Archive | August, 2013

Pride, Humility & Seminary

8 Aug

Confession time- I struggle with pride. 

Perhaps I can best illustrate the intensity of this battle by sharing a humorous anecdote from my years in undergrad.  

I was taking a post- 1945 American History class.  We were discussing the changes that occurred on the American religious scene.  Naturally, Billy Graham was part of the conversation.  My professor mentioned something about Graham still being alive.  Now, please keep in mind that Bill Graham was ancient on the day I was born.  So by the time I was old enough to discuss his ministry in HISTORY class, I just assumed the man was already kickin’ it in Glory with Jesus.  I told my professor as much.  He assured me the good Reverend was still living, and I assured him the man was deader than a door nail.  Obviously, I was mistaken, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if I hadn’t also said, “I’m a youth minister.  Religious stuff is kind of my thing, and I KNOW he is dead.”  A classmate settled the debate by googling Billy Graham and confirming that he was, in fact, still alive.   

I was humbled that day, and rightly so.  I needed to be knocked down a few pegs.  Little did I realize at the time, that the experience of being humbled was to be repeated over and over again when I went to seminary. 

When I started at Asbury, I was the most theologically minded person I knew.  I loved to study Scripture, church history and I’d even read a few books by legitimate scholars (granted I didn’t understand most of them).  I knew I had a great deal to learn, but I never imagined the sheer magnitude of what I didn’t know.  There were things I’d never even thought about- let alone formed intelligent opinions on.  On top of that, I’d picked up enough bad theology that I had almost as much to un-learn as I did to take in. 

I’ll never forget my first day of seminary.  The professor of Inductive Bible Study (David Bauer) recited half the New Testament in Greek.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but that’s what it seemed like at the time.  Then I went to church history and realized many of my classmates knew who Dr. Collins was talking about when he dropped names like Origen or Tertullian. Heck, I was still pronouncing Augustine the same way I say the name of the town in Florida (August- een instead of A-gust-in).  The day finished off nicely in “Foundations of Youth Ministry.”  My prof for that class went through the syllabus and explained we were going to write a paper describing our theology of youth ministry.  In the midst of that conversation, he used words like soteriology, Christology, incarnational, pneumatology- and probably a few others that I couldn’t figure out how to spell.  To my embarrassment, I had to make a special appointment with Dr. Hampton just so I could figure out the fancy theology terms that went along with the ideas I had. 

For me, seminary was a lesson in humility.  I’ve heard many a fellow-seminarian remark that one class or another was “humility 101” for them.  My whole first year in seminary was humility 101, 201, 301, and 401 for me.  In fact, by the end of my first semester, I was only convinced of three things.  1) I loved God more than ever.  2) I was in precisely the right place, at the right time, and 3) I still had so much to learn.

But a few more years into this process, something has happened.  Instead of seminary feeding my humility, it now has a tendency to feed my pride.  You see, all those words I didn’t know in YM class are now part of my everyday vocabulary.[1]  I’ve read the works of those church fathers I’d never heard of, and even though I still can’t recite the New Testament in Greek,  I can find all the structural relationships you want in a pericope.  See, I even use the word “pericope!”

All this knowledge has made me a better student and preacher of God’s word.  It’s definitely made me a better follower of Jesus, but it’s also given me another notch in the proverbial belt which I am constantly tempted to show off.    Even this week, I almost pulled out the “I know more than you” card in the midst of a disagreement over a passage of Scripture.  Thankfully, God gave me the self-control not to do that, but the inclination was still there.  The experience sent me into some prayer and reflection, and God reminded me of this truth, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble,” (James 4:6).

I’m not sure whether to call for a collective “Amen,” or “Ouch” because I suspect I’m not alone in this.  When we commit the sin of pride, we’re not just putting ourselves in opposition to God, but we’re also putting God in opposition to us.  That’s not the place I want to be in

So my prayer for this semester is that God allows me to approach my theological education with the same sense of wonder- and humility- that I did that first day.

What makes your pride rise to the surface and how do you stay humble?

[1] When you marry a seminary trained academic, theology and philosophy are everyday topics.