On Entertaining Angels & Academic Arrogance

May 25, 2013 — 8 Comments

My wife and I are homeschoolers and we both deeply value learning.

Most homeschoolers would agree that ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461). A part of this involves appreciating how important it is to have a teachable attitude and flexible approach towards education.

This is to say that we study with, as much as we provide teaching for our Children. Learning from one another drives education and we all thrive because of it.

We have quickly learnt that there is no room for academic arrogance in a homeschooled environment. This is because we are always working towards being ‘empathetic, a good listener and solidly present’ (Gerkin 1997:157).

From my observation, the way we engage in this environment is properly informed by a pastoral theology which understands that ‘models of care must be adapted to our changing situation’ (ibid 1997:37).

I have been embedded in the academic world for four and a half years. Throughout that time I found it extremely rare to witness the same kind of academic arrogance that I have seen on display, via some of the social media platforms I utilise. The closest I got to this in my journey through the academic maze was witnessing what happens when an ideology guides the theology of academics.

One example of this was Donald Miller’s consistent posts on twitter this week, which concerned some poorly timed tweets from John Piper. Sadly, Piper’s tweets coincided with the tragedy in Oklahoma. I appreciate both men as Christians and view them as solid contributors to their respective fields within the church (Piper’s tweets have since been deleted).

They just went too far.

The problem is that we are all tempted to impose, by varying degrees, a sense of superiority over others, especially when we disagree.

If Sir Francis Bacon was right and ‘knowledge is power’, then in a world that has wrongly rejected all absolutes, knowledge becomes KING, power becomes EVERYTHING.

The chief concern here is that bulldozing others with our knowledge represents our own insecurities. Worst still, it asserts a false moral superiority because it places us in opposition to grace and above the law.

Our reactions reflect how we feel about our ability to decode what has been communicated to us.

Sure, there are plenty of people who will agree, disagree and be totally indifferent to what you have to say. Fine, I get that.

For me the issue of academic arrogance is very real. It’s a potential compromise for Christians who use social media for mission, proclamation and outreach. The scripture that comes to mind here is Mt.10:16 (you know, the part where Jesus talks about sheep, wolves, serpents, wisdom, doves and innocence).

My point is this: it is necessary for Christians to keep practicing discernment. Knowing when to engage and when to disengage, when to assert ourselves and when to back off.

This means learning when to disagree openly and when to let some comments simply just fall away without incident. When we process this theologically we find a comfortable starting point with Paul’s plea to ‘speak the truth in love, like Christ’ (Eph.4:11-15).

My encouragement to you today is this: if like me, you inadvertently struggle in this area, make sure you return to your post.

Change it, delete it or mould it into something else. Don’t let the sense of inferiority that has guided the reactions of others cause you to give up.

Excellence is about giving the best we have to offer.

If that ‘imperfect offering’ (Cohen) reflects your best, LET IT SHINE. If it represents your 2nd best pull it and revise it. Do so, not because someone didn’t like it. Do it because you acknowledge that you can do better, knowing that in some ‘circumstances where we show hospitality to strangers, we may be entertaining angels without realizing it’ (Heb.13:2, ESV/NLT/MESSAGE)

Act on the truth which a lot of homeschoolers already own, that is ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461).

When we do this the church proclaims humility through vulnerability, because we are open to correction and retraction. This shows the world that we are real, and that we are not part of an ‘elite spiritual aristocracy…that claims ‘special gnosis (knowledge)’ (Peterson 2005:61).

Our actions will show the world through word and deed, that we are part of a ‘suffering and sacramental community, on an imminent-incomplete journey towards the completeness promised to us in the event of the resurrected Christ’ (Barth, 2008:29).

This promotes authentic church, where Father, Son and Spirit through the voice of the μαρτύριον (the marturion/matyrs – witnesses) invites the broken, rejected and downtrodden into becoming genuine ‘dialogue partners’ (McGrath, 1992:128) with Him.

Sources:

Barth, K 2008 Prayers: Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press London
Gerkin,C. 1997 Introduction to Pastoral Care Abingdon Press Nashville
Hong, H & Hong, E. 1995 The Essential Kierkegaard Princeton University Press
McGrath, A. 1992 Bridge building InterVarsity Press
Peterson, E. 2005 Christ plays in ten thousand places Hodder & Stoughton, London

Song: Entertaining Angels
Artist: Newsboys
Album: Step Up To The Microphone (1998)
Avaliable @ itunes and Amazon

8 responses to On Entertaining Angels & Academic Arrogance

  1. 
    Shelomi Doyle May 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Sounds a bit like James 1:19 – being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
    Am I on the right track?

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  2. 

    Hey Rod. Interested to know, first what made you decide to homeschool, and second, how you find the time!

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    • 

      Hi,

      We spent three years discussing and praying about homeschooling. It was something we were led into. For the duration of that time our children started and continued on in the schooling system. We finally committed to homeschooling after it was made clear to us that the self-esteem, self-worth and confidence of our children was being conditioned by their peers. We met with teachers and worked with them to help counter this at home and in the school. In our third year of praying about homeschooling, we started to get more serious about doing it. Two incidents really stand out – one was our daughters 2 years apart were almost always in the same class (compasite), from yr1 onwards. They are smart kids and the school decided to split the year groups into two creating an advanced and intermediate group We thought, okay, cool we trust them and will go along with it since the school “knows what they are doing”. This created division and reflected more of a caste system – enrollments dropped etc. Actually your question gives me an idea for a blog post. I will write one in response to your question because your question requres a more thoughtful answer.As for time? Homeschooling is flexible, we are not “unschoolers”, so we follow a routine-board of education standards re: curricumlum and offset that with online interaction such as studyladder. This allows to manage our time without being to overwhelmed.

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      • 

        Wow. Thanks for that response. Look forward to reading the blog. I guess I meant how do you and your wife find the time to invest in your kids’ education. School enables you to ‘outsource’ this to an extent. Is it a full time job for either of you?

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      • 

        Hi,

        My wife is the primary educator. I substitute in between assessments and lectures. We consider the home to be the primary source of education. For what we have observed a lot of Australian teachers tend to be viewed as baby sitters – e.g.: the school becomes the primary source of education for the child and the parent can detach from that part of their children’s lives. We have witnessed this attitude in some parents. Worse still I think some Aussies veiw schooling their children as the Governments responsibility and not their own (nanny state). There is a place for school/s and teachers, I am just not convinced that the system we have in Australia is a healthy one. There may be exceptions to this but from what I have seen the system ends up turning out children who act, look and speak as though they just off a ”Lord of the Flies” style island. A place where “everyone knows their place and no one dare pass beyond it”. Put kids in an almost unsupervised enviroment for 50-60min a day (recess and Lunch), unhealthy social structures are inevitable. This creates all kinds of victims and feeds bullying for instance – you are this because your peers say you are. (behavorisms, negative patterns of response and the like). From our experience Christians schools struggle with this BIG time.Not only do they have to deal with the education expecation I mentioned above, they have to deal with the expectation of turning their child into a saint as well. I could go on…I understand that you are a teacher? We have discussed this with a close friend who works in QLD and for the most part she agrees. What are you thoughts on this?

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      • 

        Yes I am a teacher, and I’m finding your comments very interesting. I teach high school, and I can certainly see a lot of what you’re commenting on. Certainly there are a lot of people who seem to believe that by sending their kids to school (private school perhaps even more so) they are outsourcing their kids education. I teach at a Christian school, so not only do we become responsible for academic education, but moral education as well. (Though we have many many parents who do also take responsibility for this at home.)
        High school can be a really horrible place for some kids, particularly in the yard. Some never recover, but most move on and learn a lot from their experiences.
        I don’t have children, so I can’t really comment on what I’d do with mine. I can see a lot of strength in your argument, but then I can also see the benefit in kids having to learn to deal with adversity, mix with other kids who have different backgrounds and beliefs to them, and have that ‘semi unsheltered’ experience.
        I have known both well-adjusted and not so well adjusted home schooled kids. I think a lot depends both on the tempraments of the kids and the parents.
        Good on you for doing what you believe is best for your kids though. Parenting is a tough gig I’m sure, and you’ve just gotta pray and do your best with what you’ve got! God knows the outcomes, He will lead you in the way of wisdom.

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  1. Helmut Thielicke: Theology & Ministry Vs. Arrogance In the Academy « Gratia Veritas Lumen - January 3, 2015

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