Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attitudes That Do Not Square with the Christian Faith: Elitism

Different age groups and segments of the Christian church will struggle with different problems. Yesterday's idea or problem, "coolness," will mostly affect young people who don't realize that love and truth are the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith, and that Christians were never called to be hip, but to be holy, kind, bold, and truthful. Today's problem will affect more of the learned folks of our churches, those who have achieved a high standard of academic accomplishment. It may also affect those who are economically successful.

I see elitism sometimes from my humble perch as a pastor-in-training, and it never sits right. Elitism, for the record, involves thinking one is better than others because of some specialized credential and then acting to isolate oneself from that inferior group even as one associates with those who hold one's own credential. I see this behavior at seminary and it troubles me. Christians may educate themselves or become wealthy or famous or some such thing, but they never become a better human being than any other person. Those who grade papers for a professor or wear a suit to work or talk on the phone with celebrity pastors are no better or worse than you or I. The staff of Bethlehem Baptist (where John Piper pastors) are no better than the staff of East Podunk, New Hampshire. There may well be a difference in quality of preaching and so on, but this does not in any way make it more desirable to know and associate with the staff of Bethlehem than it does the staff of my thirty-person church back home in Maine. Professors here at Southern may have PhDs and write articles that quote German sources in the original language, but I'm no more impressed with them than I am my former Sunday School teachers. I may learn more from my professors here, but I'm not to esteem them any better as people and to seek to isolate myself from "common folks" in order to join the cloistered seminary professor community. That's gross thinking. It's entirely antithetical to Christianity.

Christians should respect authority, and they are told in Scripture to reverence their leaders. So this is our fundamental posture towards those in authority over us. But with that said, the central figure of our faith, Jesus Christ, was to His core a humble person. He was very God Himself, and yet He was completely humble. His humility characterized everything He did, and it was the genesis of His coming to earth. How unlike Christ we so easily become. We get a little taste of power, a few letters to our name, and suddenly we rule the world, albeit from heights no man has ever ascended. More than this, we barely make an effort to talk to those outside of our elite peer group, while Christ gave His very body and blood to draw those people to Himself. Here's a call to my fellow Christians, whatever position you possess, whatever authority you wield, to never esteem yourselves as qualitatively better than any other believer. Cultivate a love for all your fellow church members. Carry yourself with dignity, men, but never arrogance. Carry yourself with grace, women, but never haughtiness. No matter what others whisper to you, no matter what you tell yourself, no matter what the world encourages you to think, you are no better than any other man. You are called, fundamentally, to humility, an attitude that does not square with the world but which certainly squares with the cross.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

helpful and convicting post -thanks!

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Matt H. said...

Question (No, this is not a Dwight Schrute moment):

Might there be an appropriate elitism? As a Christian, I would resist any exaltation of pride or self, of course. But I do fear that evangelicals have, as has much of the West, bought into a distorted form of egalitarian populism, whereby we all feel entitled to present ourselves as experts on a wide range of issues to which we have no business addressing. The same goes in politics: in our day, to be labeled as an "elite" is tantamount to being a "godless, baby-murdering, moral relativist liberal." That sort of oversimplification has often been to our own detriment.

Let's be honest. I want my surgeon to be something of an elitist - I'm more likely to trust the doctor who has undergone the most rigorous training and residency programs and who comes with the highest recommendations.

More often than not, conservatives have bristled at elitism simply because they have been ostracized from the elites. But we're all agreed that the most competent, most intelligent, and best trained individuals should serve in appropriate positions within society.

Am I wrong?

10:58 AM  
Blogger Jed said...

Good point, Matt. Interestingly enough, your debate with Owen seems to mirror a debate over the legitimacy of Socrates use of the 'craft' analogy. Socrates often countered the egalitarian democratic tendencies of his time by drawing an analogy to the arts--medicine is a popular one (and your example of choice as well). The argument runs as follows: Just as in caring for the body we follow the advice of the one who knows the most about medical science, so in caring for the soul (or the state) we should follow the advice of the one who knows most about these matters--not just any person who happens to be elected. However, is this argument legitimate? Is there not a disanalogy between crafts and politics? Certainly there would seem to be one between crafts/medicine and soulcraft. The idea is that in some things the good for x depends not just on a good being performed well for them (say by y), but by x performing the good himself, even if the standard is lower than that of a professional. One sees this practice show up in Christianity in the fact that laypersons MUST read scripture in translation, even if trained clergy could read it much better and with much more understanding in the original languages. As I see it, your 'disagreement' with Owen hangs on the question of 'when does the craft analogy apply and when does it not?' And, given your respective posts, I think that there is probably little disagreement between you on this question once have clarified the nature of the issue.

10:31 AM  
Blogger JTapp said...

I believe that those who will be the "greatest" in heaven will be people you've never heard of. The old lady who brought her neighbors' children to Sunday school for years, the guy who rakes his neighbors' yard because he knows he's unable to do so himself. Not the "elites," or the most knowledgeable or most well-known.

1:32 PM  

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