We live in a peculiar and unparalleled age of erudites. Because we live in such an age it is of great interest to discuss them: what it means to be one and why it’s important to unmask one.
What’s An Erudite You Say?
Well, an erudite is anyone who considers them self to be learned. Really anyone and everyone these days can be an erudite. Because of the vast knowledge and information that is accessible through the internet, everyone has something that they may safely profess to be an expert on.
I’ve known erudites on My Little Pony; I think my daughter is one of those. I’ve known erudites on Spiderman; that would be my son and maybe me too. I’ve known erudites all over Pinterest sharing their expertise on their craft; I think my wife is one of those, though most of the time she seems to want to deny it. I’ve known erudites on Reformation or Puritan pastors and theologians; I think I might even aspire to be one of those.
You might even go so far as to say an entire generation may be considered a generation of erudites. Really, one of the quintessential attributes of a hipster is being an erudite, and if you statistically look at the academic prowess of the Millennial generation, you’ll quickly learn that this generations’ parents spared no penny at educating that generation. Millennial-hipsters have been incubated in the embryonic juiciness of eruditehood. No doubt this will present some benefits and liabilities for the former and forthcoming generations.
On Being an Erudite
I like to consider myself an erudite, and really, don’t we all. We all want to be experts on something, right? And most of us think that we are. You might be an erudite on the Chicago Bears in the 1970′s or an erudite on Keynesian economics or an erudite on the dendrochronology of the Piney Woods. Whatever happens to be your forte, you probably take great pride in that knowledge.
Whatever the case is for you, it is imperative that you understand this about your eruditeness. Being an erudite is both easy and hard.
It’s easy in that you just have to be exceptionally studied in some narrow field of expertise. If one just reads all the books by a particular author, they fast become an erudite on that author. If one just listens to all the music of a particular artist or have vast knowledge on that genre, one fast becomes an erudite in that field. Really, all it takes is to have intense focus in a narrow field. And what makes it even easier is when there is not a lot of extant material in that field to study.
What’s hard about being an erudite is to remain humble about one’s knowledge. You see, a critical component of being an erudite is being perceived as an erudite. You’re not really one unless you’re recognized as one.
When I was in high school, my “group” that I hung out with had a knack for dubbing each other erudites in one field or another. We each had a title, “Czar”, that went with our field of expertise. They called me “THE Alternative Music Czar.” I earned this title because I constantly listened to The EDGE Alternative Rock Station, read Rolling Stone Magazine, had a membership to Columbia House Music (discounted Music CD’s Club), and acquired a library of a hundred CD’s of alternative rock music. I also went to a concert here or there as I had the freedom. I was a teen after all. If anyone wanted to know some generality about that field, I knew it, including many of the band members and the backstories of the bands. In the mind of my peers, I was recognized as the erudite of alternative rock music.
That kind of knowledge and recognition comes with a challenge, the challenge to be humble in that knowledge and recognition.
As the sage erudite Paul once said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). What we learn from Paul in this verse is that the best way to protect the erudite from being puffed up is to foster love concerning the erudite’s knowledge.
The kind of love that needs to be fostered is a selfless love that doesn’t want to simply display knowledge but impart knowledge. The kind of love that needs to be fostered is a patient knowledge that helps others discover what the erudite already knows. You see, most people who are not on par with the erudites knowledge in his or her field will likely be skeptical of the erudite. Does this person really have deep knowledge on this subject? How did they attain it? What is their credibility concerning this knowledge? How do I know I can trust them? The erudite must be willing to take time to patiently win the confidence of his or her skeptics.
Unmasking the Erudite
But fostering patience and selflessness in the erudite is not enough. The erudite must also be unmasked.
What do I mean by this? Well, one day at school I met a challenger to my mantle of “The Alternative Music Czar.” Yes, I met someone who knew more about Gavin Rossdale (Lead for Bush), Gwen Stefani (Lead for No Doubt), and their romance. Not only that but that person unmasked me before all my friends. They exhibited how I really didn’t have all that much knowledge on alternative music after all. Sure, I had a lot of music and had read some about the artists, but I had barely even scratched the surface on that field. I really only had an elementary understanding.
Really, that’s pretty much the case for most of us. As much as we think we are an erudite, there will always be another, someone who’s knowledge goes far deeper than even ours. The younger you are the easier it is to unmask you. Some of us talk a really good talk. We’re able to read a couple books on one narrow field and make it look like we are an expert. But, if we are in a conversation with the right person, or wrong person for that matter, before long we’re unmasked. We really aren’t the erudite that we present ourselves to be.
Unmasked Before the One True Erudite
Your eruditeness may not be unmasked in this life as it will one day. Some of us are actually pretty clever and are able to carefully conceal the chinks in our erudite armor. But at some point we will all be unmasked before the Creator and Judge, the one who stretched the canvas of the heavens, placed the stars in their orbit, and set the current of the seas. That moment will involve utter nakedness before him.
We will feel much like Job did upon hearing these words out of the whirlwind:
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:7-14)
Of course the discourse continues on for quite some time, and when it comes to a close Job responds in humility and repentance. He says, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). Job had thought himself an erudite on God. What he discovered is that he had only scratched the surface on his knowledge. It wasn’t until God revealed himself to Job that he truly gripped the inadequacy of his understanding. Here the erudite, Job, became unmasked as he peered into and listened to the masked God in the whirlwind.
And that’s us. We’re all Job. We’re all erudites waiting to be unmasked. And one day that will happen. Are you ready to be unmasked? If you are, then what’s astonishingly different about that day and Job’s day is that on that day we’ll be unmasked before this God, and he too will be unmasked before us as well. He’ll see us naked before him, and we’ll see him in his full glory and splendor. We will not be ashamed of being unmasked and naked erudites because he has accepted us and found us pleasing in his eyes. We won’t want that mask anymore. We won’t want that recognition. We’ll be okay with who we really are, the unmasked erudite, the naked and without shame Adam.
This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.