Smart is Not a Fruit
Leave it to Reformed people to miss the point. When Paul describes the body of Christ as a body, part of which includes hands, ears, and so forth, we are quick to mark our territory — we are the brain of the church. We are the ones who are so rightly careful about our theology. The great minds of the church have been Reformed, and one could certainly argue that the greatest mind, theological or otherwise, ever to grace our North American shores was one Jonathan Edwards.
There is no question the man had a towering intellect. We would be wise to sit at his feet and learn from him. Edwards on the will is unanswerable genius. Edwards on the Trinity will make your head spin. Edwards was a titanic mind whose brilliance was overshadowed only by his earnest and passionate heart. Should we embrace the theological wisdom of Edwards? Of course, by all means. It would be better still, however, if we would just taste of his soul’s devotion.
We do not, of course, increase the fervor of our emotions by dimming the capacity of our brains. Neither, however, will we ever bear the fruit of the Spirit if the seed of the Word is planted only in the rocky soil of our brains rather than the fertile soil of the heart. We surely must know Him to love Him. We surely must study Him to know Him. But no one has studied Him more thoroughly than the Devil, and it hasn’t done him a bit of good.
Just a few weeks ago, as I write, Reformation Bible College opened its doors for the first time. The first class I taught has a rather pretentious name: ST101 Theological Prolegomena. This highbrow title translates roughly into “Introduction to Systematic Theology.” It is the study we do before we begin our study.
Historically, such a class would begin, logically enough, with the doctrine of revelation, exploring how God reveals Himself in His Word and nature. It would consider issues of the canon and various theories of inspiration. We will, eventually, get to those important issues. In another semester, we will turn our attention to what we call “theology proper,” the actual study of God’s nature and at tributes. Despite the subject matter of that future class, we began this first class wit h a classic work, The Holiness of God.
My fear, as I looked out at that first class, was that we would fall into the trap that has captured so many Reformed people. I feared that even with the glorious truths of Scripture, we might end up tickling ears. I would be guilty of ear tickling if, in my teaching, I encouraged the students to conclude, “What a smart person I am,” rather than, “What a glorious gospel has rescued such a wretched sinner as me.” I wanted, through studying this book together, for us all to look to the mirror of His character and glory so that we would never lose sight of just how vile we are. I wanted us to understand something of the scope of His transcendence lest we should ever be tempted to conclude that our studies had reached into the heavens like the Tower of Babel. I feared for my students precisely because I remembered what I was like as a student. What a clever Devil we battle with, who can turn our study of sound theology into an occasion for pride.
We will not begin to get better until we embrace this obvious truth: smart is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. Of course we are to love God with all our minds. But we are to love God with all our minds, not merely understand Him. When our knowledge cannot traverse the distance from our heads down to our hearts, we are suffering from spiritual emptiness. We will not begin to get better until we come to embrace this obvious truth: we come into the kingdom not as scholars or students, but as children.
We will not, in short, get better unless and until we learn to stop pursuing academic respectability and start seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We are to put behind us all our earthly worries. We are to stop seeking those things that the Gentiles seek.
The fruit of love, in the end, is the fruit of the Spirit. Love begets love. Love bears joy. Love bestows peace. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control: all these break forth like the great bunches of grapes the twelve Israelite spies found in the Promised Land. None of these, however, come forth from the barren soil of our intellectual curiosity, far less the scorched earth of intellectual pride.
Edwards was a great man of God. He was so, however, because he aspired to be a man of God rather than a great man. That his descendants were senators and governors, professors and college presidents, meant not a thing to him. That they would humbly follow the carpenter’s Son from Galilee — that was what he hoped, prayed, and worked for. That is the fruit of charity.