Recently I read a post by the President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Albert Mohler, about recent conversions of a few pastors to open atheism through the influence of an organization promoted by atheist Richard Dawkins called the Clergy Project. Dr. Mohler, a man I admire, uncharacteristically betrayed a bit of snobbery when he twice pointed out that one of the Clergy Project converts had “no college degree” and “no education”.
My first response when I read this was, “Isn’t that the same accusation they (some educated atheists) make about most Christians?” They say we are a generally uneducated people. And their snobbish accusation is actually true to some extent. If by “educated” some atheists and Dr. Mohler mean a college graduate then that would leave out the majority of Americans since only 30% of Americans have a Bachelor’s Degree while a little over 10% have a Post-graduate degree. A Barna Research Group study revealed that 40% of US pastors have no formal theological training.
In the world of the educated the uneducated are sometimes given little credibility and often marginalized by the gate-keepers of the educated class. When it comes to the Christian faith of the uneducated there may even be less credibility granted.
Christians should always avoid playing the education card in a debate. Not just because it is an endless argument that lends nothing to the exposure of truth, but because it runs counter to some basic principles laid out in the Scriptures. One principle is: God is intentionally unimpressed by our education. Re-read 1 Corinthians 1:17-21
Don't get me wrong, unlike the pastor who said in the preface of his sermon, “I'm like Charles Spurgeon (the great 19th century Baptist pastor) I ain't got no education neither!” I don't consider ignorance in ministry to be a virtue. It is true that Charles Spurgeon had no formal theological education, but, as one who has read much of what he wrote, he was a broadly read, amazingly gifted, highly educated man. So while I wholeheartedly support balanced formal education I must state that it isn't the door to Christianity and has nothing to do with what it means to be a Christian. I'll illustrate this by a man who was arguably the first non-Jewish missionary commissioned by our Lord in the New Testament: the “maniac of Gadara”.
This pitiful madman... this “maniac” mentioned in Mark 5:1-20 most likely could not read or write, but he was not uneducated when it came to the power of Jesus Christ. His testimony about that one experience in his life shook the people who knew him because they knew who he had been before Jesus walked into his life.
I'm sure there were people who questioned his credibility because of his background, but this former madman knew the extent of what Jesus really did for him that day. Imagine an atheist trying to tell him there is no God. It would forever be his experience with Jesus that anchored his soul, not his future education. In fact he would attribute any future learning to Jesus putting him in his “right mind” when he saved him.
He asked Jesus if he could go with him and Jesus told him no, then sent him back to his people to tell his story of God's merciful power in his life. In this we see the essence of true vital Christianity and, therefore, Christian ministry: a saving experience with Jesus. A Pastor who has not had a life changing experience with Jesus will never be a fit Christian minister no matter what level of formal education he obtains. The passion that flows from this personal experience with Jesus becomes the energy for Christian growth and learning.
I remember when I, nothing much more than an animal, first experienced Jesus’ power. I didn’t have a High School diploma at the time I met Him, so the credibility of my faith is, I'm sure, suspect for many. But, like the “maniac of gadara” I know who I was and what Jesus did for me. I have spent 40 years since that day studying, educating myself, and being taught by others, but if all I have learned since that day were put together it would not come close to what happened on that single day. I am a beast without Jesus, and even if I had a PHD when I met Him it would be meaningless compared to the treasure Jesus gave me. Doubt as you might… this former maniac knows...