A Meditation on Knowledge & Wisdom

I spent many years earning a doctorate in history. When I began that quest, I had turned my back on the Christian faith. I wondered if the world of academia could provide the answers. One master’s degree, a multitude of courses, and three comprehensive exams later—all prior to the doctoral dissertation—finally convinced me that the educated elite were just as clueless as the rest of the world.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” These questions come from the pen of the apostle Paul. He answers himself:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

He then makes a statement that I’m sure sets the intellectual elite’s teeth on edge: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Am I saying that higher education is worthless? It can be. It all depends on the context of the learning. Anything divorced from God’s truth is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless. Man’s wisdom is often little more than arrogance and stupidity—people thinking they are intelligent, yet not realizing they are intellectual pygmies in light of God’s truth.

Some people seek advanced degrees to feel better about themselves. They want to be respected; they want to be important. Yet,

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Boasting is one of man’s primary activities. This is particularly true of those who hold political power. They make promises seemingly without end: “Here is what we will do for you”; “We will end this problem once and for all”; “If you want answers, elect us!” Most of them, however, trust in their own minds and are disconnected from the Ultimate Mind.

The apostle Paul continues,

We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What was true of Paul’s age remains true today. There is a wisdom that comes from God that provides all we need to know for having relationship with Him and with all others. If followed, it solves the world’s problems. Sinful man, though, refuses to submit his mind and his will to the One who has the answers.

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

This calls for humility; humility only appears after genuine repentance; repentance only occurs when a person is grieved over his sinful heart. How often does this happen? According to Jesus, not often enough:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

May we all come that place.

Learning to Love Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963.

Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—of God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

It’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

On Youth, Foolishness, & Mortality

I was reading in Psalm 39 this morning and this section jumped out at me:

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Thinking about my mortality has become more prominent lately. Not that I’m in bad health or anticipating an early demise, you understand, but it’s only right that someone my age—I just turned 67—should take that possibility seriously.

I reflect back on what it was like being young, that time in life when you rarely consider the end of days on this earth; after all, one’s entire life lies ahead. What great things one will do!

Teaching the current university-aged generation is also a constant reminder of the passing of the years. I could be their grandfather, which is a fairly new and sometimes startling reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Yesterday, I was teaching them about the 1960s, that woebegone era when youth believed they were charting a new course for civilization that no one had ever thought about before. How silly so many of my generation were:

Each new generation, particularly the members of it that end up in college, always seems to think it’s smarter than the previous one, and the atmosphere in which they thrive is all too often one of promoting radical change, often without real understanding:

Far too many of the current crop of students are ignorant of history, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation:

As that last comic intimates, many students are being indoctrinated in the latest trendy social thought more than the basic knowledge and principles they need for life.

This has come to the forefront again recently in the reaction of many students to school shootings. Adults (so-called) are prone to present the students as the wise ones, the ones we need to listen to:

I was young once. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I was immature. Immaturity is a feature of being young and inexperienced. A phrase bandied about (but probably not said in these precise words by anyone in particular) is “Youth is wasted on the young.”

This post is not meant to be a slight on young people. I love my students. It’s just that I know what being young is like. I look back on some of the decisions I made, even as a young Christian, and just shake my head, asking myself, “How could I have been so foolish?”

Psalm 90:12 is a fitting final thought for today:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

May it be.

Open & Closed Minds

I teach at a Christian university. A concern I’ve expressed before in this blog is that sometimes Christian academics have a tendency to think they are lesser scholars than those in the more prestigious centers of higher education. Then they make the mistake of trying to become respected by secular academia by minimizing their faith publicly.

I’m not saying that’s the norm for Christian academics, but it is a temptation for some. There sometimes is a haughtiness emanating from the confines of Ivy League and other “top” schools that tells us we don’t really match up.

However, God disagrees. We’re told in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That last verse goes on to say, “And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

When we jettison that first step—reverence for God—we set out on a path that leads to foolishness, not genuine knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

It’s as C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity:

There is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source.

When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

All the talk in circles of higher education of having an open mind sounds nice. Sometimes, those of us who teach at a university that has a basic statement of beliefs are considered close-minded. Yet as Lewis reminds us in his The Abolition of Man,

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.

I’m reminded also of an incident related by Whittaker Chambers in his autobiography, Witness. As a child, he once said something to his mother about God creating the world. His mother, decidedly nonreligious, told him that he had to think for himself, to have an open mind. He was not to accept other people’s opinions, she declared. Then she followed that with this statement: “The world was formed by gases cooling in space.”

Chambers continued,

I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me. . . . What impressed me was that it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then, why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open . . . truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred.

In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end.

I have no problem saying I begin my understanding of history (which is what I teach) with the knowledge of God. After all, history came into being by His creation. Why would I ever omit Him from an analysis of history?

My mind is open when it comes to the facts of history and whether I need to change my perspective on particular events. My mind is blessedly closed, though, on matters of ultimate significance. Neither do I suffer from feelings of inferiority for saying that. Staying faithful to God’s truth leads to proper understanding and wisdom.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

Apostle PaulIt’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

Proverbs 9

My Ideal President

Presidential SealLet’s talk about an ideal world, where we have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. that we can trust. Having the right president is not the solution to our national problems; those problems go much deeper, since they are spiritual in nature. But it can make a difference who the chief executive is.

What am I looking for in this ideal president? I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve surveyed the field of candidates for 2016. Here are the characteristics that I want.

Dedication to Biblical Principles

This is the starting point. Our president should understand that God’s law is the basis for man’s law, and that anything in man’s law that contradicts God’s law is invalid and should be changed. He or she needs to be someone who honors God above everything else, realizing that public opinion is not the final judge of one’s actions.

This president would advocate for the sanctity of life, the Biblical definition of marriage, a limited role for government in our lives, and private property and free enterprise. The rule of law would be this person’s hallmark, overturning the rule of man that has characterized the current administration.

As I said, this is the starting point, but it’s not enough.

Christian Character

I could give a whole laundry list of character traits I would like to see in this president’s life, but I can summarize with these three, which I believe might encompass many others: integrity, courage, and humility.

Integrity means this president would be a person who does what he/she says, and acts with complete honesty, above board and truly transparent. This president must be a person who has the kind of courage that will tackle the knottiest of issues, regardless of the personal cost to one’s popularity, which is fleeting at best anyway.

As an aside, what we have witnessed the past few days in Indiana and Arkansas is lack of courage on the part of the governors in those states. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration acts eventually signed into law in those states are worse than useless now; they actually may be turned against Christians’ freedom of religion. That kind of spinelessness at the national level would ruin us completely.

The courage I seek in the ideal president would be coupled with a genuine humility. This president needs to acknowledge that he/she is not the “savior” of the nation, but merely a servant who is fulfilling God’s command to do His will. There is no room for arrogance; pride leads to destruction.

Strategic Wisdom

It’s not enough to simply believe in the right things and have the proper character. This president must know how to make things happen to turn the country around. There might be any number of candidates who fit into the first two categories, but who lack the wisdom to carry out the correct policies. How do we get where we need to be? Not everything can be a frontal attack. Politics is a tricky business. This president will have to know how to manage the system for good without compromising principles or personal character.

Excellent Communication Skills

My ideal president will be a great communicator, in the style of Ronald Reagan, who knew how to connect with the people. Unfortunately, Republicans often choose a candidate who is marginal, at best, in being able to help citizens understand the principles that the country needs to be based upon and the policies that flow out of those principles. We need someone who can articulate those principles and policies clearly.

There may be other traits necessary, but if those four exist, I will be ecstatic. I think that kind of candidate can win this next election. Who is that candidate? I’m still evaluating the options before us. I see solid principles in some; I resonate with the character of many; I have opinions about the strategies they have used in the past and about their ability to communicate effectively.

One thing is for sure: the mainstream media will hold Republican candidates to a level of scrutiny that they will not apply to Hillary Clinton.

Media Bar

I’m holding the Republican candidates to a high bar also, but it’s not the same one the media is interested in. Let’s make our decision for the best candidate based on the kinds of traits I’ve listed above. This next presidential election could be the most crucial in our nation’s history.