Exposing The Heart Of The Problem

The Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates taught that knowledge is virtue. Good depends on the extent of one's knowledge. Hence, the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue."

Herein lies the root and stem of contemporary Christian education. It is built on the Platonic idea that knowledge is the equivalent of moral character. Therein lies the great flaw.

Plato and Aristotle (both disciples of Socrates) are the fathers of contemporary Christian education.1" To use a biblical metaphor, v Schlect, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry, 6. Senter, Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, 142.

William Boyd and Edmund King, The History of Western Education (Lanham, MD: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995), 28. ]K Power, Legacy of Learning, 29-116.

present-day Christian education, whether it be seminarian or Bible college, is serving food from the wrong tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life. 101

Contemporary theological learning is essentially cerebral. It can be called "liquid pedagogy."'" We pry open people's heads, pour in a cup or two of information, and close them up again. They have the information, so we mistakenly conclude the job is complete.

Contemporary theological teaching is data-transfer education. It moves from notebook to notebook. In the process, our theology rarely gets below the neck. If a student accurately parrots the ideas of his professor, he is awarded a degree. And that means a lot in a day when many Christians obsess over (and sometimes deify) theological degrees in their analysis of who is qualified to minister.103

Theological knowledge, however, does not prepare a person for ministry.'" This does not mean that the knowledge of the world, church history, theology, philosophy, and the Scriptures is without value. Such knowledge can be very useful.10' But it is not central. Theological competence and a high-voltage intellect alone do not qualify a person to serve in God's house.

The fallacy is that men and women who have matriculated from seminary or Bible college are instantly viewed as "qualified." Those who have not are viewed as "unqualified." By this standard, many of the Lord's choicest vessels would have failed the test.'"

In addition, formal theological training does not equip students for many of the challenges of ministry. According to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) study released by Hartford Seminary in

Time and space will not permit us to explain the meaning of the two trees. For a fuller discussion, see Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, ch. 7.

Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching.

One of the key problems in Christianity is that it inherited the intellectual standards of the ancient world (Marsden, Soul of the American University, 34).

i:i Keep in mind that Joseph Stalin attended Tiflis Theological Seminary from ages 14 to 19 (Adam B. Warn, Stalin the Man and His Era [New York: Viking Press, 1973],18-22; Alan Bullock, H/tler and Stalin: Parallel L/ves [New York: Knopf, 1992], 6, 13). Paul of Tarsus was highly educated, and he was vital to the spread of early Christianity. Peter, on the other hand, was uneducated. Jesus and the twelve apostles were all unlearned men: "The Jews were amazed and asked, 'Flow did this man [Jesus] get such learning without having studied?'" (John 7:15, Niv); "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Some noted Christians used of God who never received formal theological training include A. W. Tozer, G. Campbell Morgan, John Bunyan, C. H. Spurgeon, D. L Moody, and A. W. Pink. In addition, some of the greatest Bible expositors in church history, such as Watchman Nee, Stephen Kaung, and T. Austin-Sparks, were not seminary trained.

Connecticut, seminary graduates and clergymen who had advanced degrees scored lower in both their ability to deal with conflict and in demonstrating a "clear sense of purpose" than did the nonseminary graduates.'

The survey showed that clergy with no ministerial education or formal certificate program scored the highest on tests that revealed how well one deals with conflict and stress. Bible college graduates scored slightly lower. Seminary graduates scored the lowest!

The major finding of the study was that "congregations with leaders who have a seminary education are, as a group, far more likely to report that in their congregations they perceive less clarity of purpose, more and different kinds of conflict, less person-to-person communication, less confidence in the future and more threat from changes in worship."'"

All of this indicates that a person who matriculates from the theory-laden seminary or Bible college has been given little to no hands-on experience in the crucible of body life. By body life, we are not referring to the common experience of being in an institutional church setting. We are referring to the rough-and-tumble, messy, raw, highly taxing experience of the body of Christ where Christians live as a close-knit community and struggle to make corporate decisions together under Christ's headship without a stated leader over them. In this regard, the seminary is spiritually stultifying on some pretty basic levels.

The approach taken by seminaries is also self-referential. It sets its own criteria for who should minister and on what terms. It then often judges those who do not think the criteria are particularly useful or important.

But perhaps the most damaging problem of the seminary and Bible college is that they perpetuate the humanly devised system in which the clergy live, breathe, and have their being. That system—

[his study was based on more than 14,000 congregations from forty-one different denominations and "faith groups." It used twenty-six different surveys. The FACTstudy is considered to be the most comprehensive look at U.S. religion. The findings are published at http://www.facthartsem.edu. FACTstudy, 67.

along with every other outmoded human tradition addressed in this book—is protected, kept alive, and spread through our ministerial schools.'"

Instead of offering the cure to the ills of the church, our theological schools worsen them by assuming (and even defending) all of the unscriptural practices that produce them.

The words of one pastor sum up the problem nicely: "I came through the whole system with the best education that evangelicalism had to offer—yet I really didn't receive the training that I needed .. . seven years of higher education in top-rated evangelical schools didn't prepare me to (1) do ministry and (2) be a leader. I began to analyze why I could preach a great sermon and people afterwards would shake my hand and say, 'Great sermon, Pastor.' But these were the very people who were struggling with self-esteem, beating their spouses, struggling as workaholics, succumbing to their addictions. Their lives weren't changing. I had to ask myself why this great knowledge I was presenting didn't move from their heads to their hearts and their lives. And I began to realize that the breakdown in the church was actually based on what we learned in seminary. We were taught that if you just give people information, that's enough!'"

>delving deeper

1. If you do not believe seminaries provide the right environment for the education of Christian leaders, can you give specifics on how you believe Christian workers should be prepared for Christian service?

This is a very big topic. But in short, the way that Jesus Christ trained Christian workers was to live with them for a period of years. It was "on the job" training.

He mentored His disciples at close range. They also lived in community together. Jesus did the work, they watched, and then they went on a trial mission which He

Ironically, Protestants are noted for their critical reflection on doctrine. But they have not applied that critical reflection to their church practices.

Dr. Clyde McDowell, quoted in Vantage Point: The Newsletter of Denver Seminary, June 1998.

critiqued. Eventually, He sent them out, and they carried on the work themselves. Paul of Tarsus followed the same pattern, training Christian workers in the city of Ephesus. They were part of the community in Ephesus, they watched Paul, and eventually, they were sent out to do the work.

2. Can you elaborate on your statement that "the intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions"? How does Tozer's observation that we can only obtain divine truth through spiritual revelation affect how we should go about providing Christian training?

Those who train others in Christian work should be familiar with those spiritual realities that transcend intellect and emotion. Consequently, spiritual formation, spiritual understanding, and spiritual insight are vital ingredients in training for spiritual service. This includes spending time with the Lord, learning to bear His cross, living in authentic community, sharpening one's spiritual instincts, and discerning how to hear God's voice and be guided by Him inwardly.

3. What are your recommendations on how the church should instruct our children and youth?

The New Testament is absolutely silent on this question, though it seems to suggest that the responsibility for the moral teaching of children falls on the shoulders of the parents (see Ephesians 6:4 and 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15).

That said, our suggestion is to let the creative juices of each local assembly discover new and effective ways to minister to the young ones.


"In handling the subject of ministry in the New Testament it is essential to remember the order in which the books of the New Testament were written. If we assume, as the order in which the books of the New Testament are now presented would lead us to assume, that the Gospels were written first, and then Acts and then the letters of Paul, beginning with Romans and ending with the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy to Titus and the Letter to Philemon, we shall never be able to understand the development of the institutions and the thought of the early church."


"In the last 50 or 100 years New Testament research has unremittingly and successfully addressed itself to the task of elucidating for us what was known as the 'Ecclesia' in primitive Christianity—so very different from what is to-day called the church both in Roman and

Protestant camps. . . This insight—which an unprejudiced study of the New Testament and the crying need of the church have helped us to reach—may be expressed as follows: the New Testament 'Ecclesia,' the fellowship of Jesus Christ, is a pure communion of persons and has nothing to do with the character of an institution about it; it is therefore misleading to identify any single one of the historically developed churches, which are all marked by an institutional character, with the true Christian communion."


WHY IS IT THAT WE CHRISTIANS can follow the same rituals every Sunday without ever noticing that they are at odds with the New Testament?1 The incredible power of tradition has something to do with it. As we have seen, the church has often been influenced by the surrounding culture, seemingly unaware of its negative effects. At other times, it has, quite properly, recognized overt threats—such as heretical teachings about the person and divinity of Jesus Christ. But in an effort to combat those threats, it has moved away from the organic structure that God wrote into the church's DNA.

But there is something else—something more fundamental that most Christians are completely unaware of. It concerns our New Testament. The problem is not in what the New Testament says. The problem is in how we approach it.

The approach most commonly used among contemporary Christians when studying the Bible is called "proof texting." The origin of proof texting goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.2

The Protestant scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of

This chapter is based on a message Frank Viola delivered at a house church conference at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 29, 2000.

For a discussion on Protestant scholasticism, see Walter Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 984-985. Francis Turretin (Reformed) and Martin Chemnitz (Lutheran) were the two main shakers among the Protestant scholastics (Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1116 and 209 respectively).

itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice.

When John Nelson Darby emerged in the mid-1800s, he built a theology based on this approach. Darby raised proof texting to an art form. In fact, it was Darby who gave fundamentalist and evangelical Christians a good deal of their presently accepted teachings.' All of them are built on the proof-texting method. Proof texting, then, became the common way that we contemporary Christians approach the Bible.

As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the New Testament as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the practice of the New Testament church. Yet we still believe we are being biblical. Allow us to illustrate the problem with a fictitious story.


Marvin Snurdly is a world-renowned marital counselor. In his twenty-year career as a marriage therapist, Marvin has counseled thousands of troubled couples. He has an Internet presence. Each day hundreds of couples write letters to Marvin about their marital sob stories. The letters come from all over the globe. And Marvin answers them all.

A hundred years pass, and Marvin Snurdly is resting peacefully in his grave. He has a great-great-grandson named Fielding Melish. Fielding decides to recover the lost letters of his great great grandfather. But Fielding can find only thirteen of Marvin's letters. Out of the thousands of letters that Marvin wrote in his lifetime, just thirteen have survived! Nine were written to couples in marital crisis. Four were written to individual spouses.

Dispensationalism and the pretribulational rapture are just two of them. The very successful Lett Behind series is built upon these teachings (see Time, July 1, 2002, 41-48). For the fascinating origin of Darby's pretribulational doctrine, see MacPherson, incredible Cover-Up.

These letters were all written within a twenty-year time frame: from 1980 to 2000. Fielding Melish plans to compile these letters into a volume. But there is something interesting about the way Marvin wrote his letters that makes Fielding's task somewhat difficult.

First, Marvin had an annoying habit of never dating his letters. No days, months, or years appear on any of the thirteen letters. Second, the letters only portray half the conversation. The initial letters written to Marvin that provoked his responses no longer exist. Consequently, the only way to understand the backdrop of each of Marvin's letters is by reconstructing the marital situation from Marvin's response.

Each letter was written at a different time, to people in a different culture, about a different problem. For example, in 1985, Marvin wrote a letter to Paul and Sally from Virginia, who were experiencing sexual problems early in their marriage. In 1990, Marvin wrote a letter to Jethro and Matilda from Australia, who were having problems with their children. In 1995, Marvin wrote a letter to a wife from Mexico who was experiencing a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, Fielding has no way of knowing when the letters were written.

Take note: twenty years—thirteen letters—all written to different people at different times in different cultures—all experiencing different problems.

It is Fielding Melish's desire to put these thirteen letters in chronological order. But without the dates, he cannot do this. So Fielding puts them in the order of descending length. That is, he takes the longest letter that Marvin wrote and puts it first. He puts Marvin's second longest letter after that. He takes the third longest and puts it third. The compilation ends with the shortest letter that Marvin penned. The thirteen letters are arranged, not chronologically, but by their length.

The volume hits the presses and becomes an overnight best seller.

One hundred years pass, and The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly compiled by Fielding Melish stands the test of time. The work is still very popular. Another one hundred years pass, and this volume is being used copiously throughout the Western world.

The book is translated into dozens of languages. Marriage counselors quote it left and right. Universities employ it in their sociology classes. It is so widely used that someone gets a bright idea on how to make the volume easier to quote and handle.

What is that idea? It is to divide Marvin's letters into chapters and numbered sentences (or verses). So chapters and verses are added to The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly.

But by adding chapter and verse to these once living letters, something changes that goes unnoticed. The letters lose their personal touch. Instead, they take on the texture of a manual.

Different sociologists begin writing books about marriage and the family. Their main source? The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. Pick up any book in the twenty-fourth century on the subject of marriage, and you will find the author quoting chapters and verses from Marvin's letters.

It usually looks like this: In making a particular point, an author will quote a verse from Marvin's letter written to Paul and Sally. The author will then lift another verse from the letter written to Jethro and Matilda. He will extract another verse from another letter. Then he will sew these three verses together and upon them he will build his particular marital philosophy.

Virtually every sociologist and marital therapist that authors a book on marriage does the same thing. Yet the irony is this: Each of these authors frequently contradicts the others, even though they are all using the same source!

But that is not all. Not only have Marvin's letters been turned into cold prose when they were originally living, breathing epistles to real people in real places, they have become a weapon in the hands of agenda-driven men. Not a few authors on marriage begin employing isolated proof texts from Marvin's work to hammer away at those who disagree with their marital philosophy.

How is this possible? How are all of these sociologists contradicting each other when they are using the exact same source? It is because the letters have been lifted out of their historical context. Each letter has been plucked from its chronological sequence and removed from its real-life setting.

Put another way, the letters of Marvin Snurdly have been transformed into a series of isolated, disjointed, fragmented sentences—so anyone can lift one sentence from one letter, another sentence from another letter, and then paste them together to create the marital philosophy of his or her choice.

An amazing story, is it not? Well, here is the punch line. Whether you realize it or not, this is a description of your New Testament!

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