Equipping the Saints: The Simple Genius

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Roaming the Internet in search of genuine Christian expression paints what I believe is an unnatural picture of what constitutes the full expression of the Christian faith. Perhaps it should come as no surprise though, given the technical nature of the Internet and the costs involved to maintain an Internet presence, that the denizens of the Web, especially those who speak most loudly for the Faith, are college graduates.

But when I look over the people who have had the most impact on my life as a Christian, the majority never got beyond a high school education. And it never fails that I continue to learn the most about Jesus from people others might deem “simple.”

From a viewpoint of Christian education, these so-called simple people are often the ones with the most unshakable faith in Jesus. If anything, my experience has been that the people with the most degrees are the ones who flirt most often with doubt and who end up getting distracted by rathole theological discussions that ultimately never go anywhere or accomplish anything.

After a while, you start seeing that the difference between the simple person and the guy with the degree letters piling after his name comes down to whether they genuinely live with the Bible as their primary source of knowledge or some other tome (or set of tomes).

The people I know who never ventured into the ivied corridors of academia tend to have a more humble opinion of their own abilities. Ask the college graduate just who provides his living, and he’s most likely to point to himself. The simple person says, “I have all this because God is good to me, and not because of anything I have done.” Simple people say that whatever God says, that pretty much settles it. The college man says he will need to consult all sources before coming to an opinion. When simple people face disaster, they note that both good and bad come from the hand of the Lord, and are we not to accept both? The college grad wonders what he did wrong or to whom he should assign blame.

Are these generalizations? Sure, but I will argue they are not far off the mark.

I continue to get more from so-called simple people, the ones ignored in a lot of churches because they never went to seminary, didn’t graduate from a prestigious Bible college, can’t talk about Proust or quantum physics or how Wall Street schemes up new derivatives. Do we know what she knows of our Lord?Simple people often work simple jobs also, the kind that don’t get them a cover story on Business Week. Simple people who farm the land or work as greeters at WalMart aren’t the ones that churches push front and center when the photo op comes; they’ll choose the captain of industry with the Harvard M.B.A. And when Christian publishers fight to place another Christian Living bestseller on the top shelf of the local bookstore, they’re not beating down the doors of the old waitress at Denny’s, no matter what 50 years of walking close to the heart of Jesus has taught her. No, they want legitimacy, the kind found in clobbering home runs, or running a megachurch empire, or having once been a cohost on The 700 Club.

Not a day passes when I don’t consider that I have learned the most in my walk with Jesus from people who would otherwise be ignored because they don’t have flashy credentials. And I wonder just as much how it can be that we routinely pass by these repositories of simple faith and hard-won wisdom gained at the feet of Jesus. They languish, not because they have nothing to say, but because we’re ignoring them.

If you take all the Christians blogs out there, including this one, and pile their collected wisdom against the pile comprised by what the simple people know, it would seem like the smallest foothill on the way to K2 and Everest.

I think the greatest loss of wisdom in our churches today is that we’ve pushed out the simple people. We’ve done a lot of that to the elderly too. And when that elderly person is some simple soul, it’s the double whammy.

It’s time to take the microphone away from the 35-year-old Th.D. and give the podium to the stooped old lady in the back pew who never made it past 10th grade. I’ve heard what all the self-appointed church genuises have had to say and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Let someone else talk for a change.

You know that I’m not disparaging education, far from it. I’m saying that some education can only be gained in simple faith and through the crucible of time.

When I was in college, a friend once asked me if I had a wish for my education. I told him bluntly that I would trade every single bit of arcana I had picked up in my collegiate travels to know the Bible backwards and forwards.

There are people among us who have done just that. We need to get those people to share what they have learned. Many of those people are the ones who truly live by “give us this day our daily bread,” who actually spend two hours a day in prayer rather than just trying to impress others with all the theological treatises on prayer they’ve read. They know the Lord, not just about Him like so many of the rest of us do.

You can read all the Christian books in the world, but one saint who has lived it all is the more precious library. That’s the person I want to hear from. Don’t you?

Then please, let us step out of the way and encourage them to speak.

26 thoughts on “Equipping the Saints: The Simple Genius

  1. Such true words, Dan. The least among you will be the greatest….
    If only we could see as God does…if only we would stop looking at the outward appearance and look to the heart.

    Thanks for the exhortation.

    • Laurie,

      We’ve marginalized too many of these folks because we now live in an age of degreed experts. Well, I can tell you from experience that the world is filled with Dr. this and CEO that who would be challenged if asked to find their backside with both hands.

  2. Wow! I was especially moved by this gem:
    After a while, you start seeing that the difference between the simple person and the guy with the degree letters piling after his name comes down to whether they genuinely live with the Bible as their primary source of knowledge or some other tome (or set of tomes).

    You have learned something afterall, and it’s important.

    • slw,

      I’ve been to college. Trust me, it’s overrated. I may be able to tell you about robotics systems, but I can’t fix a carburator, so how much practical knowledge do I have? It’s like when Christian homeschoolers love to brag to me that they’re teaching their kids the same things kids learned in Bible days, I say, “So you’re teaching them crop rotation techniques and animal husbandry?” (I just LOVE to pull that one out.)

      The same applies here. There’s something to be said for simple trust and experience. The most Spirit-filled man I have ever known in my life barely got an education. And yet he would continually astonish me with his wisdom, the kind learned at the feet of Christ and found nowhere else. And that wisdom trumped all the other kinds.

  3. David Moscrip

    True words, without a doubt. In Jesus’ only view of judgement day He said, “I was hungry, thirsty, homeless, poor…did you give me something to eat, drink, take me in, take care of me?”

    It is not the learned who serve Christ in this way, arguing relative theologies, it is the people who have served Christ faithfully.

    Thanks for a clear word on this.

    And, perhaps, someone should go to these people, get their story, and write their books so people will know what it really means to walk in Christ’s path.

  4. So true. I graduated from Bible college and value that education and all that I have read and studied, but the people who taught me what real faith is are my dad, who had a high school diploma, and my mom who never went past the 7th grade. I learned far more important things from them, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

  5. Wonderful post Dan.

    This might be a little off topic, but some of my best mentors have been those with the list of letters after their names, who have not forgotten their humble beginnings.

    Like the wife of a seminary president, who scrubbed her neighbour’s oil soaked laundry until it became clean. Or the president of our denomination who just finished teaching pre-schoolers in their VBS. Or the vice-President of our denomination who volunteers in his Churches nursery. Or my previous Pastor with the Doctorate who taught at the seminary, but who regularly also served meals at a homeless shelter.

    These are the people whose voices I value the most, because despite their so called success, they are willing to “step into the trenches” so to speak. Their words are accompanied by meaningful actions.

    Having said that I do appreciate those with a “simpler” faith as well. You have encouraged me to phone a lady with a “simpler” faith who encouraged me many years ago, just to encourage her back.

  6. Chris

    Great post. How do we tap into all of this wisdom? My boyfriend and I volunteer at a nursing home. We go to “minister to them”, but I am blessed by them far more than I ever encourage them. When I can get one of them talking, it is amazing to learn of God’s faithfulness to them for 60, 70, 80 years. One man, blind since a teenager, constantly says “One day Jesus will give me new eyes.” And he is more full of joy than anybody else I know. We are missing out on a vast resource to build up the Body of Christ by not letting these saints speak.

  7. Dan – A big amen.

    Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John,
    and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men,
    they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them,
    that they had been with Jesus.
    Ac 4:13

    Nay, much more those members of the body,
    which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
    And those members of the body,

    which we think to be less honourable,
    upon these we bestow more abundant honour;

    and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
    For our comely parts have no need:
    but God hath tempered the body together,

    having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

    That there should be no schism in the body;
    but that the members should have the same care one for another.
    1 Cor 12:22

    Learned a lot from who I thought
    were the least of these my brethren.

    Peace.

  8. trevor

    Guess I’ve had a different experience – looking back, most of those that’ve had a profound impact on my life HAVE been graduates. But that said, I don’t really see the whole graduate=arrogant thing you’re getting at. In my experience I’d suggest the reverse is true. I certainly went into University pretty confident in my own knowledge, and left in awe at how big the universe is and how little I know about it.

    What a good education will give you is a tendency to question everything, but this is curiosity, not arrogance.

    So yes, I think your generalisations are off the mark. I’ve been positively influenced by graduates my entire life, and many of those whose faith and life I respect most are graduates, and in some cases still academics.

  9. Jeff H

    My church was recently part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit which had a number of well known speakers. I’m sure there was a lot to be gained from the conference, but I just couldn’t go – didn’t feel right.

    Now imagine a Christian leadership conference that had this for a theme verse:

    “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

    And instead of having all the “first” speaking about leadership, having a collection of the “very last” – all the headliners being brothers and sisters that you have never heard of before.

    Sign me up for that one!

  10. merry

    From my experience in theology classes….

    Studying the Bible from an academic viewpoint is different because it’s studying the facts, history and background of the Bible…which is fascinating, but one can easily get caught up in learning facts and quit focusing so much on the relational side of things…enter theological arguments. 😉 This seems to happen more in environments where Christians are only with other Christians all day…I think it’s kind of sad that people have created these safe bubbles where they don’t have to interact with the rest of the world at all if they don’t have to…you can kind of lose touch with reality after awhile….enter nit-picking each other’s theoloy. 😉

    On the flip side of things, I’ve had a few church leaders who I wish would study the culture and background of the Bible a bit more carefully…lots of them attempt to tie in Scripture to our culture to make it “relevant” I suppose, but in doing so they miss out on a whole lot of added meaning. 🙁

    • Merry,

      I was profoundly helped by one of the most gifted professors I have ever met. And yet, the quality of his lessons have not stayed with me as deeply as those of a man who never went to college.

      • merry

        I think it could go both ways.

        I understand the point though about “simple people,” especially the elderly. Interesting how in some cultures and religions, such as in Africa, the elderly are considered to be the wisest and therefore shown the utmost respect. I wonder why Christians aren’t like this?

  11. DC

    I’ve often wondered whatever happened to those people in the bible that Jesus came in contact with (Cleopas and that other guy on the Emmaus road) that had no name. Whatever became of them and whom did they impact? There are many of those even today I have a feeling.

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