Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Deceit of Excellence

John Coe, one of my profs from Talbot, once lectured on this subject in class. I grasped it in a small way then, but it is becoming more real to me now. The pull, the siren call of academics is incredibly powerful. But Coe's words have been for me like the cords that kept Odysseus bound to the mast of his ship.

Coe explained that the temptation to find our identity in what we do is a form of idolatry. Rather than glory in our ability to achieve, we must despair of our attempts to fill our empty selves with affirmation and recognition from others. Despair is part of repentance.

Our vocation, whether in the university or elsewhere, wants to exalt itself as master and lord over us. We must despair of our training, our philosophy, our theology, etc. These things must be servants and the center must be Jesus Christ.

There is a deceit of excellence – calling us to give ourselves to our discipline or our work. "Don't give yourself to your discipline. Give yourself to becoming more alive to God. Don’t be charmed by excellence," says Coe.

Our professors and those over us tend to foster this idolatry -- they violate as they were violated. Professors tend to overwhelm us with an intellectual/academic focus because that’s how they were trained.

Coe gave us a prayer project designed to help us examine our hearts in this area:
1 hour – (don’t try to fix yourself in the first 40 min.)
· First 20 min., “Lord, what has been my attitude in the past about my education?” Did it seem like a waste of time? Were you driven? Clown?
· Next 20 min., Explore your attitude right now toward your educational experience. What is your attitude toward your profession? What draws you to it? What motivates you in your degree? How do you feel about grades? What grades should I get? What is my relationship with my professors? Do I need their approval? What about those professors who don’t like me? Should I be here, taking this many units?
· Last 20 min. – Ask God to help you in word only to despair over some things you need to despair over. (NB-- This may not be deep change, but at least a confession of intent to despair.) Do I need to despair over my grades, my profession, my professors approval?



Anonymous Josh said...

Powerfully convicting post. I have often struggled with the exact things you mentioned here. It is so tempting to define yourself by what you do and not by who you are in Christ (especially in the world of academia). Thanks for the words of encouragement and warning.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Derek said...


Thanks for this. I'm not sure about the despiar talk, but i agree wholeheartedly that this is a real temptation for me. Most of the time i don't even think about my motives. Thanks for the reminder.

11:46 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Josh & Derek -- I'm so encouraged that this was helpful to you, as it was to me.

1:00 PM  

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