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Hubrisism

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

Highbrowism claims that ordinary people cannot hope to fully understand the Bible text. By word and by attitude these intellectual snobs tell us that unless we have gone through "the grueling give-and-take of graduate education" we cannot know from our personal study what "cloth the Lord require of thee." We are dependent for a good grasp of gospel truth upon those who have advanced degrees in history and culture and in the Greek and Hebrew languages.

We agree that deep Bible knowledge comes from unflagging study. We are told to "Study give diligence to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). We must labor at the task of knowing revealed truth so that we are able to get it right and cut it straight. According to the psalmist, the man who is blessed is the one whose "delight is in the law of the Lord and in that law cloth he meditate both day and night."

We do not agree that those who have sat for endless hours in classrooms and have burned midnight oil in reading internationally known theologians with unpronounceable names necessarily have such Bible awareness. Such a one may be expert in the writings of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber, Schleirmacher, and Barth, but if he has not studied Peter, Paul, James, and John he is "sounding brass and clanging cymbal" noisy but empty, mere sound and fury.

We are powerfully convinced that a person of ordinary intelligence who takes up his Bible daily and studies it carefully can know what God wants us to do and be. The average person can understand the requirements of Holy Writ and pass muster on judgment day. What more is needed?

There is hardly anything more insufferable than swaggering pomposity. Dwight Eisenhower said such a one is "a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell you more than he knows." Mao Tse-tung called the intellectual snob "one who is swollen in head, weak in legs, sharp in tongue."

There is, of course, a vast difference between intelligence and intellectual snobbery. A snob is educated beyond his intellect; real intelligence keeps a sense of humility and avoids an attitude of arrogance. Hubris is offensive and gives off a foul aroma.

Paul of Tarsus was a highly educated man, but he did not allow that to defeat his common sense. Though Paul could match degrees with the best of them, he did not flaunt it, but to the profound reverse warned the church against stuffed-shirts:

For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Bear in mind, Paul is not talking about bona fide intelligence, but about pomposity and haughtiness. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

I wisdom have made prudence my dwelling, and find out knowledge and discretion. The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate (Prov. 8:12-13).

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have distinguished themselves by attaining the highest degrees of academia. We are equally indebted to many highly educated men now living who have the ability and balance not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. It seems, however, that it is a rare thing for a person to earn academic heights and still keep his common touch.

To teach us that we are dependent on them for our salvation and had better mind our p's and q's some religious snobs tell us that unless we have terminal degrees in the original languages and in ancient history and culture, we can neither understand nor explain a verse of Scripture. Looking at these experts we note that not one of them holds doctorates in Greek, Hebrew, Ancient History, and Early Culture (that would be four doctorates). A doctorate in English would also be needed to be able to tell us what he knows. Five doctorates? No one has five doctorates. Therefore, if the reasoning is correct, there is no one person who can read, understand, and explain a passage from the Bible. It would require a committee of at least four and maybe five to do the work. This is the ultimate in removing the Bible from the common man.

Others, affecting an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority, claim that since God's knowledge is unbounded, he is too wise to be able to tell us what he wants us to know. These haughty teachers admit, in their weaker moments, that they are mortal and their understanding is finite. Still, they try, in their finite wisdom, to tell us about the limitations of infinite wisdom. This appears to be incongruous with reason and even run-of-the-mill horse sense (my apologies to the horse).

With pursed lips and furrowed brows some "intellectuals" claim that God can only talk to us in baby talk. The mighty maker of all things is reduced to gurgling and cooing and babbling out his frustration in not being able to communicate with his creature in grown-up talk. We wonder if it has ever occurred to these teachers that if God is infinite in wisdom then he is fully able to use language and signs adequately to make his will known to his creation.

If not, then it is unmerciful, unjust, and ungodlike for him to call us to account. If he gives a revelation that is insufficient for humans to understand what he is saying to them, then his wisdom is limited and not infinite. To reward or punish on the basis of jabberwocky is manifestly unfair. Such a being is not the great I AM.

Pseudo-intellectualism has as its goal the mastery of history and the banishment of tradition. This can never be the purpose of the church described in the New Testament because its identity stands or falls by her commitment to the Holy Scripture. Since the Word of God is the seed of the church, as taught in Luke 8:11, the two are joined and may not be successfully severed.

Liberalism makes a fool out of itself. It leads the gullible from one extreme to another and finally strips away all covering and leaves him naked. It is like dead sea fruit it promises fair and performs nothing. Some are so blinded by this idol that they never recover from the malady. Overweening pride may cause some to be too ashamed to admit their mistake. The more intelligent may follow the piping of liberalism for a distance, but good sense takes over, and this foolish philosophy is abandoned, and the person who has been duped by it laughs at himself, if he has any wit left. One university professor of international reputation describes his odyssey in liberalism and modernism and postmodernism as follows:

To sharpen my portrayal of theology's amiable accommodation to modernity, I will describe a particular individual, an ordained theologian whom I have known for a long time and whose career until recently can only be described as that of a 'movement person.' If I appear to go into needless detail about this person, it is nonetheless useful to learn of the specifics of what I mean by an addictive accommodationism. In his pursuit of movements, his overall pattern was diligently to learn from them, to throw himself into them, and then eventually to baptize them insofar as they showed any remote kinship with Christianity, and then to turn to another movement.

Now well into middle age, our subject took his first plunge into 'movement identity' at sixteen when he joined the United World Federalists to promote world government through various educational and church groups. From 1954 (when he attended the Evanston Assembly) to 1966 (at the Geneva World Conference on Church and Society) he was much involved in ecumenical debate, promotion, and organization. His deepening involvement in the civil rights movement began at about seventeen and four years later was intensified by his attendance at the national NAACP convention in 1953 and by subsequent participation in marches, demonstrations, pray-ins, sit-ins, letter campaigns, and other forms of political activism.

More than a decade before the Vietnam War, our 'movement theologian' was an active pacifist, struggling to motivate the antiwar movement during the difficult McCarthy days. The fact that he understood himself as a democratic socialist and theoretical Marxist during the McCarthy period did not make his task any easier. He spearheaded the first Students for Democratic Action group to be organized in his conservative home state in the early 1950s. By the mid-1950s he was active in the American Civil Liberties Union; in the pre-NOW women's rights movement as an advocate of liberalized abortion; and as a steady opponent of states' rights, military spending, and bourgeois morality. His movement identity took a new turn in the late 1950s when he became enamored with the existentialist movement, immersing himself particularly in the demythologization movement, writing his doctoral dissertation on its chief theorist.

The early 1960s found him intimately engaged in the client-centered therapy movement. Later he became engrossed in Transactional Analysis and soon was actively participating in the Gestalt therapy movement, especially through Esalen connections. His involvement deepened in the 'third force' movement in humanistic psychology, struggling to move beyond psychoanalysis and behaviorism, as he contributed to its journals and experimented with its therapeutic strategies in his theological school classrooms. This was supplemented by several years of involvement in the TGroup movement associated with the National Training Laboratories, which he tried to integrate into his religious views. In the early 1970s, he joined a society for the study of paranormal phenomena, taught a class in parapsychology, and directed controlled research experiments with mung beans, Kirlian photography, biorhythm charts, pyramids, tarot cards, and the correlation of astrological predictions with the daily ups and downs of behavior.

My purpose in reciting this long litany is not to boast, for indeed I am that wandering theologian, less proud than amused by the territory I have covered. Rather, the purpose is to recite a straightforward description of what at least one mainline Protestant theologian conceived to be his task in successive phases of the last few decades.

So when I am speaking of a diarrhea of religious accommodation, l am not thinking of 'the other guys' or speaking in the abstract, but out of my own personal history. l do not wish contritely to apologize for my twenty-five years as a movement person, because l learned so much and encountered so many bright and beautiful persons. But I now experience the afterburn of 'movement' existence, of messianic pretensions, of self-congratulatory idealisms. It is understandable, after this roller-coaster ride, that I would be drawn to a 'postmovement' sociology of continuity, maintenance, and legitimation, hoping to ameliorate the 'movement psychology' of immediate change. The very thinkers I once excoriated as 'conservative' I now find annually increasing in plausibility, depth, and wisdom (Thomas C. Oden, After Modernity ... What?, pp. 26-28).

The banality of what most liberals write is its own indictment of the insufficiency of the movement (see Carroll Osborne's book, The Peaceable Kingdom, as an example; other examples would be the Harris-Shelly book, The Second Incarnation, and any of the Leonard Allen books).

The pendulum swings out, and it swings back, though, as one writer observed, it may take many decades to complete the arc. In the meantime, we must be about our heavenly Father's business. Let us with utmost confidence in the readability, understandability, and reliability of the one and only Holy Book give ourselves to its study and then exercise ourselves unto godliness. Your English Bible is adequate. You can know the truth John 8:32). God's Word is truth (John 17:17). Truth is the one path to God John 14:6). We are begotten again by obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22-23). See, it's not all that difficult.

Blessed are they that are perfect in the way, who walk in the law of Jehovah. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, That seek him with the whole heart. Yea, they do no unrighteousness; They walk in his ways.

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Published December 1995