One of the charges that is laid at my feet with some regularity is that I am an autodidact, unaccountable to no one, and that this unfortunate fact makes me pop off from time to time, and to do so in ways that are clean contrary to what is taught by the certified experts and gatekeepers.
There is a lot going on here, not the least of which is the confusion of certification with education. But that part of it is another topic for another day. For the present, I would like to present a brief explanation and defense for what I would describe as the biblical approach to being contrarian.
“I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:99-100).
This approach eliminates the cocksure sophomore as well as the argumentative crank. Having “more understanding than all my teachers” is admittedly a ensign that could be a banner flying high above a regiment of fools. Anybody who wants to live this way has to take great care in this regard. Throughout Scripture, we see this characteristic of the fool — to re-adapt the joke, you can always tell a fool, but you can’t tell him much (Prov. 1:22; Prov. 10:21).
But let us not affirm the consequent. A biblical contrarian and a fool both know more than their teachers, just as a cow and a cat both have four legs. And yet, a cat is not a cow — or so says this contrarian.
One example of me getting above myself that was recently used was my non-acceptance of the theory of relativity. Wilson is a preacher, not a physicist, the argument goes, and has no business pronouncing in areas outside his expertise. That is a good point, which is why I don’t do that.
A mathematician walked into a breakfast diner, and ordered three eggs over easy. (No, I am not changing the subject). After an appropriate lapse of time, his plate arrived, with two eggs over easy. When the mathematician objected, the cook pointed out that he was a professional cook, and he did not think that the mathematician had any business poking his nose in where he was not adequately trained. The mathematician countered with the argument that, while it was true that he could not cook an egg to save his soul, he was capable of counting them. In fact, when it came to counting eggs, their two disciplines overlapped and, if anyone had an advantage, it would be the mathematician.
When it comes to relativity (to take one small example from it), I recall a class where the refutation of “simultaneity” was being explained to us, and the whole thing amounted to the recognition that it is impossible for scientific observers to measure simultaneity. Because we can’t measure it, it isn’t — but this goes back, in an interesting modern form, to Protagoras, and his “man is the measure of all things.” But man is not the measure of all things. My immediate objection in class was that God knows all things immediately, and is not limited in the ways that we are. My question was “can God mark two things as occurring simultaneously”? The answer has to be that in order to maintain the point, we have to leave God out of it. But where do we get off doing that?
Go back to the passage from Psalm 119. Why does the psalmist know more than all his teachers? Why does he know more than the ancients? The answer is his dedication to the law of God. A man who remembers and holds fast to first principles will always be able to answer the man who is as credentialed as it gets . . . in third principles.
This objection was raised in response to my sermon on nullification, and all the same issues pertain there. I am happy to acknowledge that I am not a legal scholar, and I am not a professional historian, and so on, down the street and around the corner. But — and this is the heart of the issue — do you have to be a legal scholar to know the first principles of good and godly government? Of course not. One of the surest ways to lose good and godly government is to turn the whole thing over to the trained professionals which, come to think of it, is how we lost all our freedoms.
Some men are taught in terms of leaves and twigs, and other men are taught in terms of roots and trunks. If we study God’s Word, if we know and believe and live in terms of the sufficiency of Scripture, we will not be buffaloed by the experts.
Is this anti-intellectualism? Is it opposition to true scholarship? Of course not. True scholars know the limitations of their own profession, and are always open to intelligent contributions from outside their field, or from folks operating from within the areas of overlap. But the insecure ones get worked up over it. “By what authority do you . . .?” Remember than in Scripture, that’s the devil’s question.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, ESV).