Ignorance by Analogy

The inimitable Tim Challies has a parody up right now, or what he calls a parable. He describes visiting a doctor who told him his “duoduwhatzit” needed to be removed. Tim, of course, puts his utmost trust in his doctor, because he made a lot of sense, and was easy to understand. However, this doctor has one little quirk – he has no medical training, nor does anyone on his staff. Instead, he expects patients to trust him based on youth, zeal for medicine, and common sense.

The obvious comparison is with Christian ministry, and all those anti-intellectual movements we have in the church, and to a certain extent, Tim is right. There is no inherent benefit to ignorance, and there is a great deal of potential harm to be had by it. But then, why are there anti-intellectual movements in the church?

It is the nature of a parable to work by analogy. That’s why it’s called a parable. Para Bolle means to throw alongside (as opposed to hyperbole, which means to throw beyond). But the problem with all analogies is that the comparison only goes so far. The real meat of the thing is always in disecting exactly how and where the analogy falls away from what it’s being compared to. So, how is medicine different from religion?

You could probably do a much more detailed dissection, but it seems to me that the most interesting difference is that Medicine is based on science, and the science that Medicine is based on is constantly being revolutionized. It’s precisely because the medicine of today is dramatically different from the medicine of even five years ago. Part of the reason why it’s so desperately important to have an educated doctor is because medicine is fundamentally based on human understanding and effort. A modern doctor today would look with scorn on the practices of Hippocrates, despite the fact that Hippocrates is the “father of modern medicine.”

On the other hand, Christianity is based entirely upon its founder, Jesus Christ. It is a very real possibility for a person to go to seminary and get educated away from Christ. Such an educated person would have a degree which caused them to look with scorn on the practices of Christianity’s founder. In fact, not only is it a reality, it’s happened. That’s the very reason why Protestant Christianity may be neatly divided between a tradition that looks immanently to its founder, and another which modifies its theology based upon what it gleans from modern Science.

Despite the fact that I’m even now going to seminary, I think Tim Challies analogy is a false one. He wants to persuade people that you shouldn’t trust a minister without theological training any more than you would trust a doctor without medical training. That’s not necessarily true. Religious education in general is just as likely to lead you away from the gospel as toward it.

The trick is, everyone is called to minister, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that everybody needs a MDiv or some equivalent before they can be a functioning part of the body of Christ. I think you could even make a case that not all Christian leadership needs special training. Rather, different kinds of jobs need different kinds of training.

My own personal favorite analogy is electrical work. Different people work with electricity in different ways, and you really can’t make the argument that some of them are more needful than others. If you want to wire your house properly, you call for an electrician. In fact most states require an electrician to certify any new electrical wiring that is done in a house. However, if you need to design a new transistor, an electrician isn’t going to know what to do for you. For that you need an engineer. And some kinds of work, say designing a fuel cell engine, or designing the power grid for a city requires a masters or even a PhD in engineering. On the other hand, figuring out the details of fusion power might take a different kind of education altogether. But don’t let that convince you that it would be particularly useful to hire a physicist to install overhead lighting in your house.

I think you could make a good comparison with that for ministry. Some kinds of ministry just require experience and the Holy Spirit. For other kinds, it might be best to have some bible school training, or an MDiv. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it would be particularly helpful to hire a cloistered theologian for your singles ministry.

PS. I meant to make this funny and not so dang intellectual. But um… I forgot.

Author: KB French

Formerly many things, including theology student, mime, jr. high Latin teacher, and Army logistics officer. Currently in the National Guard, and employed as a civilian... somewhere

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