by Keith Keyser
The following quote appeared in a recent discussion of dispensationalism by a well-known
Bible teacher: “Many of these men [i.e. early proponents of dispensationalism] were
self-taught in theology and were professionals in secular occupations. Darby and Scofield,
for example, were attorneys, and Larkin was a mechanical draftsman … Unfortunately some
of these early framers of dispensationalism were not as precise or discriminating as they
might have been had they had the benefit of a more complete theological education.
It is unfortunate that a highly capable author, in an otherwise excellent book, makes such
a statement! Sadly, the above sentences reflect a prevalent attitude in the
education-crazed ranks of twentieth-century evangelicalism. It is commonly believed in
many quarters that in order to serve God, one most first obtain “formal
training” in theology and the Scriptures; this, of course, requires attendance at a
Bible College or Seminary. While it is not my intent to defame such institutions (for they
can prove helpful in their place), I do balk at the idea that formal theological study is
a prerequisite for Christian service. This common notion finds no support in Scripture,
and moreover, erodes the truths of the priesthood of all believers, the exercise of
spiritual gifts, and theteaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16: 12-15) Instead,
this idea finds its roots in the modern preoccupation with academic attainment.
An examination of the credentials of the early apostles shows us that God has not made
formal education a mandatory requirement for His servants. Among the twelve we find
several businessmen, including fishermen and a tax-collector. As far as the Bible reveals,
we do not know of any of the twelve who were formally instructed in theology. In fact, the
defining characteristic of the early apostles is summed up by the impression that the
Sanhedrin received: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived
that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them,
that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, emphasis added.)
Undoubtedly, someone will cite the example of Paul as a violation of this principle.
Certainly, Saul of Tarsus was educated at the feet of the great rabbinic scholar Gamaliel.
I would direct the reader, however, to Paul’s summation of his post-conversion theological
education: “For I neither received it [i.e. the Gospel] of man, neither was I taught
[it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ … But when it pleased God … to reveal His
Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with
flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but
I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.” (Gal. 1: 12,15-17.) Like his
compatriots Peter and John, Paul’s preparation for Christian service consisted of time
spent with the Lord Jesus.
The belief that a formal course of study in theology is essential for a right
understanding of the Bible contradicts Scripture. In John 16, the Lord Jesus unequivocally
showed that the professor of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. (vs. 12-16) The divinely
prescribed means of preparing Christians consists of prayerful study of God’s Word. The
local assembly has been selected as the place of instruction for the believer (see for
example, Eph. 4:11-16.) Unfortunately, many local assemblies are not giving adequate place
to systematic instruction of the young people in their ranks. Furthermore, many gifted
brethren are not exercising their gift, nor training their younger brothers and sisters in
the doctrines of the Bible. The local assembly needs to reoccupy its position as the place
where believers are taught and edified.
Throughout the history of the Church God has used both educated and uneducated men and
women to do His will. He has sometimes used highly intelligent Christians such as Martin
Luther, George Whitfield, J.N, Darby and B.B. Warfield to accomplish His purposes. On
other occasions the Lord of the Harvest sovereignly used unlettered men like Harry
Moorehouse, D.L. Moody, and Billy Sunday. He delights to use “the foolish things of
the world to confound the wise.” (I Cor. 1:27) This is not to say that there are no
prerequisites for Christian service. If we are to be used of God we must first emulate
Mary and sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 10:39-42) Proverbs affirms that
“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”-, consequently, the potential
servant of Christ must spend a great deal of time alone with the All-wise Son of God.
(Prov. 9:10 ) Our usefulness to God will be measured more in the time of our prayer and
Bible study with the Lord Jesus, rather than our academic transcripts. Serious Bible
reading with Godly teachers in the local assembly will bear more eternal dividends than
mere occupation with academic minutiae.