Dork: [dor’k] noun. USA pejorative slang for a quirky or socially inept person, or one who is out of touch with contemporary trends. Often confused with “nerd” and “geek,” but does not imply the same intelligence level.
In this series of posts, I am dealing with the perils of the unique and sometimes bizarre world of seminary education. Most of the dangers of which I speak are dangers to which I have succumbed at one point or another during my times as a student, teacher, or administrator. This post is no exception, as my friends can attest (and would eagerly affirm).
I would like to point out that seminary students in particular find themselves confronted with the danger of becoming dorks. That’s right. Seminaries often attract and produce pencil-necked geeks. These are guys who have lost themselves in parsings and prophecy charts, but have little awareness of their surroundings, and sometimes little or no ability to make conversation with ordinary American citizens. “No,” you opine, “I’m not one of those guys.” Really? Well, here’s a quiz. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are a certified dork-in-training.
1. Do you know all about Cyril of Alexander and Johannes von Staupitz but are blissfully unaware of the existence of Dwight Schrute?
2. Are you able to immediately find your copy of Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor amongst the 2,643 books in your library, but have no idea how to change the oil in your lawnmower?
3. Are you upset that I mentioned The Reformed Pastor in the last question because you thought I should have spotlighted Why I Am Not a Calvinist instead?
4. Do you wear a bowtie?
5. Are you rockin’ a (volunteer fire department) moustache?
6. Do you own a searsucker suit?
7. Is your name Nathan Finn, J. D. Greear, or Micah Fries?
But there is another, and equally potent, way to become a big dork: try just a little too hard to be culturally savvy. In order to find an example of this path to dorkdom, I need to look no further than myself. For those of you who know me now, as a coat-and-tie-wearing pencil pusher (a dork of the first type), you might be surprised to know that this wasn’t always my style. Soon after becoming a “youth evangelist” in the mid-90s, I found myself needing to be a lot “cooler.” Before long, I could be found sporting wide-leg pants, fat belts, steel-toed boots, and enough faux-silver jewelry to make Scott Stapp blush. (If you don’t understand any of the ostensive referents in the previous sentence, I’d like to refer you back to the first category of ‘dork’ above.) I was workin’ it like Geoff Moore and the Distance (that’s a joke). I fancied that I looked like the frontman of an indie rock band, or some other type of über-cool cultural icon. But I didn’t. I looked more like a Steve Buschemi double who had really bad luck on his latest trip to the Goodwill store. And I’m not alone. There are others. I’m thinking of any number of Seminary Bible jockeys who came to campus wearing penny loafers and golf shirts but who all of the sudden and without notice sport a pierced pre-frontal cortex, faux-hawk, girl jeans, and a little dust bunny on their chins.
So what is the point? The point is that we need to be in the world, but not of it. For some of us, we need to get our head out of our books each week long enough to be aware of our surroundings. We need to meet our neighbors and have conversations with them. We should make ourselves aware of the televisions shows, movies, and music that shape the hearts and minds of the people of this country. We should take a little bit of time to become acquainted with the major moral, social, and political debates of our time. If we don’t, we’ll be unaware of the language people speak and the culture they are consuming. Further, in a sense, we neglect our own humanity. To reject culture qua culture is to reject the God who made us to be cultural (artistic and scientific and social and political) beings. The danger is cultural anorexia.
For others of us, we should be careful lest we become uncritically like the broader culture. Underlying the television shows, music, and even the fashion trends in our country are producers, writers, and designers who do their work from within a particular worldview. If these shows, music, and trends are “the very air we breathe,” then it is likely that we are also influenced by the worldviews (nihilistic, relativistic, etc.) underlying them. If we do not consciously, carefully, and consistently keep watch over ourselves, we will find ourselves being consumed by the spirit of the age. We endanger our own humanity by not allowing Christ to conform us to His image. The danger is cultural gluttony.
Of course, seminary is not the only place where one faces the perils of cultural anorexia or gluttony. But it is a place that offers ample opportunity for the former, which I suppose is what drives some seminarians towards the latter. We seek to avoid the perils on either side by (1) as my former seminary professor put it, “allowing God’s Word to be the grid through which we filter the surrounding culture;” and (2) allowing others to provide correction when we err on one side or the other.
John 17:15: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”
Acts 17:22: “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens’….”