Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely

1 Timothy 4
12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Geesh. Talk about a serious charge. The more I familiarize myself with Paul, the more I can understand his heart. I've been reading Philemon over and over this month and I'm just blown away by it. It's only 1 chapter but it's profoundly moving. I encourage you to read it a few times and really study each word. Paul is just pouring his heart out to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. My eyes water up when I read it because I can just feel Paul's passionate pleas to Philemon. 
18 But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account;19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it...
Ugghh. How can you read that and not be moved? Can you imagine reading that if you're Onesimus and Paul is saying this on behalf of you? Yet we all have a letter like that written about us, don't we? Is that not the very good news of Jesus Christ? Is He not offering to have our sins put onto His account? Is there any doubt in your mind that Paul has the gospel in mind when he wrote this? Incredible. 

I said all that just to establish that Paul is always pouring his heart out. He loves his recipients. He labors for them. So it would be wise for us to take seriously everything he says because we know how much he cares. 

The specific verse from 1 Timothy I really want to hone in on is the last one. I want to pay particular attention to the order in which the exhortations are listed. Pay close attention to yourself/your life and then he says your teaching/doctrine. 

Why is that significant? Because an unholy teacher of God's holy word is going to really, really struggle to be effective. We'll first struggle to be effective because the more sin we have in our lives the harder it is for us to want to dig deeply into the word and the harder it is for us to rightly divide it. Sin is the greatest barrier between right understanding and wrong understanding. Sin influences how we think so much that it can and does change how we interpret the Bible. That's why we must be diligent to eradicate sin from our lives.

The second reason we will struggle to be effective teachers if we don't watch our lives closely is because other people will be watching our lives closely. 

Ain't that the truth?
Just the other day at work I had a guy tell me he had no interest in religion. He took into account the way I was acting that day (I was grumpy and complaining) and then looked at what I profess to believe (I'm open about my faith) and said that since my religion and dogma couldn't help me not be grumpy that it wasn't useful to him. 

Now I realize he was being unrealistic and reaching for an excuse (I discussed that with him) but it made me realize instantaneously that I need to watch my life closely. I can have the purest doctrine imaginable but if my life isn't matching up? I'll lose credibility. 

That's just the reality of the situation. I understand people aren't saved by watching me. But are we so naive as to think that carefully watching our behavior won't help in keeping someone's attention? Don't we stand a better chance at being effective to other believers (who are presumably more gracious and patient) if we are as passionate about pure living as we are pure doctrine? 

Do you know how hard it is for me to not emphasize sound doctrine??? This post is beating me up. 

1 Peter 3
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

That's what I want. I want someone to revile me for doing good. I want someone to dislike me for doing a good work. I don't want someone to dislike me for being a grumpy coworker. Why? Because that's a legit reason to not like someone! 
The Bible itself is, as my father has put it, a learn and then live book. We are to learn what it says about God, man and sin and then live it out. We aren't to live life and then learn what the Bible says or then trust what it says. (This is the heart of presuppositional apologetics by the way.) In this way we apply that concept to what Paul told Timothy to do:

  • The Bible is the authority on morality
  • Timothy would therefore consult the Bible to make certain he was living as a Christian should
  • The primary application of the Bible in Timothy's life would be to how he lives
  • The secondary application of the Bible in Timothy's life would be what he teaches 

Are both extremely important for a teacher? Absolutely.
The qualification for elder isn't that a man only be a good teacher but that a man MUST be above reproach. If you're morally disqualified from teaching, then you cannot teach. If you are not allowed to teach then you have squandered the gift you've been given. That's why watching our life comes before watching our doctrine.

If you're not constantly examining yourself, then you may end up disqualified or so morally bankrupt that no one will listen to you even though you're saying true things. No one wants to listen to a hypocrite. Are you going to willingly be lectured about the environment by someone who flies around on private jets? No. Are you going to listen to someone tell you about Christ who lives nothing like Christ? No.

The Bible is the authority both on how we live and on how we teach. We need a right understanding of Scripture to live rightly. And we need to live rightly if we want to teach. A right understanding of Scripture is essential to Godly living and Godly teaching. There's no separating the two for a teacher. He must live right in order to teach. Why? Because that's what a proper understanding of Scripture teaches! Is that circular reasoning or profoundly simplistic? 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

God Works In Mysterious..Clichés?

My last post attacked the downright inaccurate and foolish things non-Christians typically say about Christ and Christianity. I now turn my attention to those whom I call brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible is clear that we need to be on guard from those on the outside who would corrupt what the Bible teaches but we also need to be vigilant to protect the church from ourselves. 

Much of the critical writing and thinking I do is against those professing to be believers. I don't consider outside threats to be as threatening because they are easily discerned as being not Christian. I don't focus much effort on comparing Islam to the Bible because it's not very influential in the life of even the weakest believer. Atheism isn't much of a threat because it's so clearly anti-God that it's only influence will be on people who already don't want to believe. The greatest threat has and always will be from within Christendom. Wolves in sheep's clothing - if you will - are our biggest threat, but we are all also threats to ourselves when we fail to rightly divide the word of truth. 

I'm a huge threat to myself because of what I can try to force onto the text and into the Bible. If I want God to be this powerful force who only pours out His righteous wrath on people I don't like, then I'll see Him that way if I don't consider the whole counsel of God. So I need to protect myself from myself and I don't do that by contemplating something inside of me but by studying something external (God's word) and praying that God would eliminate the subjective and allow the objective to become the predominant and ultimate authority in my life. 

In my own experience I know I've fallen for some terse and seemingly innocent and catchy sayings. Some of the sayings I'll discuss are ones I'm guilty of indulging in; thus distorting my view of God. 

1. Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship

Interesting note: Jefferson Bethke helped popularize this. He
also posted a low-hanging-fruit list of things Christians should
stop saying and didn't include this terribly obfuscated statement!

I'm not suggesting this is heretical. I'm simply saying it paints an unclear picture as to what Christianity is and is not. The word religion has been corrupted and twisted to be something ceremonial, traditional, rigid and overbearing. No one will deny that, right? It has a negative connotation and one that's been well earned. But that's not because Christianity is inherently a bad religion but because every other religion is inherently bad. Oh I just said that. Christianity is the only good religion because it's the only religion that actually worships God. Other religions either worship a god that doesn't exist for bring wrong worship to the one true God. 

What do we think of when we think of relationship? We think of going on dates, hanging out watching movies, having ice cream, maybe sharing a good cry and just doing life together. Relationships are great! Sign me up for a relationship! 

Do you see where this bait-and-switch tactic is misleading and can potentially ignore the demands of Christ? When you think about relationship are you thinking about giving up your sin? Are you thinking that you might lose a lot of relationships in pursuit of this one relationship? Are you thinking at all about giving over the control of your finances to someone? Probably not. 

We Christians have a good understanding of what this saying means but I doubt a non-Christian does. They are thinking of this saying in purely carnal and temporal terms. And since this saying is intended to woo non-believers into the church, it's best we either cease saying it or give some disclaimers when we say it. 

And just a common sense thing mandates that Christianity is a religion. It's silly to say it's not. 

2. Unchurched

Better alternatives: sinners, non-Christians, pagans, heathens, Gentiles, God-haters, anti-Christs

The same people  who are wholly opposed to the word religion are the ones saying unchurched. Church has a negative connotation for the same reasons religion does. Why then do you use unchurched as a synonym for someone who is not in a "relationship" with Christ? Why is it a bad thing these people are unchurched if church is so negative? Shouldn't you be reaching out to churched people who have endured religion? Shouldn't you be calling these people single since they aren't in a relationship with Christ yet? Can we stop acting like we're dating Jesus? Can we start calling ourselves slaves to Christ? That's the "relationship" we're in and we should be and will be eternally grateful that we have the privilege to call Jesus, Lord. Amen? 

3. Where 2 or 3 are gathered Christ is there

Matthew 18:19-21 
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Is that passage about some mystical apparition of Christ or is it about confirming that a right decision, specifically about church discipline, has been made?
Christ, God incarnate, is ALWAYS everywhere at all times. Whether it's just you or 3,000 folks, He's there. I don't think that the people who say this even believe or realize what they are saying because I'm sure they've all prayed when they were alone. They recognize that God hears prayer even when there's less than 2 people involved. I sympathize with the sentiment behind it and it's another saying with good intentions - it's just not right. 

We all want Christ to be in our midst, right? That'd be awesome. The good news, no, the great news, is that He promised us something better than His physical self. 

John 16:6-8 
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is better than having Christ in our presence!

4. God works in mysterious ways

I agree with this one! He absolutely does work in ways that are inexplicable or far above our minds. 

Isaiah 55:8-9  
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,  
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.e  
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  
So are My ways higher than your ways 
 And My thoughts than your thoughts.
I'm not denying for a second that God works in mysterious ways or ways which we can't understand or explain. I don't like this phrase because we use it too often. Too often we'll just dismiss something as God working in a mysterious way when what He did was actually quite obvious or something He clearly laid out in Scripture!

"I talked to my Christian friend about his not living a life pleasing to God and he confessed and has begun turning his life around!"

"Wow! God works in mysterious ways!"

How is that mysterious? The guy did as he was commanded and the person responded the way God wanted.  Both persons were operating within God's will for their lives! There's no mystery there. The only way that would be mysterious is if the person didn't repent. Then we'd wonder why a Christian was choosing to live in open rebellion! But that wouldn't be God working in a mysterious way, that would be a man being mysterious!

And furthermore, what do you think the Bible is? It's God's revealed character and will for our lives. It's the polar opposite of a mystery. It's a detailed explanation!

I wish not to rationalize everything. I know God does things that are incredible. I've seen His providence work in my life and the lives of others in ways that are so immeasurable amazing that I marvel more at His meticulous providence than I do the miracles. 

5. At all times preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words

This silly statement has been thoroughly fleshed out by better men. Suffice it to say that the Gospel is the proclamation of good news and news, by definition, is information and can only be revealed with words. Me giving someone a cold glass of water will not lead them to salvation. Me telling them of Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and His rising from the dead can save them if they call on Christ as Lord and Savior. So it's always necessary to use words. 

Romans 10:14 & 15
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

6. Quit putting God in a box!!!

I'm usually never real sure what this means. It's played as a trump card when their spiritual experience is compared to Scripture. 

  • "I had a dream where God told me it was ok to do this thing that goes against the Bible."
  • "This little boy went to heaven and.."

God is not in a box and I'm not trying to put Him inside one. He is, however, constrained by His holy nature and cannot, because of His holiness, do things contrary to His nature. So He can't do things that run contrary to what we know about Him in the Bible. He also must do things He says He'll do in the Bible. So when He says people will be brought to saving faith through the preaching of the word and sharing of good news? That's how they'll be saved. They won't be saved by having a vision of Jesus, or some other charismatic type religious spiritual experience. Or if God says tongues are a sign for unbelieving Jews I'm going to assume He means what He said and therefore tongues aren't intended for 21st century Americans to have chaotic spiritual experiences. Or when God says you'll know a prophet is from Him if that prophet is 100% right, I'll assume that's true today. So when "prophets" today are like 10% right I have good reason to say they aren't actually prophets. 

Two side notes: My most retweeted tweet ever was: "Quit putting God in a box is" is better translated as "quit comparing my spiritual experiences with Scripture." 

And one of my first posts ever on this blog addressed this topic more thoroughly. 

7. Pharisee! 

Ostensibly the belief that God's word is not to be taken lightly and never to be changed is what the Pharisees believed. Some may even be calling me a Pharisee because I'm criticizing popular and pithy axioms. But I submit to you that I am not a Pharisee and neither is anyone else who desires to accurately study, interpret and explain the Bible. 
Watch and read what Jesus says about the Pharisees in Matthew 5. Throughout this section of Scripture He's rebuking the Pharisees and teaching the Jews. He repeatedly says, "You have heard that the ancients were told......but I say to you"
That's a big but (pause for laughter). Jesus is correcting false teaching. Jesus is correcting the twisting of His Father's word. Being that Jesus was Himself the Incarnate Word, He can speak with greater authority than I about reverence for what God has revealed to us. He doesn't rebuke the Pharisees for being too fervent for accuracy but for being inaccurate!
I mean not to be self-congratulatory and pat myself on the back; my aim is to encourage us to refrain from calling someone a Pharisee for being Biblical. It's deeply and profoundly ironic that I am trying to accurately define the pejorative P-word using the very techniques people inaccurately accuse the Pharisees of using. Namely that they were too Biblical and used the Bible too much and now I'm using the Bible to prove that the Pharisees' problem wasn't using the Bible but misusing the Bible. 

Don't cause the world to collapse on itself. This might happen the next time someone inaccurately uses the Bible to prove to me that the Pharisees were too concerned about accuracy and that I'm being like a Pharisee when I strive for accuracy. Do you see the problem? My critics think they have a more accurate understanding of Scripture than I do because of their inaccurate understanding of the Pharisees. This then makes them, not me, akin to the Pharisees. So the very group they purport me to be a part of is the very group they emulate. 

We really must be careful with our words. We all misspeak and we all say inaccurate things. We should all strive to be perfect in our speech but we'll still continually slip. The area we have much greater control over is the cliches we tolerate or perpetuate. Whenever some new buzzword comes out we need to carefully examine it. I have no idea what missional means, so I don't say it. Even the word gospel is losing meaning because it's so overused. The Gospel is still the Good News but because everyone is using it, it's losing its perspicacious meaning. Think about how the word Christian no longer means much and now the word evangelical means little. Carefully choose your words. Be ready to define words. And always default to quoting the Bible over and above catchphrases.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Judge Not Who Throws the 2nd Cake

Perhaps in your lifetime you've come across a person clinging tightly to liberal sensibilities. I mean liberal in the theological sense more than political. Someone can be a Republican but a liberal theologian. These folk have a few guaranteed sayings and verses they always appeal to when challenged on certain issues. And by always I mean in excess of 99%. Like if you go to the comments section of an article or talk to such a person face to face, you'll hear at least a few of the statements I'm about to strongly criticize. 

I've said a few of them in my lifetime (to my shame) and I know Christians who have said some so I can't say these statements are made exclusively by non-Christians, but the safe bet is that people who love God and love His word are not going to be the ones saying these things. This post will be sardonic and quite acerbic in its tone because these statements are so egregiously misguided that they are deserving of elucidated mockery. Prayerfully, if you are someone who utters these asinine statements on a regular basis you will be deeply offended and shamed into future silence or challenged to the point where you have to choose between consciously convincing yourself to believe something that is a lie or accepting correction.  

In no particular order

1. Judge not

I know you've heard this one. Maybe you've seen the brilliant meme? If not, here it is:

I agree of course that the Bible says not to judge people, but it's instructions on how to rightly judge. 

Matthew 7
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Key words: your standard of measure. Meaning that if you create some absurd standard, you'll be judged by that standard. Let's use an example or 4:
  1. I tell someone that they're judgmental and that's wrong, but in doing so I had to judge their actions to be wrong. 
  2. I tell someone that the death penalty is immoral and wrong, but I support abortion. 
  3. I tell someone they should stop driving a truck because it's damaging the environment, but I fly around in private jets all the time. 
  4. I tell someone it's wrong to not do business with someone just because you have a different worldview, but I actively boycott companies and entire states that see things differently than I do. 

You see the incongruity, right? 
Look at verse 5. Verse 5 is instructions on how to better judge something. In fact it suggests something very anti-American...that some sin is worse than others! The log in your eye to remove the speck from my eye. We need to clear the obstruction from our own eye to better remove the speck in another's! That makes sense, right? So if I'm guilty of murder, I'm in no place to judge someone who owes $4 in taxes. I need to first repent of my huge, glaring sin and then I need to help you with yours. 

And even just practically how can you go a day without judging? If you see a crazy man on the street wielding a gun and screaming, are you going to keep getting closer to him? Or do you judge him to be crazy and a potential threat and turn around? What if someone comes up to you and says: "Man, I'm going to rob a bank. I love money and I just want to steal so I don't have to work"? Would you judge that person and try to persuade him to not rob the bank? Because to take "judge not" to its logical conclusion you'd be wrong to prevent a man from robbing a bank because you'd have to judge him in order to persuade him. 

2. Cast the first stone

This is along the time line of thinking. The passage is of course very dramatic. It's taken from John 8:

He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
It says SIN NO MORE!!!! Jesus doesn't tell the adulterous woman to continue on in her sin. Jesus doesn't enable the sin. He doesn't say that adultery is not a sin. He doesn't do anything of the sort. He doesn't stone her but He does command her to STOP SINNING! Why do the liberals always leave that part out? People are already condemned (in Adam all men died). If Jesus was just blase about sin and didn't care, then why did He HAVE to die a terrible death so that we could be forgiven? Jesus is holy and thus He hates sin!

3. Jesus hung out with hookers and convicts (or some variation)

Certainly Jesus interacted with sinners. Jesus' only choice was to interact with sinners because all have sinned. Jesus came to do the Father's will and die for sinners. But did He "hang out" with them? In some sense yes but in another no. Matthew was a tax collector turned disciple. And it's interesting that most anti-wealth Christian liberals would look at Jesus hanging out with tax collectors as a good thing since they'd have been very wealthy and guilty of scamming the poor (the very thing liberals accuse conservative Christians of doing and conservative Christians are the exact people they say Jesus would avoid). I don't think they understand what they're saying but anyways... 

Jesus did interact with the prostitute I mentioned earlier. He interacted with the woman at the well who was an adulteress. He interacted with a lot of sinful people. Every time He talked to a human being He interacted with a sinful person. Here's the thing though, He confronted these people on their need of a savior and pressed them to give up idols in their lives. For the prostitute it was her profession. For the rich young ruler it was his wealth. For Matthew it was his profession. For Zacchaeus it was his profession. For Nicodemus it was his position as a religious leader. He comes to them and gives them a prerogative. He's not just partying with drunks and helping tax collectors scam more people. He's meeting them where they are and commanding change. I don't think that qualifies as "hanging out." 
Was Jesus at frat parties doing keg stands?

He would have been associated with the lower ranks of society for sure. In Acts 4 we see the Sanhedrin stunned that uneducated* men like Peter and John were saying and doing such powerful things. So yes we, as Christians, need to not be afraid of interacting with sinners but we also aren't allowed to love the world because that is enmity with God and bad company corrupts good character. We aren't sanctified to hide from the world but we also aren't sanctified by becoming more like the world. It's a balancing act. 

4. Jesus would bake 2 cakes

Matthew 5
41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two
So the liberal Christian then says that Jesus would bake two gay wedding cakes for a gay couple. Really??? You can't immediately see the untenable precedent this establishes? So if someone asks me to kill one of my parents, I should kill them both? If someone asks me to slap an old lady across the face, I should slap her twice? Don't you see how crazy that is? Do you really think that's the principle being established in that passage?

Or is the actual principle about the surrendering of personal rights? And not surrendering them to the point of sinning or offending God but just the willingness to abandon dignity to show love. So your neighbor who hates you has his house burn down, right? You go out of your way to show that man love. You open up your house to that man. That's what's going on in that passage. The coworker who stabbed you in the back loses a parent? You don't laugh at her but instead you mourn with her. That's what's going on. Or to take this to its most extreme you would forgive the people nailing you to a cross as they were nailing you to a cross. That's going the extra mile. 

5. Jesus was against the Old Testament

No commentary here just some verses:
Matthew 5
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
John 1
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 
Okay maybe a little commentary. Notice that the seminal verse used to articulate Jesus' feelings on the Old Testament is from the exact same portion of Scripture (the Sermon on the Mount) as several of the other texts! Is that not crazy? All these people have to do to understand Jesus' sentiments toward God's law is to simply read from the beginning of chapter 5 - they very chapter they were already in!!! 

6. Jesus was all about peace and tolerance

Matthew 10
32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
In one single passage that idiotic and naive thought is thoroughly debunked. Jesus preaches the exclusivity of Himself as savior and that calling on Him as Lord and Savior can and often times will cause peace to cease. 

There are countless other trending narratives to debunk. There's the absurd and heretical meme and bumper sticker comparing Obama with Jesus. I've even seen people say Jesus was pro-choice. Here's the idea most any of these things insinuates:
Jesus disagreed with God on a lot of things.

Is that not shocking? But that's what these people have to believe to say that Jesus was for gay marriage, for abortion, for rewarding laziness, against the death penalty, tolerant of other religions and tolerant of sin. Jesus and God are one! They're the same! You can't say Jesus believed X and God believed Y! That's blasphemous! That's changing who Jesus is! You're creating an idol of your own choosing. Your making Jesus who you want Him to be instead of who the Bible says He was and is and will be!

Jesus can't disagree with God because He was God incarnate and He never changes. He can't disagree with the Bible because God inspired the Bible and worked through the Holy Spirit to move men to write it to point us to Christ. I wish I could keep up with debunking these evil lies but I can't. There's too many out there.

The next time you come across one just remember to furiously compare it to Scripture. The Bible is the authority and people will always use it to twist Jesus into a creature of their own liking. 

*They were "uneducated" in the sense of a lack of formal training but they had the greatest teacher ever in Jesus so they weren't truly uneducated