Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Monday, 16 January 2012 00:00
I recognize that Paul’s original warning about “knowledge puffing up” (1 Cor. 8:1) was raised in a specific context in a controversy over meat being offered to idols. Still, 1 Corinthians 8:1 can be supplemented by enough similar admonitions and warnings elsewhere in Scripture to rightly be regarded as a general axiom (see Dt. 8:11-14; Ps. 131; Prov. 3:5; 16:19; 18:2; 21:4; 28:25-26; Hos. 13:6-7; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 12:16; 1 Pet. 5:5-6). Knowledge brings with it a hazard: the potential for pride. As much as Proverbs encourages the cultivation of knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom, we are still warned that most foolish of all is the one who deems himself wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12; cf. Prov. 3:7, 12:15; Rom. 12:3, 16).
This poses a special challenge for those training for ministry, for those cultivating their biblical and theological knowledge and honing their ministerial skills. It also poses a challenge for those doing the training!
How does one increase their knowledge and maintain a humility of mind?
There are basic, fundamental answers to this question offered traditionally: by maintaining one’s walk with God, by being regular in one’s audit of sinful penchants, maintaining a regular regimen of confession (to God and to others, particularly those whom we have sinned against), and constantly being reminded by God’s word as to how lowly we truly are when we look upward to God, rather than succumbing to the temptation to just compare ourselves with others. These are all good and helpful. I might add that being married, and having boys all too equipped and eager to remind you of your flaws, can also be “helpful” in maintaining humility!
Let me suggest one other avenue, which we have taken seriously in our curriculum at Biblical: engaging other Christian traditions that differ in perspective from one’s own, with a view to learning what they have to contribute (rather than just scouring them for flaws to critique). There is something about engaging other viewpoints – even if one limits oneself deliberately to other Bible-believing viewpoints – that has a way of reminding us that we never “see it all.” God is bigger, of course, than any box we can create.
Putting oneself in the place of learner – being a lifelong learner – may assist in establishing the “humility of mind” that God’s Word insists upon.
There is a challenge, a paradox, here. I’d like to hear your thoughts, recommendations, and experience on this. It seems to me that learning is a good thing, commended by Scripture. It’s when one stops learning – especially, when one regards oneself as being in no further need of learning – that even the learning one has up to then accumulated becomes a problem. How does it seem to you? . . .
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum