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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What About Professor Smarty Pants

I got a message from one of our graduates, asking about a situation in her classroom at college. I decided to post my response, in case any of our other graduates are reading, and are in a similar situation. Plus, I wanted to take another opportunity to tell them we love them and miss them. We're praying for you too!

It seems Rita was sitting in a class where a professor made some pretty remarkable claims. She described the situation this way: "He said that there was an African king in the country of Newbia, Africa that wrote what we would consider the ten commandments 10,000 years before Moses did. He also told the class that Moses was well aware of this when he presented the ten commandments as his own. My professor said that there are facts proving this statement."

Her question was basically, "What do I do with this?" Should she confront him? Should she just ignore him? If she does confront him, what evidence should she use? Could she use Scripture, or would that only be mocked and diminished in class? These are the kinds of questions you face in the college classroom (and even high school). Guess what, these are the type of things neighbors and loved ones will spout off sometimes too (for they are sitting in the same classes as you).

In Regard to the Ten Commandments

"What we would consider to be the ten commandments." What does that mean? Did the king nail 8 out of 10? Did he get them all right? Hammarabi's code has long been said to have much connection to the law in Scripture, but that doesn't mean they are identical. Who's deciding that we should consider his text to be the original Ten Commandments?

As you know, I have serious doubts this planet is 10,000 years old, let alone that an organized king was in Egypt writing out formal laws. I'm going to take a quantum leap, however, and assume the professor here has the world aged at 1-2 billion years or so. Our time lines don't match up, making the discussion have an even more controversial starting place.

How does he know what Moses knew or thought? Does he have a Delorian in his garage and he and Michael J Fox travel back in time to pick the brains of Old Testament saints? I have never heard of any respectable document being credited to an Old Testament saint that is not in the Bible. I can tell you from a Scriptural standpoint, the man can not support the view that Moses received the Law from an African king. On the contrary, Moses is very clear (and other Scriptures as well...check out what Paul says in Romans) that he received the Ten Commandments directly from God. Any document he would want to quote would have to be acknowledged as suspect in most scholarly circles. If he denies that, he's not being honest with you, or himself.

So How Do I Give This Prof the Smackdown?

You don't.

That classroom is his property. You are on his turf, paying your money to hear his thoughts. Your views probably don't matter much to him, but you better know what he believes if you want to pass his class. Therefore, I highly recommend avoiding a confrontation in a classroom setting. I've seen too many situations where the person gets embarrassed (by a very intelligent, defensive professor) or should be embarrassed (by their pagan attitude) as they try to defend the faith. Now, if you have a professor who truly loves open dialogue and craves student feedback and opinion (very very rare), by all means, start the discussion.

"So let the pedagogue spew his heresy and let the other students fall under his spell? No, I'm not saying you do that. But again, I'd be careful in my approach. Remember the motto, "Questions are your friend." Ask lots and lots of questions.

After class, or during a break, ask some classmates if they'd ever heard what he shared. Make statements about how this is new and foreign to you. State things around other students like, "Huh, I wonder how he knows Moses knew of the African king." Show genuine curiosity of the documentation the professor claims (because if he's forced to tell you what documents, you could research it yourself). Introduce your doctrines cleverly by asking things like, "Well I know the Ten Commandments say we should have no gods before God Jehovah. I wonder how that commandment worked for an African king who would worship more than one god (sun, moon, etc.)? If that one was left out of the African document, I wonder where Moses got the idea for monotheism from?" This is a great way to open dialogue between you and other students. You'll find out where they stand, so you know how to reach them. You'll indirectly place in their minds that the professor isn't teaching irrefutable fact. And, you may find some backup if you decide to move to phase two (even from non-believers).

During class, questions can be a great tool. Your attitude must be right, however. Check yourself to make sure you're not asking the question with a "know-it-all" or condescending attitude. Try not to ask leading questions that make the answer you believe overtly visible. (However, if they ask what you believe, don't be afraid to share it. Even work Jesus into the conversation.) However, don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask for more information. Any teacher worth their weight knows more about the topic than what they share to the class (Think elementary school teacher. To be good at teaching addition, they better be able to complete some more complicated math equations.) So ask for references. Ask where he got his information. Ask if there are any other possible solutions. Don't be afraid to ask him to cite his sources, he shouldn't be afraid to give them.

Be in the Word. You have to be constantly in the Word to spot these things and the human error that is leading to that teaching. If you get into a conversation with a student, or even with the professor about this African king/Moses thing, you can always respond this way. (First I would ask lots of questions to establish this is not a factual issue he is teaching, but rather speculation.) I would say to the professor or my fellow students, "Even if this were true and possible, which I'm not sure you can validate it is, did you realize the Bible would easily allow for this?" Turn them to Romans 2:12-16. God says that he has placed his law on the hearts of man. I would ask the professor if it was possible that Jehovah God, the one who gave the Law directly to Moses is also the one who places the law on the hearts of all men and that this king in Africa simply wrote out the convictions of his heart, placed their by God."

In the end, you've handled it right, Rita. When you spot something, don't panic (which I know you didn't), go to the Word and others for help with the Biblical perspective (which you've done) and let your heart break for those in the class that don't know better (which is why I believe you wrote, to know what you should do.) Remember that the classroom is your professor's turf, and he is highly educated and smart...it's not a good place for a debate. But you have an opportunity to respond lovingly to those around you, and ask the right questions that get others thinking.

Eventually, you won't be the only one asking questions, and to your delight someone will be "asking you to give the answer for the hope that lies within you. Just make sure you do it with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15).


  • At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Most professors love having students who are actually listening and thinking and thinking about what they're listening to. I would recommend engaging the professor something like this:
    "I'm fascinated by what you said about Moses, the 10 Commandments and the Nubian King. Could you help me get more information? What date would you give to Moses? What was the name of the African King? What's the archeological evidence for the early law code?

    Don't be surprised if he doesn't have answers to these questions. He may just be quoting something he read in a magazine somewhere.

    The other thing to be aware of is that even if there is an older legal code that is similar to the Mosaic code, similarity does not equal causation. You and I could write reports on the same topic and the reports could be similar, but that doesn't mean that you copied mine or I copied yours. It could just mean we both got it right.

    The legal precedent for the Mosaic law, particularly the 10 Commandments, is natural law, which we believe God built into the fabric of the universe and is known by all men and rejected by some. I would suggest reading the following:

    Dr. J. Budziszewski, University of Texas professor of government. His latest book is What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Spence, 2003), in which he asserts there are absolute moral truths written on our heart that we "can't not know."

  • At 7:45 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    In all seriousness, these kinds of conversations make me wish I had attended a non-Christian college. I would love the chance to ask questions and challenge such hearsay and such heresy.

    At the least, these kinds of discussions make you sharpen what you believe and why. Unfortunately, too many Christians would consider the professor to be the enemy, when he is merely deceived by the enemy.

  • At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Elise Ashbaugh said…

    I would be interested in knowing the king this prof is referring to. Mostly for my own entertainment, I can offer a guess as to what the connection might be. Some time around 1300 BC, there was a king in Egypt named Akhenaten (a.k.a. Amenhotep IV). By this time, Egypt had taken control of Nubia. He established what might be the first monotheistic religion in the Egyptian Kingdom (I'm not sure about that). They worshipped Aten, who I believe was the god(dess?) of creation and order. This could have easily been the origin of a one-god centered code of law similar to the 10 commandments. This would have happened before Moses received the 10 commandments but certainly not 10,000 years before. Of course, ancient history is one of those things that always has the chance of being completely inaccurate, but it is interesting, isn't it?

  • At 1:30 AM, Blogger Jeremy Bear said…

    Good answer and even better advice, Pastor Dan. Too often, Christian youths are told to march into their secular classrooms with guns blazing, which doesn't help anyone. You're right: it's Prof's classroom, Prof gets to set the tone.

    While the ideal Christian co-ed scenario rarely, if ever, plays itself out ("why, Rita, such insight! I've been wrong all along! Please tell us more about this Savior of yours!"), the right questions asked often produce some good questions in others as well.


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