Confessions on the Pride of Expertise

Confessions on the Pride of Expertise March 4, 2021

I’ve been tweeting some snarky things about the cult of “expertise” in academia, the proclivity for rigid gatekeeping of its members. The impetus for my hot-take commentary is the recent incident involving the Veritas Forum’s shameful disinviting Neil Shenvi from an event on race and Christianity at which he was to debate Dr. Willie Jennings. You can read about all of that in this report by the Christian Post and Rod Dreher’s take at the American Conservative, so I won’t rehash the details. At the end of the day, a good cancelation will probably prove a well-deserved boon for Neil’s popularity. In any case, Neil has, per usual, handled the whole fiasco with grace.

My aim here is to make clear that my, I think appropriate, snark does not spring purely from frustration. Nor does it flow from a prideful assumption that I could never succumb to the arrogance that sometimes accompanies intellectual achievement. And of course, I say sometimes. I think of some of my academic heroes like Robbie George or the late Roger Scruton who never have (or did) demonstrated a superiority complex despite their evident brilliance.

Rather, my open disdain for the pride of expertise comes from my own experience of the same deep within myself. Indeed, it was probably lying dormant within me, festering for some time before I smelled its stench.

A few years ago, when I was about midway through both of my graduate programs (one law, one theology), I was teaching adult Sunday school classes at my church. At the time, I had taught 20-week courses on various topics, the Reformation, Psalm 119, and others. But I was beyond excited when I was permitted by the elders to lead one on the doctrine of God, one of my favorite subjects. I decided not to sell the members of my class (about 30-40 people) short, but rather to dive right into the elements (and language) of classical theism. This required devoting several weeks to classical metaphysics and related themes. It was a blast! I was proud to report to fellow seminarians at the time that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the people were eating it up, and finding comfort in the a se, immutable, impassible God. There was no need to dumb it down, I said, and I think I was right.

In the course of teaching that class, which lasted longer than any I had yet taught, I noticed two things, one about certain attendees of the course, and one about myself; both of which were deeply convicting.

First, I noticed that the most teachable members of the class were, in general, the least educated. Those of the professional class with advanced degrees were often resistant to the new information they were encountering, and it was new for everyone there. It was the latter group that most often transitioned from inquisitive to argumentative in the course of a lecture. They were the one’s trying to trip me up or asking loaded questions, and etc.

I once had a professor who advised me that the only way to really get an education was to allow one’s self to be taken, so to speak, by a course. That is, to embrace with an open mind, absent ulterior motives, what the teacher was trying to convey. As soon as you attempt to make it about yourself, your own interests imported into the course, you lose the chance to learn. I have been guilty of this myself on more than one occasion, and I gained some sympathy for educators whilst teaching on the doctrine of God. I vowed to never again do the same thing, though I was not always successful. Selfishness, self-absorption, and navel gazing are difficult habits to shed.

The second thing I came to grips with in that particular Sunday school class, which now seems so long ago, in many ways flowed from the first. I realized my own pride predicated on my own expertise, such as they were, which were artificially elevated in the context of a class full of average Christians in an average size church.

One Sunday morning, I was lecturing through my material, which I always dutifully prepared and labored over–I thought, purely to God’s glory. If I remember right, I was making some point that hinged on certain metaphysical categories previously covered, which I knew were archaic and obscure to most of my listeners. I asked a question to that effect, expecting no answer to come. A chance to, once again, prove my intellectual prowess–a subconscious thought I later unearthed. To my surprise, a lady on the front row–a sweet and attentive but decidedly blue collar lady–answered the query without hesitation, reciting back to me, almost verbatim, various Aristotelian signifiers. I was, in that moment, both stunned and overjoyed. Something was getting through; it was sticking! Almost immediately, another attendee used the preceding comments as a springboard to launch into even further commentary that evidenced true absorption of the material. Again, I was, in that moment, elated but also surprised. It was a good and memorable class, one in which the Lord graciously allowed me to see some fruit of my labor.

It was only later in the subsequent week that he also graciously revealed my own pride. As I reflected on my own framing of that particular class, the questions imbedded therein, I realized that my motives were not entirely honorable. I had to admit to myself, and confess to God, that I had arranged a significant portion of my months-long discourse in a way that elevated myself, that allowed me opportunity to exhibit my own learning, my own “expertise,” in an environment where I knew I was safe from real challenge or contradiction. In truth, I had no rival in education or knowledge present. And I knew it. But that Sunday, a bus driver and a janitor had proven they could just as easily and swiftly–maybe more swiftly, indeed, I had agonized over the material for nigh on a year before I relayed what they had picked up in a few short weeks by then–grasp the decidedly good and true and orthodox knowledge I was conveying. They weren’t just parroting it back to me, they were becoming conversant.

On the one hand I was genuinely and immensely proud of them, on the other I had been arrogant to think I had acquired something special, that I was an indispensable gatekeeper and herald of otherwise inaccessible knowledge, and that I would get to play the part of “expert;” they the part of  dutiful but dumb disciple. All of this in the context of a Sunday morning class. How shameful! My stomach was in knots about the whole dynamic for the entire week. I hope, as I intended, that I was able to fully abandon such an attitude, but I quickly realized that I was, in fact, wrestling with such a thing. Post-confession, I saw it crop up all the time. I loved playing the part of expert, even on the seminary campus amongst more (on paper) able interlocutors. It was all a very gross attitude. I must have been a terribly pompous, unenjoyable person at the time.

All of this to say, I have seen first hand, in the depths of my own depravity, the arrogance that “expertise”–which I contend is wrongly defined by the prevailing opinion–sometimes breeds. I hope that I shall never again find myself under its yoke. This does not entail an abandonment of intellectual rigor, academic standards, or any of the rest. we don’t have to accept all arguments, all claims as equal. We aren’t required to entertain hogwash.

But it does entail that we, no matter what we attain at that level, never become so prideful that we fancy ourselves sole guardians of the truth, unattainable to less credentialed people. It means we don’t make a cult out of expertise and its companions. It means that we accept truth from whatever vessel delivers it, and that we don’t avoid said delivery just because it threatens our self-contrived self-importance. Unfortunately, I consider the theological expert class within greater evangelicalism to be the worst offenders in this regard, which cuts against their stated mission, to protect and defend and expound the deposit of truth delivered once for all to the church. This is lamentable, but I don’t lament it from a posture of pride, like the Pharisee in Luke 18. I lament it knowing that I am that man.


Image credit: Unsplash/@vm32

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

60 responses to “Confessions on the Pride of Expertise”

  1. Christians – coming from a slave morality – are always so obsessed with bringing down and levelling those they perceive as having power or expertise over them. This suspicion and envy of expertise has led to a general mistrust and disdain of expertise in our society at a critical time when it will be experts who get us out of this mess of a pandemic.

    Worst of all, this Christian disdain of expertise comes out of nothing more than a deep feeling of inferiority, envy and ressentiment.

  2. Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Cheers|

  3. Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and exposure! Keep up the superb works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to blogroll.

  4. I do agree with all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for newbies. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  5. Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  6. I think other site proprietors should take this website as an model, very clean and great user genial style and design, as well as the content. You are an expert in this topic!

  7. I have been exploring for a bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts in this sort of space . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this site. Studying this information So i am satisfied to convey that I have a very good uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I such a lot undoubtedly will make certain to do not fail to remember this site and give it a look on a constant basis.

  8. I’m not sure why but this website is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  9. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism orr copyright infringement? My site has a lot of unique
    cntent I’ve either authored myself or ooutsourced but it looks lke a lot of it is popping it up all over thhe internet without my authorization. Do you know any ways
    to help redduce content from being ripped off? I’d really
    appreciate it.

  10. Mining crypto is hard. Investing in crypto is risky. Too many of us are left out of the cryptocurrency revolution. Pi makes crypto mining easy, our Breakthrough tech allows you to mine on your phone without draining your battery.

  11. Usually I do not learn post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, quite nice post.

  12. If you are like a lot of people you can simply overlook this. The real truth comes with being honest with yourself and your goals. Generally this will lead to a mistaken and unproductive life.

  13. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic
    to be actually something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking
    forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

    asmr 0mniartist

  14. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be grateful to you.

  15. There are certainly a variety of details like that to take into consideration. That could be a great level to deliver up. I provide the thoughts above as general inspiration however clearly there are questions just like the one you bring up the place the most important factor will probably be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around issues like that, however I’m certain that your job is clearly identified as a good game. Each boys and girls really feel the impression of just a second’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  16. I’ve been exploring for a little for any high quality articles or blog posts in this kind of area . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately stumbled upon this site. Studying this information So i’m glad to convey that I’ve a very good uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed. I most without a doubt will make certain to don’t disregard this website and provides it a look on a constant basis.

  17. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I’m very glad to see such great info being shared freely out there.

  18. Create blog articles will valuable information that no one
    else would give away. This can help regulate your blood pressure level and produce it to a
    normal level. However, if you utilize tall clients or clients of varying
    height and size, you may appreciate a massage table that
    is certainly longer than the standard.

  19. I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  20. Pretty section of content. I just stumbled
    upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed
    account your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access
    consistently quickly.

  21. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  22. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  23. I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  24. Hеllo Τhere. I fоund yoսr webhlog uѕing msn. That is a very smartly ᴡritten article.
    Ι’ll make sᥙre to bookmarkk іt and come back to learn more
    of your usefսl information. Thamk yⲟu f᧐r the post.
    І’ll сertainly return.

  25. I just could not leave your site before suggesting that I extremely enjoyed the usual information an individual provide in your visitors? Is going to be again ceaselessly in order to check out new posts.

  26. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

error: Content is protected !!