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A Need for Higher Learning – Part II

As a follow up to my last post O Teacher Where Art Thou, I came across this audio clip (located at the bottom of this post) that in my opinion, demonstrates why pastors and teachers need some type of formalized training in an objective learning environment.  It is not enough to just know what Scripture says but to know what Scripture means, to understand historical and cultural background, the genres of Bible books, sound exegesis, and correlation of passages to the complete witness of God’s written revelation.   I also am a strong advocate for any teaching pastor to have a good working knowledge of the original languages.

Sadly, based on this church’s doctrinal statement, this pastor rejects any type of formalized training.  How many people is he influencing concerning their faith?  And he is only one of many.  How many believers have an incorrect or inconsistent understanding of what God has communicated through His word because men and women insist on speaking authoritatively regarding God’s word but resist education to measure their own understanding?

27 Responses to “A Need for Higher Learning – Part II”

  1. So where’s the link?

    I didn’t make it to church today and so have not had my minimum daily requirement of bad preaching that is meant to infuriate sustain me through the week.

    Can a malnourished brother get a little sustenance from the sister, please?

  2. Dr. Mike, its at the bottom of the post just above the “Share This” link. You have to click on the arrow.

    And if you are in need of sustenance, this will probably put you in the Mojave desert, unfortunately

  3. Unfortunately, one can also be educated out of good sense. A pastor, matching what you would call “higher learning”, preached last weekend on Mt 6:12-15 and enforced the reformed tradition that forgiveness is free and we don’t have to do anything. I asked him if this was not exactly the opposite of what these verses say and he saw no contradiction and parrotted off that our forgiving others was not conditional (as Jesus says it is) but a fruit (as the Reformation says it is).

    Likewise we’ve let Luther tell us what the Gospel is (atonement and justification by faith) and we bracket out what Jesus said it was (The Kingdom at hand).

    Again, “God’s Word” has become the blanket term for “our theology” which we know to be infallible.

  4. While I agree with your main point, I am not sure this sermon clip is really a fair example of untrained preaching. There is a lot more wrong with this guy than simply a lack of seminary training.

  5. I find too many sermons today speak only on an applicational level so much that I’m in church often times and can kind of tune out because I’ve heard that before. There’s a reason I get bored at times when I’m in church.

    Meanwhile Michael, I think it’d also be important to stress good self-education for pastors as well in that it doesn’t just start at Seminary or end there. It was in Bible College that I found out about apologetics, my main love, and have devoured everything I can on the topic.

    Now I’m at Southern Evangelical Seminary and before going there, I knew I wanted a Master’s in Philosophy and Apologetics both and the Philosophy I thought should come first. I took C.S. Lewis’s advice then. “Read Plato. Not books about Plato.” Thus, I ordered the dialogues of Plato and read them, I ordered the basic works of Aristotle (How can it be basic when it’s over 1,000 pages) and read it. I ordered a concise translation of the Summa Theologica and read it. I always encourage philosophy students to start at the beginning. Read Plato and Aristotle.

    For me, this is going on in the midst of my Seminary training as well. When I’m done with any class reading, I go straight into my other books. I also make it a point with my IPhone to download podcasts on apologetics and philosophy and listen to those. Education is a passion and I always look forward to learning new things.

    Oh. I do make sure still to make time for the other important things in life just in case anyone gets the wrong idea. You know, important things like watching Smallville. (I know you’re pleased that I am still on the path of righteousness there.)

  6. Hey, this is the same guy that preached a message on how important it is for guys to “pisseth against the wall.”

    I didn’t listen to the whole thing. There’s one where someone questions his Obama conclusions and the pastor yells “You get the hell out of my church.”

    Look up “crazy pastor” on youtube. He has a couple of videos about when he got beat up and tased by the border patrol for mouthing off and being uncooperative. A real winner.

    He’s just a nut, and I don’t think he’s influencing very many. I think he has a congregation of about 10, with most of those probably his family.

    I also am a strong advocate for any teaching pastor to have a good working knowledge of the original languages.

    Yeah, well, he’s got the KJV, which contains “advanced revelation” that is not in the original languages.

  7. I admit that this is an extreme example but used for affect of showing that just knowing what Scripture says is not enough. I think the bulk that would be found in untrained teaching would be more subtle these extreme deviations.

  8. Can we call people like that the “fundamentally foolish”?

  9. I see he has made national news over this Obama sermon.

  10. Dave, is there a link?

  11. Lisa,

    Oh, dear, that’s a long sound clip! Next time, could you include timestamps for points of interest? :)

  12. Lisa,

    Here is an article on the pastor and one of his church members who brought a gun to the Phoenix convention center where Obama was giving a speech.

    http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/news/politics/preaching_hate_against_obama_08_29_2009

    I tried to listen to the audio clip at work today and had to stop after I got a few quizzical looks from people coming by my desk! Funny enough I had heard about this preacher for the first time earlier in the day from a different blog related to a completely different sermon,

    Here he uses an interesting method to “prove” that the NIV is inspired by Satan (3 min 27 sec):

    A double dose was just a bit much so early on a Monday :)

  13. Truth, what’s interesting is that I did not want to disclose the name of the church or the pastor but just focus on the horrendous hermeneutics. My intention was not towards him. Little did I know he and his church was already receiving such exposure.

  14. Lisa –

    I love training and studying. Did it myself? Teach now. But I am afraid you might have to guard a little against being too hard core (at least with the languages). The most gifted functioning pastors I know on this planet today have no strong understanding of the languages. A little dip into them. And, it might be hard to bring this message about the languages into China, but they are getting on quite well with the Spirit. :) Just trying to keep the pendulum in the middle.

  15. Thanks, Scottle.

    In the back of my mind I always have a little voice saying “what does the rest of the world think?” “Rest of the world” meaning the Christian world beyond American Evangelicalism (AE), which is, at the end of the day, only one slice of the Christian pie. We so easily get trapped into our own little fishbowl, thinking that the way we do things and the way we think is the only correct way. But Christianity is far broader. This is one of the reasons I wonder about the real importance of doctrines AE gets all worked up about, with inerrancy at the top of the list. (I understand it’s a non-issue elsewhere. If anyone can shed more light on that, I’d appreciate it)

    So what does higher Christian education look like elsewhere? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’d guess that in Great Britain, there would be an emphasis on language, what with the classical educational philosophy at Oxford and other colleges. But what about Korea or Brazil, or some other culture that is not so distinctly “western?” What about Orthodox or Roman Catholic education? Do they study Hebrew or Greek?

  16. Marc,

    Lemme guess – the problem of the Church today can be traced to those rotten Reformers and their emphasis on the supremacy of the grace of God?

  17. It would be interesting to compare perceptions of pastoral education in different cultures. Many countries just copy what they see being done in the West, and this doesn’t always work well for them. In some of the regions where the most churches are being planted and where the Gospel is spreading explosively, traditional Bible colleges and seminaries simply can’t keep up with the demand for pastors and church leaders. This is one reason why ministries such as BILD Int., and their Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development, have done so well. They equip churches and church movements to do effective and substantive church-based theological education, which is much more accessible and a much more efficient means to get pastors thoroughly trained.

    Regarding study in the original languages, more than one seminary prof has explained to me that seminaries typically require either far too much or far too little training in Hebrew and Greek. 2-3 years of study in Greek does not truly qualify someone to do translation work. You need a lot more study to really know what you’re doing (. . . but not to think you know what you’re doing). But you don’t have to spend years memorizing paradigms, etc, etc, to be able to knowledgeably use technical commentaries and reference materials. A good familiarity with the languages and basic principles will suffice.

    Quite a few studies show how this is lived out in actual ministry. I personally conducted a survey that echoed other results. Only 13% of the seminary graduates I polled used their skills in the original languages for anything more than utilizing lexicons and critical commentaries. Many people, both pastors and seminary educators, would say that pastors don’t actually need to do anything more. (Only 29% of the seminary professors I polled felt that more was required for pastors.) Obviously, this is is an ongoing debate. But it appears—according to every study that I’ve seen—that most pastors are getting far more education in Hebrew/Greek than they’re actually using. So something doesn’t fit somewhere.

  18. Pastor Steven Anderson, IFB wacko…gotta love it. He is unbelievable…

  19. Curt, I was wondering about that statistic on the use of languages post-seminary. I do hear what you and Scott are saying and I am not indicating that a pastors should be Hebrew and Greek scholars. But to at least have some type of foundation.

    I’d be even more curious about the stats of folks who quit ministry altogether within 5 years after graduating seminary. If I have learned nothing from seminary is that training is not isolated to the classroom. I do believe that learning dependency upon God, the ability to lead by example and increased spiritual maturity are pretty significant components of the training process.

  20. Jim, EGAD I was trying to leave names out of it and focus on the example. Oh well :(

  21. Dave Z –

    To see some of the ministry training in China, check out Brother Yun’s The Heavenly Man. He shares about it near the end of the book. They teach those in ministry training how to jump out of windows (in case the police break in on their gatherings). My interaction with those in the underground church of China share similar stories of having to flee regularly. A little different from solid understanding of Hebrew and Greek.

  22. Scott, wouldn’t it be fair to say that different cultures require different ministry needs? The church in China contends with issues that we can’t imagine BUT at the same token, we have ministry related issues that are not pertinent to the church in China. Wouldn’t you say that the diversity of interpretations, intellectualism or even anti-intellectualism that pervades the church in this country might require a greater engagement with the languages and church history than other cultures? Just a thought

  23. Scott, thanks. I’ll look into that. I have two friends who are involved with the underground church in China too. I’ll see one of them next week and ask him as well.

    Lisa, I remember going to Wheaton once and seeing C.S. Lewis’ library. It seemed like half the books were in Greek or Latin. I couldn’t even read the titles. I’m envious of that. He writes of enjoying the Greek poets in their own language. I doubt many seminary grads are at that level of understanding. And as Scott asks, how much is enough?

    I wish I were fluent in Greek, but these days there are so many study aids that I’m not sure how important that is.

  24. Lisa –

    No doubt each culture will need to address it’s own cultural issues. I simply wanted to swing the pendulum to the centre. I am not sure we can claim that a pastor must have a certain type of training. I think it’s good, and if you can get some (American or Chinese or Belgian), then do consider it. But what I think it might be worth considering is that, whether we face modern America questioning the truth of Scripture, etc, or we have the police chasing us from our meetings and imprisoning us, there is the reality of what will remain the greatest testimony. Jesus never emphasised that a great light will be shone by being able to hermeneutically understand all of Scripture. Rather, there was an emphasis on unity, humility, serving, loving (through serving), character, prayer, etc.

    So, my desire was to bring the pendulum back to the middle (for Chinese and Americans).

  25. I wish I were fluent in Greek, but these days there are so many study aids that I’m not sure how important that is.

    I would guess that if one were fluent in and conversant with a large amount of ancient Greek literature and writings, esp. NT-contemporary ones, one would have a better idea how to translate and interpret things like 2 Peter 1:3-4 and not be slavishly dependent on study aids which may not always provide the aid you need.

  26. Curt, I was wondering about that statistic on the use of languages post-seminary. I do hear what you and Scott are saying and I am not indicating that a pastors should be Hebrew and Greek scholars. But to at least have some type of foundation.

    Lisa, I agree with you on the need for a foundation in the original languages. But there’s a running discussion about what exactly that foundation should look like and how extensive it needs to be. And, as someone who is passionate about leadership and pastoral training, I’ve been keenly interested in the different viewpoints.

    There have been a number of surveys that have covered similar ground. The one that I conducted was in 2005. (Actually, I misquoted one of my own stats! :( The percentage was right, but to a slightly different question. See below.) The survey was sent to almost 1400 evangelical pastors and seminary educators from 16 different denominations and from nondenominational churches/schools. I received over 200 responses. It was a multi-page survey, but here’s the section on usage of language skills:

    Asked of pastors (percentages below are of responding seminary grads):

    What level of Hebrew and/or Greek competence do you feel is necessary for a pastor?

    expertise in translation 0%
    ability to translate the text 13%
    ability to utilize lexicons and critical commentaries 64%
    basic familiarity 16%
    no competence is necessary 7%

    Note: this is where the 13% came from. My goof. I was just going too fast.

    How much do you use a knowledge of Hebrew and/or Greek?

    I translate a passage at least once a week. 16%
    I translate a passage at least once a month. 11%
    I frequently use commentaries and reference materials that require a familiarity with Hebrew/Greek. 61%
    I don’t utilize Hebrew or Greek. 12%

    So, instead of 13% of pastors referenced in my earlier post, it should have been 27%.

    Are you regularly using the full extent of the Hebrew and/or Greek skills that you learned in your training?

    yes 18%
    no 82%

    Asked of seminary educators:

    What level of Hebrew and/or Greek competence do you feel is necessary for a pastor?

    expertise in translation 6%
    ability to translate the text 23%
    ability to utilize lexicons and critical commentaries 56%
    basic familiarity 9%
    no competence is necessary 6%

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