Nick Kristof Is Right and (A Lot of) TV Preachers Are Wrong

by Jul 31, 2011ChurchLife, Culture, NTScholarship, Preaching7 comments

Kristof says:

Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek—or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.

It’s sad when a NY Times liberal, the kind who admits to going to cocktail parties with other New York liberals—apparently on purpose, catches Christians in their own inexcusable failure to obey the words of Solomon when they had the opportunity.

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  1. Don Johnson

    Actually, I would disagree with Kristoff, not that I endorse the TV preachers. But you will find a lot of pastors appointed in the NT without the ‘rigorous education’. And… the ‘rigorous education’ bit is more of a Presbyterian/high church attitude than a Baptist one.

    That is not to say education has no value or that we shouldn’t get as much as we can. But education isn’t really on the list of NT criteria for the preacher. Spiritual qualifications are much more important and THAT is where most of the TV preachers fail.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    You make a significant point, Don. And your second paragraph expresses significant agreement with Kristof and me…

    I guess I’d just say that the NT criteria assumes the OT criteria. How can someone claim to meet God’s spiritual qualifications when he isn’t characterized by a “there’s-hidden-treasure-in-this-room!” eagerness to seek wisdom?

    Formal education is not the only way to get wisdom, but it’s one of the most obvious and readily available—in America, at least. I question the spiritual qualification of someone who scoffs at getting wisdom from a school.

    Most TV preachers fail to meet the spiritual criterion of seeking wisdom as well as the spiritual criteria I think you have in mind —honesty, love, self-sacrifice, gentleness.

  3. Christopher

    Speaking as a person who works in Christian education every day, it seems to me we have more education today than at almost any time in history. When I worked in missions, most of my colleagues had at least one, and often multiple masters degrees. Some knew Greek very well – even reading directly from the Greek text in study.

    When there were problems (not that there were a lot), usually it was because a minister was lacking character. A character deficit is the real problem today, isn’t it?

    Bible Colleges and Seminaries are packed. I work in the same building with real scholars who train men to be skilled in the word. Still, they lament a lack of character, integrity and spiritual seriousness that is often displayed in their students.

    I tend to agree with Don. I struggle to see how a lack of education is somewhere on the list of primary problems.

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      “I tend to agree with Don”?! Don, how often does this happen? =)

      Ok, ok… Both my readers disagree.

      Perhaps it’s a matter of your situation as you perceive it: do you run across more preachers who mishandle the Word because they failed to gather tools God made available to them, or do you run across more preachers who fail to take heed to their own lives? In my experience, coming from my background, it’s the former. (In my own personal life, I’m much more disturbed by the latter problem.)

      I don’t witness how very many preachers behave. I know the behavior of my own pastors, of men whose biographies I read, and of the TV preachers who are notorious enough to make the news—and that’s about it.

      But I hear numbers of preachers preach. And I am constantly frustrated by their failure to simply preach the text in front of them. Education isn’t the only way to solve that problem, but my point is that it is indeed a spiritual problem for people to refuse a reasonable amount of education when they have the opportunity.

      I have no interest, however, in positing a false dichotomy. I go back to a B.B. Warfield quote that has stirred me and guided me for years:

      Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must from your books in order to turn to God?

  4. Don Johnson

    Hi Mark, well, I agree with Warfield!

    And I am sure you know that I am not against education. I have an M.Div. and I can read my Greek Testament pretty well (not without looking up lots of words! and Hebrew is another story).

    But my objection to Kristof’s objection to the TV preachers isn’t really about the education debate. The problem with the TV preachers isn’t their lack of education – in fact, if you check, some of them actually have pretty good educations. Their problem is a spiritual problem, not an educational problem.

    When it comes to listening to various preachers, it is true that there are many who aren’t very good speakers, don’t know how to parse a verb, couldn’t tell a subjunctive from an imperative, and on and on. Yet many of these men are used by God to win and disciple souls.

    God gives us this treasure in earthen vessels.

    When I was a student, there were some self-taught preachers we often heard in chapel. (I’m not going to name them, but one in particular I know you have heard also.) As a student, I was full of disdain for such preachers. Their sermons didn’t meet my standards. However these men were often used to bring about spiritual change in the lives of my fellow students. It took me a long time in the school of hard knocks to make similar changes. Maybe I should have listened to those dumb preachers!

    I really don’t think we should discourage people from the ministry simply because they don’t have the education. As I said earlier, it’s great if you can get an education and I encourage people to get all they can. But the first thing is to be a disciple and be sold out for the Lord. And if no education follows that first thing, that will be enough, because the power is of God, not of us.

    I think you probably believe that too, but I would encourage you to thank the Lord even for poor preachers who have true spiritual life and power but never had the chance for an education (or even blew it when they had the chance and didn’t get one).

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Mark L Ward Jr

    Don, I appreciate your words. There’s no room for triumphalism and pride on anyone’s part. The excellency of the power is of God and not of us.

  6. David

    The truth of the matter is that gods such as Yahweh, Allah, and Zeus et al are just ideas that are widely disagreed about and none of the doctrines attributed to them are actually from them and literally true. While you can know for sure what the author’s of the Bible wanted readers to believe was true that would not mean that you knew anything but what they wanted everyone to believe! You can believe all the lies and hearsay you like but no one can justly punish you for not believing. And, if you weren’t personally present to witness something or do it yourself, it’s hearsay!