Humility and Proper Confidence in One's Ministry

John ArmstrongThe Christian Minister/Ministry

I never cease to be amazed at how particular conservative schools, and some conservative role models, teach young pastors a type of certitude that lacks basic Christian humility. One could chalk this up to a faulty epistemology, which I believe to be the case, but it is actually much worse than getting your epistemology right. As an example, just this week I listened to a group of seminary students give their testimonies about what their school meant to them and what it had taught them during their time there. Several of the students made a point of saying that they hated this idea or that movement. One passionately declared his hope that every graduate of this seminary would be known for, “his hatred for liberalism, regardless of whether it came from the New Perspective or from the old liberalism.” After listening to this kind of rant for about an hour I grew increasingly sad as I listened to these very confident young men. Thankfully some were more gracious than others but there was a general contempt for the views of any others that they disagreed with theologically. There was also an arrogance that was striking in the way they spoke of what they believed and why they believed it.  Please don’t tell me that this kind of thinking does not create tragic pastoral ministries. I have encountered this type of certitude all across the nation, churches led by these kinds of young pastors who treat kindness and civility as if they were an inherent weakness.

One area in which these students expressed strong hatred was for any type of counseling that was not “biblical” enough. The word “biblical” (in regard to counseling) has become a kind of code-word for a particular kind of counseling that openly opposes a number of practical and useful counseling procedures that help real people with issues like depression and assorted personality disorders. This approach to “biblical counseling,” learned in a particular kind of emphasis, actually damages real lives and harms hurting people. As a friend of mine once put it, "These people are one breakdown short of reality."

There is a kind of subtle hubris in the kind of stories I heard last week. Thankfully, I seldom hear this in young seminary students, who are generally fearful and timid when they leave seminary. There was also a strident passion in the statements that I heard, a passion for the methods these students were given by their school. And this passion is strangely joined with a faulty certitude rooted in a rationalistic belief system. I thought that what was sadly lacking in the stories was obvious—a humble, deeply reflective assurance that comes from faith, hope and love held in true biblical tension. These men seemed so sure of themselves that I fear little else will ever appeal to them from outside their safe system until they suffer some intense difficulties that shake them lose from this kind of narrow training. This particular school appears to have given them a new kind of “fundamentalist” box that graduates can now work out of for years to come unless, of course, grace and mercy deliver them to the place where they can admit that they “know” far less than they presently proclaim on their way out of seminary.

I believe true assurance is essential to faithful biblical ministry but such assurance is definitely not rooted in my own grasp of a particular ministry method, hermeneutical or otherwise, or a in properly held system of theology, but rather in a living humble dependence upon Christ alone in the fulness of the Holy Spirit. There is a genuinely proper assurance for those who hold to the gospel and this kind of assurance is expressed in words like these: “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that eh is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him” (2 Timothy 1:12). What I heard on the CD I listened to last week was something other than this kind of humble assurance that the apostle speaks about so winsomely.