How Academia in Religion Can Enable and Protect Abusers

Today I received the following announcement from the Greystone Theological Institute, announcing another presentation in their Postgraduate Seminar Series. Let me say plainly up front that my purpose here is not to slam Greystone or to try to say that a seminar like this has no value at all. That is not my purpose. You can read the following quote from the email they sent me, and then I will tell you what my point here is.  As you can guess, it has to do with abusers in the church:

On 23 October, at 10 AM (EST), Greystone is pleased to host an online-only presentation by Dr Jake Griesel (Cambridge) as part of the Greystone Online Postgraduate Seminar Series. Dr Griesel will present on “Reformed Orthodoxy in the Church of England, 1660-c. 1730.” Here is a summary of his forthcoming presentation:

“The conventional historiography has long depicted the post-Restoration Church of England as having shed itself of its earlier Reformed heritage. Historians have supposed that, after the Great Ejection of 1662, Reformed orthodoxy in England was almost entirely restricted to dissenters, whereas Arminianism became overwhelmingly dominant in the established Church before being challenged by the Calvinistic wing of the evangelical revivals of the 1730s and 40s. This presentation will challenge the foregoing narrative by considering the abiding strength of Reformed orthodoxy within the established Church between the Restoration (1660) and the dawn of the evangelical revivals (c. 1730). Particular attention will be given to how the Church’s Thirty-nine Articles and Homilies functioned as confessional authorities as post-Restoration Reformed conformists strove to preserve Reformed orthodoxy against Arminianism as the official orthodoxy of the established Church.”

The subject of Dr. Griesel’s presentation will no doubt be interesting to many. The study of church history is important and can have great value. I would probably enjoy hearing it myself.

But….

As I looked down the rest of the schedule for upcoming presentations in this series, I could not help but notice that they are all of a very similar scholarly, academic nature for the most part presented by PhD’s.  And there is a great danger in this…in the world of academia. Luke describes it as it was found by the Apostle Paul in Athens:

Acts 17:21  Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

And when “something new” is heard, what then? Does anyone press on to answer the question, “so what?” The pursuit of knowledge can become an end in itself, but knowledge unapplied is, well, worthless.

Our task, our mission, given us by Christ is to take the good news of the gospel into all the world so that people living in darkness can see His Light. We are to be Light. We are to expand His kingdom so that people enslaved to the devil can be set free. And we are to expose the darkness, expose the wicked, and render justice to the downtrodden. This requires knowledge, yes. Knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of His truth. But the true knowledge of Christ is inevitably a working, doing knowledge. It is a knowledge that battles evil with the sword of the Word of God.

So let me bring my point home. Many professing Christians, many pastors, many theologians and church members, are just like those Athenian philosophers. They want a pastor in their church who has the PhD. They want to come to church, hear something new, and then go home to go about their lives as always. They want to hear lectures, not gospel preaching that calls the wicked to repent and sets the righteous free.

I have seen this thing first hand. I have seen it in annual General Assemblies of denominations where the schedule of topics primarily consists of nuances of doctrine or interesting rehearsals of church history. But when someone (like me, I did it) stands in the pulpit and talks about the wickedness of sexual predators and domestic abusers hiding in our churches, crickets. Literally dead silence. A shocked silence. “Boy, that wasn’t something we expected to hear.” And then a phone call the next week from the CEO of the denomination informing me that the recording of my “talk” was not going to be put on the denomination’s website because it was too “personal” for that. “You understand, Jeff, right?”

Yes, indeed I do understand.

And THAT is the ever present danger of academia in handling the things of the Lord. That is what Greystone and all of us had better look out for. Because in the end if all that this knowledge does is produce more discussion groups with cigars and wine in a room with a wall full of books and Pharisees who want to debate their favorite takes on religion and point to their degrees on the wall, then evil is going to remain perfectly comfortable among us.

5 thoughts on “How Academia in Religion Can Enable and Protect Abusers

  1. Change Agent

    I sometimes wonder if Jesus would have the same dichotomies we create when we talk about learning and faith. Jesus surprised his hometown because he spoke as though he was a theologian (or in KJV language as one who was learned). Paul was in fact a theologian. Aristotle’s defense of faith and reason seems to best describe what I believe God call believers to embrace. When we allow God to remove our limited categorizations he can use any vessel for his purpose (those with degrees or those without). Healing for those who have been victimized comes from recognizing the power of truth in the context of Truth. Our experiential truth looked at through the lens of Scriptural truth is life, rich and satisfying. Despite our circumstances overwhelming victory is ours. That is the declaration Paul makes and we should as well. God designed each one of us with a purpose in mind. James reminds us that any deference given to others because of their status is inconsistent with God’s will. There should not be an attempt to seek out an academic for a sense of pride. Any outright embrace of evil is at the other end of the spectrum of making our vain imaginations more valid than God’s word (an example would be doctrines created around supporting sexual distortion in any form). Taking the time to reflect as God’s children can help us discern the Truth regarding our truth. No degree required and none necessarily rejected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff Crippen

      1Co 1:17  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

      1Co 1:26-29  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  (27)  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  (28)  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  (29)  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

      Thank you Change Agent, for you comment here. The Bible, being the wisdom of God, is deeper and more profound that any human mind can comprehend. And yet it has a simplicity that the Spirit of Christ enables us to understand. That same simplicity casts light on all the dark “wisdom of men” that seeks to distort it and blind others to its truth. I recently have been reading a very good book on covenant theology that examines through the lens of Scripture particular perversions of the gospel created in the name of “the covenants.” These distortions all sound, on the surface, sooooo deep and profound and yet when God’s Word is brought to bear upon them, they fall in a moment.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. sweethonesty7

    I can’t even understand what the professor is going to address. Sounds like a lot of tradition and brings to mind the Reformed Catechism my abusive ex bragged he memorized completely as a child and still remembers. Maybe I’m just uneducated, but these sort of events hold no interest to me. Why can’t we just read the Bible?

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  3. Suzzie

    This is so real! I myself am not of the “reformed faith,” not even a little. I so believe in man having free will that I just cannot go there. That said, Pastor Crippen gets the essence of the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law! His understanding epitomizes: Phil. 1:9 (love, vs knowledge, vs judgment); I John 4:16 (God is love); and I Cor. 8:1 “…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Thanks Pastor Crippen for another excellent post!

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    1. Jeff Crippen

      You’re welcome. P.S. I believe in free will too😊. Whatever our take on that issue we all agree: the wicked will never be able to claim “God made me do it”. No excuses. They freely choose to do what they love – abuse and hurt others.

      Liked by 1 person

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