I have a theory that God delights to use uneducated men as shepherds in situations where we turn the pursuit of God into the empty traditions of religion. Here are some examples of such men:
- A.W. Tozer
- Highest education: a few weeks of high school
- John Bunyan
- Learned only to read and write – no formal higher education of any kind
- Never learned Greek or Hebrew
- “The Pilgrim’s Progress – ‘next to the Bible, perhaps the world’s best-selling book . . . translated into over 200 languages.'” -Piper
- Dwight Moody
- without higher education, founded three schools;
- without theological training, reshaped Victorian Christianity;
- without radio or television reached 100 million people.
- Charles Spurgeon
- Little formal education (some college)
- Began preaching at 16
- William Carey
- No formal education – self taught
- Andrew Fuller
- Hudson Taylor
- No theological education
- Some medical education
- Gathered missionaries which other mission societies rejected as too uneducated
- John Newton
- 2 years of boarding school, after which he went to sea with his father
- Self educated in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew
- David Brainerd
- Expelled from seminary in his third year
- Leonard Ravenhill
- Educated at Cliff College in England
- Said it was advantageous for pastors to not attend Bible school
- Yet taught himself for a time at Bethany College of Missions
John Owen (who not only attended but taught seminary) believed that the first and main purpose of all of a student’s studies and meditations is to cultivate communion with God. He says that the study of scriptures, “should always be conducted in order to learn from them our duty and, understanding that, let it proceed to practice holy communion with God as we experience to the depths of our souls the power of the Spirit mightily manifesting in us His grace and light.” Without this, he says, “our studies are useless.”
If there were seminaries which taught God-besottedness (such as Owen desired of all theological learning), I wonder if Christ’s Church would so often stand in need of uneducated lay-ministers. Regardless of my speculations, we can be confident of this: that if seminaries will not produce such men, then God will supply his Church with them out of his own stores. As Richard Baxter puts it;
As to supply of pastors, Christ will take care of that. … He who himself undertook the work of our redemption, and bore our transgressions, and hath been faithful as the chief Shepherd of the Church, will not lose all his labor and suffering for want of instruments to carry on his work … he will provide men to be his servants and ushers in his school, who shall willingly take the labor on them, and rejoice to be so emplyed, and account that the happiest life in the world which you account so great a toil, and would not exchange it for all your ease and carnal pleasure; but for the saving of souls, and the propagating of the gospel of Christ, will be content to bear the burden and heat of the day; and to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ in their bodies; and to work while it is day; and to do what they do with all their might; and to be the servants of all, and not to please themselves, but others, for their edification; and to become all things to all men, that they may save some; and to endure all things for the elect’s sake; and to spend and be spent for their fellow-creatures; though the more they love, the less they should be beloved, and should be accounted their enemies for telling them the truth. Such pastors will Christ provide his people, after his own heart.
Or if you prefer, consider John’s teaching to the religious teachers of his day;
And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Perhaps best of all is the teaching of Jeremiah:
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.
God promises to raise up the men he needs in order for his church to succeed. Sometimes he raised them through seminaries, sometimes he doesn’t. Blessed be the name of the Lord.