Education does not determine theological correctness

There’s been noise made about the lack of scholarship and credibility in the Hebrew Roots movement, criticisms coming particularly from the Messianic Judaism crowd.

To be sure, there’s some truth to that criticism. Numerous Hebrew Roots teachers have made false prophecies, or stated as fact things with no scholarly support. We have clowns on this side of the fence. Pardon our mess.

For many, this leads Hebrew Roots folks into Messianic Judaism or back into Christianity, where there’s less fanaticism, more scholarship. That way, they say, we’ll be set on the right path. Or at least, a more scholarly one.

But there’s an unspoken truth here: a theological education, while valuable, isn’t required for faithful living.

And – don’t throw fruit at me – a theological education isn’t even required for faithful teaching. (Blasphemy, I know!)

And – don’t curse me – a theological education doesn’t guarantee anything in the way of walking a good life for the Lord.

And – don’t stone me – a theological education sometimes does more harm than good!

Yes, religious leaders with higher education often get caught up in the intricacies of religion, theology, philosophy, and they lose sight of what’s important. And they’re worse off for it.

It’s not limited to religious education. I work in technology, and I’ve seen the same thing here: college grads love to write single-threaded command line web servers on Node.js. Fresh out of college, the technology is more important the the real goal, which is writing software useful to regular people. Regular people don’t need single threaded command line servers in Node.js. But the college grads lost focus on the goal.

So it is with religious education. Philosophy and theology and religion is more important than the real goal. Instead of serving, they get caught up in intricate discussions on Bilateral Ecclesiology. They takes sides and dig in and battle it out. They become advocates for a theology, and write long, articulate papers about why their theology of choice is gaining traction among other religious scholars! They write condescending blog posts against alternative views; of course, you’re free to disagree, so long as it’s clear you’ll be made out to be a foolish simpleton who just doesn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously.

Ha.

Biggest problem for higher-educated religious folks is an oldie: pride. You have more reading, more education, more engagement, more grounding in the scholarly world. Granted. And you’ve seen the junk scholarship, and the you-can’t-possibly-be-serious theologies out there. Likewise, granted. So, you’re kind of jaded. Maybe even untouchable. Who can intellectually engage with you? Is there anyone you can take seriously? (Outside your niche circle of scholarly friends, of course!)

See, that’s pride, and I see it all over the Messianic blogosphere.

Paul, the highly-educated, scholarly apostle said that all of his credentials, having been trained as a Pharisee under the most respected rabbis of Judaism – he counted all of it as dung. It’s not that it had no value, or that he hated his former religion; it’s that he came back to the goal: serving God, actually showing love to regular people. The real goodness is in there, and not in being connoisseurs of the latest doctrines circulating the religious world.

Don’t get me wrong, education has great value. It can debunk junk scholarship right off the bat. It can grant a solid ground to stand on. It can give a broader view than the one with which we were raised. It can give us a good command of what other people – smart, wise, scholarly people – think about the Scriptures, and how they interpreted them.

Even so, we should acknowledge that some of the greatest heroes of our faith were simple men. Biblical and afterwards. Fisherman, tax collectors, tent-makers, – these were average people. Called by God. Spirit-helped. According to Scripture, even the first century church was filled with so-called nobodies, all lacking credentials.

Anecdote from my 20 some years in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements: the so-called “dumb” people in the Hebrew Roots movement tend to be ordinary people who can relate to you, treat you kindly, can help you deal with problems in the real world.

Contrast this with so many of the higher-educated leaders who lecture on about airy theological issues, who intellectualize away even the clearest black-and-whites into mucky grays. Let them keep writing detailed theses; my Hebrew Roots friends and I will be volunteering at food kitchens.

I’ve witnessed good fruit from people in the Hebrew Roots movement. That didn’t come from a theological education.

Here’s a lesser-known story for you all. A few years ago, a young, well-educated, intellectual Messianic blogger, a young man who advocated against the Hebrew Roots movement, abandoned Yeshua altogether.

His reason? Pay attention, it’s telling.

He wrote in his final blog-ending post: “I evaluated Jesus, Christianity, Islam, and all other religions and ideologies from this central and defining perspective. Succinctly put, Judaism is more important to me than Jesus is.”

Catch that? He evaluated the diverse ideologies and perspectives. Then abandoned the Messiah for a religion.

God save us from intellectuals.

An embarrassing truth: highly-educated religious people have a terrible track record. Educated leaders within Judaism missed Messiah. Greek philosophers discarded the gospel. Popes and cardinals committed abuses of the worst kind. The Church of England regarded John Wesley and his laypreachers – ordinary people, non-clergy – as a threat, and attempted to suppress them.

Wesley is an interesting case: Though Wesley – like the apostle Paul – received higher theological education, the educated religious leadership of his day put down Wesley’s laypreachers – many of them ordinary people – describing them as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances, blind fanatics, leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, attacking institutional religion.

I think Messianic Judaism is making the same mistake: denouncing simple servants of God – Hebrew Roots folks – as blind fanatics, attackers of institutional religion, fomenters of disturbances, lacking of higher education, perceived or real.

I say “perceived,” because the Hebrew Roots movement is not completely void of scholarship – praise God! – as some paint it to be. Yes, we have clowns. We need more solid scholarship, yes. But there exists sound, Biblical teachers in the Hebrew Roots movement. It’s true! Baruch HaShem. Two teachers I look to for instruction, J.K. McKee of Outreach Israel Ministries and Tim Hegg of Torah Resource, both received degrees in theological higher education. I trust these men not because of the degrees they received, nor because of their education credentials, but because the fruit of the Spirit I’ve grown to know them for. And it’s for this same reason I am unable to look to many philosopher-theologian types in Messianic Judaism for leadership and teaching.

Maybe some Hebrew Roots folks are uneducated, blind fanatics, attackers of institutional religion, fomenters of disturbances. But maybe there’s some good people in there, too. And maybe there’s more fruit there than Messianic Judaism might lead you to believe.

God bless the Hebrew Roots folks and Messianic Judaism folks. Maybe we’re to work together sometime.

11 comments:

  1. Judah, you are a breath of fresh air. : )

    -Peter

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  2. Amen to that!

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  3. Thank you, Judah. ♥ this.

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  4. I can see you walking that fine line between "education" and "faithful living" as if they're mutually exclusive concepts and I think you're doing fairly well in your presentation. I can even agree with you to an extent. After all, many scholars argue with each other and disagree with how the other guy has done his research, even within the world of accepted Christian and Jewish scholarship. An education doesn't mean the person writing a research paper or a blog is always *right*. However, as you point out, better the well-educated person who knows how to do authentic research than the crackpot guru who pushes junk scholarship on the web and calls it "a revelation from God."

    I'm not quite sure I can agree that a completely uneducated person should teach, beyond a certain point at least. After all, plenty of well-meaning but relatively clueless people teach home fellowships and small Bible-studies (or God forbid, huge congregations) who have no idea how to approach serious Biblical research and who has never read the findings and interpretations of accepted Christian and Jewish scholars. They may be relying 100% on the spirit of God to do the interpreting for them, or indeed, they may be relying 100% (without realizing it) on their own emotional states and what seems to "feel right" to them. It is possible to be sincere as a teacher and still be totally off the trail, so to speak.

    One of the reasons I started to feel guilty about my former role as a teacher in my previous congregation is that I have no formal education in religious studies. Oh sure, I can read the commentaries and make connections between this theme and that, but there is just so much I do not know. What if I was leading the people listening to me into error without realizing it? I'd be guilty of creating harm when I wanted to create good. That's only one reason why I gave up my former position and stopped worshiping among my former companions, but not the only one.

    True, I blog, but my opinions are my own and I don't represent myself as a teacher, a scholar, an expert, or a guide of any kind. I'm just a guy with an opinion, like a billion other people in the blogosphere. I don't pretend to know it all and often, it feel as if I know absolutely nothing. While I make copious use of quotes from various sources, the basis for my blogging is "theme-related" content. I read, see connections between one piece of writing and another, see a sort of "picture" in my head, and then the blogging more or less takes care of itself. Some people say they see value in my content and I suppose if others don't they just don't visit my blogspot. Much of the reason I blog is to "think outloud" in a way, processing my own studies, learning, and faith experience for myself.

    I've often thought of going back to school, even online, and taking some classes, but with my job, plus the various books I write and having a family, I just don't have the time to devote to a class plus homework. While I don't think additional education would make me more "holy" or even "right", I do think it would help me understand better what I'm trying to talk about. Judah, if you wanted to teach programming (and for all I know, you already do that) and you saw an educational deficit in your knowledge for that role, wouldn't you try to improve yourself by taking a class or reading a book? (part 1 of 2)

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  5. part 2 of 2

    I do agree with one of your points completely. An education does not automatically lead to a holy life. There are many "uneducated" people who are very close to God. As you say, the Bible is full of fishermen, carpenters, and simple shepherds, who were closer to their Creator than many of the Pastors, Rabbis, Popes, and religious professors, who have famous names and who are called "great" in their various venues.

    I would rather sit at the feet of one "regular guy" who is always close to God than 10,000 exalted scholars who carry God in their heads but not in their hearts. That said, I don't think learning more about how to study the Bible is such a bad thing either. I don't like intellectual bullies, but that doesn't mean I want to live in ignorance, either. An education helps the faithful tell the difference between an authentic teacher and a fraud or a cult leader, and significant portions of the "Messianic" and Hebrew Roots movements are full of the later.

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  6. "I think Messianic Judaism is making the same mistake: denouncing simple servants of God – Hebrew Roots folks – as blind fanatics, attackers of institutional religion, fomenters of disturbances, lacking of higher education, perceived or real."

    OK. Now, G-d's view:

    "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your G-d, I also will ignore your children." (Hosea 4:6)

    I say ignorance and nonsensicalism (to coin a term) are rampant in many corners of the "Hebrew Movement" (which is a VERY loose term to describe groups with even a passing interest in Old Testament). It thrives on it because it thrives in isolation many of these groups foster. I am not saying that there are not any bright stars among them, it's just that I have come across only a few.

    Now, matters of the heart - we should leave that judgement to G-d, because only he knows the heart.

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  7. Good Post and good comments. I think it's what is in our heart and how that is walked out. As Gene says, "matters of the heart"; Does it agree with His Written Word or does it not?

    C.F.

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  8. I read this closer to the time you wrote it. It was clear to me that I was one of the people you were talking about. A person can be godly or ungodly regardless of the level of education. This article implies that education is a liability for godliness.

    The following wikipedia article is instructive. It explains why "evangelical" religion (and this article has a strong affinity with evangelical attitudes toward education and faith) has become a disappointment to a generation of better-informed people:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism

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    1. Well, at least we agree that people can be evil regardless of level of theological education. :-)

      I think one of the biggest problems for those with higher theological education is that they're prone to look down on and dismiss anyone not up to their level. Do you think you've done that a few times, Derek?

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  9. Derek,

    How could Judah be referring to you? You are not at all an intellectual.....LOL!

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Husband, dad, disciple of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, technologist. Author of Chavah Messianic Radio, MessianicChords, and EtzMitzvot. @judahgabriel


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