I recognize that Paul’s original warning about “knowledge puffing up” (1 Cor. 8:1) was raised in a specific context in a controversy over meat being offered to idols. Still, 1 Corinthians 8:1 can be supplemented by enough similar admonitions and warnings elsewhere in Scripture to rightly be regarded as a general axiom (see Dt. 8:11-14; Ps. 131; Prov. 3:5; 16:19; 18:2; 21:4; 28:25-26; Hos. 13:6-7; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 12:16; 1 Pet. 5:5-6).  Knowledge brings with it a hazard: the potential for pride.  As much as Proverbs encourages the cultivation of knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom, we are still warned that most foolish of all is the one who deems himself wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12; cf. Prov. 3:7, 12:15; Rom. 12:3, 16).

This poses a special challenge for those training for ministry, for those cultivating their biblical and theological knowledge and honing their ministerial skills. It also poses a challenge for those doing the training!

How does one increase their knowledge and maintain a humility of mind?

There are basic, fundamental answers to this question offered traditionally: by maintaining one’s walk with God, by being regular in one’s audit of sinful penchants, maintaining a regular regimen of confession (to God and to others, particularly those whom we have sinned against), and constantly being reminded by God’s word as to how lowly we truly are when we look upward to God, rather than succumbing to the temptation to just compare ourselves with others. These are all good and helpful. I might add that being married, and having boys all too equipped and eager to remind you of your flaws, can also be “helpful” in maintaining humility!

Let me suggest one other avenue, which we have taken seriously in our curriculum at Biblical: engaging other Christian traditions that differ in perspective from one’s own, with a view to learning what they have to contribute (rather than just scouring them for flaws to critique). There is something about engaging other viewpoints – even if one limits oneself deliberately to other Bible-believing viewpoints – that has a way of reminding us that we never “see it all.” God is bigger, of course, than any box we can create.

Putting oneself in the place of learner – being a lifelong learner – may assist in establishing the “humility of mind” that God’s Word insists upon.

There is a challenge, a paradox, here. I’d like to hear your thoughts, recommendations, and experience on this.  It seems to me that learning is a good thing, commended by Scripture. It’s when one stops learning – especially, when one regards oneself as being in no further need of learning – that even the learning one has up to then accumulated becomes a problem.  How does it seem to you? . . . 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum


0 # Paul J. Dunbar 2012-01-16 14:45
I remember when I pastored my first church, I had a member (a senior citizen) who told me one day that there was nothing I could preach about that he had not already heard and there was nothing that I could teach him that he already knew. This has stayed with me in over 30 years of pastoral ministry as a warning to my own heart. I never want to get to the point in my life where I think there is nothing left for me to learn, but I want to keep growing in my knowledge of God.

Thanks, Todd, for this blog!
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0 # R. Todd Mangum 2012-01-18 16:19
I have to wonder, Paul, how many people sitting in our churches THINK what your one parishioner did but just don't have the temerity to actually say it out loud. . . .
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0 # mahlon smith 2012-01-20 19:49
Dear Dr. Mangum:
You are so right. When the Lord called me by His grace to believe on Him, my family and I were part of a Charismatic fellowship. Through my childhood I was involved in Pentecostal/Holiness Christianity. Then when I went off to Bible College I got exposed to more "Bible Fellowship" and "Independent Baptist" churches. When I got married, became involved with various Reformed-minded Churches. Then once I had graduated Biblical, I ended up being ordained Southern Baptist in 2003. I am pastoring a wonderful Southern Baptist Church here in Oklahoma. Though I love Southern Baptist Life, I can't forget how much those other streams of Evangelical Christianity have contributed to my theological, practical and spiritual walk with the Lord. The past 27 years of walking with Christ testifies that I am a product of God's grace poured into my life by those that He situated along the way.
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0 # R. Todd Mangum 2012-01-20 19:54
Mahlon -- great to hear from you! Thanks for the comments; and trust you're doing well. I remember your studiousness -- so pleased to hear of your work as a co-laborer in the SBC.
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0 # Joel Kolb 2012-01-23 08:16
I was just having a conversation with someone over the weekend who was wondering how i pursue my studies and maintain a spirituality that is "heart" and not just "head." I have had numerous people express concerns that seminary would somehow ruin me.

To that i would say that Biblical is quite different from the way I hear seminaries typically described. The very fact that you are openly adressing this question demonstrates that. I do not find the indoctrination ususally accociated with seminary. It is more like a dicovery process. Also the cohorts and the relational aspect of the LEAD program helps to balance the intellectual aspects. We grow in love as we grow in knowledge.

Thanks for the article and a hearty affirmation from a current student!
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0 # R. Todd Mangum 2012-01-24 16:33
Very encouraging to hear, Joel; I very much appreciate such a "hearty affirmation" from a student "on the inside," seeing "up close and personal" what Biblical is "really" like. Very encouraging.
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