♫’This post is making fun of yoooouuu!’♫
People talk about respect being something one earns.
I suppose there are different types of respect, and different means by which people earn it. If you want to be respected as a chef, you design and cook dishes that taste good. If you want to be respected as an engineer, you build things that are safe, strong, functional, and hopefully, within budget. If you want to be respected as a teacher, you have to be both knowledgeable about your topic, and be able to communicate information as well as your passion about it to others; you also have to be a lifelong student yourself and ready to admit when you don’t know something.
If you want to be respected for your ideas, that is, as a thinker, you have to prove in the first place that you can think. We humans have been gifted with something unique to us–I won’t argue that it is language, per se, because plenty of scientists argue that other species have ‘language’. I am not qualified to debate that. But something we do have, and it in its turn demonstrates that with language we can do something other species cannot–we can talk about ideas, and when we do, we have a means by which to immortalize, commit to memory, for both history and posterity, those ideas–the development, the discussion, the disagreement, the breakthroughs, the dead-ends, the triumphs, the failures, the lessons learned or ignored–in writing. Writing is essential to intellectual pursuit and progress in all the disciplines: from mathematics to philosophy to history to molecular biology, and everything in between, we work with ideas and through problems, publish the process (and results) for the benefit or scrutiny of our fellow man, and they criticize, correct, praise, learn from and build upon what has been done, and add more to the ever-expanding library in the Marketplace of Ideas, the forum of the Great Dialogue.
Christian theologians and ministers, above all, should appreciate the inherent value of writing, and its counterpart blessing, reading. As a ‘people of the Book’, we and the Jews worship a deity who chose to reveal Himself through the written Word, which by His Spirit He inspired human authors to commit to stone, vellum and papyri, and which through His Providence He preserved across the ages by human agents. We must be thankful that He has made His will so very clear, so permanent, so accessible. And we must appreciate that reading and writing well, two disciplines that go hand-in-hand, ought to be respected, and indeed cultivated, by all who want to engage in the Marketplace of Ideas as capable, effective Christian witnesses.
Not only must we read well to be able to approach God’s Word as He intended, but also, if we are influential, in any way, in the Church, from Bible-study leaders to seminary professors, we have to be able to express the truths of God clearly to those who know Him, as those learning from us have to be equipped to testify in the world. The best way to prepare, and keep our minds sharp, for such responsibilities is to engage with ideas, with the treasures at the heart of the gospel, as well as with the written gems of the Church’s great minds from the past centuries up to now, throughout our lives–and in writing, as we do in school.
When we discuss things that matter, we have to know what others are saying, and what they mean. And we have to ensure they are able to do the same–we have to make ourselves intelligible, and prove that we understand our colleagues and especially our opponents. We have to choose our own words as carefully as we listen to those of other people. We have to know how to discern a speaker’s or writer’s own level of knowledge, his presuppositions, the influences on his perspective and philosophical approach, the things which inform his worldview; we also have to be able to recognize, articulate, defend, and if necessary, amend, our own. We have to know how to listen, read, examine, and analyze–and do all these things competently. And, likewise, to respond in a meaningful way, we must know how to express ourselves well, and we learn to do that by writing.
Imagine my surprise when I discover that–not one, not two, but at least three clergymen, with advanced degrees from a reputable seminary, men older than myself, with Masters of Divinity, cannot read!