Barbarian at the Gate

Written by Dave : February 20, 2008

God speaks through the most interesting things. Or people, for that matter. I had an epiphany of sorts when I heard George Carlin talking about his career. He talked about how he had dropped out of school in the 9th grade and wanted to prove to people through his comedy that he was a thinking man. He didn’t want the audience to think: He wanted to do the thinking for them. He was driven to prove that he was someone…worthy.

I totally relate to this. I’m surrounded by educated people and often feel “less than” when I’m with them. When I sit with the team of people who bring the Sunday morning message (we call it the “pulpit team”), there is a trained teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, a pastoral studies major, a couple of computer geeks with masters degrees, and a couple of Art School grads. And me: A smattering of college credits ranging from electronics technician to history to philosophy to culinary arts. When I sit down with the other elders of my church, it’s the same thing. In my preaching, I often tackle deep theological issues because I want to show people that I am capable of understanding them. I want to be seen as a thinking man who has risen above his lack of education. I want to be respected for acquiring wisdom and knowledge through nontraditional sources. That’s why I read tons of books, own numerous reference books and research my sermon topics to the point of…I don’t know, death? I think that’s also why I tend to dig into obscure or fringe material and read a lot of the newest books: I want to bring something ‘different” to the table, something outside the norm. I want to be somebody.

Interestingly enough, I think that’s why a lot of educated people ‘go off the tracks’, particularly in disciplines that don’t have hard and fast rules like mathematics and accounting. When you are in a room full of people who are all educated in the same field and you feel the need to stand out, you either excel in the topic matter, or you head down the unbeaten and less trodden paths. How much ‘bad theology’ has been introduced into the church by people who simply want be ‘somebody’, to stand out? This isn’t the same as someone hijacking the church because of their own greed or to push their own personal agenda. I’m talking about iniquity: A character flaw, looking for approval from people instead of receiving it from God. For this, I repent.

With all that being said, I do think that there is an issue of having an ‘intelligencia’ in the church, an ‘old boys club’ that has it’s own secret language and rituals. They may even have a secret handshake that I’m not privy too. There is often a divide between the clergy and the layperson that is defined by education and culture and reinforced by the folks on both sides of the wall. You can’t preach or minister if you haven’t gone to college, and if you do preach or minister, I don’t need to take you seriously. In many ways, it reminds me of the dear sweat lady who informed me that she wasn’t going to believe I was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ until she heard me pray in tongues.

We are the body of Christ. We all have the same Spirit. We are all called to the ministry. Everyone has a role to play and we should not give up our place in the body just because we don’t have a piece of paper. At the same time, we shouldn’t exclude people because they don’t have that piece of paper. It’s a two way street. How often have people turned away from what God has called them to do because they don’t fit into the box that that the church has designed, giving up because they don’t have the credentials? Or, for that matter, how often has the church rejected someone because they don’t fit the man-made bill.

Even as I write this, I realize some people will dismiss my rant because I’m not a seminary trained theologian or pastor: Just a barbarian yelling at the gates or a jealous and wounded man crying out for the attention of his betters.

Or, perhaps, a rabble-rouser? Maybe a revolutionary? Someone who must be quieted down before they stir up the pot?

Either way, whether rejected or accepted by men, educated or not, the primary issue is receiving my acceptance from God, walking with Jesus, getting to know Him and falling deeper and deeper in love with Him, and letting that love manifest itself as an outpouring of genuine caring for my community. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ You can’t possibly go wrong doing that, though you still might not get acceptance from man. In fact, if the Bible is right, you probably won’t.

Author Bio:: Dave is a husband, father, and wayward chef. He is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of some.

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7 Responses to “Barbarian at the Gate”

  1. jacob on February 20th, 2008 7:02 pm


    A beautiful post. Funny enough, I’m probably one of those educated people that at first blush might make you feel insecure. I grew up in Southwest Virginia, deep in the Appalachians. Ironically, I often feel as insecure as you do, as if I don’t fit in and have to prove myself.

  2. Michael Cline on February 21st, 2008 7:52 am

    In my humble opinion, I think the “in/out” game over education and theological discourse occurs unknowingly most of the time. I’ve heard both sides of the story from various people, and almost always they maintain a posture of “they throw around language purposefully,” or “they look down on me because…” when in reality, neither party means to do what they do. It’s usually out of ignorance (which is funny, because they are really educated, which tends to be the sticking point to begin with).

    It’s a constant struggle for me. I’m in seminary. I read a ton. I study hard. I want a job in Academia someday. But I also minister on a weekly basis to people who don’t share those ambitions and whose faith is formed very different from mine. I think that’s a side we forget–for me, the educational side of my life is spiritual formation. It’s what makes me tick. It’s not just a hoop I jump through or a means of exploitation of less educated people. It’s meeting with God in what can be a very intimate way. Yes, even over a philosophy textbook.

    Thanks for standing at the gate and yelling a bit. I don’t think you are as “barbaric” as you think you are, though. Great thoughts!

  3. Anna on February 21st, 2008 8:36 am


    Oh, yes, I know the feeling all too well. I work in academia and, with only a B.A. to my name, I get the left boot of hierarchy all the time. I see people who are mentally two cards short of a full deck get higher paying administration positions. Even folks with PhD’s can’t make a Power Point presentation and are too scared to admit it.

    My first reaction was to try harder, to be special. But being a genius is nothing these days without an alphabet soup at the end of your name, at least in official circles. That is where being a revolutionary, in the Jesus Way, is so much more freeing. My life is no longer measured by the standards set by men.


    “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it.”

  4. Mark Van Steenwyk on February 21st, 2008 10:43 am

    I’ve felt this struggle my whole life. But in my circles, I was surrounded by people who devalued “book learning.” I have family and friends that are serioiusly concerned for my soul because of my learning.

    Interestingly, I’ve always received criticism…even before I started college. And also interestingly, the more education I get, the less people criticize me for being an academic. Why? Because you can be very educated and still be humble, and you can be an arrogant prick and have little or no education. It is all about character.

    Education isn’t everything. But it is something. Seminary, for example, can teach you things like Greek…help you encounter though from around the world, help you learn how to do counseling, etc. Some of that stuff is hard to learn on your own. It is the difference between walking through Barnes and Noble deciding for yourself what would be good to learn and having discussions and training from people who have spent their entire adult lives focused on study. That is something. But it isn’t everything.

    The ideal for me would be to move back towards the old discipleship model of master/apprentice. It would be awesome if we could stop outsourcing discipleship to schools. But most attempts I’ve seen at doing in-house training suck, to be frank.

    On the flip side (lest you think I’m defending academia), I’m convinced that most of the people I knew at seminary probably shouldn’t have been there. Sometimes you get socially disconnected people who think that seminary will teach them how to relate with people. It doesn’t. Sometimes you get arrogant people who think that seminary entitles them to something. It doesn’t. Seminary is just a tool. If you don’t know how to use that tool usefully in the real world, it is worthless.

    So, here’s my bottom line. Everyone is called to minister. And everyone should “study to show themselves approved” to the ministry to which they are called. And we should never assume a cookie-cutter approach to what that should look like. I think seminaries can serve a role in that for some people. But seminary should never be about limiting ministry to a few, but instead part of someone’s discipleship journey. Some people have tons of wisdom and learning that can never be found in seminary.

    I’d much rather have you as a pastor, dave, than most of the people I met at seminary.

  5. dave on February 21st, 2008 12:36 pm

    For the record, I was one of those folks who was hard on Mark. Over the years of knowing him and seeing the fruit in his life (mostly the heart he has to minister to a group of people that our society has pretty much tossed to the side), I’ve softened my opinion of seminary (or ‘cemetery’, as I called back in the day). I think there is value in education, but quite honestly, if I had the opportunity to attend seminary, I don’t think I would. I think I’d enjoy myself and learn a lot, but if I invested all that money into it, at some point I’d feel like I need some sort of return on that money and would be likely to ’sell out’ to pay off my loans instead of pursuing what God has put before me.

  6. Mark Van Steenwyk on February 21st, 2008 2:17 pm

    A lot of people I knew in seminary struggled with the desire to “sell out” by working in ministries that they didn’t respect just to pay the bills. Most of them did just that…and slowly began to justify that things worked out for the best. But I wonder to myself: “what if people just did the sort of ministry they really wanted to do?” We’d certainly see a higher rate of ministry “failures.” But I also think we’d see something amazing happen.

  7. Michael Cline on February 21st, 2008 3:53 pm

    Which is why I’m glad God has brought people into my life like you Mark. My vision of ministry may not be yours per se, but I know that you will push me to not “sell out.” Keep bringing this up the next three years, and maybe, just maybe I’ll become a part of that “something amazing.”

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