Concerning Theological Training
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man (Vol. 1)
Witness Lee & the Local Churches Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”
In our three-page newspaper ad of October 8th, we included the writings of five seminary graduates, plus one from Melodyland School of Theology who lacks only a thesis, to indicate that we are not at all devoid of men with solid, reputable theological training. The respective seminaries they attended together with dates of graduation and degrees received are indicated. In spite of this, the Bible Answer Man on his October 15th broadcast said that he knows of no one in the local church who has the qualifications of a Greek or Hebrew scholar. All of them studied Greek and Hebrew. Bill Duane has had six years of Greek and three years of Hebrew; Ron Kangas has had five years of Greek. Moreover, the Bible Answer Man either ignorantly or purposely belittles this record by alleging, “They may have had one from Dallas, a drop-out from Fuller, and one man from Princeton.” But, we ask, is this fair and honest? He certainly owes an apology.
There are more among us who are seminary graduates, and we do not despise their capabilities and qualifications; but we have no confidence whatever that their training and theological background alone enables them to interpret the Scriptures. With this we take issue with the Bible Answer Man, who continually refers to his knowledge and training in the biblical languages and theology, and requires others to have the same in order to understand the Scripture.
Those who have been outstanding throughout history in opposing God and His move on the earth have been those who were well-versed in the letters and doctrines of Scripture. The scribes of the Old Testament and the contemporaries of Jesus were the “fundamental” theologians of their day. In Matthew 2 they knew exactly from the Scriptures where Christ should be born, quoting with precision the letter of Scripture in Micah 5:2, but they made no move whatever to go to Bethlehem, as the wise men did, to contact the living Christ themselves (Matt.2:1-8). Despite their knowledge of the Scripture, these early theologians failed to recognize Christ, but rather conspired to kill Him, condemned Him to death, delivered Him to be crucified, and mocked Him while he was on the cross. It was upon the scribes, the theologians, and the Pharisees that Jesus pronounced the terrible woes of Mathew 23, for they “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” neither entering in themselves, nor suffering others to enter (v. 13). They, for the most part, have acted in like manner from that day to this.
It was the same scribes who were moved with indignation when they saw the wonderful things that Jesus did and the children crying, Hosanna to the Son of David (Matt. 21:15). Today the Lord’s children are again crying out their praises and calling on His name in the local churches, and the modern scribes are raising their eyebrows, moved with indignation. They need another Bible lesson like Jesus gave those scribes of old. He said, “Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matt. 21:16). They certainly had read those words many times, but they had no up-to-date revelation. Neither do many theologians today. For the Father has “hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25).
Concerning Jesus, the Jews marveled, saying, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:15). He as a man was taught of God, just as His followers may be. The scribes, the theologians, marveled concerning His greatly used disciples, Peter and John, when they “perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men… and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:5, 13). They also were taught deeply of God (take, for example, Peter’s message at Pentecost). Paul, on the other hand, may be considered an eminent theologian, for he sat at the feet of the learned doctor, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). But before he could know the risen Christ and His kingdom, he must be smitten with blindness on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-8), signifying his state before God, however well-versed in the Scripture. Later, Paul declared “that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, nor was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). Would that all theologians could be “blinded” and then taught “by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It is a widely recognized fact that the source of many godless, devilish, modernistic teachings in Christendom is the theological seminaries. They began as fundamental, Bible-based institutions, but drifted by gradual steps into extreme liberalism. Even from the conservative seminaries of today, there are many who could testify that they entered with some amount of living faith and joy in the Lord, but left full of knowledge, dry, and barren. In contrast, we have many saints in the local churches who have affirmed that they have learned more in a few months in the church life than in all their years in Bible school or seminary.
The greatly respected and widely-read Christian teacher, Watchman Nee, who had no theological training, said:
There is a word in the Bible which is beyond Greek or Hebrew. It is the word of God. To know the language is one thing, but to know God’s word is a totally opposite matter. Some can only serve with the doctrines of the Bible. They have no way to minister the Lord Jesus because they live in the realm of the letter. The words of the Lord are spirit; they are therefore beyond the reach of one’s mind or cleverness to understand or to propagate. A man with spirit must learn anew how to listen to the word of God. (The Ministry of God’s Word, pp. 85, 99, 109)
William Law, an outstanding Christian minister of the 18th century, who was a great influence upon Andrew Murray, had much insight and utterance concerning the learning of theology. He has this to say in his book, The Power of the Spirit, published by Christian Literature Crusade:
The Bible teacher and religious leader who gain and hold a church position through intellectual attainments and oratorical skills can be said to differ from lesser men only as the serpent differed from the other beasts of the field – in that it was more subtle (p.41). As soon as any man trusts to intellectual abilities, skill in languages, or human wisdom as the true means of edification and divine knowledge, he gives himself up to certain delusion (p.47). Because natural genius and human wisdom can feed on no other food than the deceptive fruit of that ancient tree of knowledge. What a gross ignorance, both of man’s need and Christ’s salvation, to run to Greek and Hebrew schools to learn how to put off Adam and to put on Christ! Let then the clever architect of words, the opinion-broker, the worshipper of human reason, and every zealous builder of religious systems be told that the thirst and pride of being learnedly wise in the things of God is keeping him grossly ignorant of divine truth (pp. 51-53). In the present church, the tree of life is hissed at as the visionary food of extremists, and.the tree of knowledge, has the eyes and hearts of priests and people, and is thought to do as much good to Christians as it did evil to the first inhabitants of Paradise (p.60)
This is the first of five articles in this Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”