C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “The Christians are right: it is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” Pride is a deadly sin and some have argued that it is the CHIEF sin. It seems as if Adam and Eve felt they knew more than God when they chose to disobey Him and eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16, 3:1-6).
Pride can definitely affect those who study the Bible and preach or teach it on a regular basis. James warned us of this sin, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Paul warned against this sin in the life of any man who desired the position of pastor-overseer. Such a man should “not [be] a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
You and I can become “Theological Jerks.” I have suffered with this spiritual malady, especially in my days as a seminarian as well as a new pastor. We must constantly be on the lookout for this spiritual illness. What are some of the symptoms you may display if you have been infected with “Theological Jerkism?”
1. Speak condescendingly.
Merriam-Webster defines condescending as “showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others condescendingly.” The simple definition is “showing that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people.” Whoever you are teaching can sense this in minutes. Your audience knows if you possess a superior attitude.
You may have this attitude for a myriad of reasons including: you think you are smarter than everyone else, you have the benefit of a theological education, God is blessing your teaching ministry, or you are being asked to speak or teach at different opportunities. Are you speaking over the heads of your audience when you teach? Do you use large theological words to show your audience how smart you are? What you are doing is not helping your teaching ministry, in fact you are damaging it and your reputation far more than you might imagine.
When you stand before your audience be gracious, kind, and loving. Put a smile on your face. The Bible tells us that John the Baptist lived on a diet that included honey and locusts. I wonder if he ever had a drop of honey in the corner of his mouth when he spoke or preached? You and I may not literally have honey dripping from our mouths when we teach or preach but we should have symbolic honey dripping from our mouths in how we speak to people. Our words should be sweet and spiritually refreshing to people.
2. Repeatedly reference pastoral and theological giants.
If you have had the benefit of attending Bible college and seminary you have been introduced to a myriad of pastoral and theological giants. A fellow classmate of mine introduced me to Dr. John MacArthur through his study Bible. I had never heard of Dr. MacArthur before that. I vaguely knew who Charles Spurgeon was. I had heard of Dr. W.A. Criswell but knew virtually nothing about him. As a Southern Baptist, I learned Al Mohler was the President of one of our sister seminaries.
However, my seminary experience introduced me to the giants of preaching and theology like James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer, Richard Baxter, John Calvin and George Whitefield. As excited as you may be about reading and/or listening to these men and others, remember that most people in your audience have never heard of them. This is because you may have had the blessing of a theological education.
The worst thing you can do is make your audience feel ignorant by regularly referencing these pastoral and theological giants. Using a good quote by one of these men is acceptable but please do not drone on about the theology of Calvin or the preaching of John MacArthur. And when you do quote someone your audience may not be familiar with, preface it with a brief, concise introduction. For instance, “Dr. Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky has stated. . .” or “The great British Baptist preacher of the Victorian era Charles Spurgeon once said in a sermon. . .” Do not try to impress your audience with how many dead or living theologians and preachers that you know.
3. Present study instead of results.
If you have been reading my posts on how to the study the Bible, you have probably realized that as you study you will produce more material and research than you will ever be able to convey in a lesson or sermon. Your audience does not need (or want) to know what you discovered while you were studying, they want to know what God’s Word says to them.
You present study when statements like this come out of your mouth, “The Greek scholar A.T. Robertson said this verb is a perfect active indicative, third person singular feminine of the root word lego.” Explain the verb tense, voice and mood if it has significance. Show why it is significant but it is not important where you learned this. Again, it is highly unlikely anyone knows who Dr. A.T. Robertson was. Assume your audience can pick up on the significance of your findings but it is not necessary to say things like, “As I was reading John Calvin, I discovered. . .” Such statements can make you come across as arrogant.
4. Hold your theological positions with arrogance.
Have you recently come into contact with Reformed theology? Are you now a confirmed Calvinist? Have you just now come out of the theological “heresy” of Arminianism? Do you love nothing more than to talk about the sovereignty of God and predestination?
It is highly unlikely that you arrived at any of these positions apart from careful study, contemplation, consultation, prayer and much time. So please do not expect people in your audience to automatically adopt your theological positions after hearing you teach a couple of times. Present the truth of God’s Word and allow the Holy Spirit to work just like someone did with you. There is nothing worse than beating your audience with a theological club.
Your audience does not need to hear your pet theological positions or a discourse on predestination versus free-will. Your Bible study class does not need to hear a lesson on Reformed theology. (Insert gasp here.) These people need to hear the Word of God taught systematically, faithfully and clearly. If you teach long enough you will encounter texts that will allow you share your theological beliefs on secondary and third tier issues. Please do not make your audience feel small just because they do not believe as you do on non-essentials.
5. Believe that biblical knowledge equals maturity.
Just because we have acquired biblical knowledge through study does not mean we are mature in Christ. Biblical knowledge apart from application is almost worthless. A theologically fat head does not mean a full heart for Christ. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. He also said it was possible to be “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
A mature Christian walks in the power of the Spirit and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22ff). A mature Christian lives in a way that is worthy of the gospel (Colossians 1:10). A mature Christian is growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Apply what you have learned before you ever share it with your audience. Most Christians can spot spiritually immaturity and they can spot it in their teacher or pastor.
Do you have any of the symptoms of “Theological Jerkism?” Repent of it and take a large dose of humility and God will use you mightily.