When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV
I was a precocious child (and an obnoxious adult). My parents tell stories about me holding “lengthy adult conversations” with their friends when I was a toddler. My father used to bring home a new vocabulary word of the week that we’d creatively stuff into normal conversations. I don’t remember either of my parents ever talking to me like I was a child (which is probably why I have no idea how to talk to children).
I guess I’m one up on Paul there because I never “talked like a child”.
But, that’s a good thing, right? Well, it wasn’t such a good thing when I started Kindergarten and the other kids couldn’t figure out what the hell I was talking about. I learned an important lesson about communication. It doesn’t matter how accurately you say something if the other person doesn’t understand what you say. If I wanted to connect with my classmates, I had to tone it down.
Some people have told me I’m intimidating (stop laughing). I used to have a bad habit of going after pseudo-intellectuals. Pretentious people who throw around big words they barely understand and muddy conversations with statements that make no sense (but sound almost smart) get under my skin. I can throw around big words and impressive phrases too, but that doesn’t make me right.
Even worse than pseudo-intellectuals are pseudo-theologians. Boy, howdy. These guys can drive me nuts. (How’s that for some intelligent writing?)
I have no issue with theological education itself, but I do have an issue with what it sometimes produces. (cough) Arrogance. (cough)
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV
What I learned way back in Kindergarten is that you have to speak to your audience on their level. It’s OK to change your language usage when approaching different audiences. If I had always spoken at a Kindergartener’s level, I’d have missed out on many conversations with my parents and other adults. If I had always spoken at an adult level, I’d have missed out on building friendships with my classmates.
When you’re speaking with theologians, speak like a theologian. When you’re speaking to everyone else, take it down a notch for Christ’s sake (literally!)
When you always have to be the smartest person in the room, it leaves little room for actual communication. Is it more important that other people see you as intelligent or is it more important that other people understand your message? Do we insist that others communicate on a “higher” level even if they didn’t have the opportunity to receive a formal theological education? (Check your M.Div. privilege, y’all.)
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV
Now, I don’t think theological education is bad. It’s absolutely necessary if we all want to avoid becoming, you know, filthy heretics and whatnot. I enjoy theological discussions. I appreciate being challenged by people who know more than I do on some of those topics. What I do not enjoy is seeing people pummeled with theology. Theological knowledge should be used as a shepherd’s crook to guide, not as a battering ram.
I don’t have an advanced degree in Biblical Studies or Theology. I’m an ex-accountant who obsessively studies things that interest me. The Bible is something that interests me. I love to absorb information. (I was the kid who read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun.) I also love to share information. A friend of mine made a comment the other day that it’s hard to take a complex topic and explain it simply. That’s very true. It’s what I try to do anyway.
That’s why I pepper my writing with colloquialisms, snarky asides, and sometimes even (gasp) some improper grammar. It’s more important that I effectively communicate an idea than I sound smart doing it. I choose lovingly communicating with a wider group of people over excluding people who don’t have the resources, drive, ability, or desire to receive a formal theological education.
We should always identify our audience and communicate with them, not at their expense.