Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Excursus on Elitism, Good and Bad

I took yesterday's blog to denounce elitism among Christians and argued that it has no place in the Christian church. All people have been created in the image of God and thus stand on equal ground in regard to our being, to the fiber of our person. Noone is any better than anyone else. My close friend, blogger extraordinaire, and coworker Matthew Hall left a thought-provoking comment in response to my post. Essentially, Matt (go to his excellent blog here) argued that while a snobby attitude is wrong, there is a place in society for elites, those who are experts at their craft and who are thus able to lead and help people through their craft. Matt claimed that the Christian church needs to recover a respect for such people and their place in the church. While we should all reverence the wizened but unlearned saint who teaches Sunday School, Matt is saying, we should not hire him to write books of theology. It is appropriate that we require intellectual credentials for such work and that we respect those who possess those credentials and so instruct the church.

Let me say at the outset that Matt and I do not disagree with one another. We are making different but potentially complementary points and we are speaking to different groups. I am speaking to the elites and telling them not to get a big head. Matt is speaking to the public and telling them to respect the learned class by soaking up their training. These are both essential points. I don't think that I made a mistake or an error or even that my original post was deficient in making its point. I do think, however, that Matt is onto something here, and that it is far too possible for we who are human to become nasty despisers of the learned and accomplished even as we fashion ourselves as noble iconoclasts.

I am not one to say, for example, that a pastor should not reference the original languages in his preaching. Jed made some interesting points in his comment from yesterday, wondering if perhaps the nature of the church is such that it automatically excludes any sort of purposeful division between trained and untrained, but I would say that the Bible holds out a reverence for the chief instructor of the church, the pastor, and that this figure is responsible for leading and nurturing his people. This may involve technical discussions, or the occasional explanation of the Greek, but in my opinion, that's fine. That's why my church hired such a man in the first place, to educate us on a level we ourselves could not, and so I want to get sap of information out of this man that I can. We didn't expect him to get an education to sit on it for the rest of his life. He should be careful not to overdo it on this front, but as a layman myself, I want a pastor who richly instructs me and brings out matters from the text I could not have. In the end, then, I think Matt and I make very complementary points, and that Matt has much good to say in his post. Christians should be humble, they should pursue knowledge, and they should ever seek to balance the two as they instruct the church.


Blogger Jed said...

Sorry Owen, I may have been unclear in my last post. My point with reference to the biblical languages wasn't to suggest that the church was of such a nature as to render null and void the close study of the biblical languages and their use in teaching. Rather my point was to give an example of the limits of the craft analogy as used by a previous poster: there are some things that others CAN'T do for you, even if they can do it better. Hence the example of reading Scripture. As a layperson, I am obligated to read Scripture and do my best to understand it even though I can't understand it as well as (say) Mark Dever. I can use his teaching, but I can't just let Devers do it all and just accept his doctrine. The reformers recognized this; hence the movement to have the bible translated into the vulgar languages of the day. Likewise because Ian Hamilton is a better prayer than I, does not mean that I should leave praying to him. I want to contrast this with the advice of a medical professional whose advice I can follow without any attempt at self-understanding and will be just as well-off (provided he is right in his diagnosis).

Maybe the analogy to Socrates' craft analogy was more confusing than enlightening?

12:27 PM  
Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

I see a problem when those who we view as elites begin to view themselves as such. When I came to the south, I was often shocked at the conspicuous consumption on display from both sides of the pulpit.

I believe the pay of 90% of pastors is scandalously low. I fully believe the workman is worthy of his wages. My objection arises when one of God's servants begins to put on airs. That cadillac with the custom license plate that says PRECHER, do you think that is a good gospel witness? How about that Mercedes or BMW with the little fishy on the back?

John Piper has a megachurch and a publishing empire, but the royalties don't seem to be funding fancy suits or fancy cars. Why can't more "successful" christian "elites" follow that example?

5:50 AM  
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7:19 PM  

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