The Puffed up and the Invisible Rabbit

(Part 2)

Introduction

Screwtape calls it, “The blessed word, adolescent.” It is one of his favorites to conjure up and distract from actual immaturity. The idea that Lewis, though Screwtape, wishes to convey is that posture in which a, usually young, man takes to task a person or an idea that he believes that he has outgrown and now finds quite wrongheaded or banal. It is a mark of pride. The over assumption of one’s own intellect and maturity due to the contrast one feels over and against a person or issue that is being condescended too. A lack of humility, the inability to admit current faults, or even accept that they may currently be wrong, are all telltale signs of the self perceived mature. 

Previously on “The Blog”

I bring all of this up to serve in exploration of some ways how the preceding article The Sin of Intellectual Laziness can be misunderstood and abused in application. If there is a singular truth about readers of blogs it is that you lot can misread, misinterpret, and misapply what is written. This can be done selectively or wholesale. Just as easily, I can misspeak or fail to be clear. While I want to encourage Christians to have high intellectual standards. And I would encourage them to spur on their pastors to teach with a high standard. At the same time I do not want to encourage an arrogant echo chamber of young men who have a longer list of things their pastors can do better, than a list of things they thank God for in the man.

The Puffy Congregant

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. – 1 Corinthians 8:1

Paul presents us here with a perfect example. The believers in Corinth knew that idols are merely statues. They had knowledge of the truth. Idols are blind gods, deaf god, mute gods. They have no power in and of themselves and are pointless blocks of wood, stone, or metal. Food sacrificed to them was a waste of perfectly good food and could be reclaimed by the believer and eaten with no issues. But there was a clear sect in the church that had reservations of conscience over eating that food. Over and against them was another group that seemed to be very Ben Shapiro like with their, “facts and reason” about why the food could be received freely. Paul calls the latter group to love, not be logic driven bulldozers.

There comes a point when knowledge makes a man cold, hard, and uncaring. Or to put more Biblically, arrogant, puffed up, prideful. And while pride is a equal opportunity sin. There is a certain kind of young man that raises arrogance to an art form. I have met some of them. In Reformed circles the stereotype is called a Cage Stage Calvinist. Stereotypes exist and they exist for a reason, it is an earned moniker and perception. The Cage Stagers are an obnoxious bunch that have gained a little knowledge of the Doctrines of Grace but failed to understand the word Grace. Their words may say it is all of Christ, but their tone and actions declare what they really think, that when Jesus picked them He picked a winner. They love to talk more than listen and the vast majority of what they say exposes a rote knowledge rather than understanding. When I disciple one of these young men I always start them on a pipe, or a Cage Stage Pacifier. Unlike a cigar a pipe requires constant maintenance and attention to stay lit. It is perfect for them. If they can’t say anything edifying they shouldn’t say anything at all. 

More to the point, if intellectual laziness is sin, faux intellect, graceless intellect is as well. But it is those who have garnered a little knowledge that have the most potential to become the kind of congregant a pastor endures rather than enjoys. In a healthy church there is always room for a pastor to receive feedback. And indeed if he is too aloof, arrogant, or remote himself there are problems; just as if he were on the other end of the spectrum being to soft, milquetoast, or feminine. There is a ditch on either side of the road. However, there are a great many good pastors who dread their Monday morning inbox because of those in the congregation that have never served a day in pastoral ministry, never the less they know exactly where he went wrong. Last week I quoted John Erskine, and I will do so again to sum up the thinking of most brow beaten pastors, “The ignorant are full of opinion.”

The Full Christian

So to nuance this all a bit let us consider how to be like Christ.

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory he has as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 14:1 (Emphasis Added)

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – 2 Peter 3:18

The idea that you must either be a truth person or a gracious person is a false dichotomy. We are to be both. This is not a new idea, I have no illusions of it being a massive revelation. Yet in the church today I see very little grace, and to be totally frank, very little truth. Both have been missed entirely instead I see a lot of opinion masquerading as truth. We are to be a people of the truth, and the root of all truth is found in The Full Counsel of God. The key being The Full Counsel. Christians have been a people of the book from day one and we can not cherry pick the word for expediency. As one pastor has noted the Bible has angular texts, passages you wish weren’t there because your position must be reconciled to them. Not the other way around. When we submit, are humble, before God grace flows to us and through us. Truth flows to us and through us. Grace and truth are not virtues that hold off until we are glorified, they are put into us as we are being sanctified. 

Illustrating the Point with a Large, White, Invisible, Rabbit

I have previously cited Mary Chase’s play Harvey* and obviously I plan to do so again. For the uninitiated, The protagonist of the play isElwood Dowd a kind, pleasant man. His only flaws are the excesses of his kindness, his consistent drinking, and his best friend Harvey. Harvey is a Pooka, “from old Celtic mythology – a fairy spirit in animal form – always very large. The pooka appears here and there – now and then – to this one and that one – a benign but mischievous creature – very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?” Taking the form of a human sized, invisible, white rabbit. Harvey is, he exists, and the contention of the play is that everyone but Elwood denies this truth. Elwood remains absolutely firm in his convictions, never wavering on what he knows to be fact. Yet as everyone around him is reduced to hysteria Elwood never becomes condescending, or cruel, or even angry, he is a model of charity, kindness, and grace. At one point he explains.

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” – Elwood P. Dowd

The beautiful irony of this quote is that Elwood never ceased to be smart. Throughout the play he is the only one who knows exactly what is happening and he gently walks though it all. Despite all the P.H.D.’s running around him Elwood is the only one with intelligence and plain horse sense. Yet he also never ceases to be pleasant, gracious, kind, and charitable. Elwood is never flustered because he has faith in his friend, and he is “Oh so smart.” Ironically he has proved his mother wrong, he is the living embodiment of being smart and pleasant all at the same time. Fiction allows us to see, albeit though extremes on occasion, our potential. Christians should strive to be Elwood like, so firm in the truth that they can be gracious, charitable, and pleasant wielding it knowing that truth will stay the same no matter the objections.

As it has been previously established, truth is a person. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6

Our commitment to truth, our commitment to being intelligent, well reasoned, knowledgable people is Biblical. It is at the core of our faith. But we should never forget the end of the verse. We are going to the Father. We can be humble, gracious, charitable, kind, “Oh so pleasant.” because we have the larger view. We have confidence in the truth itself, we have all of eternity to explore and delight in it. And since eternity is quite an extended period of time, I doubt we will ever arrive at the end of this exploration. It will all be, further up and further in.” At the Fathers right hand are, “Pleasures for evermore.” We delight now in them but what shadows that will be when we are brought into that high country? 

With this in view then let us now consider then how the truth can make us, “Oh so pleasant.” While to a lost and dying world I will absolutely concede that the gospel is an offense. Just consider Matthew 10:22; Galatians 5:11; 1Corinthians 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 2:7-8 for starters. We worship a man who was so hated he was murdered. However, among ourselves the unifying factor is this very same gospel, this same truth. From there we have many things to disagree about under that truth and it is here that we absolutely must not be intellectually lazy, and at the same time we must not cease to have grace toward one another. 

Retuning to the Circle

Pastors should be and in many cases are gracious toward their parishioners. But among a certain set of men, usually young, but not always. It is not a two way street. Theological hobby horses can be fun, but should not be ridden into battle against a pastor who is frankly already defending himself on multiple fronts. Rather members of a church are to position themselves to defend their pastor, they fight for him not against him. As the Puritans direct us:

The Church is to remain loyal to the pastor and to stay at his side in all the trials and persecutions that may arise because of the world. – John Owen, Duties of Christian Fellowship

Richard Baxter then reminds us to be humble because we are not all employed in that position. There are things a pastor is aware of we are ignorant of. A faithful pastor oftentimes has good theological reasons for how and why he does things that the congregation has never even thought through.

“Understand first the true ground, and nature, and reasons of the ministerial office, or else you will not understand the grounds, and nature, and works of ministerial office… it must not be left to all in common.” – Richard Baxter, The Christian Directory

Knowledge met with humility on the part of a congregant recognizes that you are not privy to every bit of information about what is happening in the church. Knowledge, acknowledges the truth of the finiteness of man. You are not omniscient. The thinking Christian sees this and thus tempers his thoughts with grace, and kindness as they are recommended to a pastor. This in no way softens truth, but it delivers that truth in such an agreeable manner that a wise pastor will listen. If the end goal is doctrinal fidelity, both the congregant and the pastor are striving toward it. Sometimes church members are wrong, sometimes pastors are wrong, Jesus, the truth, is never wrong. We pursue him in grace, not arrogance. If you find yourself at odds with your pastor then filled with humility and and actual Biblical knowledge bring to his attention your objections. As a friend once reminded me, “there is a difference between confidence and arrogance.” But the confident, the actual thinker is never afraid of the words, “I don’t know.” Pastors sometimes know more and have very good reasons for doing things the way they do. Be humble, be humble but do not compromise the truth, you both are fighting for that. Do not abort a conversation before it begins with arrogance.

Conclusion

My concern remains that many Christians, and sadly many pastors have become comfortable with the sin of intellectual laziness. But let us not fall off the other side of the mule into the sin of arrogance. As Screwtape reminds us those who love to consider themselves very mature are usually the most adolescent of all.

*In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that I played Elwood in a college production of Harvey. My love for this play runs pretty deep and my interpretation is based on my personal read of the character and how I played him. 

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