There is a wonderful little joke I tell myself if I ever get a sudden itch to pursue a doctorate degree. I also tell the joke whenever someone tells me I should pursue such a venture. It goes like this:
The president of a rural congregation decided to call upon several of the members who had stopped attending. On one of these visits, he met Farmer Joe while Joe was working out in the field.
“Joe,” the congregation president began, “we’ve missed you in church. You should really come back.”
“Well,” Joe replied in his slow drawl, “why exactly should I come back to church?”
The congregation president responded, “Why, Joe, we’ve got a new preacher, and he’s great.”
“What makes him so great?” Joe asked.
“Joe, you wouldn’t believe it, but he’s got a B.S., and M.S. and a PhD!” the congregation president said enthusiastically.
Joe spit onto the ground with disgust, “That settles it. I ain’t a goin’ to church as long as that guy is there!”
The congregation president was aghast! “Why would you say such a thing, Joe?”
“Well,” came the response, “we all know what B.S. is. M.S. is just more of the same, and P.H.D. is piled high and deep!”
Remember what I said last Sunday about laughter. Believe me, it’s o.k. to laugh, but that’s not really the point, at least this week. I have a different point, but one that is quite related to this little joke as well as to our second lesson this morning from the book of Colossians.
For you see, the joke I told has a biting criticism of higher education buried within it–a criticism that goes a bit too far, I admit, because one could think that based upon that joke, I don’t agree with people getting a good, robust education. Nothing could be further than the truth. In order to be a pastor, I had to get a master’s degree. During my educational tenure both at college and in seminary, I learned many, many valuable things–things that I have used throughout my calling to serve as a pastor.
However, I was also exposed to many, many other ideas and trains of thought. I was exposed to many, many philosophies and human traditions that were not rooted in Christ–as our second lesson would say. Some of those philosophies and human traditions were blatantly anti-Christian; anti-Christ; anti-God, and what have you, and exposure to such things does indeed challenge one’s faith.
Now, on the one hand, there is something very wholesome about having one’s faith challenged. Whenever your mind is stretched, you are forced to dig down deep and truly reflect upon why you believe what you believe. You are forced to deal with the very core of yourself and your being. You are forced to understand yourself and your beliefs by these challenges, and oftentimes, we don’t take the time to allow ourselves to really and truly understand why we believe as we believe. This is the good part about such education.
But there is a part which is not as wholesome. There is a part which causes no small amount of trouble both in the academic setting and in society in general. We see evidence of this all over the place in our nation today–the seeming need of one group to force its philosophies and beliefs upon another. And much of this forcing is done within the academic realm. Unfortunately, many Christians are not well equipped to deal with this.
I mean, let’s take the example of a teenager who is heading off to college for the first time. I am going to deal with the reality of teenagers these days, and not the ideal. For many teens these days do not have a strong understanding of faith. Most teens these days are not raised to attend Sunday School and church on a regular basis. Many teens do not understand even the basics of Christian doctrine or the basic Bible stories. Now, we can pose all sorts of blame for this, but now is not the time. The problem is a complex one and not likely to be solved by a 10 to 15 minute diatribe given by a country preacher in Cat Spring, TX. But it is the reality, I can assure you.
This teenager, who does not have a very strong background in the Christian faith heads off to college. He decides to take several science classes. It’s no secret that there are many science professors who are atheistic in their beliefs and practices, and many of them are not afraid to share that perspective in the midst of teaching their classes. You and I both know the prominence science holds in our society. You and I know how many times science and reason is hoisted as the pinnacle of knowledge and truth. Our kids pick up on this quickly–they aren’t dumb at all. And when a respected professor of science begins articulating the non-existence of God based upon the principles of science and reason, this has a tremendous influence on our teenager–sometimes so influential, he or she drops the faith because it no longer makes sense–or at least makes as much sense as a scientific worldview.
Now, what happens to our teenager? Does he ever return to church? Does he ever give a second thought to the weak Christian faith he once held? No. Not a chance. In fact, there are many voice which will fill his head with the thought that his faith was actually a limitation upon him and that now he is truly free without his faith! That’s quite an assertion considering Jesus told us, his followers that if we continue in His Word we are truly His disciples and we will know the Truth and the Truth will set us free!
The interesting thing of note is that there is an intriguing correlation regarding higher education and belief in God or belief in Christianity. As one’s education increases, the likelihood of one’s belief decreases. That’s an important thing for the church to wrestle with since we tend to put a very, very high value on education. It seems that the church may be defeating itself by encouraging education! “We all know what B.S. is M.S. is more of the same and P.H.D...”
Now, once again, with this background in mind, please listen to the words of our second lesson from the book of Colossians, “ 6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”
The important part of this piece is not necessarily the warning against philosophy and human traditions. The important part is the emphasis on having one’s life rooted and built up in Christ. For, you see, there is something quite unspoken in the academic world–that world we generally hope to send our children into. The unspoken truth about the academic world, the scientific world, the rational world is that this world rests all of its assertions about truth on faith.
Oh, I know they might quite deny it, but I can assure you, it is true. There are numerous philosophers who know this quite well. Even science rests it’s assertions in faith. For instance, many assume reason is the best method to ascertain the truth. In fact, they will make the assertion: reason is the best method to ascertain the truth. Now, I challenge those who make that assertion to prove that assertion by reason. For those not acquainted with logic, that’s an impossibility due to circular reasoning. And if one looks at any academic discipline, one finds such unprovable statements.
What does that mean? Well, quite simply, it means faith reigns supreme. It means we have no shame in stating that the very basis of our understanding–the very basis of the way we view the world is the assertion that Jesus is Lord. At the very root of every human philosophy and tradition is a leap of faith! The only question is: which one do you want to be rooted in? I’d argue the one that makes the most sense and forms the best, coherent picture is the one rooted and grounded in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no need to be ashamed of this assertion. Embrace it with joy. Amen.