Great Learning (Acts 26:24)

While [Paul] was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! [Your] great learning is driving you mad.”

Acts 26:24

There are some, perhaps many, today who think that being learned and being a believer are antithetical to one another; that it is impossible to be a rational, educated person and to still trust in Christ for salvation. I am comforted by the fact that Festus notes Paul’s great learning and gives an opinion that might not be popular.

First, Festus notes Paul’s great learning. There are, as noted above, those who think education and faith hostile to one another. Quite the contrary, there are numerous examples of persons whose academic pursuits and even professional pursuits were informed, enriched, and given deeper meaning by their faith. William Ramsey wrote of having decided to determine whether or not Luke’s account in the book of Acts could be trusted from a purely historical and archaeological perspective. If it cannot be trusted on those grounds, then it makes precious little sense to trust it on any other. He found that archaeology vindicated Luke’s assertions of times and places and went on to assert that Luke is the most accurate and trustworthy of historians. Isaac Newton’s passion was eschatology — the study of the End Times prophecies in scripture — but this passion did not preclude him observing and recording some basic laws of physics. Indeed, it may have enriched and informed it, though there is no certainty that this was so. The examples continue and the point is that great learning need not be antithetical to faith. Great learning can, to the contrary, be a complement to faith; can deepen one’s understanding of God’s truths and enrich one’s view of the poetry of the scriptures.

Second, however, Festus asserts that Paul’s great learning is driving him mad. The implication is that learning, without something to temper it, leads to madness. A cursory glance at modern academia bears out Festus’ claim. Colleges and universities are rife with minds that have been stuffed full of learning but never applied it. The assertion that great learning is driving you mad would not be popular in academia or any other place in which learning is prized. Yet it can be so. The phenomenon of “analysis paralysis” is, I think, symptomatic of this state of having too much learning and not knowing how to apply it.

My application for today is that learning can be a marvelous complement and enrichment to my faith — I have often considered what implications quantum theory has on the idea of an eternal God observing from outside — but learning decoupled from any sort of anchor can drive one mad. In its proper place, learning is good and right and profitable. Given too much (or too little) scope, it may lead to insanity.

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