As I write, it is the beginning of August, which means a countless number of seminarians and Bible college students around the country are gearing up for another semester of theological education.
For those fortunate enough to receive formal instruction, this season can be formative. Minds are opened to the wonder of theological beauty. Hearts are enlarged as thoughts about our Lord become clear for the first time. Hands are commissioned as doctrinal understanding leads to exerted effort for the sake of the Kingdom. If done well, the process of obtaining a theological degree can become an avenue for structured discipleship, leading the student to treasure Jesus and cherish his gospel more at graduation than at matriculation.
As this happens, the student will learn much. Ideas, phrases, historical eras, books, controversies, thinkers; all these and more will emerge as newly understood principles and propositions. However, in the avalanche of important systems and sentences grappled with in seminary, I’d like to put forward one sentence that is essential for the health and progress of any theological student: “I don’t know.”
The Admission of Ignorance as the Death of Ignorance
Imagine with me a scenario that takes places almost daily in the context of a seminary or Bible college: a group of students are hanging out and the conversion turns theological. An intellectually gifted student amongst the friends begins talking about publications regarding the topic of discussion. They list volumes of antiquity, forthcoming works, and many books in-between. As they speak, there is an assumption that the others are familiar with each volume; yet, as we all know, some in the circle are not.
It is in a moment like this that an admission of ignorance can lead to the death of ignorance. If an ignorant member of the conversation proceeds to simply nod as an indication of understanding all that which the friend is divulging, ignorance will remain. On the contrary, if the student puts away pretense and dares to speak of their ignorance, education and instruction can take place.
“I don’t know that book; I’ve actually never heard of it. What is it about?”
This simple sentence acts as an admission of ignorance, and more importantly, an invitation for education. Intellectual humility is not only a Christian virtue and an antidote to theological arrogance; it is immensely practical in that it may lead to greater understanding and comprehension.
“I don’t know that book.”
“I don’t know that doctrine.”
“I don’t know that theologian.”
“I don’t know that controversy.”
“I don’t know that position.”
Often, the greatest threat to theological understanding is a lack of humility. Yet, when we taste how much sweeter the knowledge of our Lord is than the applause of man, we are free to think for the glory of God. Pretense and pride will never be satisfactory reasons to remain in ignorance.
So then, seminarian, as we begin another blessed semester, let us study for the glory of God and the good of his people. Moreover, it is vital that we arm ourselves with intellectual humility and for the sake of our own development dare to utter the essential sentence, “I don’t know.”