We know of the classic line from Uncle Ben (Peter Parker a.k.a. Spiderman’s uncle), “With great power comes great responsibility.”
We may also know of another classic line from Albert Einstein, “Knowledge is power.”
When it comes to the seminarian, the pastor, the bible study teacher, or the theologian, elitism or big-headedness can be an issue that they may encounter.
Van Tillian apologetics, the divide between Christocentric vs. Christotelic hermeneutics, and fancy latin phrases can all become a hinderance to one’s personal life. All these and many more are talked about and learned throughout the years of seminary, but it can become a stumbling block. As it builds one’s head knowledge, it could also foster one’s head to become bigger, and not in the good sense.
So, a sense of elitism, over-confidence, and pride can fill the heart and mind of this soon to be pastor and the current pastor, the first semester seminarian and the seminarian about to graduate, and even the layman who was exposed to Herman Bavinck, John Calvin, and Francis Turretin.
As sad as it is, many of us know what this looks like. But, just incase you don’t know what it looks like, it looks like this:
A person comes up to the seminarian asking for advice and counsel. In return, the seminarian gives him/her “extra” advice and counsel. The seminarian starts spewing out all these ideas, statements, principles from this theologian and that theologian that may or may not have anything to do with the situation. The seminarian comes off as “elitist” or “big-headed”. The one needing counsel did not warrant this. He/She did not ask for the summary of a 500 page book.
And all this happens even when a person or friend does not ask for advice or counsel. It can and does happen when the pastor or seminarian just wants to talk about and on these things at his or her accord.
Granted, there are many people that can be given the same situation, spew out all these ideas from certain theologians and books, and result in being helpful.
But, from my experience it has gone both ways. Most of the time, it can be received very negatively rather than positively. Many times, it can come off as being facetious, superior, and bluntly put, un-Christian.
There needs to be wisdom from the one with all this “knowledge.” It’s not easy to relate to others that have not read all these great theologians or did not have the opportunity to go through biblical training and classes. One must strike a balance of not coming off superior because of their knowledge, but also share and communicate their knowledge out of love and genuine care for the other.
This requires much prayer. It requires God to make one humble. It requires him/her to know when to speak and when not to speak. It requires discernment in knowing if it will be beneficial and hurtful. And if it is beneficial, it requires wisdom in communicating these heavy ideas, theologies, and principles.
With great power comes great responsibility because knowledge is power.
By Charles Chung. Charles is a Westminster Theological Seminary M. Div. student from Brooklyn, NY. He is also the youth director at Sheep’s Gate Presbyterian Church in Havertown, PA.