Dr. White has a nice description for a certain problem you can find in just about every walk of life. “New Convert Syndrome.” There are quite a few people, who having left their former beliefs, make their names on a reputation of being an “expert” on those former beliefs in a systematic sense. Now, in some cases, this claim to expertise is warranted. They really did have extensive and systematic training and experience in teaching or expounding those beliefs. Others, on the other hand, had only the most superficial of training, and did little or no exposition of those beliefs in any setting, let alone a formal one. In some cases, their claim to expertise was a childhood exposed to these beliefs – in others, a year or so of informal “assistant” status to someone who (supposedly) knew what they were talking about.
Now, speaking of converts from Christianity, we’ve all heard the stories of someone like Dan Barker – “ex-minister”, or something similar. Occasionally, you’ll even see someone who came out of a respected seminary tell the same stories. As I am fond of telling people, the proof of how well-trained they are is the accuracy with which they are able to describe what Christian belief actually is. That ability, sadly, is quite often lacking. This isn’t to say that mere knowledge of our doctrine is what may have kept them from apostasizing – and let me take a note here to explain that apostasy is not “leaving the faith” in the way unbelievers understand it to be; it is leaving the appearance of the faith you never had – but that whether they actually are experts is demonstrable in how expertly they can relate the fundamentals of the Christian faith. This doesn’t even address their ability to accurately relate church history, or similar topics. However, if they can’t even accurately relate the fundamentals of the Christian faith, why should we, or anyone else, consider them to be experts at all? What, precisely, are they experts in?
Further, this doesn’t merely apply to converts from Christianity – but to converts to Christianity. Ergun Caner recently made headlines by padding his own resume – to a truly apalling extent. He took what can only be considered an exposure to the Islamic religion as a child and parlayed that into claims of expertise on the subject he had no business making, as well as just flat out lies concerning his background. After all, it doesn’t look very good to say that you were a kid when your mother took you out of the culture.
Similarly, it sounds just as silly for someone to claim that youth group in their teenage years was expert-level training for their later claims concerning the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of the Christian faith. So, once a following has developed, the depth of training they received seems to be overlooked. Swept under the rug. How much training did they really receive, and of what quality? Using such things as a basis to be considered an expert – or leading others to believe that you had more expertise than you actually do – is quite dishonest.
I make no bones about being a layman. I’m not an ordained minister, nor am I a seminarian. I’ve taught nothing more than at the local church level. That doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother you, either. What should bother you is when people make their experience or their education out to be more than what they actually are. Since I am a layman, I let my work speak for itself. If it helps you, I’m gratified that it does. As a teacher, what I’ve done in that regard has been for the sake of the local church – and if it edifies others, I’m quite happy that it has done so. On the other hand, I only have a couple of areas in which I can claim a modest expertise – the fields which I have specifically studied extensively. That’s just fine with me. There’s a reason that polymaths are rare.
So, just to make this short and sweet – watch the so-called experts. What sort of background do they have with the beliefs they so vociferously deny now? Do they overplay their background for rhetorical points? Do they make themselves look more “distinguished”? In many ways, and in many areas, their work will speak for itself. Don’t pay attention to the hype. Pay attention to what they teach. You might be surprised how little they actually know. Don’t be deceived.
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Ti 3:13-15