Briefly Noted: On Intellectual Snobbery

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In a recent edition of The Chronicle Review, Rey Wojdat, chairman of the hospitality programs at Broome Community College (NY), argues for mutual respect between the intellectual and vocational disciplines within the academy.[1] In the article, Wojdat is pushing back against a tendency for those within the more intellectual disciplines to view vocational degrees as menial, and those within the vocational disciplines to view intellectually-oriented degrees as being removed from reality and unhelpful for society. He states, “Balance is key; mutual respect for intellectual and physical labor is essential for us to prosper and advance as a society. Yet we still marginalize nonintellectual work, both in academe and in the larger culture.” And yet, in Wojdat’s essay, the emphasis falls on correcting intellectual snobbery.

The marginalization of “nonintellectual” work, Wojdat surmises, stems not only from American society’s emphasis on obtaining a college degree in order to truly flourish, but also from our tendencies toward pride. He recounts Mike Rowe’s testimony before the U. S. Senate in 2011. Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs, lamented that Americans have “elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled ‘alternative.’” Rowe’s testimony intended to show that a nation of (mostly) consumers is not a nation that will sustain itself for long. People still need to make, grow, and fix things, and these skills require knowledge and training.

Wojdat hones in on pride as a primary cause of this sort of marginalization. Those of us who are more intellectually oriented, he avers, tend to view trained laborers as those who settled for an inferior trade which doesn’t require “expertise.” Yet expertise runs both ways. As he illustrates,

“I have seen and even touched van Gogh paintings. Thrilling as that was, I do not qualify as an art expert. I would never claim to be one, because I realize that you have to work in and study that discipline to qualify. Similarly, vocations taught in colleges can require as much work and study as ‘knowledge’ disciplines like economics and history. The knowledge and skills of a chef or a welder are not easily obtained, no matter what one may superficially observe.”

Wodjat also notes that skilled workers can be equally condescending toward “college boys” such as him. Pride is not the sole possession of the “intellectual.” Wojdat concludes by pointing out that he is both an academic and skilled laborer. As he is proud to be well credentialed and skilled in academics, he is just as proud of the fact that he “rebuilt [his] house inside and out–plumbing, electric, carpentry–with [his] own hands.” The skills are different from each other, but one set is not better than the other.

Wojdat’s point is a significant one which can be undergirded and enhanced by a biblical view of vocation. In the beginning God pronounced his creation “good.” And yet, he immediately charged his imagers with a task which involved changing his good creation. This task—tilling the soil—is one component of the original (pre-Fall) Great Commission which included other tasks such as filling the earth, and naming the animals. Taken together, these tasks are often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. In being commanded to “till the soil,” man was not only being asked to participate in agriculture, but also in a broader culture-making project. God was calling them to bring out the hidden potentials of his good creation, for his glory and for their own fulfillment as imagers.

Every aspect of human culture—homemaking, art, science, politics, sports, entertainment, business, entrepreneurship, and education—remains under Christ’s Lordship. Each of these cultural activities can be studied or done with great significance or no significance, for God’s glory or as an exercise in idolatry. The study of each of these activities is therefore vested with significance, whether the activity is more “vocational” or more “intellectual.” Each, in some manner or another, draws upon the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical aspects associated with our creation in the image of God. None of these calling are superior to the others. Each retains its own dignity under God’s reign, and each relies on the others. Professors in the intellectual disciplines rely moment-by-moment on the work of those whose craft is “non-intellectual.” Where do professors furrow their brows and deliver their bloviations except within lecture halls constructed by architects, skilled contractors, and their teams? How would a professor deliver his prolix (but, of course, not otiose) ideas to the broader public without the work of website designers, publishing houses, and paper mills?

Wojdat thus makes a point that we wish to take up and expand. We wish to remind the church and its educational institutions (colleges and seminaries) to foster an environment of respect for the many vocations and disciplines represented by the academy. God gives gifts to his church so that the people given those gifts might serve one another for the glory of God. Whether speaking or serving, both skills are for the sake of serving others (1 Peter 2:10–11). This means each Christian must consider himself or herself with “sober judgment” not with pride (Rom. 12:3). The church, then, is called to demonstrate tangibly this humility and service. In so doing, it not only embodies the “respect and balance” for which Wojdat calls, but also glorifies God by recognizing the multi-faceted splendor of the world which God created and the vocations he enables.



[1] Rey C. Wojdat, “Confessions of a Blue-Collar Prof,” The Chronicle Review (July 5, 2013), B20.

On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 6): The Danger of Becoming A Punk

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Leviticus 19:15-18: “You shall do no injustice in judgment…You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor…You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

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Southern Baptist seminaries are confessional institutions. Faculty members and students confess that God is Triune, the Son was crucified and resurrected, salvation comes by grace and faith alone, and that the Scriptures are the very words of God. We rightly learn to see the world through the lens of these confessions, to critique the spirit of the age and its manifestations. We learn to critique other Christian traditions and theologians. We learn to read critically, think critically, and write critically. We write critical essays, book reviews, and research papers. This is good, when done with grace and love to the glory of God.

But somewhere along the way, we sometimes become critical in the bad sense of that word. Perhaps it is easy to slip from critiquing a book or a theological position to criticizing everything and every person we encounter, and doing so in a way that is lacking in grace. One of the most rude awakenings I had upon “entering” convention life (in my late teens) is that seminary people and other “convention” people seemed often to be quick to gossip, repeat unsubstantiated rumor, misrepresent their opponents, and find an all-around satisfaction in judging other people. This critical spirit can take many forms: At pastor’s conferences, we encounter it in the form of preachers making derisive jokes about homosexuals, or allowing their “exegesis” of a biblical text to become a series of drive-by shootings of fellow Southern Baptists. At the lunch table or in the coffee shop, we recognize it when conversation hinges upon criticisms of other people.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that theologians must not critique or criticize. In fact, criticism is inherent to the task of theology. We must rightly divide the Word of God and defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The problem is that sometimes we become inordinately eager to criticize, criticizing at the wrong time and in the wrong way, speaking the truth without love, and attacking people more than error. And herein is a deep and ugly irony: We who speak often (and loudly) about grace sometimes find ourselves speaking in ways that are not at all gracious. Because our speech is not seasoned with grace, we undermine the very gospel we preach.

Of course, we don’t develop a hyper-critical attitude because we are in a seminary or involved in the convention. We develop such an attitude because we are proud. We are, as Luther put it, curved in on ourselves (incurvatus se). We think we are “big britches.” We love ourselves inordinately, at the expense of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Pride is manifested in many ways and, in our speech, it often manifests itself in incessant criticism. “Criticism,” writes J. Oswald Sanders, “is always made from the vantage point of conscious superiority. Pride will find cause for criticism in everyone and everything. It lauds itself and belittles its neighbor.”

I have noticed that the same pride that prompts me to criticize others also causes me to react sinfully when others criticize me. Immediately, I seek to justify myself. Sometimes, I become hostile and resentful toward those who have criticized me. And almost always, I begin to criticize my critic. But if I could be a consistently humble man, a man who walks with the Lord, I could take criticism no matter from whom, or in what form, it comes. Even the most unfair criticism will likely contain some truth.

The bottom line is this: If we love God more, we will love ourselves ordinately. And if our love for ourselves is in order, we will not develop a critical spirit and we will be able to handle criticism when it is dealt to us. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another….Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another….And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:12-17).

Abraham Booth on Holiness and Perseverance

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Abraham Booth was a Particular Baptist pastor in London from 1769-1806 and a key evangelical leader in England. He was a respected pastor-theologian, a staunch advocate for foreign missions, a strong proponent of theological education, a firm defender of Baptist distinctives, and a fierce and vocal opponent of the slave trade. In Booth’s most famous book, The Reign of Grace, he offers a broadside against those who claim some conversion experience but do not value personal holiness and gospel humility. It remains a timely word more than two centuries after the book first appeared:

Are you a child of God and an heir of the kingdom? Endeavour, by a conscientious attendance on all the public means of grace, and by maintaining communion with your heavenly Father in every private duty, to make a swift progress in vital religion, and in real holiness; remembering, that holiness is the health, the beauty, and the glory of your immortal mind. Seek after it, therefore, as a divine privilege, and as a heavenly blessing.-Watch and pray against the insurrections of indwelling sin, the solicitations of worldly pleasure, and the assaults of Satan’s temptations. Watch, especially, against spiritual pride and carnal security. As to the former, rejoice not in your knowledge, or gifts, or inherent excellencies; no, nor yet in your Christian experiences. Be thankful for them, but put them not into the place of Christ, or the word of his grace; so as to make them the ground of your present confidence or the source of your future comfort. For so to do, is not to rely on the promise of God, and to live by faith in Jesus Christ; but to admire your own accomplishments, by which you differ from other men, and to live upon your own frames. The consequence of which most commonly is, either pharisaical pride, imagining ourselves to be better than others; or desponding fears, as if, when our frames are flat and our spirits languid, there were no salvation for us. The peace and comfort of such professors must be uncertain to the last degree.- But as a guilty, perishing sinner; as having no recommendation, nor any encouragement, to believe in Jesus or to look for salvation by him, but what is contained in the work of grace: depend upon him, live by him. The more you behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the more will you see of your own vileness. The more you grow in real holiness, the more sensible you will be of the power of your own corruptions, and of the imperfections attending all your duties. You will be more and more convinced, that if the gospel did not warrant your dependence on Christ, under the character of a sinner, you could not have hope, even after ever so long and zealous a profession of religion. You should live under a continual remembrance, that you are still an unworthy, a guilty, a damnable creature; but accepted in Christ, and freed from every curse. That will keep you truly humble, and provoke to self-abhorence; this will make you really happy, and excite to praise and duty.

Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace from Its Rise to Its Consummation, pp. 331-32.