the narrative that universities are filled with exceptionally bright people. They are filled with people highly specialised and with time to devote to the intricacies of a discipline and no more.
Sloane is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Buckingham in the UK. I could not resonate more with the sentiment he has articulated above. Indeed, as any reader who has followed me for any amount of time knows, I have oft criticized the theology of glory that often attends theological academia (and all of academia in general). As Sloane rightly notes, the academic is not necessarily smarter than anyone else; indeed, they generally aren’t. Just as any swath of humanity will demonstrate, there are smart people, mediocre people, and dumb people along said continuum of humanity; this holds true among the academic guilds just the same. As Sloane’s tweet also highlights, and rightly so, is that the academic is a specialist; especially in the 21st century (indeed, to a fault these days). And so, when we apply this principle to theological academia what someone can expect is some level of technical and specialized language as that relates to the artistry of theological communique. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the specialists in this particular craft, as in any craft, begin to buy into the idea that their specialization, because of its already limiting and liminal language (and the conceptual matter it symbolizes), by definition narrows the discussion to “them.” That is to say, when the non-specialist Christian attempts to enter this particular fray, what ends up happening is that they might end up sounding unintelligible, maybe even dumb, because they aren’t schooled in the linguistics, logics, and lexical aspects that go into the theological academic game. As such, a type of boundary is set up, such that the academics talk among themselves, using their technical parlance, which necessarily, in a certain way, keeps the laity, in the ecclesia outside of the “deeper” discussions that only the specialists can really have (or so the specialists pride themselves into thinking).
As I have described the above scenario, what I haven’t engaged with yet is what makes theology unique. Theology, if it is genuinely Christian theology, is not for the so-called specialists alone. The specialists, if there are such a thing in the theological sphere, are really supposed to be “doctors for the Church.” That is to say, they have a teaching role to play, a role that really reduces to, as its sine qua non, discipleship. And yet because of the strictures that help define academia in general, and then theological academia in particular, the theological specialist starts to live and breathe in an atmosphere that never “comes down” and attempts to be “non-specialist.” As a result, an ethos of elitism takes hold in the hearts of the specialists, such that they often either retreat back into their ghetto, with “their people,” or they attempt to drop into the fray of “regular church people” only to feel rejected, or so misunderstood that they begin to think that either they are too smart for such people, or that the people they are attempting to engage with in the churches are just too dumb to really understand what they, as the trained specialists, can grasp.
The gap between the academic and the regular church person is reinforced by many variables, a complex that is not easily addressable. Even so, at the end of the day, as Sloane has rightly noted, as far as intelligences go, neither the academic nor the regular church person is necessarily smarter or dumber than the other on a continuum.
Ultimately, it is sin that keeps these seemingly disparate groups from a meeting of the minds and hearts that is supposed to obtain among the fellowship of the people of God. The Lord, ultimately, is not concerned about smarts, but the state of the heart. God wants our whole being (which the heart, in Hebrew and Greek represents in canonical Scripture) to be overcome with the beauty and ways of God in Christ. He loves us as a Father loves His Son. It is this relationship that funds anything following, including intellection. The Father shows no partiality, neither to the smart or dumb person (intellectually). His relationship to, for, with, and in us, in Christ by the Spirit, has nothing to do with what we so often wrongly place priority on. He doesn’t look outwardly, but at the heart; He loves the total person. There is no elitism in the Kingdom. If anything, the elect in the Kingdom are the impoverished, the bruised reeds, the so-called “dumb” among us. When any air of elitism, no matter how that is given expression, enters into the Church as a bad yeast, God is not there. He is with the broken, downtrodden, and humble.
23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 9:23-24