The Gospel of the Ignorant, Part II (Attitude)

One of my best friends told me over the phone than Part I came across as hoity toity. This is highly ironic, but I’ll not deny that I planned such a reading to some degree. I like irony. The title of the series is designed to be provocative, but it relies on a bit of tongue-in-cheek hoity toitiness to achieve that. Moreover, it presses my point if readers are challenged to grapple with the substance of what I am saying despite the perceived tone. It is intended to be facetious, however, so let me clarify. I am sincere when I say that the failure to communicate is a serious shortcoming, and the burden does not lie on an audience to scale some academic’s ivory tower just hear human language. By starting Part 1 with a personal note, I seem to have committed a tactical error. I did not intended to say, “here’s how people criticize me, and now I will react and tell them why they are wrong.” I intended the opposite: to say, “my perspective comes from the academics side of the dialogue, and I know that I can err on the side of verbosity and information overload.” That is an error. But that admission in itself does not deal with the issues I go on to discuss. In other words, I am not writing out of emotion. I’ve been thinking about these things for a while, and it was time to put them in writing. With that little preface, lets move on to Part II. NOTE: I had this section written before my friend’s phone call.

Those who take personal offense at the insinuation that they might be ignorant perhaps misunderstand the word, for it is far from a critique of intellectual capacity. Ignorance is not stupidity; it is merely the lack of information with which we are all born. The number of things I am ignorant about far outweighs the number of things I am not. It’s the nature of my existence as a finite being. Some people do not take this fact in stride, however, and their reaction is one of the things that most contributes to the unrepentant ignorance of the church, I suspect. I am talking about insecurity and defensiveness. If your reaction to a discussion, class, or sermon that is deep, academic, or technical is to lash out defensively or critically regarding why it is unhelpful or unnecessary, you may want to consider that ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to overcome. I start with this particular hurdle to repentance because it usually employs arguments from the other hurdles (discussed later). This is a disposition or attitude problem. Without addressing the heart, it is pointless to deal with other issues. If educated people have displayed arrogance or condescension, do not blame learning itself. Although academics are so prone to snootiness that we might think there is a necessary correlation, it’s not true. Theyre just sinners in need of grace. In fact, humility is the basic requisite for learning. The best teachers are the best learners, and pretentious teachers are the least effective. The point is: Dont assume that just because someone is throwing around new words or pushing a foreign concept that they are trying to use insider-speak or make you feel dumb. That does no justice to all the humble, kindhearted academics who want to make you an insider, because your informed opinion matters. And the simple fact is that most people who learn a lot in their area of expertise don’t learn anything about pedagogy; they are ignorant about how to present their ideas in the most learnable fashion for us outsiders without compromising the idea in the process. The same applies to theology, so be gracious! And if you have a specialty in pedagogy, consider starting a ministry to theologians.

Another attitude problem is laziness. Learning is work, and many people don’t want to put in the sweat and tears. This is certainly so for people who use up all their sweat and tears on their jobs and families. It’s understandable that laborious learning about God has no appeal in that circumstance. Many people come to Wednesday night service, for example, with a forty yard stare. But this is mental fatigue, not laziness. The need for repentance comes when there is opportunity for study but it’s just easier not to do, or perhaps it’s too boring. In my experience, the number of people who actually do the reading assigned for a church class is atrociously low, and it gets proportionately lower as the difficulty of the reading increases. This is not because most people truly just can’t find the time, and it is certainly not that they happen to find less time when the reading is more difficult. It is that the mental discipline of study, like so many other disciplines, is optional for most Christians. It may take significant amounts of time, rereading, forced concentration, contemplation, and caffeine, but learning new vocabulary, new concepts, and new modes of thinking is a vital part of spiritual growth. To choose not to because its difficult is lazy at best.

Then there is selfishness, which often comes in the guise of concern about spiritual health: its about whether I’m getting something out of it. Beyond the point that having my cup filled isn’t the primary (to say nothing of only) standard by which we must judge sermons, classes, etc., there is the point that God probably wants you to get a better cup just as much as have it filled. If the newness or difficulty of a subject causes me not to get something out of the class, it is not a signal that I should find something easier. On the contrary, the truth is precisely that the challenge will be the most nourishing, beneficial something you could get. If I continue class after class, for example, to get nothing out of it, it’s most likely because I’m not putting in any effort beyond showing up and expecting it to be a matter of listening and leaving (granting, of course, that there are such things as bad teachers and useless classes). Although I hear Christians talk enough about the sacrificial nature of discipleship, areas such as study often fail to reflect the talk. Is it possible that dying to self might be lived out in the discipline of learning?

Next: Part III (Assumptions)

The Gospel of the Ignorant, Part II (Attitude)

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