Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Occasionally I will run into someone who knows my resume better than he knows my ministry: "You're a National Merit Scholar, a University Scholar at Baylor, a PhD from SWBTS in Church History…I wonder how much Church History your church has been taught."

The answer? Probably less than yours.

Don't get me wrong; I LOVE Church History. And yes, there actually are some stories from the history of Christianity that make their way into my sermons, lessons, or counseling sessions. For example, I've found that the story of Monica and Augustine can be very encouraging to mothers who are worried about their sons' misbehavior. But my sermons are not overburdened with illustrations from Church History 101.

It's not that I'm lazy in sermon preparation. I do not miss illustration efforts by McBeth or Gonzales or Eusebius on accident. I'm deliberately avoiding these things. I'm pushing back against the constant urge to carpet bomb our congregation with Luther stories or Spurgeon quotes or Origen anecdotes. As a pastor and preacher, I have made it my job to un-know a lot of what I know, so to speak.


"For I decided that around y'all I would un-know everything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2, my own translation that you should probably never be caught using in public)

Paul had a resume, too. Hebrew. Pharisee. Gamaliel. Perfectionist. Paul could have spent HOURS filling in all the blanks for his Gentile converts about Jewish ideas concerning the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. I do not doubt that his doing so would have led to the accumulation of a small, devout following of the Truly Interested. But he believed that un-knowing was an important tool in ministry. This was not a regression toward ignorance. Paul's training shows up all over his epistles. Rather, it was a progression toward focus. It was the removal of unnecessary weight so that the plane could fly higher, car could go faster, boat could sail more gracefully.

Obviously, "un-knowing" is not something that we can practice literally and deliberately. I still know what I learned at SWBTS. When I reach the point that I do not know any of it, the causes will be things beyond my control. I can't LITERALLY un-know. What's more, I can't even entirely suppress what I've learned. Academic training affects my ministry every day in a million ways. It's just that those ways are, for the most part, furtive. There are mistakes that I don't make because I know that Roger Williams disproved that way of thinking a long time ago. There are people whom I do not follow because they remind me a little bit of Benjamin Bogard. Get all of the education that you can. It can and often does make a positive impact upon ministry, but sometimes (often?) it does so best from the background.

God did not give me a congregation so that I could have all of the benefits of being a Church History professor without having to grade papers or sit on the curriculum committee; God entrusted me with a flock so that I could feed them, love them, and point them toward the Chief Shepherd. They need to know Jesus Christ and the gospel.

So, to my pastor-brethren who are really smart and who have some areas in which you've cultivated expertise and leadership credentials—history, languages, systematics, politics, sports, beard-grooming, or whatever else—I appeal to you to take up the study of un-knowing if you haven't already. This important tool, once mastered, will bless your congregation and will bless you.