“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:20-21)
I used to avoid theological discussions. Not because I didn’t find them interesting and certainly not because I didn’t want to hear the perspective of others.
I avoided them because I thought I had nothing to contribute.
Here’s the thing: my memory isn’t very reliable. I have developed a great system where I write down or type out everything I need to remember. If it doesn’t get recorded, it’s likely I’ll forget about it. I’m especially horrible at remembering numbers. If you give me directions to your house, tell me what colour it is or that there’s a basketball net in the driveway and I’ll find it no problem. Tell me your house number and I’ll probably end up knocking on your neighbour’s door.
So, when it comes to remembering and quoting Bible verses, I’m just not that great at it. I can recollect the meaning and the message but not the chapter and verse number. This is why I suck at theological discussions. Saying “The Bible clearly says, somewhere…wait, hold on…I can find it…oh, not there…one second…” as I Google phrases doesn’t generally make for very convincing arguments. I have so much respect for people who can do this. I’m just not one of them.
But here’s what I’m learning: when it comes to the wisdom of God, as Sarah Bessey says in her book Out Of Sorts, “We all get to play.” Every true believer has a testimony. A story about how Jesus has changed our lives and how he’s changing us still as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We need to be able to tell those stories.
I recently read an article on a controversial topic where the author listed his qualifications, which included biblical and theological degrees, and then stated that he had the definitive answer on the issue because he was more qualified then others to speak on what the Bible says.
That’s when I stopped reading the article and got on with my day. If the goal of theology is to know God better then we must remember to honour each other within these types of conversations. God does not reward human pride with holy wisdom.
Who was greater qualified to speak on theological issues than Paul? He had a list of credentials to his name and yet he counted it all as loss to knowing Christ (Philippians 3). If we are relying on our worldly knowledge, experience, or education to bring ourselves closer to God and His wisdom we will fail miserably.
Now, I’m not saying that studying the Bible in an academic setting is a bad thing. There is absolutely a need within the church for well-educated and intelligent believers. Most of our leaders can and should be qualified to lead or else we run the risk of being led astray by extreme emotions, overly subjective biblical interpretations and even complete ignorance of biblical context.
But what I am saying is no one should ever feel like what they have to say about theological issues isn’t worth being heard. The belief that you have nothing valuable to contribute is a bold-faced lie that will keep you locked in insecurities and unable to influence others in the way God may be calling you to.
I’ve often been discouraged when reading the brilliant writing of others. Why do I bother to write anything at all when everything has already been said and said much better than I ever could? But God’s wisdom, just like His love, isn’t exclusive. He doesn’t portion it out to those who are most learned, and therefore, most deserving. And knowledge of God’s Word is not the same thing as knowing God personally. His Wisdom is not limited by our knowledge of it.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). A witness is someone who describes what he or she has seen and knows to be true. Remember that we all have different circles of influence. Our education and qualifications can affect the lens through which we view our experiences, but the lack of such things doesn’t necessarily invalidate the stories we share. And even the well-educated still need to rely on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit if they truly want to know God. “Let anyone who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:31)
And so the question isn’t, who has a right to speak? Or whose opinion has value? The real question is are we listening? Do we blindly follow those we’ve assessed as being the most qualified to speak on theological issues? How much attention do we pay to those who we perceive as being less knowledgeable than us? Are we willing to humble ourselves and give preference to the wisdom of other believers, regardless of their worldly qualifications? Keeping in mind we should always use our God given discernment when issues of faith arise, whether the speaker is highly regarded or just a regular person with an opinion, we can’t disregard the words of people who are witnesses to the same glory that we are. How could we ever be so arrogant as to silence them? And why, then, being privileged to the wisdom of God through His Holy Spirit, are we often insecure about our own right to speak about what we’ve witnessed? Paul writes, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
This is the reason I’ve decided not to be silent anymore when it comes to theological issues and also why I very much want to hear what you have to say, too: “We all get to play.”
“What thinking person doesn’t find themselves wondering? Theology belongs just as much to the mother folding laundry, the father coaching basketball, the university student training to be a nurse, the construction worker, the artist, the refugee, as it does to the great scholars….I pray that we will have that same boldness to testify, to bring healing, to speak the truth, to worship. ” Sarah Bessey, Out Of Sorts