In May of 2016, I will be graduating with a M.A in Biblical and Theological Studies. Ask me about Greek paradigms or eschatological views, and I can fill your head with information. I mean, it’s been my “job” for the last four years to learn the ins and outs of theological debates and to master the intricacies of various doctrines. Though I love studying such things, there exists a great danger.
For many of us, the doctrine of sin is something that can become just another answer on a test. It grows into such an intellectual exercise that we miss the reality of it crouching at the door, seeking to destroy us. This is, to say the least, one of many difficulties that a Bible college or seminary student knows all too well.
As I reflect upon my time completing an undergraduate degree and now working as a graduate student, I can think of four temptations that could easily lead to sin. While I think every Christian is susceptible to these temptations, in the environment of Christian academics a full-time “student of the Word” is prone to drift in this direction quite easily.
Temptation #1: Reading the Bible as a Textbook
It was challenging at times not to view the Bible as a “textbook” for my classes, paired up alongside Ladd, Carson, Wright, and others. As one dives deeper into the depths of Biblical theology, hermeneutics, and critical thinking, the danger to turn the Bible into nothing more than another book is tempting. I found myself using, quoting, and reading the Bible as a tool for research instead of allowing the Bible to become the standard for my life. Reading the Bible became, dare I say, dry and boring as a Bible college student. It became a routine, something that I was supposed to do.
However, the Bible is not just another book. It is the Word of God, the rule of faith and practice. So in order to fight this temptation, one must consciously read the Bible as though God is speaking directly to you. Of course, use your historical backgrounds, hermeneutical methods, and exegetical tools, but do not lose sight of the true goal of reading the Bible and encountering Jesus Himself. Do not read the Bible as a student only; read it as a disciple of Jesus. Allow it to change and challenge you.
Temptation #2: Puffing Up
Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “knowledge puffs up.” Now, now all you seminarians… before you lay down your “proof text” trump card, realize that Paul said again, “If I have…all knowledge but not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). You may have the knowledge to distinguish between proof-texting and proper exegesis, but if you walk into your church wielding your newly found knowledge like a sword you might do more damage than good. The temptation to “puff up” is present within the heart of every Bible college student.
Growing in the knowledge of God is a wonderful experience. Yet, that temptation toward placing yourself above “laypeople” can result in a critical and an unloving individual who knows a ton, but doesn’t have the ability to put it into practice. We are commanded by our Lord to love Him with our mind. As full-time students of the Word, this is our motivation. Do not forget that He commanded us to be humble, loving, and gracious towards others. I think this applies appropriately to those of us with degrees in Bible and theology. Allow that knowledge to drive you to the foot of the cross in humility and love for others.
Temptation #3: Neglecting the Church
I find this temptation so ironic for theological students, but is so easy to fall into. It is easy to walk through the pages of the New Testament and become discouraged as you look at the biblical expectations for the first churches, and realize that our churches don’t match up. As you compare your local congregation to the New Testament model, you see the blemishes and bruises, which can result in discontentment and frustration.
We study the church, but don’t attend the church. Students can become so knowledgeable of a subject like ecclesiology that all they do is deconstruct. And the way to combat this temptation is to reconstruct. Allow your critique of the local church to be constructive. But in order to do so, one must become involved in a local congregation first. Submit under the authority of a church and begin to serve. N.T. Wright once said, “Practice without theory is blind, and theory without practice is dumb.” The best way to put your theory in practice is through a local congregation.
Temptation #4: Studying Just to Get a Grade
I’ve said it many times over the past few years: “I just want to get the grade and get out.” I acknowledge this temptation all to well. This type of thinking distorts the goal of studying – it becomes more about the grade rather than about Jesus. In order to fight this temptation, it is imperative to view the work you are doing in class as worship unto Jesus. I remember walking into my Greek class a few semesters ago, and my professor stood up and began to speak to us about this very principle. He indicated that as we study Greek it would be difficult, but he encouraged us not to give up. His conclusion was, “Make your work your worship.”
It’s easy to do enough just to get by, but as disciples we are called to a higher mission in everything we do. Another scholar that reinforced this for me was Andreas Kostenberger in his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. What other degree do you have the opportunity to learn about the God of the universe? Take advantage of your time and make your work your worship.
Finish the Race
It is easy to fall into these temptations. Once you do, your fallen nature might take control and turn it into sin. My encouragement – as one who has struggled with all four temptations – is to recognize the hurdles when they come upon you. Make sure you know how to clear them. If Jesus is Lord over the universe, then allow Jesus to be Lord over your schoolwork. It is challenging, but it is worth it to finish strong. May we be able to join Paul as he declares, “I have finished the race” (1 Timothy 4:7).
That was a Bible college proof text, I know.
(Originally posted on Gospel Centered Discipleship)