I used to shy away from being proud about my theological education. That was until my Greek professor pulled me aside and taught me an important lesson.
He told me that while I’m a person of faith, being theologically trained is also a profession. “Don’t debate people who aren’t your professional peers,” he said. “People don’t debate doctors, or mechanics, lawyers, or surgeons. They earned their stripes just like you;re earning yours. Offer your opinion, be graceful in disagreement, but never debate with someone who doesn’t have similar credentials.”
I haven’t always taken his advice.
There are times when I’m not graceful in disagreement. I often use humor to diffuse the emotional blows that come from dealing with people who haven’t decided if your particular brand of humanity is worth compassion or concern.
I admit that it isn’t always pretty, but it helps me not to curse people out or cry everyday. There are times when I debate people who don’t have theological training, if for no other reason than to put different ideas on display.
Whatever the case, this stern talking to by my professor caused me to understand that I was being shaped into a professional, and that I should demand to be respected as such.
I’m skilled in my craft, and have the authority to make decisions and present ideas as a result.
But as a minister and a scholar, I have to interact with scores of folks who aren’t into the books in the same way.
I try to share what I know on social media to enhance awareness and sharing different understandings. But that sometimes runs into a brick wall. They’ve held certain beliefs for years, so they often think that their personal faith journey is the comparable to the academic discipline of studying the Christian faith.
It’s not. Not by a long shot.
And this isn’t to say that someone’s faith is only worth something if they have degrees to back it up. I’m a big advocate for an informed faith, but there are plenty of bankrupt, immoral, and corrupt ideas that circulate in and through universities everywhere.
A personal connection with the divine is priceless, and there is no book, credential, or degree that can be conferred to make that can make up for it.
I know plenty of people who don’t have seminary education that think about Christianity in ways that are healthier than many of the people I went to school with. Book knowledge doesn’t automatically equal right thinking or right religious practice.
Still, there is something to be said about spending intense, dedicated time to study something. My faith and practice is rooted in knowledge of history and context, something I take seriously since I am responsible for leading other people.
I was taught to never pull anything out of thin air, but to tend to ideas that preceded me so that other ideas can grow from my work. And since seminary is a spin on the Latin word for seed bed, the growing and tending aspect makes sense. I’m not pulling stuff out of the air; I’m firmed rooted in the history of the faith. And those roots are a result of my education.
I’ve been studying Christianity on an academic level since I was twenty years old. I’m a few weeks shy of thirty-two. I have a minor in religion from Rutgers University, a Master of Divinity from Howard University, a Master of Theological Study from Wesley Theological Seminary, and I’m working on a PhD from Howard studying communication issues in Christian culture. None of them were given to me. They were earned.
I’ve been trained on how to preach, how to read and analyze texts, and how to think through complicated social/political/critical theological issues by a group of successful, qualified, and even world-renowned scholars.
These folks have taught me how to read Greek, how to read, write, and search for information. They’ve written books and shaped the way that even some of your favorite preachers think and approach what they do concerning the Bible and race, feminism/womanism, ethics, and other issues that pertain to faith and life. None of these folks are slack, and they didn’t allow me to be slack either.
In most instances, I’ve earned As in their classes. To insult my training isn’t just a smack in my face, but it’s a suggestion that the people who trained and supported me are also not up to par. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
And even with that extensive list that I just laid out, it’s fine to disagree with me. My voice is valuable, but it is but a drop in a huge sea of opinion. I don’t argue or preach or post for likes to be a fave on the gram.
I do this work because I want to demonstrate a healthy, holistic faith. I want people to agree with me because I made a persuasive argument which causes a change of heart. Just like a doctor, if you don’t like my view, feel free to get a second opinion. There are people with my level of education and more who think differently than I do.
But to clown my education and call me prideful, especially when I didn’t bring it up, is in a word…whack.
And it’s hypocritical to disparage my education while expecting me to respect your tarry service, because my vocational route is just as much God’s call as your three-day fast might be.
This is an excerpt from a longer post My Education Does Not Make Me Prideful on Verdell Wright’s blog Reboot4life.