7/23/20

On Specialization and Social Justice in the Pulpit

By: Jon Harris

One of the more confusing circumstances for laymen to navigate is when their personal pastor goes “woke.” How could this happen? This is the man they shared so many personal moments with and never saw a trace of white/straight/male guilt, collectivism, retributive justice, etc. This is the man who went to seminary for three years (or more if Bible college and doctoral work is added) to become an expert on what the Bible says. This is the man who portrays himself as a pious follower of the Lord. How could he fall for such an anti-biblical and worldly philosophy?

Though every situation is different, “specialization” is one factor that may help many make sense, in general, of why this might be the case.

Richard Weaver warned in 1949 that “specialization develops only part of a man.” David Wells warned against its effects again in 1982. Both saw this modern phenomena as a step toward the undermining of transcendent values. Professionals bond with other professionals in a narrow guild. Function is prized above wisdom. Developing the character of the whole man, for the purpose of achieving eternal ends, is no longer the purpose of education.

The seminary model has fallen into the same trap the academy has. It is often the case that a man with more seminary education feels less of a connection with his own congregants. His preaching is less accessible to the very working class people he is supposed to serve. In the context of the church, a barrier exists between the common people and the guild of those with aspiration, position, or degree.

Even men from humble beginnings can cut themselves off from the wisdom of those outside their field of discipline in order to glean the teachings of theological experts. This is why many pastors are thoroughly unequipped to recognize and react to Marxism couched in social justice. It comes from regressive developments in other fields. Namely, sociology, history, and economics.

The academy also fosters a new kind of hierarchy summed up in the phrase “follow the leader.” Respect for the godliest men in a church, whether they be lawyers, businessmen, or mechanics, is replaced with respect for academic elites, conference headliners, and popular authors. In short, the “experts” set the agenda. If social justice is on the menu, it is very hard for pastors steeped for years in the academic model to break free from the assumption that their heroes necessarily know what they’re talking about. In short, specialization does not foster thinking for oneself.

The assumption of expertise, even on matters outside of their specialized field, is almost always given to those highest on the ladder of institutional respectability. Questioning the absolute legitimacy of such an artificial hierarchy is likely to get one brought up on charges of unofficial treason. In other words, looked down upon by the rest of the guild. This is enough for many pastors to not only second guess themselves, if they have suspicions, but completely keep their mouths shut if they think there’s a problem. The risk to personal reputation is too great.

Because most education is slanted toward the left anyway, most prospective pastors already enter seminary with certain assumptions about what constitutes the “common good.” Once in seminary, these assumptions are often reinforced under the label “theology,” instead of “sociology.” This is why many pastors push Marxist concepts without realizing they come from New Left ideas antithetical to Christianity itself. This is also why a hodgepodge of often irrelevant scriptures, with hidden anti-Christian philosophical assumptions behind them, are used by pastors to forward the cause of the left. Diversity, equity, tolerance, and inclusion are not the fruit of the Spirit, but they are the chief virtues taught at many seminaries, whether students realize it or not.

To summarize, if one is not careful, specialization can often subversively lead someone to reject the model for wisdom found in proverbs, the importance of being a Berean, Jesus’ teaching on pharisaical pride, and the basic assumptions that make for proper hermeneutics.

4 comments:

  1. I was reading Colossians this morning and came across this warning in chapter 2, verses 18-19: "Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God." (NRSV). To me, this passage is encouraging for the true believers who see "wokeness" creeping into churches and amongst Christian leaders and pastors. We Christ-followers must hold fast to our literal heads as well as Jesus as the head of the church, and also reject these modern day notions of self-abasement promulgated by the "woke" movement so we do not become disqualified.
    Thank you, Jon, for your faithful work in promoting the true of the Gospel.

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  2. Hey Jon, thank you for the thoughts. I agree with your assessment of the need for a well-rounded education, which is why my wife and I homeschool. Do you think specialization can be beneficial in some areas of knowledge? Is it possible to be specialized while still learning how to think critically in your opinion?

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely! Having a specialty, but still understanding universal principles that apply to all fields is a fine state of affairs.

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