Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (1)

Unlike me, John Hannah is skilled at making significant points with few words.  He’s a proverb-producing machine.  I hesitate to use the word “wit” in the title of this post because of its negative connotations in the previous post.  But it’s the best word for the title, and this time I mean good by it.

John Hannah taught my Winterim course on the Life and Writings of Jonathan Edwards, which just ended today.  I don’t want to draw an unripe conclusion, but off the top of my head I would say that he thinks more deeply than anyone I’ve ever taken a class from.  There are a lot of contributing factors to my impression: he’s taught for 40 years, he faces up to the hard questions (and asks the questions that you realize you should’ve been asking), his education is both deep and broad, and he’s a tremendous communicator who can verbally unfold the most difficult theological issues there are.  I’m sure that not everyone enjoyed the class as much as I did, but I think that most of the guys were greatly benefited.

I could talk about the class and about Jonathan Edwards and what he (Edwards) is teaching me about God, but there simply wouldn’t be a good place to start.  I’ve tried to share what I’m learning with various people over the past week, and it generally hasn’t worked.  So I’ll have to stew on it for a while before I say too much.

But meanwhile, some of Dr. Hannah’s proverbs are worth reflecting on.  He’s knowledgeable, passionate, devotional, jagged, relational, honest, and funny.  I was going to share some of his memorable statements throughout the week, but I didn’t have time to.  So here are some from Monday (I’ve provided the context in bold):

Course goals:  If you set your goals low enough, you can reach them every time.  So I’m aiming for existence.

Academic papers:  I don’t confuse bulk with significance.

Ambition:  We’re not meant to be significant or permanent.  Significance is the hobgoblin of insecure people.

Class reading:  Try to read before we come to class so that we do not share vacuousness.

Fellow professor after a student performed an impressive doctoral exam:   “For his age, he knows the Bible too well.  He must have neglected something.”

Henry Ford (unbeliever):  “Success is plodding from one failure to the next without a loss of enthusiasm.”

Preaching:  People will pay to be entertained, but not to be improved.

Teaching:  If you want to look intelligent, control the questions.

Passion:  Zeal without perspective leads to lunacy.  And it’s kind of hard to teach a lunatic.

Sovereignty:  I don’t believe that when a leaf falls to the ground, it strikes the earth in a random place.

Youth and giftedness:  You can have genius, but you can’t have wisdom and perspective without time.  Time brings pain, and pain brings perspective.

11 thoughts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (1)

  1. Good. When I entered DTS there was a distinction between Theology and Church History. Now they are joined as Theological Studies. Whereas I entered as a theology guy, I have gravitated toward history. My dissertation is historical and I will also be the church history guy in Samara, Russia when we make it out there. I’m glad DTS gives a little freedom to make those decisions. Feel free to write any time if you have questions.

  2. Jonathan: I was wondering if you had much contact with Dr. Hannah there since your focus is theology. That must be a real treat. Yes, I’m still considering DTS. I’m doing the Th.M. in theology here at TMS beginning this spring and I’ll still have to decide whether or not I want to do a Ph.D., but if I do, DTS is high on the list.

  3. Gun, thanks for posting this series. I’m glad you were able to attend the Edwards class. I audited it at DTS and fell in love with Edwards. I am very fortunate to have Dr. Hannah as the first reader for my dissertation. Are you still looking at coming to DTS?

  4. “I’m sure that not everyone enjoyed the class as much as I did…” Really? I was not aware that it was EVEN possible to not enjoy a class taught by Dr. Hannah!! :-)

    Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the class! Maybe we’ll get to take a look at your dad’s class notes!

  5. Thanks Gun for sharing this. “Youth and giftedness: You can have genius, but you can’t have wisdom and perspective without time. Time brings pain, and pain brings perspective.” Sometimes its really hard to have perspective when it seems like pain is all I see. Makes waiting (time) worth it.


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