Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (4)

Part 1 – Monday’s quotes
Part 2 – Tuesday’s quotes
Part 3 – Wednesday’s quotes

Here are some loose-but-accurate quotes from the fourth day of my Winterim class on Jonathan Edwards (Thursday, January 11).  Again, the context is in bold.  Keep in mind that all of these statements were made in a specific atmosphere and context.  Also, the shorter the quote, the better its chances of being verbatim.  That being said, I’m a painstaking note-taker and I’m working hard to represent Dr. Hannah accurately even in the longer quotes, especially since I’m publicly posting statements that he made in a classroom.  I trust that some will be helpful to you.

Understanding the Trinity:  Anyone who works for any amount of time in the Trinity becomes schizophrenic.  Or suicidal.

When to leave a compromising seminary?  Don’t be the first rat off the ship, and don’t be the last.

Student question:  You’ve said that Christians in Edwards day weren’t given to personal sharing.  But did they examine themselves?  Did Edwards look back on his life?  Answer:  Edwards did look back, but he did not look back at the minutiae of his life.  He looked back to note God’s good pleasure on his life and his progress in that pleasure.  It was a spiritual exercise, not a functional exercise.  My conclusion is that evangelicalism is a 19th century revivalistic expression of excessive self-possession and individualism.  We say it’s not about us, but we think a lot about us, our happiness, and the will of God.  The Bible never tells us to seek the will of God.  It tells us to do it.  The will of God is not a focus for me.  Character is a focus for me.  If you have character, you’ll know what to do.  Use your head and make decisions based on your head.  The will of God is the commands and imperatives of Scripture.

Value of history:  As a historian, you get to look at now in light of what was before, and it tends to trivialize what is now.  Preachers love to say, “This is the key…”  But if it wasn’t the key for the early church which brought an empire to its knees, why is it a key now that we’re losing?

Need and ministry:  Need does not drive me, because the need is too big.

Ministry, missions, and decisions:  There are missionaries who have returned to the States and said, “I never wanted to be a missionary.  But my pastor told me that I would please God more if I went to the mission field.”  I don’t believe in doing something heroic for God.  I believe in obedience.  I think that mid-life crisis is the realization that we have followed the voices of other people rather than the voice that was really within us, and God was with us the entire time.  He was speaking all the time, but we didn’t really believe that He was good.  We believed that He was 98% good, which meant that if we were 100% happy, it must be sinful.  I once asked a 98-year-old man, “What’s the best thing about being 98?”  He said, “No peer group pressure.”  Don’t live your life in someone else’s expectations.

Jonathan Edwards’ writing:  His arguments are few, bluntly put, and endlessly repeated.

Lesson in faith from a camping trip with his daugher and her friends:  One day they decided to go rappelling.  That’s where you jump off a cliff backwards.  And they actually convinced me to do it.  So as I’m standing there on the edge of the cliff looking into the pimple-covered face of the 16-year-old who’s holding my rope, I ask him, “Will the rope hold?”  I’ll never forget his response: “Sir, you’ll never know until you step off the cliff.”

Seminary selfishness:  The reason why most seminary students say that seminary caused a decline in their spiritual lives is that it’s so selfish.  It’s your paper, your classes, your grades, your degree.  It’s how it’s designed.

Student question:  Did Edwards de-personalize the Spirit?  Answer:  I think that’s a fair objection.  But we’re at a disadvantage because we’re not living in his world.  You’re criticizing absence, not presence — what he didn’t say, not what he did say.  When you’re answering a question, whatever answer you give may be incorrect if applied to a different circumstance.  I’m not a relativist when it comes to absolute truth, but I am a situationalist in terms of answering questions.

Dichotomy or trichotomy?  Edwards was a typical Puritan — he was a dichotomist.  We like to run to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 to defend the trichotomy view, but there’s a problem there.  With the terms “spirit,” “soul,” and “body,” there are two immaterial terms and one material.  But what is the most common word used in the Bible to talk about the immaterial aspect of man?  The heart.  So you would have to be a quadchotomist if you want to appeal to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for your view.

Soul:  You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.

Theology and philosophy:  Systematic theology is philosophy with verses.  Philosophy is philosophy without verses — sheer rationalism.

Bible, interpretation, and application:  The Bible is absolutely true, interpretation is hopefully true, and application is rarely true.  Don’t confuse application with biblical truth.

Psychology:  Psychology will help you understand who you are, but it won’t help you solve anything.  I don’t have a problem with psychology.  I have a problem with the end for which it is used.

Reading:  Reading books is not the goal.  Learning from books is the goal.  I don’t move on from a book until I write down a list of questions that the book has created for me.

Nature of faith:  The difference is not between natural faith and saving faith.  Because faith doesn’t save.  Christ saves.  Unbelievers have faith just like believers, but believers have faith in an object that saves.

Perseverance of the saints:  I don’t believe in the perseverance of the saints.   I believe in the persevering love of a Savior who carries His redeemed to glory.

What to preach:  Do not give people something to do.  Give them someone to believe in.  All of our ministry is conducted in the arms of the Savior.  Don’t preach faith.  Preach Christ, and call people to faith.

Ministry:  If there’s anything I’ve learned from Edwards about ministry, it’s to minister with your whole self.  You are not just a mouth.  You’re feet and hands, too.  Don’t become a preacher.  Become a pastor who preaches.  You are not fulfilling your calling by being an answer-box.  You fulfill your calling by being a servant.  People are desperately longing to follow somebody.  You can point them to the Savior.  This is not rocket science.  I think that our refusal to follow the simple commands of trust and obey causes us to write fat books to avoid it.  God is simple.  The greatest ideas are simple.

Heaven:  When I get to heaven, three things will surprise me: who is there, who is not there, and that I am there.

Why?  The “why” question is the one that I can’t answer.  Why did God allow the serpent into the garden?  Why does God discriminate?  Why did God choose me?

Growing popularity of Edwards:  Why are so many people coming back to Jonathan Edwards?  We’re tired of the trivial explanations of the world around us.  We live in an age of five holocausts and two world wars.  How do account for those things?  Not by endless optimism about the human race.  The validity of a system is its ability to explain the world as it is and to offer hope.  Unlike the 20th century, Edwards took sin seriously.  He’s a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the gobbledygook of our five-steps-to-an-easy-life teaching.  Edwards makes God transcendent whereas we have pushed Him into immanence.  I don’t want God as my friend.  He’s my God.

Bible study:  Try to master two or three books of the Bible in your lifetime.  It’s so big that you can’t master it all.  Know it all, but master a few.  I don’t know if that’s valid or not, but I heard it from someone and it seems to make sense to me.

Student question:  Who are the top five theologians in church history to study?  Answer:  Calvin, Owen, and Edwards.  Beyond those three I haven’t progressed.  You can only know a few people, so pick one or two and spend your life with them.

Evaluating Edwards:  Would you like to be judged by how far you end up from the ideal or how much progress you made towards it.  These men that we’re talking about were giants if you’re talking about how much progress they made.

Hard issues:  When issues make people uneasy, they find superficial issues to justify them.

Love:  Love does not exist in ignorance.  It stands unwilling to be moved by the evidence.

8 thoughts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (4)

  1. Gunner: thanks for your response and efforts to clarify–I do appreciate it (and you!).

    As you describe it, I’m guessing that Todd’s comment might be like me commenting on/about “Okies”–because I am one and live among them I have a unique perspective and tend to be rather blunt about it (often including myself in criticism, etc.).

    I don’t need/require further discussion on this, although I do welcome it. I simply wanted to point out that some (even many) teachers honestly do choose to remain on a sinking ship longer than I might because they believe their sacrifice is of great value. And, as one who has benefitted from some of those sacrifices I hope to encourage others to appreciate it for what it is–personal/professional sacrifice. I am also aware that there are those who make little or no sacrifice in the same area–sad but not surprising.

    Lastly, believe me, I have asked myself NUMEROUS times why some teachers have chosen to remain where they are when they “could be used” so mightily elsewhere. In the end, I can only conclude that they answer to God for their decisions, not I. :-)

    Keep up your excellent work blogging here–I enjoy it a great deal!

  2. Connie: Thanks for your perspective. I think it’s fair, and it obviously comes from experience.

    Just so you know, Todd is an experienced teacher himself (at the TMC Israel Bible Extension) and he knows lots of teachers in theological circles. He knows DTS well, too. So he’s not speaking as someone who has an axe to grind with teachers or with DTS. In fact, your paragraph describing a committed teacher is what characterizes Todd.

    I guess I just know Todd and I know how he makes his points. When he says “teachers are cowards,” he doesn’t mean “all teachers.” He might mean “most teachers,” but if he does, he knows enough of them and he knows the inner-workings of the industry well enough that I would trust his judgment.

    Personally, I took Hannah’s statement as more of a general proverb that emphasizes balance in choosing when to separate from people and institutions that you’re beginning to disagree with theologically. As I said above, don’t be trigger-happy and don’t be gun-shy. But if the scholarly community contains as many fair-weather fence-riders as Todd is saying, it’s fair to call cowardice what it is.

    Maybe I’m trying to take both sides here, but from hearing Dr. Hannah say what he said in class in the context he said it in and from knowing Todd personally and respecting his judgment, I honestly feel like both emphases can be good. Depends on the situation.

    Todd can take it up from here if he likes. He’ll probably disagree with my take on who he is and what he thinks, but that’s OK. :)

  3. Todd and Gunner,

    I think Hannah’s point is right on–and not simply because I have already publically approved of it above! :-) IMHO, Hannah has been teaching on a “sinking ship” for at least the last 15+ years. We were able to “jump ship” after my husband completed the 4-year ThM program–that last year was quite HARD to stomach at times.

    Of course I can’t and won’t speak for Hannah, but because I am fairly well acquainted with the environment he has taught in for the last 30 years I think I can help you see where he is coming from and how his point is applicable to others–not just himself, and not simply political.

    The life and teaching of Hannah and men like him (we’ve known more than a few) testify of their commitment and passion to minister as they teach–it’s more than a job (as he says repeatedly). These men actually GIVE of themselves beyond what the “job” requires. They don’t HAVE to share meals–sometimes stretching into many hours–with their students. They don’t have to set aside time at retreats and conferences to listen to yet another student ask many of the same questions that have been asked so many times before. Many of these teachers choose to because they value what they have been entrusted with, and understand that it must be reinvested.

    Todd, I’m sorry, but your statement, “And frankly my take on the situation is that teachers are cowards and will only leave when absolutely forced. Everyone “redefines” in order to justify.”, lacks compassion and is far too broadly applied.

    I’ve seen what happens when a seminary decides that a teacher (non-tenured) no longer “fits” their mold or “new direction”. I’m grateful for men like Hannah who are willing to weather the storm in order to continue investing in the students God providentially brings under their teaching. And I’d say–if I’m not mistaken–God has blessed Hannah with plenty of opportunities to teach in positions and places where he is fully appreciated and understood–while he keeps his eye on how “deep” the water is getting on the ship!

    Gunner, please feel free to delete this comment if you wish–I won’t be offended. I just think that some additional perspective on this was necessary.

  4. By “more applicable” I meant “more applicable than Hannah’s quote,” not “more applicable to the academic world than to other situations.”

  5. Todd: I agree. Thanks for pointing that out. I think Hannah’s general emphasis is that we shouldn’t be either trigger-happy or cowardly. But I still think that what you’ve said is right and is probably more applicable to the academic world, especially its political side.

  6. More excellent insights! I disagree with the second one though. If everyone took that advice, then no one would ever leave a sinking seminary (or college or church). And frankly my take on the situation is that teachers are cowards and will only leave when absolutely forced. Everyone “redefines” in order to justify.

  7. Gunner, you’ve done an excellent job of posting some real “gems” from Dr. Hannah!

    Two in particular stand out to me from this post:

    1) When to leave a compromising seminary? ” Don’t be the first rat off the ship, and don’t be the last.” Funny, but so true.

    2) Ministry, missions, and decisions: “…I don’t believe in doing something heroic for God. I believe in obedience. I think that mid-life crisis is the realization that we have followed the voices of other people rather than the voice that was really within us, and God was with us the entire time…I once asked a 98-year-old man, “What’s the best thing about being 98?” He said, “No peer group pressure.” Don’t live your life in someone else’s expectations.” Being in my mid-40’s right now, I so appreciate and understand this!!

    Thanks again Gunner for doing this–as usual, Dr. Hannah’s words stir up and encourage like few can, or will.


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