From my own narrow-minded experiences, I know the problems with ignorance are enhanced by the fact that it doesn’t hurt – and tends to go unrecognized by those who suffer from it most.

And, as the poet and novelist Charles Bukowski, put it, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

My lifelong friend, Jimmy, was always more open-minded than the rest of us while growing up. Multiple times, he knocked scales off my youthful, myopic eyes.

It might have been at Boy Scouts camp where we first encountered racial diversity unknown in our homogeneous community. Or the bias we witnessed toward someone who first set the longhaired trend in the early ’70s that we unknowingly would soon follow.

Or when his family hosted an exchange student in high school, providing global perspectives and relationships that stretched my ethnocentric boundaries.

Years later, coincidentally, my friend and I ended up in the same town for a few months while adding practical experiences to our vastly different graduate studies: mine in theology and his in geology.

Recently, my mind unearthed a casual conversation from that brief reunion as young adults breaking into new careers.

While chatting over a dinner of pooled food – due to well-stretched intern stipends – my friend touted the value of education. Improving access to learning, he said passionately, was the most important thing he could do.

I countered that the most important thing is to connect people with Jesus. And I was pretty sure I was right.

While my friend was talking about enhanced educational opportunities, the essence of what he was saying – once again – was something I missed.

Decades later, I’m more convinced than ever that following Jesus – that is, seeking with divine guidance to emulate his life, teachings and values – is the most meaningful way to live. It is not only a personal pursuit, but also a purposeful way to contribute to the common good of all, especially those who suffer from exclusion and oppression.

Yet, now I can see more clearly how ignorance – or call it gullibility – is a greater obstacle to the fulfillment of that purpose than the lack of access to the gospel or overt rejection of it.

The ability to think critically is of critical importance to following Jesus. Otherwise, it is easy to choose a poor substitute.

I’m not foolishly suggesting that some assortment of diplomas lines the road to salvation. Educational elitism brings its own pride and problems.

In fact, many with specialized degrees are among those who arrogantly and ignorantly (or at least willfully) embrace farcical theories and other untruths that depart from Christian faithfulness.

However, the Bible is replete with calls for:

  • Understanding: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
  • Wisdom: “Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Proverbs 4:7).
  • Knowledge: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge” (Proverbs 12:1).
  • Discernment: “Test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

We all know people with little formal education who possess such gifts. Yet, many, regardless of their educational experiences, lack these important virtues and disciplines.

Hence, we must teach these attributes as being of high importance – for even Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God” (Luke 2:52).

The biblical call to reject false prophets by “testing the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1) requires an effective BS meter. And the best “testing” method is to see how such teachers and teachings align (or not) with the life and lessons of Jesus.

Educational credentials are not needed to follow Jesus. But one does need to recognize the differences between that which Jesus calls his followers to be and do, and the many self-serving ways in which Christianity is falsified for other purposes.

Coming to Jesus with childlike trust is a starting point, not a destination. Maturity requires that we learn to love God more fully with our hearts, minds and souls all along the continuous, growing and course-correcting journey of faith.

Lately (as well as historically), we have seen too clearly where unwrought, unexamined and unchallenged concepts of Christianity lead – and it is not toward Jesus.

Teaching the important relationship between Christian faithfulness and the embrace of understanding, wisdom, knowledge and discernment is a needed priority in our homes, churches and other organizations charged with spiritual formation.

Yes, critical thinking is critically important to navigating the path of Christian discipleship, which is riddled with so many available and appealing diversions.

It is stunning to see longtime, professing Christians – often following wayward leaders – so easily dismiss everything Jesus said and did for forgeries of faith that soothe their fears and bless their bigotries.

Provable fallacies are widely advanced through social media – and even within churches – by baptized believers so eager to scratch a political itch.

Writer and activist James Baldwin was right. “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Faithful Christians, at all costs, must avoid that deadly alliance that Jesus rejected as well.

We have tried so hard to make everybody Christian that we’ve made whatever anyone chooses to be into so-called Christianity.

Our recruitment and discipleship methods have largely failed. We must move beyond some rote “profession of faith” that allows for a “make-your-own” religion designed to accommodate and advance every prejudice, societal evil or preferred self-benefit.

We must readily test the truth of every faulty claim offered in the name of Christianity by simply examining its focus – to determine whether it is on one’s own advantages or the needs of those who live without our privileges.

The way of Christ is lined with sacrifice, selflessness, forgiveness, inclusion and compassion. Any other route – even if mismarked as “Christian” – leads to a dead end.

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