Book Smart and Gospel Stupid

If you can tell me all about the Almighty’s mind-blowing power to fashion ladybugs, the […]

Chad Bird / 11.13.17

If you can tell me all about the Almighty’s mind-blowing power to fashion ladybugs, the Milky Way, and titanium from absolutely zilch, but don’t get around to talking about our re-creation in Christ…

If you can marshal vast arrays of evidence to fight tooth-and-nail with those who deny the days of creation were seven twenty-four hour periods, but never take the time to talk about the hours our Lord hung upon the cross…

If you can untangle the genealogies of Kings and Chronicles; synthesize the competing accounts of the regnal years of Israelite royalties; and compare the flood account of Genesis with the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, but never quite find the occasion to tell me how Jesus loves me…

If Latin phrases like genus maiestaticum rise from your lips like incense, if you drop German words like Gottesdienst and Bekenntnisschriften into casual conversations, but don’t hold the dying and rising Christ before our eyes when you teach and preach…

Well, then, you may impress me as an intellectual. But you’re no theologian.

Theologians love God. So they talk about him.

But they can’t do that without talking about Jesus. So they talk about Jesus.

But they can’t talk about Jesus without talking about his saving work. So they talk about his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

But they can’t talk about his birth, life, death, and resurrection without talking about what all those things were for. So they talk about how all of them were for us.

In other words, real theologians can’t shut up about who Jesus is and what he’s done on our behalf.

So-called theologians with little interest in Jesus may be book smart but they’re Gospel stupid.

Now I am not anti-intellectual. I spent 16 years in the academy as a student and professor. Earned three Masters in religious studies. Learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, French, and German. Studied the Trinitarian controversies of the patristic period, sat at the feet of Talmudic scholars in a Jewish seminary, and read Aristotle’s Poetics in the original. It was all cool, heady stuff.

But you know what? I consider it all a stinking pile of dung compared to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ as my Lord.

During those 16 years in the academy, other things happened, too. I watched one of my best friends go from a dude you’d want by your side in a barroom brawl to a 125-pound, cancer-withered skeleton. Dave died on Christmas Eve. His body is buried a few miles south of Fort Wayne, IN. He needed the Jesus of the resurrection.

During those years in the academy, I also destroyed my marriage by infidelity, estranged countless friends, and tried to smother my pain afterward with booze and sex and more destructive choices than I can even remember. In the years that followed, I didn’t need someone to parse Greek verbs for me or discuss the soteriological ramifications of premillennial dispensationalism. I needed a brother to say, “Chad, the blood of Jesus covers you. You are baptized into Christ. You are forgiven.”

Dave and I needed the same thing we all need: Jesus. We both got him, but in different ways. Dave’s now with Jesus in heaven. Jesus is still with me, and you, on earth. But our needs, living or dying, here or above, are the same.

The church is a religious whorehouse without the Gospel. Go in and have your spiritual release, then leave.

The church with the Gospel is heaven parked on earth. God rooted in the stuff of our crazy, messed up lives to show us mercy and give us grace in time of need.

Thank God for our intellects and for intellectuals, as well as brainiacs like Aquinas and Augustine. Thank God for scholastic wisdom, linguistic skill, doctrinal doctors, experts on liturgy and architecture and music and all the wild and beautiful mysteries of life in this church and world.

But most of all, thank God when we in the church keep first things first. When we remember that all this is in the service of the Gospel.

If any intellectual field within the church tries to be its own master, instead of pledging its full loyalty to the Good News of Jesus, it needs a fraternal kick in the ass and a rededication to its Lord.

Teachers and preachers, professors and musicians, authors and speakers: we all need the Good News. Whatever paths we’re going down in our unique fields of study, we will at some point intersect with the road to Calvary.