Rain Men in the Church

May 10, 2011 — 3 Comments

rain_manEverybody has seen Rain Man.

Actually that’s not true. I’ve never seen it completely.

I’ve seen enough to get the gist of it, though the only scene I can visibly recall is the one where Tom Cruise uses Dustin Hoffman’s supreme ability to remember and recall in order to make bank at blackjack.

Hoffman’s character, Raymond, has savant syndrome, sometimes called savantism. In other words, he has an area of expertise and brilliance (his memory) but also a developmental disorder (his autism).

In a dinner conversation over the weekend, somehow this came up, specifically how the name “idiot savant” is a kind of misnomer. My friend (who will remain nameless) wondered whether there were any theology savants, to which I quipped there certainly seemed to be a few at his school (which will also remain nameless).

Whether or not this offends the person who figures out which school I am referencing, the point still stands that there are in fact many theology savants at bible school. There are plenty of students who have an area of expertise (theology and biblical studies) but who also have a developmental disorder (inability to actually relate to and minister to the average person in the pew).

In fact, I would almost be willing to bet (in the absence of being able to count cards) that the higher the degree of expertise and theological knowledge, the more likely it is that other areas may be suffering from neglect. My own tendency is to move in this direction, or at least I would say my 2nd and 3rd years of seminary slanted this way.

It is no secret that my own school (soon to be alma mater) had this problem several years back. It was always joked that you could always tell a Dallas man, but you couldn’t tell him much. In other words, DTS was something of a savant factory back in the day.

This has slowly changed over the last several years, but any school that puts a premium on academics at the expense of spiritual development runs the risk of supplying the church with savant leaders instead of servant leaders. Only the latter is actually contributing to the health of the body.

So, what do you do with a theology savant?

Tom Cruise’s character in the film tries to fix his brother but eventually ends up loving him in spite of his limitations. I think the approach in the church should be both. Theology savants aren’t actually autistic, so it is acceptable to help them try to change. But in the process, it is still the Christian approach to love the unlovable, and that includes the walking bible software program you know from church.

What if you are the savant though?

Well, on the one hand, you have been given a huge responsibility with all the knowledge. You will be judged more harshly for it since you are in a position to be a teacher. On the other hand, that makes the developmental lapses all the more dangerous since you will most likely end up in some position of leadership. You are the best qualified to be a Sunday school teacher or an eventual bible school or seminary professor. It is probably best to remember that while students will be impressed with how much you know, they will only be changed by how much you show you love and care for them.

Take it from someone who just finished seminary and who has this problem as well. The impact my teachers had on me was not from impressive knowledge, it was from servant leadership in the classroom.

It is certainly worth pondering whether you know a theology savant or might be one yourself. This dawned on me towards the end of my third year of seminary when I read this book. I am glad I was able to start developing under developed areas before I graduated and can continue to do so in the future.

In the meantime though, I should probably get back to work, these cards aren’t going to count themselves.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

3 responses to Rain Men in the Church

  1. Yeah…I recognize the guy you’re talking about. I see him in the mirror every day. In fact I have been trying lately to NOT be that guy any more so this post is very timely!!

  2. Appreciate both this and you.

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