You must be a real dummy

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

By Charles Qualls

Did you know that one of the world’s best known Christian missionaries was considered to be a polymath? A polymath is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

Albert Schweitzer, whom I mentioned in my sermon last week, was eventually a Nobel Prize winner. He first made significant contributions in the musical world, and was advanced enough in organ and composition that the famous Charles-Marie Widor took him on as a student free of charge. Then, Schweitzer obtained his Ph.D. in theology and made significant contributions in his day to the studies of Pauline Theology and challenged some of the conventional understandings of Christ.

But he became convinced that he had a responsibility to help out in a French colony in Africa. His Lutheran missionary agency was only sending medical doctors at the time. So, he earned an M.D. and reapplied. They sent him to Africa where he established not only a medical practice, but also eventually built a regional compound of some seventy buildings where patients could be seen and helped.

Did you know that a former U.S. president, believed to have the highest I.Q. to have ever occupied the White House at the time — and eventually a Nobel Prize winner himself — has taught Sunday School in Baptist churches since he was a teenager. Even after holding office, this retired president has managed to average an 80 percent attendance rate in teaching his Sunday School class. Sometimes flying overnight from the other side of the world, so important was this privilege and responsibility to him of teaching.

Did you know that perhaps the best known Baptist spiritualist, maybe the only one recognized as an authority outside Baptist circles, started out as a New Testament professor? But he became convinced that he wanted to work in the spiritual classics and to work in the field of Spiritual Direction. So he went back to study again, obtaining his second Ph.D. This time in Church History, so that he could pore over the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and all of the greats ever since. Although I am sure that Glenn Hinson was fantastic in his brief, first career, it was in this second one that he left his legacy.

In our ongoing sermon series this week I speak to one lie I think the culture tells us: That you must be a real dummy in order to be a person of faith. I write to affirm that believing in God through Jesus Christ is not an indicator of mental deficiency. Nor of being a simpleton.

In 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25, Paul acknowledged that to many, the cross was folly or in some translations, “Foolishness.” I think his acknowledgment is helpful. It gets a bit philosophical before it finishes.

The apostle makes an important point, though. For all our questioning and probing, for all our yearning and reading, for all our intellectual pursuit of the problems with the faith — belief is just that. It’s faith.

Paul seems to say that if we try to bludgeon our faith into ourselves, or into anyone else by sheer force or determination, all the intellectual ability in the world won’t get the job done. For, as he who had sparred with some of the great Greek philosophers in forums across the empire had found, there are many who can punch conventional intellectual holes into the story of our faith at will.

So Paul acknowledged that for many, the faith in Christ just seems foolish. Doubts are not only natural but also predictable.

The great Frederick Buechner, one of my very favorite Christian authors, once said that “If you don’t have doubts, you’re either kidding yourself or are asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”

There may always be things you hesitate to believe, or other things you simply cannot understand. If that’s the case, you are keeping company with me, among others. Just don’t let anyone tell you for a minute that you must be a real dummy to be a person of faith.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.