Ministry needs to happen everywhere—even among the educated elite. Evangelists recognize that the highly educated are the most difficult class to reach with the gospel, generally speaking. Recently, feeling the weight of this fact, I delivered six lectures at Princeton University.
Knowledge, like wealth, is a two-edged sword: the more I have, the less needy I may appear in my own eyes. “Education” itself is a tricky concept. Who is educated and who is not?
According to the apostle Paul, “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3). Theoretical knowledge can create the illusion that one knows more than one actually does. Of course, this is not an argument in favor of ignorance, but rather in favor of humility, and in favor of a different kind of knowing. Paul does not recommend stupidity, but he does recommend that our knowledge be grounded in God’s love.
The most educated person in any room is the one who can make the most wounded person in the room feel seen and accepted.
The fact is, empathy is the highest form of intelligence. The most educated person in any room is the one who can make the most wounded person in the room feel seen and accepted. I have a friend who only completed the 6th grade, but he’s a relational genius who skillfully opens people’s hearts to face their fears and move forward in healing. I know another guy who has a PhD, but he’s so ignorant regarding the ways of love that he regularly crushes his wife and kids with insensitive words and actions. The first guy can’t do long division, but he can read people’s moods as if he has a PhD in empathy. The second guy can explain Einstein’s theory of relativity, but he can’t understand why his wife gets upset over his “factual observations” about her best friend’s height to weight ratio.
The simple biblical declaration, “God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him,” carries more explanatory power for making sense of life than any other concept. It never fails to amaze me that whenever I begin to explain that human beings are designed to receive and give love, everyone leans in with interest. Super intelligent, highly educated individuals are no exception. So when I recently stood before professors and students at Princeton University, I spoke of the highest and best knowledge the human mind can contemplate.
I spoke of God’s love.
I’d be lying to say I wasn’t a bit nervous to be teaching in this erudite academic environment. At one point I had to take a few deep breaths to calm the butterflies in my stomach. But the fact is, I am so confident in the unparalleled beauty and wisdom of God’s love that I was able to lunge past my fear and enthusiastically tell what I know. And to my utter delight, the topic captivated the attention of people who know more than I’ll ever know about string theory and dark matter and a whole lot else. Over the course of three nights, our attendance increased from about 40 to 80 to 120.
Why all the interest?
Well, because all of us long for God’s love more than anything else, even before we know that’s what we long for. And when someone begins to articulate that longing, we can’t help but want to have it satisfied.
We are sitting on a treasure chest full of insight that every thinking mind and feeling heart will find attractive…
Two physics professors, from whom I would be fortunate to learn even a fraction of what they know, slipped into the CRAVE seminar. After the meeting, they paused to say that they really appreciated the content. They must have meant it, because they returned the next night and expressed regret that they could not attend the final sessions on day three of the event. That’s cool, because if you teach physics at Princeton you are in the top 5% of brainiacs on the planet and you are not easily impressed. So I was elated that they were positive rather than dismissive.
What this says to me is that we who know God’s heart have something to say that will draw in the most educated people in the world. We are sitting on a treasure chest full of insight that every thinking mind and feeling heart will find attractive, if we will proclaim the message with a friendly, humble, non-combative spirit. It is our calling to communicate God’s good character to them in our attitude as well as with our words. Our tendency to approach unbelievers as opponents rather than as fellow human beings trying to make sense of reality is one of the most effective arguments against the gospel. We should relate with genuine appreciation for what our world’s educators and scientists contribute to the advancement of quality of life, and then, in that climate of friendly respect, we will likely find their minds open to consider what we have to say about our God.