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Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Curse of the Academy

The beauty of Jesus' Method
The way Jesus trained the Twelve has never been improved upon and never will be. He took twelve ordinary men and spent tons of time with them over three years. He taught them by word and example without one classroom, except the open  fields, without one exam, except the tests of prayerlessness, pride and impotence.

I think he probably meant - No! I know he meant - when he gave the great commission that the way to make disciples (and leaders too) was the way he had just done it.

But we think we're cleverer and smarter than Jesus and so we adopt the academic model, and what a mess we are in!

The academic model (classroom, textbooks, exams and so on), is fine for learning physics, maths, medicine and such like, but it is completely inadequate for training believers or church leaders. 

I had thought, until very recently, that this curse was a plague only visited upon middle class churches, but I have recently discovered that so appealing are "qualifications" that even modern day proper working class fishermen-type leaders have bought into it.

So here are seven reasons why the academic modern model is wrong, so very, very wrong.

The curse of the Academic Model

1. The academic model is termly! Let's teach folk 3 terms a year, say each nine weeks long. What about the other 25 weeks a year? They don't need to be taught then? Minor point......

2. The academic emphasises the wrong kind of knowledge - head knowledge! What matters most is not what we know in our heads (which fades so quickly) but what has come down into our hearts and shaped our lives. "Apprenticeship knowledge" is knowledge about how to actually make a certain kind of wood joint, not the theory of making the joint, and its apprenticeship knowledge we should be developing, not head stuff.

3. In emphasising the wrong kind of knowledge, the academic model generates pride! Of course! Pride puffs up! Not rocket science, this! I know stuff you don't. I've got a BA you don't. I've got an MA, you don't.  I've got a PhD, you don't. I went to ABC you only went to abc. Ridiculous! What we are after is humble servants so we put them through a machine which is designed to generate pride! A PhD in the kingdom of Christ, let's be straight, is worth no more than an ASBO (Google it).

4. The academic model of training takes people away from church! What! Can we imagine Jesus sending the Twelve out of the real world into some kind of institution to learn? The world, no the church, is the only place where learning can or should take place.

5. The academic model has some serious - and stupid - spinoffs. Perhaps the most serious is that it skews one gift - the preaching gift - above all others. Of course, the teacher-man knows the most. This is bad news not only from the body-ministry point of view, it is bad news from the "all eggs in one basket" point of view. We wonder why no-one is converted - must be the preaching. We wonder why no-one is growing - must be the preaching! Most people, actually are converted by one-one conversations, not by preaching. Most spiritual growth, actually, takes place in body fellowship, not through preaching.

One sad spin off is the way Christian Conferences model themselves on the classroom. They have "papers" from the experts instead of fellowship and sharing between conference delegates. Of course, that's how a university works. Can we really imagine "papers" at the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15?

6. The academic model makes boring Christian books. Why? Because they constantly put in distracting footnotes and also write their books first for the approval of the geezers who will boast on the back of their qualifications to asses this book as good, whatever.

I notice with interest that all truly great Christian writers like Tozer, Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon never put in foot notes. Because they were more interested in helping the common saints than impressing boffins.

7. The academic model skews giftings in the church. I recently read of a conference that was seeking to attract people to it by telling them that their main speaker had two PhDs! It's one of the main reasons I shan't go! Why? Because in the New Testament the qualifications that warrant a man to lead are things like being filled with the Spirit and filled with wisdom, having suffered greatly for the Gospel's sake, not having letters after your name. As long as we appoint the boffin types, we will appoint the wrong types.

Away with it all!
We have only just begun our list, but seven will do! Away with the whole system and back to the supreme model set by the Son of God. Train people in geology and literature that way, but leave that method behind at the university gates.

I guess the only problem with his model is that you get no fame by adopting it.

Fame, rising in the ranks, certificates, all that jazz: isn't that the real reason the western evangelical church loves the academic model? I think so.

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