On Monday I posted the first Article in a three-part series on Dangerous Calling and destructive themes that I've seen operating in the hearts of pastors (including my own).
2. I let biblical literacy and theological knowledge define my maturity.
This is related to the identity temptation but requires its own attention. It's quite easy in ministry to give into a subtle but significant redefinition of what spiritual maturity is and does. This definition has its roots in how we think about what sin is and does. Many pastors carry a false definition of maturity that results from the academic enculturation of seminary.
Since seminary tends to academize the faith, making it a world of ideas to be mastered, students easily buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about precision of theological knowledge and biblical literacy. But spiritual maturity is not something you do with your mind (although that is an important element). Maturity is about how you live your life. It'is possible to be theologically astute and immature. It'is possible to be biblically literate and in need of significant spiritual growth.
I was an honors graduate of a seminary. I won academic awards. I assumed I was mature and felt misunderstood and misjudged by anyone who failed to share my assessment. In fact, I saw those moments of confrontation as persecution that anyone faces when he gives himself to gospel ministry. At root I misunderstood sin and grace.
Sin is not first an intellectual problem. (But it does affect my intellect, as it does all parts of my functioning.) Sin is first a moral problem. It is about my rebellion against God and my quest to have, for myself, the glory due to him. Sin is not first about the breaking of an abstract set of rules. Sin is first and foremost about breaking relationship with God. Because I have broken this relationship, it is then easy and natural for me to rebel against God's rules.
So it's not just my mind that needs to renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reclamation of my heart is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification). Seminary, therefore, won't solve my deepest problem - sin. It can contribute to the solution, but it may also blind me to my true condition by its tendency to redefine maturity. Biblical maturity is never just about what you know but always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live.
Think of Adam and Eve. They didn't disobey God because they were intellectually ignorant of God's commands. They knowingly stepped over God's boundaries because they quested for God's position. The spiritual war of Eden was fought on the turf of the heart's desires. Consider David. He didn't claim Bathsheba as his own and plot to get rid of her husband because he was ignorant of God's prohibitions against adultery and murder. David acted because at some point he didn't care what God wanted. He was going to have what his heart desired no matter what.
Or think what it means to be wise. There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of your daily life. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to life transformation.
Even though I didn't know it, I walked into pastoral ministry with an unbiblical view of biblical maturity. In ways that now scare me, I thought I had arrived. So when my wife, Luella, would lovingly and faithfully confront me, it was not just that I was being defensive. By definition I thought she was wrong. And I became convinced she was the one with the problem. I used my biblical and theological knowledge to defend myself. I was a mess, and I had no idea.
Here's another short video clip that adds to this point. Thanks to DesiringGod for partnering with me to create these video resources: