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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Early Book Worm Gets The Wisdom

Written by: on January 30, 2015

Wisdom is the principal thing;

Therefore get wisdom.

And in all your getting, get understanding.

Though Noll wrote the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind regarding the neglect of Evangelicals to intellectual discipline, I have lived it. Sitting around the table hearing statements that I knew were not logically, historically, or possibly not even scripturally sound. I questioned. I was quickly put in my place. I was told that I was not an apostle just a pastor and therefore I could not see with the same spiritual eyes. The other apostle in the room was esteemed and noted as having that higher spiritual knowledge. Later that same “apostle” would leave his wife and three kids, end up with AIDS, and die at a young age. Yet I was the one, the mere pastor, who should not question the intellectual moribundity that I saw around me. It was made clear in that setting that my going away to higher education was somehow a negative aspect to my ministry and ability to provide sound judgment.

I wish I could say that this was a secluded event in which my education was frowned upon. Unfortunately, as an Evangelical and even more as a Pentecostal, there has been many events similar to this where my education was looked upon as being something of a hindrances rather than a help. I have seen first hand the scandal of the evangelical mind which as Noll states, is the failure to exercise the mind for Christ in areas that are outside the church.[1] Education and searching out knowledge has often been viewed as being beyond the individualism and immediatism of receiving faith. So, the Evangelical thought process goes, what is the need for higher education? Thus my religion has been hindered in moving beyond being defined by revivalist and therefore the question of personal salvation was and continues to be uppermost.[2] Though this focus has been beneficial in the increase numbers of Evangelicals in America, it has limited the progress of the depth of the Christian mind to move beyond the question of personal salvation. If therefore, the point of the matter is to gather and convert the masses, thus expanding the church, then all that is need is utilitarian apologetics and functional theology. Thus the theologian-thinking man is reduced to being a marketing specialist crafting his message that is “seeker friendly,” “seeker sensitive” and appealing to the masses in order to create the greatest impact and further increase the church.[3] If that is the main purpose than why think outside of this box?

Though I found myself agreeing with Noll throughout his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind it was a discouraging agreement. I so much appreciated Noll’s second book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind where he begins by stating his message as: if what we [Evangelicals] claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open minded advocates of general human learning.”[4] Thus my experiences of been snubbed as a “college boy,” “book worm” or as a “book smart but not street smart kid (i.e., local real church)” is antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith.

Much like Ross Douthat in his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Noll acknowledges the fact that Evangelicals were successful in the early United States because they successfully adapted their Christian convictions to American ideals.[5] I believe that Noll did eventually recognize and acquiesced[6] to the fact that the problem with the lack of Evangelical thinking was not an isolated phenomenon. Unfortunately this malady is a broader description of the fully orbed American mindset and as Douthat recognized was, and continues to be the pavement to which our nation walks down in becoming a nation of heretics.

One of the things I learned early in the ministry was that if a Christian leader studies only the Bible he will not be as great a leader as he could be. The pursuit of wisdom in all areas listed by Noll as “the nature and workings of the physical world, the character of human social structures like government and the economy, the meaning of the past, the nature of artistic creation, and the circumstances attending our perception of the world outside ourselves”[7] have the Divine in them and therefore should have representation of Christian thought. So, my resolve as “college boy” and “book worm” has only been strengthened with Noll’s two books for I shall be, as Proverbs say, a Happy Man – Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. Onward my intellectual book worms!

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 7.

[2] Ibid., 62.

[3] Ibid., 66–67.

[4] Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), x.

[5] Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 67.

[6] Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 151.

[7] Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 7.

About the Author

mm

Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

11 responses to “The Early Book Worm Gets The Wisdom”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Boy Mitch, the more I read and learn about your past in church ministry, the more I am thankful for your great attitude on this side of it. Thanks for your desire to learn and grow in your relationship with the Lord. We’ve all benefited from it. What I like about what you’ve said in this post, is the recognition that as Evangelicals, in North America, we’ve been so preoccupied with framing biblical definitions that we’ve lost sight of how the society around has changed. Those definitions no longer fit or address the needs of our society. We must be learners both of the Bible and of our society. Thanks for pushing us in that direction and being an example of it.

    • Deve, you are so correct. We have answers to the questions no one is asking. Great summary. The church got so caught up with trivial arguments that they did not focus on the true issue, being the expression of Jesus to the hurting world.

  2. Mitch,

    I so relate to being looked down on in some of the circles I once revolved. School was looked down upon for many reasons, most of the reasons not based on logic but on fear. What were these fears? I think they were really fears of the unknown. But I think the deepest fears were that they might somehow offend God by learning from “worldly” teachers and by studying “worldly” subjects. And since the Bible had all the answers, there was no need to study anything but the Bible. Since they had all the truth already, why study? Why seek out new things? These people really thought that they had arrived. How sad that is because there is now nothing else to learn, nothing else to study, nothing else to ponder, no more mysteries to solve.

    Ironically, those of us who do believe that there is more to learn realize how little we know. And that is where faith is welcome. A person who has all the answers does not need anything else, not even more faith, because they already have all the answers. And there is no such thing as mystery. How sad this is. It makes me glad that I continued with my education. I am sure you agree with that.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Mitch!
    What a great blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Like you, I tend to be shy in exposing my learning pursuits.
    Be encouraged in your pursuit of wisdom and learning Mitch! What really impressed me when you visited us in Wales was that you seemed such a knowledgable man, and that you applied your learning to practical areas of life. I think you’re a very smart man of God, spiritually, practically and intellectually 🙂

    • Thank you Liz. I appreciate your encouragement. I love taking the “educated-ethereal-in-the-clouds” theology and apply it to the common everyday man and his situations. I guess that is why I am a teacher. Thanks so much for trusting me with your people when you were out. Please great your family there.

  4. mm John Woodward says:

    Mitch, loved your blog! My situation was somewhat like yours. I worked in campus ministry for 23 years. I was responsible for the “lesser” kids who chose the evil university over the holy Bible college. It was a major challenge to visit rural churches to explain to them that these young people who were venturing to the university could become God’s instruments of change and light to all areas of life, and would ultimately have a far greater reach then those choosing to go the Bible College route. It was like pulling teeth…but the hundreds of students who came through our ministry who today are bringing Jesus into every field and occupation (and as Noll indicates, into many fields of study at institutions of higher learning) is greatly encouraging. You aren’t alone in the world, smarty-pants!

  5. Richard Volzke says:

    Mitch,
    What a powerful reminder that we need to value others, no matter where they may be at in their Christian walk. It is hard for me to believe that you were told that you are ‘just a pastor’, and that you do not have the same spiritual eyes as this ‘apostle’. Personally, I do not believe there have been any apostles since the men called and trained by Christ. When a person refers to their self as an apostle, my red flag goes up and I become suspicious of what they are preaching or teaching. There are too many false teachers and preachers who claim that God speaks to them directly, and that they are the only person he has given certain information to.
    Richard

  6. Ashley says:

    Mitch, this is one of the best blogs you’ve written…though I think most of your blogs are pretty spectacular. Between your personal history, your studies, your ordination and church service, your amazing family, and your current work…you are an absolute wealth of experience and information! I love it! … It seems foreign to me that education would ever be looked down upon, and hearing your story makes my heart hurt. I think of all the children in Haiti, and though the average income is less than $2 a day, the parents set it as a priority to send their children to school. Food and water are less important than education. Schooling is seen as the way out of poverty. And yet Noll and YOU make the valuable contribution that evangelicals look down upon, or at the least ignore, scholastic advancement. Where is the gap? I find myself shaking my head and wondering…WHY?!

  7. Michael Badriaki says:

    Mitch, I love your ending, “Onward my intellectual book worms!” My response is yes sir general Mitch. We have got to learn how to ignore the negative voice against growth and believe the power of scripture that encourages us that “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.”

    I can identify with your history and experience with certain Church leadership especially in the Pentecostal and evangelical tradition. I look forward to chatting more about this subject in Hong Kong.

    Appreciate you brother!

    Michael

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