The Snobbery of Simplicity

Every so often some congregation’s marquee, preacher, or Christian will declare, “The more educated a person is, the farther away from God they go,” or something similar. It is almost as if the less one knows, the more sound one is. There is a bit of truth to the statement because some highly educated people have turned to agnosticism or atheism as a result of their higher learning (e.g., Bart Ehrman). However, this generic statement isn’t true for all. For instance, no one would have accused Moses of being godless as a result of his Egyptian education, Daniel for being ungodly given that he had three years of Babylonian learning, or Paul as liberal for his quick recall of pagan poets. Each of these great champions of faith were highly educated people, and their piety is self-evident in Scripture. So why such statements?

I won’t presume to know the heart of such people. I worked rather long and hard to obtain my credentials, which I count as nothing in the greater scheme of things. A Christian with an eighth-grade education can as much have eternal salvation as I can with my Ph.D. Yet, what I have endeavored to do with my higher learning, and sometimes failed at doing, is use my knowledge in service of the church much in the same way J. I. Packer has. Nevertheless, I would urge anyone who shares this sentiment of greater learning equals greater infidelity to God to consider the following:

  • Were it not for educated people, you wouldn’t have Scripture in English. I’d dare presume that those who despise higher learning cannot read Hebrew, Aramaic, or even Koine Greek.
  • Educated people are learned in their fields and can better defend the Christian faith with intelligibility against others. The reason some young Christians abandon faith is that the arguments given by people of faith are weak and don’t come close to the standard of those who oppose our faith. William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, and others are rather learned and can stand as equals among those who would seek to deconstruct our faith.

More points could be made, but this is a start.

I don’t think that either of us—with or without higher learning—should criticize the other, but that we should be thankful for those of all stripes in the body of Christ and learn from one another. One thing that essentially must stop is how we vilify one another because of our differences. The world throws enough challenges at us, so why is it that we become so prideful and think we stand on the moral high ground because we’re not like our fellow Christian? It’s as if the message is akin to the Pharisee in Luke 18 who was praying in the Temple next to the publican: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—having terminal degrees, higher education, erudition.” This does not at all justify anyone. Furthermore, we who have higher learning should use such to God’s glory and not to be snarky to those less educated. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” We should humbly put ourselves to the church’s service.

To those who think it more a virtue to lack formal education, they are, of course, entitled to their opinion. However, we who have such are not all evil heretics. We have, rather, taken every thought captive for Christ, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:5. Think about this: what is education? Is it not greater learning? If so, then why do we have Bible classes? The argument that a Bible-believing Christian makes that the more educated one becomes the father they go from God is self-defeating when such church has Bible classes and studies to learn more about their Bible. If, however, by “education” one means “formal” in the sense of university degrees and such, Moses, Daniel, and Paul all had such and were rather influential as leaders of God’s people during specific times.

It’s true that I too know some Christians who have left the faith because of secular learning. However, because some have doesn’t indicate an across-the-board generalization that all secular learning leads God’s people from Him. For many of us, it deepens our faith and merely prepares us for our vocations. As much as educated people can be snobs, so can the uneducated. In my experiences, I have learned that I’m best suited to minister in a university town because other places I’ve served without that have in some manner or another criticized my learning. “You don’t have to know that to go to heaven,” so I’ve often been told. While true, the brunt of my study isn’t about “going to heaven,” but keeps mind attuned to heavenly matters and grows a deeper love of God.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.