20 June 2012

My Credentials and Views on Education- 7

So here's my quandary. I have all these things I want to write about. If I take the time and write scholarly articles and a book or two I will have the potential of reaching the professional accredited people of academia, the pastors and leaders of Reformed Christianity and other factions. However, because I lack the proper credentials and I'm not tied in with their institutions, I will have no audience. Because I'm questioning too many things, too many unassailable traditions and constructs, again...I will have no audience.

I could write the articles with the hope of reaching regular people within the Churches and the increasing number of people on the outside of the Church. But if I write scholarly articles, to be quite honest, these people aren't going to read them or understand them. The issues can be difficult enough without bogging them down with academic trappings.

So in the end I decided....just write. Write conversationally. Write as if someone is sitting in the chair across from me. Write it in a flowing manner, with something of a dialogue. Write because these things burn in my chest and I want to release them. So few care and so few can listen, so put it out there. You never know, you may find three or four people willing to listen and consider. Write, because it helps me, forces me to explain myself, put my ideas to through the test of elaboration.

Many people won't know what I'm talking about, some will, and some will be interested and challenged and want to learn more. So just do it and see what happens.

At first I thought, just remain anonymous, but sure enough people keep asking...who are you, what are your credentials? Well for obvious reasons, I didn't want to tell them. I'm nobody and I have no credentials. But then I realized it doesn't matter. If they're the kind of people impressed by degrees or the type of people that believe they're mandatory for someone to bring something to the table...then so be it.

I wanted to remain anonymous because all the people I was trying to reach and affect...accredited people in the Reformed world demand the credentials I lack.
But then not far into this, I realized I was making a mistake. There's no point in trying to reach them. They have too much invested in their systems and institutions.

The system has forms of government which insulate it and protect it...an almost invisible hand guiding congregations and preventing them from slipping one way or the other. They would argue this is a positive aspect of their political forms. Individuals within the congregation may hold to a wide variety of views, some in total opposition to the Denominational/Institutional Guardians...but they're kept from having any influence, the ability to function as a catalyst is neutralized.

It is unpleasant to think in these terms, but these pastors have invested their lives in this system. Their livelihoods, pensions, healthcare all rest in the hands of the institution. It's not easy to question that and end up out on the street...or end up like me, on your knees in an attic pulling wires up through a wall, or in a crawlspace plumbing a shower drain. Many of these men have pretty easy lives. Many will scoff at that, insisting they spend hours in study.... but I find the quality of many sermons to be often poor and formulaic. I've known men that could do just as well picking up a Bible and teaching an impromptu lesson. That's not to say there aren't some good teachers and preachers, but often what's being produced falls far short of what someone should be able to generate when that's their primary task.

The system is very broken. The Churches are relying on the seminaries to weed out those who aren't genuinely called to the ministry. The seminaries are largely relying on the Churches to fulfill this task. The bottom line is...if you have bachelor's degree and the available funds or means to access the funds, and you can survive while you procure the degree...more likely than not, unless you completely botch it...you can end up in a pulpit. Consequently there are many men that are poor teachers and substandard speakers, occupying these positions. Some of these men, finish the undergraduate degree at 22, finish seminary at 25 or 26, enter an assistant pastorate for a couple of years and are on their own, pastoring a church at 28 or 29.

At that point many of these young men have never had a real job, or lived in the real world. I heard some young men say frightful things while I was in seminary. Even though I was only a couple of years older than many of them, in comparison I was  more than a little worldly-wise. I come from a very broken, very disturbed family with a lot of ugliness and scandal. I've done a variety of things, traveled quite a bit and often alone, lived overseas, worked many different jobs and this was all at a pretty young age. I'm not bragging, I merely wish to say I knew a bit more than some of these men that had grown up in sheltered homes (and I don't begrudge them that one bit) and had pretty easy lives. They came from middle class ease and stability. They had parents that helped them through college, provided them with a car, a place to come home to and so forth. This is all well and good, but these men are ill equipped to take a position of leadership where they're going to counsel families struggling to pay bills, dealing with the hardships of life, trying to raise children, and may even be adult converts with a lot of baggage from their past. 

They're not going to understand how tired working people are...how when you come home at the end of the day you just want to sit down.  

A lot of parents are frankly lazy and inconsistent. I've worked very hard to not sit in a chair and ignore what's happening in the other room with my kids. To not let things slip. Even though I don't feel like it, I get up and deal with things. 

But I totally understand why people don't.  At the end of the day, I can fully grasp why people just want to sit down in front of the television and be at peace. But we can't. And some people need to be told that, but I guarantee you they will resent it when it's coming from a young man in his twenties with one or two children who aren't all that well behaved. I'm not sure why this is the case, but I can't tell you how many churches I've been to where the pastor's kids are the worst behaved in the Church....often to the point where his 1 Timothy 3 qualifications should be questioned.

I saw these men in seminary and I've seen them at work in churches. It can be quite destructive. I realize the Presbyterian argument is... that's why we have other elders, a plurality...presumably older men. Sometimes having older men works, sometimes it doesn't. The Biblical model is a plurality to be sure, but the Presbyterian model usually entails a 'pastor' and 'ruling' elders. This provides some plurality and can help to keep the pastor from becoming a congregational tyrant (as is often found in Independent Baptist Churches)... but since you still have the clerical figure of the Pastor, the Elders never carry the same authority.

I've seen Elders that are basically 'yes' men. I've seen Elders that are Elders because their the late middle aged men in the Church not because they have any gifts or knowledge. I've also seen how often the people don't want to be visited by the Elders, they want to be visited by the pastor.

The whole system is broken. I'm all for an educated clergy (properly understood) and I understand the need for the leaders to not be ignorant of the Bible or doctrine. 1 Timothy and Titus make that clear and I believe it strongly. I've seen ignorance in authority, and it's a very bad situation.

But this whole system of seminary degrees, the bureaucratization and institutionalization of the Church, I believe has been a bad thing. I find a lot of Presbyterianism to be nothing but an empty form trying to hold it all together. I wasn't interested and I left seminary...I wasn't sure if I might still be called upon at some point to serve in the Church as an officeholder, but I knew it wouldn't be within the Presbyterian system.


Cal said...

Good to see you back!

How I see it is that we, as Americans, are too addicted to the Enlightenment theory of education. It is difficult to fathom a means beyond the systematization of degrees and accreditation that have been apart of the American schooling system (and the Prussian before).

How else besides a diploma can someone tell if you are even half intelligent? Most people grasp at straws and its a cultural hole we're left in. Even I have a hard time thinking of anything outside of a check-box standardization. We don't trust anyone. We may lay on hands as a ceremony but its not until tons of paperwork is signed and dozens of conferences with this or that.

Also I understand what you mean by maturity and lack there-of. I grew up rough emotionally, and I had a lot of illusions dashed that some kids take for granted. However, I worked with a Russian guy when we were both 17. Everytime we talked, he made me feel I was still in grade school and he was rounding off 40.

Jim C. said...

Hey John,

Your observation concerning pastors who are wedded to the system and thus ultimately constrained in thought and action is bang on - and never mind pastors who are merely critical of the institutional forms and procedures. There are some who outright question the faith and may have already passed the point of no return in their apostasy but have to keep up appearances because they lack the qualifications to do anything else. I recall Richard Dawkins saying that he had friends who were priests in the Anglican church who were outright atheists but stayed in their positions because of the benefits and status their jobs conferred - and he was disgusted with their behavior if I recall correctly.

You also said young men you met in seminary said "frightful things" in relation to their lack of real-world experience. What kind of things did they say?

Having worked in warehouses and factories in the past I can personally attest to feeling tired and indifferent at the end of the day. There were times when I needed to work overtime to fill production quotas but fortunately I was lucky and usually got off after eight hours. Even so, the kind of work I was doing could get monotonous and if the equipment malfunctioned I basically had to stand around and wait for it to be fixed which was brutal. Again, in this case I would take it a step further than you: there are some who work jobs like these who are driven to the point of either insanity or suicide. Speaking for myself, I recall waking up some mornings feeling like I wanted to shoot myself. Perhaps that's because I'm not as strong as some of those with whom I've worked and I'll be the first to admit that compared to a lot of them I've had it really easy. That said, to an extent I can empathize with those one reads about in the news who "go postal" even though their actions are unjustifiable.

Finally, I would ultimately agree with you that church bureaucracies are ultimately insufficient to retain church members. They certainly haven't prevented some PCA ministers from converting to Roman Catholicism nor have they fully stemmed the tide of younger people abandoning Christianity altogether.

Jim C.

Protoprotestant said...

Responding to Cal,

Yeah, there's kind of a cult of professionalism at work. I run into in the construction realm as well. In the case of the skilled professions there are those who use licensing as a means to rip of the customer. NPR actually was talking about it earlier today...how licensing requirements are in some cases preventing people from getting back to work and also in many cases leading to increased prices for the consumers rather than the protections licensing is meant to provide. That said, there are plenty of guys out there doing work who probably shouldn't be. I sometimes get called in to fix their disasters.

In the intellectual world it's kind of the same thing. People feel better because someone is accredited or has some kind of certificate. Sometimes it does mean something, but often it doesn't. There are plenty of wackos out there and not a few of them have masters degrees....even doctorates.

As far as the kids that grow up sheltered... this is a real dilemma for me. I am who I am because of my experiences and the trials I've been through. So then you want to do it all differently than your parents and raise your own children the right way. But in doing so... there's just no way they're going to grasp what you're trying to communicate to them. Well it can be done I suppose, but wow, it's not easy. My wife and I both grew up in Fundamental Baptist Churches and there are many theological and practical questions we've wrestled with because of that. Our kids are not growing up in those circles (which is good!)....but sometimes I almost want to drag them to one so they can see what's going on....during the altar calls, special music, the shouting and screaming, the legalism etc...

Protoprotestant said...

Responding to Jim...

Yeah, at some point here I want to comment on the whole Stellman thing. It's interesting and frankly quite bizarre. The Theonomist types have been trying to make hay over the fact that Stellman was a big voice in 2k circles.
The Anglican Bishop J. Robinson wrote Honest to God back in the 60's and basically declared himself an atheist. Well, at least that's how I read Tillich. God isn't an infinite almighty spiritual being...but simply the ground of being. Basically when we talk about metaphysics, morals, ethics, philosophy....that's god. It's just us trying to make sense of the world we live in.
Over the years I've talked with many Mainline pastors and I'll drop names like Tillich and Spong. Spong of course is pretty controversial, but Tillich usually receives praise. I sometimes wonder if they have even grasped what they were being taught at seminary.
Oh as far as 'frightful' things....I just remember sitting in class and talking about dealing with sinful behaviour, family structure, marriage....things along those lines and then listening to these 21 year olds pontificate about how it should be and what they would tell that father or husband. Yikes! I know of one conservative Presbyterian who in his 20's took over a congregation and within a matter of months was just about run out. I mean hey, the truth is the truth and sin needs to be called out...but you have to have some wisdom when dealing with people. This whole system of the 'professional' the hired gun pastor....not only do I think it's not really in accord with the Bible, even practically speaking I think it's a bad idea. But if you're going to hold your denomination together with a strict and fairly complicated system of doctrine, you're going to need sharp people to do it. And also, frankly, since Reformed circles tend to be more intellectual and white collar...they're not going to settle for someone who can't move in their circles.
Part of what I'm saying about people being tired and stressed out is from personal experience. I'm now on the tired end and boy do I have to deal with some real nutcase people that happen to have money. There are times I find that to be really trying. But I was on the other side of this example as well. I remember being 21 and just disgusted with these 40-ish and 50-ish men who weren't reading books. I still don't understand people who don't have a desire to read and learn, BUT....I also understand a little better why some of these men who did work very long hours were happy to find even a couple of hours to unwind and relax at the end of the day. In that case...you need to do something different with your life! That's no way to live. Unfortunately for me that's how it's been the last couple of months! Very aggravating...but it's all in God's hands. I went from being almost out of work and stressed out about what I would be doing in a few weeks to suddenly having more work than I can possibly complete and just pounded with estimates, plans, phone calls and meetings. It's not over yet either. It seems like there's just been night after night that I'm sitting in my office at 10.30 and 11.00 still working on drawings and figuring out how many 2x4's I need and how big the beam needs to be. Yuck.

Protoprotestant said...

As far as the forms as I pointed out to the PCA men I met with a few weeks back...their forms in this case run the risk of driving away families. We went over the whole membership bit, confessionalism etc... and they struggled (I'm glad they're at least struggling) with the idea of driving away families who they believe to be Christian, who have faithfully attended for months and months, but then suddenly because they won't submit to the Book of Church Order...they're going to deny them the Supper (essentially saying they're not Christians) and practically speaking chase them off?
They're so used to people who reject membership doing it because of really low views of the Church or hyper-individualism, lack of commitment etc... it kind of floored them when I came at them Bible in hand. They really struggled to make their case. We'll see what happens. But like you said, they rely so heavily on this form...but it doesn't any good anyway...look at Stellman....people can still walk away and he a 'minister' no less that subscribed to the WCF and just recently was prosecuting a case against someone for being outside the boundaries of the confession!

Anonymous said...

John, I'm glad to see you writing again. I've missed my thoughts being provoked by you. :)

Anyway, I agree, as usual, with much or even all of what you say. However, I'm always left with the question of, "then what?" You remember we spoke of me going to seminary. It has been delayed but hopefully fall of 2013 will be my year! My heart, I believe, is in the right place. I have invested the last 5 years of my life in knowing God's word well, I love it, I love to teach it, and i believe I am good at communicating God's truth (even the difficult ones) to people. My heart aches for God's people, and it longs to give them the gift of biblical literacy - to teach them what they believe and why they believe it. I've tried doing the regular job, pay the bills thing, but at the end of every year I feel hollow, I feel like my potential is being wasted, I feel like I'm ignoring the call of God and I can't do that. I want to go to seminary and to be in ministry. But how do you a choose a school when they all seem more interested in their own "slant" then the scriptures? How do you pastor a church when I'm going to want to say much of what you are saying and the denominations nor the congregants will stand for it? So what does one do? what's the way forward for someone who does want to do ministry in the united states? I feel like I'm desiring to be a missionary - bringing an unheard of and unknown faith to the united states - biblical christianity. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

- Dave

Protoprotestant said...

Oh I totally understand. I'm right with you. Today I was out there sweating in the sun, working on some wiring and thinking....I wish I was home right now writing, or sitting across from someone talking about history or theology. It's very frustrating when I listen to Christian radio and hear silly people who don't know what they're talking about getting to do this full time and live quite comfortably while I'm out there struggling to pay my bills and find time to do what brings me joy and is worthwhile. I've talked with many pastors...I did this just recently...and was frustrated by their lack of Biblical, Historical and Theological knowledge. Their entire focus was on programmes and ministry models. In other words they don't have a clue as to what they're doing...but they're engaged full time while I'm staying up until 2am and getting up at 4.30am to find time to read and write. And again all the while they live quite comfortable while I'm tearing my hair out trying to make ends meet.
But apparently I'm where God wants me to be right now. Maybe I'm wrong and He's keeping me from doing harm! Or maybe I'm being prepared for something that will become clearer when I turn 50 or 60. I don't know.
I tried seminary...I made a poor choice in selecting one devoted to factionalism. All I can say is, you'd be better to avoid that. TEDS or Gordon-Conwell or even Wheaton might be better but I don't think I'd be real happy at any of those institutions either. A friend of mine went to MARS which if anything exposed how academically lame my selection was. My school GPTS was more engaged in rote memorization and regurgitation than actual investigation. That's not to say GPTS didn't have some good people and some good instructors. I really appreciated some of them but I wouldn't recommend the school.
If I could turn back time (so to speak) I would definitely have not come back to the United States. I would have stayed overseas and I LONG to be outside this country and the American church scene. But right now I'm financially stuck. I'm not in debt per se, but I'm certainly not gaining any ground. Apparently I'm meant to be here at present. Someday though I'd like to leave. I did look into the mission field some time ago. All I can say is...that's another dark institutional/factional road.
I don't really have any advice. Right now I'm unhappily attending a PCA. I don't want to be there but I don't know where else to go. Either I'm overly pessimistic (probably) or things are much worse than many seem to realize (probably some truth to that as well).
I hope God will give you wisdom and open some kind of path for you. I am passionate about my beliefs but I'm always hesitant to share them too much with others. Mine is a lonely road. I find a lot of solace and comfort in history and the Scripture. Otherwise I think I'd lose my mind.