Sometimes epiphanies can strike at the oddest of moments. Streams of people were still filing in hoping to find a seat when, from the podium, the keynote speaker was introduced. Beginning with his outstanding academic record, the speaker’s impeccable intelligence was showcased. Then some not-so-subtle ideas struck me. It appeared to me that the individual at the podium believed I should accept the message about to be presented because the speaker was highly intelligent, or at least he thought that he would ingratiate the speaker to us by appealing to his intelligence. (Surely someone has done a study of societal values based upon social introductions.)
Later that evening it struck again in a social mixer. An elderly man from Dallas called me to sit down at his table. Very quickly it became abundantly clear that he did not agree with the content of the class I had presented earlier. Since he was unable to show how my handling of scripture was in error, he threw down on the table what he obviously regarded as his ace to settle the matter. “Barry, there are much smarter people out there than you.” Although I might not quibble with him about this, to me this was an amazing statement to make. He seemed to identify truth with a high IQ.
A terrible question in the form of a realization loomed. “Are some people so enamored with intelligence that they falsely equate intellectual acumen with navigating a reliable path to spiritual truth?”
High intelligence and the tools of advanced formal education are a lot like possessing the skill of marksmanship. Through natural aptitude and excessively hard work,, a person can achieve great skill in piercing, even at great distance, an exact location with a bullet. Hopefully, we will be able to appreciate what it has taken to achieve that ability. Yet, what matters most has not yet been identified. At what is the gun being aimed? Is he or she a terrorist, a member of a police force, or a sports person?
In much the same way, though someone may possess a sophisticated and keen mind, toward what goal is that skill being used? What if an extremely capable person may discuss spiritual matters, but is driven by an allegiance to pragmatic “results,” a desire for acceptance, a thirst to present something novel, or to make a name for oneself. What if this person imbibes too deeply from the spirit of our culture’s secular values, is profoundly shaped by a desire to please religious professional peer pressure or has his or her outlooked deeply shaped by a particularly bad experience? How might such motivations convince someone to employ his or her abilities to change a particular biblical doctrine or value toward what he or she regards as best?
A need exists for capable individuals to use the best tools available when discussing scripture. The concern here addresses the naivety of uncritically accepting what an intelligent person might say about the Bible. This encourages bad theology and makes for poor Bible students. Rather, like those ancient Bereans, we need to search the scriptures to see if what is being taught during a lectureship, on a CD, in a book, from a pulpit, or in a class is actually biblically healthy (Acts7:11).
What the church does need is for those with skill and ability to serve God’s goal in accurately communicating God’s intended message revealed through his word. God’s word, faithfully communicated, is a reliable guidepost. Mere intelligence is a phantom one.