My Crisis of Faith
I’m not sure exactly how it started, but at some point, I had began to struggle, and it had reached a point that felt like a crisis.
I was living in Hungary at the time, Rosemary and I had just had our first child, he was about 6 months old at the time. I was pastoring a church, and things were going well; people were coming and growing in their faith, others were coming to faith for the first time, and being baptized.
I was teaching the Bible twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and yet, I found myself struggling with feelings of doubt. I began to question whether the things I was saying about the Bible were actually true! I began having doubts about whether God even exists!
Up until that point, I had never struggled to believe, but now, all of a sudden, my mind was plagued with doubts. The things I was teaching, was I just parroting what I had heard from other people? Was I just taking their word for it, that the things they said about God and the Bible were true? I hadn’t actually researched and studied those things for myself… What if they were wrong?
My Journey to Formal Education
This crisis of faith led me on a journey, which involved enrolling in university, and studying Christianity, the Bible, and other religions, at the university level. And as a result of that journey, having studied these things for myself, I’m at a place today where I’m more confident than ever before that the Bible is trustworthy and the gospel message of Jesus Christ is true.
What the Bible has to Say about Pursuing Education
Here’s what Paul said to Timothy, a young pastor:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.2 Timothy 2:15
Here’s what Peter wrote in his “general epistle” (to all Christians):
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Peter 1:3,5-8
“Why Can’t You Just Be Self-Taught?”
I’ve heard people push back against formal education and insist that you can get just as good of an education on your own by reading books. My response is, you probably can – but there are some big benefits to studying in an institute of higher education.
One of the greatest benefits is that you will be forced to read things you disagree with, and you will be required to critically engage with the material, and with smart people who hold positions other than your own. This will make you sharper, and force you to examine the foundations of what you believe. If you navigate this well, it will lead to a stronger faith.
Furthermore, if you’re like me, the rigor and deadlines of a school program will help you to actually do your work, and think hard, since you know your work will be examined and critiqued by people who won’t let you get away with sloppy or lazy conclusions.
Does education make you less dependent on the Holy Spirit?
Having spent years in seminary, let me tell you that I have never met anyone who thinks that they no longer need the Holy Spirit now that they have learned more things. In fact, if anything – gaining education has the effect on a person of making them more aware of how much they don’t know.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the phenomena that those who are less competent tend to be more self-confident because they don’t realize how much they don’t know, whereas those who are more competent tend to be more aware of just how much they don’t know.
This isn’t always the case, I’m sure. Probably there are some people out there who become proud because they think they know more than others, once they’ve received some amount of education.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
I absolutely agree! However, I have also met some people who are proud of their lack of education, and look down on those who have pursued formal theological education, as if their choice to not go to seminary is more spiritual.
The key is to keep love (for God and for others, in response to God’s love for us) as the motivating factor, rather than pursuing knowledge just for the sake of knowledge – and we should certainly never seek knowledge in an attempt to assert superiority over others, rather view it as something to be used to help serve others.
Discussion On the CGN Mission & Methods Podcast
In the most recent episode of the CGN Mission & Methods Podcast, we discussed the power, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, and this topic came up. Here’s a clip of our discussion:
You can listen to then entire episode here (or in the embedded player below): What Do CGN Leaders Believe about Charismatic Gifts and Their Use in the Church Today?