Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The canard of academic elitism

A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by D'Elia, John A. published by Oxford University Press, USA Hardcover

     I think that a lot of reformed people struggle with the air of academic enlightenment/superiority or some sort of arrogance (present company included!) when discussing the Bible or theology with other Christians who are not reformed or even with other reformed Christians.
     To a certain extent, this is understandable (but never excusable). When you sit in a sermon, and you clearly hear something that is so grossly wrong that your 10 year old son who has been catechized since the womb can point out the error, our sinful pride rears its ugly head.
     I think that this speaks to our selfish tendency to look more impressive than the other person, and to be puffed up with pride. The subject matter of the Bible is the most important subject in all of human thought and study, and no wonder, people can be puffed up and arrogant. You are well versed in the most important subject that humans have ever studied, and you are good at it too! It's only natural in our sinful state that we would then develop some sort of sinful, selfish arrogance.
     At the same time, this selfish confidence in your own understanding of the Bible has actually led to probably one of the most intellectually and academically dishonest acts wrought by Christians, seminary students, and seminary professors. You know them, you have been on their blogs, and their websites.
     I think that this issue of academic elitism can also swing the other way as well, in which you are pining so much for that academic credibility within the broader secular community, that it can nearly destroy you.
     George Eldon Ladd was a NT scholar (1911-1982), who eventually taught at Fuller Seminary, and incidentally, the NT chair is named after him. He went to then Gordon Divinity School and later to Harvard University for his PhD. By any standard, his work on the NT has taught legions of laymen and seminary students, and I have personally benefited from his book "The Gospel of the Kingdom."
    Even with his great contributions that would rival any of your favorite theologians, he unfortunately bowed down to the idol of academic recognition and craved the approval of secular NT scholars. There were many failures in his personal life all the while hopelessly pursuing the canard of academic respectability. His academic achievements came at a high price. He was a workaholic, with an estranged his wife and his two children in favor of his studies. He ended up struggling also with alcoholism, and even made a pass at one of his graduate students' wife.
     Amidst these moral failings, Ladd was not merely to “rehabilitate evangelical scholarship” but to gain respectability for himself personally.  He was so driven to finding “a place at the table,” amongst the secular scholars, that this was beyond a desire to improve his own academic performance for the glory of God, but it was really the idol of gaining respectable recognition from the secular NT/academic community.
     This is different from when you are trying to speak truth and defend God's word in the academic community. This was more of being accepted within the circle of love. When Ladd wrote his magnum opus "Jesus and the Kingdom," Norman Perrin wrote a very critical review, and according to John Piper, Ladd "was almost undone emotionally and professionally." Piper goes on to describe how Ladd walked through the halls of Fuller shouting and waving a royalty check when A Theology of the New Testament was a stunning success ten years later.
    This account of Ladd should serve as a very cautionary tale to us as Christians, whether in the pews, as seminary students, or as professors: Ladd's entire life accelerated into a drunken tailspin when he could not achieve what he wanted so much from the secular world.
     This is written about in a biography, written by John D'Elia. See picture at the right hand side.

     We should all be wary of the “approval of men” (Gal 1:10) — rather than seeking the truth of God simply for the sake of the glory of God.
     This doesnt simply apply to Christians confronting the secular world, but it is the most obvious example. Your own personal life is probably replete with examples in which your adherence to the Word of God, and concern for glorifying God and not bending towards secular humanism has been tested, or even mocked.
     I remember one time when one person flat out mocked my strict adherence to the Bible for my worldview as narrow minded. "Chris, stop being so narrow minded in using only the Bible to understand ethics." And this man is a Christian who attends a PCA church in southern California.
    And this is how it goes. So, the canard of academic elitism can go either way. It can either make you an arrogant, unloving Christian who dishonors God by abusing his truth as your own personal soap box. Or the canard can make you into someone who is an idol worshipper and will readily forgo the worship and approval of God for the approval and pleasing accolades from mere temporal creatures.
    May God give us the strength and integrity to flee from both.

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