Making Paradise Now
A student at Eastern College had just graduated from college with a degree in education. She was headed out into the world and wondering where her future would lead her. She went and interviewed for a job as a teacher. This particular job was at a very good school and so was quite prestigious and had many good benefits as well. She didn’t think that she would have a good chance of landing the job since there were over 300 applicants. But, amazingly, she was the one chosen out of all those applicants. Needless to say, she was ecstatic.
She excitedly went and told one of her teachers, Tony Campolo, and asked him, “Aren’t you proud of me?”
“No.” he said.
Amazed she asked why he wasn’t proud of her for getting the job instead of the 299 other applicants.
He replied, “You are telling me that you are going to be doing a job for which there are over 299 other qualified people. Why would you want to be a teacher there when I can give you a job where if you don’t become the teacher, there won’t be a teacher?”
She thought about that and decided not to accept the prestigious job for which she had been accepted. Instead she became a teacher at one of Campolo’s schools in Haiti.
His ideas of Christians being responsible to bring social justice wherever they see injustice has probably inspired me more than anything else to want to find ways that I can be of the best service in areas that need it the most. I’ve got a long way to go in this area but, in this paper I’d like to outline a few ways that Christians and myself in particular can be useful in the communities in which they find themselves or in other countries. But, before I do that, I would like to take a short look back at the education that I have received and write a short evaluation of it.
In many ways I am probably a very lucky student because I have been able to study in three different countries: America (Walla Walla College), Singapore (Southeast Asia Union College), and South Africa (Helderberg College)1 To compare them is not really possible in my opinion. Helderberg has every right to claim an equal level of education as Walla Walla or SAUC. I have worked hard as a student each of these places and been challenged by the teachers(one of them at Helderberg challenged me so much that I didn’t take showers a couple times because of so much reading) At every school that you go to you have teachers that are excellent, average and so-so as well as some that are difficult and some that are easy(easy doesn’t necessarily mean low quality because in a couple of my easier classes they allowed a lot of discussion in the class which made me think more deeply about certain subjects).
I am thankful for the education that I have received. It has opened my mind in many ways and I have a lot of respect for certain teachers at each of these schools. Certain teachers have given me ideas both in class and there is one, Dr. Steyn, that has really inspired me by all of her community work outside the classroom. But, I have also seen that there is a lot of room for improvement in certain areas which I would like to mention(I’ll be talking alot about theology since that’s my area but, the principles are transferrable to many other majors). This is not just at Helderberg, not just at Walla Walla or at Andrews but, something that I think is a problem with a majority of western style education.
Problems With Education
I took a class last year called Philosophical Biology and while I learned some good things from it, there’s one experience in it that I think highlights one of the biggest problems in education. The first reading we were assigned to read was some guy’s doctoral dissertation on something about T-science, D-science and P-science. That paper was quite a tough one to read let alone understand. First of all I had to almost physically prop my eyes open with toothpicks in order to stay awake reading it. And second, I had to read and reread quite a few of the sentences to make sure that I understood them properly because he was using such abstract and complicated languge. I don’t think I ever fully understood what the good doctor was trying to talk about. This and my large amounts of reading of certain authors like Barth, Ricouer(hermeneutics), Kuhn(Scientific Revolutions-not quite so bad) and others that wrote in highly technical language frustrated me immensely because I felt like I was wasting my time and money for something that was never ever going to be useful. I started to seriously question the value and usefulness of this kind of education especially in theology.
When some of us as students explained our feelings to the professor, he said that doctors have to study highly technical details for 7 years and so why should theology be sloppy. It should be just as rigorous since it is involved in saving spiritual lives. The problem is that this illustration breaks down very rapidly. To be rigorous or thorough is not the issue. You can be thorough either in technical or commonly understood language. Doctors and pastors do have some similarities. They are both involved in saving people’s lives. But there is a significant difference. Doctors use their knowledge to act on people’s bodies so that their lives may be saved. It is not necessary that the patients have one iota of medicinal knowledge. Pastors on the other hand are fundamentally opposite. They cannot just use their knowledge on someone. In fact, to do this is wrong.
They must communicate their knowledge in way that their patients-the common people are able to clearly understand and use it. This is one of the reasons why it was so important to the reformers to have the Bible in the language of the people. They realized that this weapon would be infinitely stronger than they themselves could ever be. Only when this happened could the gospel become effective and well known and enabled to shield people from error. To save people this knowledge must be transferable to common people and appear relevant. It may be OK for doctors and scientists to stay in the technical realm and just use scientific lingo, but, for pastors to do this in my opinion is a crime. There may be a few theologians who are headed in a scientific or technical direction and maybe we need to add a specific major for this but, I don’t think that the aim of most theology courses should be to produce scientific theologians-but, to produce pastors and shepherds of God’s people!
Most Theology majors are headed for the pastoral field where it is of the highest importance that they be relevant to a secular world(Grenville Kent(Australian involved in Christian comics and contemporary worship) and Jon Paulien (“Present Truth in a Secular World”) have illustrated this brilliantly) and able to communicate saving truths to common people in a way that is seen as attractive, important and meaningful BY THE COMMON PEOPLE!(they are not doctors operating on ignorant patients-they are teachers communicating knowledge). I agree that we need to have a solid and good philosophical base(which I think SDA education does fairly well) but, my problems with theology(and other areas of education) are:
1) Theologians have too often put the things of God out of reach of the people who need it most by the type of language they use. Most people are not willing to wade through lots of highly complicated language and do mental gymnastics to learn anything unless they are forced to in school(and as soon as they finish the class they forget most of what they studied. This emphasizes its uselessness). And when pastors began to speak like this to their members, they become unintelligible and useless in helping members come closer to God.
This kind of education is not only useless, it is harmful as well because as Ellen White says, “The student obtains a slender store of information upon many subjects that are of little value to him…Many a student has so long taxed the mind to learn that which his reason tells him will never be of any use, that his mental powers have become weakened and incapable of vigorous exertion and persevering effort to comprehend those things which are of vital importance.”2 and “[Christian workers} laborious study of the opinions of men tends to the enfeebling of their ministry rather than to its strengthening. As I see libraries filled with ponderous volumes of historical and theological lore, I think, Why spend money for that which is not bread?…And to a large degree theology, as studied and taught, is but a record of human speculation, serving only to darken ‘counsel by words without knowledge’.”3
Not only do we make pastors study things that they will never use, we weaken their ability to serve the people of God and we destroy their zeal for making the things of God real to people. If pastors can’t make Christianity relevant and real to non-Theologians, their education is a waste. It seems that pastors have keep up their zeal and inspiration not because of but, often in spite of their education. I mentioned these things to my dad wondering what his opinions of their use had been after 25 years of pastoring and teaching Bible and he wrote back saying, “I can relate to your feelings about all those theological pinheads. Barth, Bultmann, and the whole lot of those theologians who dissect and try to see how many angels they can fit on the head of a pin while using very technical theological language. Never impressed me either. Don’t really remember anything significant from their amazing contributions.” They may have said some important things, but the way they said it destroyed it’s usefulness and limited it’s circulation to a few elite scholars. I have a suspicion that this is one of the major reasons for the decline of the church in England and much of Europe. They have so long concentrated on the philosophies and sciences of theology that the pastors have lost their ability to really communicate with their congregation and show them why Christianity is relevant to a modern society. If Americans weren’t such independent thinkers and willing to go out on our own and try new things, we also would be in a much worse situation than we are.
2) The second problem with theological education that I have is illustrated well by another 2 Ellen White quotes(there are so many to choose from on this topic). “It is not well to crowd the mind with studies that require intense application, but that are not brought into use in practical life. Such education will be a loss to the student, for these studies lessen his desire and inclination for the studies that would fit him for usefulness and enable him to fulfill his responsibilities. A practical training is worth far more than any amount of mere theorizing. It is not enough even to have knowledge; we must have ability to use the knowledge aright.”4Possibly a few people can benefit from technical language, but, it doesn’t often seem to be the pastor working in the field.
He might know how to discuss complex theological issues but, he doesn’t know very much about making his community better or explaining the gospel simply and with power. In short he is not very practical(unless he departs from his educational background). I argue that being a pastor is one of the most important jobs and has a high potential for radically altering society if it is done correctly. If our pastors were to be trained to fight injustice and to be connected to resources for improvement of people’s lives, they could make a huge difference. For our pastors to be trained is good but, there is an even higher ideal that Ellen White points out when she speaks about the schools of the prophets. “Just before Elijah was taken to heaven, he visited the schools of the prophets…[he impressed] upon the minds of the youth the importance of letting simplicity mark every feature of their education.
Only in this way could they receive the mold of heaven, and go forth to work in the ways of the Lord. If conducted as God designs they should be, our schools in these closing days of the message will do a work similar to that done by the schools of the prophets…No work will be more effectual that that done by those who, having obtained an education in practical life, go forth prepared to instruct as they have been instructed.”5 Think about this for a second. Not just instructing for others to learn, but, instructing well enough that others are able to begin instructing when you are through. Let me illustrate why this is so much better. I forgot where I heard this but, someone was comparing the work of a pastor who preaches and converts an average of 50 persons a year to that of one who trains 1 person a year. At first glance it seems that the 50 persons a year pastor is the better. But, if you take a closer look you’ll see that this is only true for the first 9 years. After that the one who trains starts to dwarf the other.
A million saved for God from the efforts of one person. Amazing! And this is not counting the people who are saved but not trained by the pastor. Jesus must know something about mathematics because this is exactly what he did. Sure he preached a lot but, he trained 12 disciples and they trained others and together turned the world upside down. I think it was Dwight Moody who said that “It is better to train ten men to work than to do the work of ten men.” It would be amazing and thrilling if we could train our pastors to be Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings and Abraham Lincolns, Mother Theresas and people like that and exponentially more so if they knew how to train their members who could train others and on and on. When you begin to think like this you start to get excited but, then are brought back to the painful reality that most of the training received in theological education is impossible or extremely difficult to pass on due to it’s complicated language and the fact that the things learned are not very practical either in spiritual life or in making life easier for people in their day to day struggles.
Again, there are some good things about our education, especially the sincerity of many of the teachers and how much they want to give a good education, but, it seems like we have fallen into the same educational traps that the world has for reasons of accreditation and trying to impress people with high sounding language and other various reasons. There is an incredible mission for us to accomplish and you can’t just sit still with all the good ideas that we have these days. In fact it’s boring if you do so. It is possible and so much more exciting to make a much better education (both in school, churches and daily life) and I have a few concrete ideas that I’d like to share as to how to do that. I don’t know much about the accreditation aspects. Dr. Ogden, I think would know much more about that side of things, but, I have just begun to start collecting ideas for use and possibly they could be used without altering the accreditation that we have. I’m going to be looking for and starting to collect a lot more ideas like these in the coming years.
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