Monday, September 18, 2006


You don't expect to find "capital T" truth in a book entitled The College Administrator's Survival Guide. But this quote was so rich and thought-provoking (p. 36):
Academia is filled with insecure overachievers who--no matter how high their objective level of achievement or recognition--fear that they're not worthy of their success and that at any moment they may be exposed as frauds (this phenomenon, which can be found both inside and outside academica, has come to be known as "the imposter syndrome").
This quote was so thought-provoking because I recognize this fear in myself. My "career-track" has been so strange and unusual, I keep wondering when someone is going to wake up and discover that I'm not really equipped to do what I've been called to do; that I spend most of my time flying by the seat of my pants, responding to situations based on common sense and intuition, not real "knowledge"; and that surely someone somewhere is more equipped than I am to do my tasks. When is someone going to wake up and discover that I am a fraud, an imposter, play-acting as a dean, professor, pastor, etc.?

When I think like this, a little voice in my heart (the Spirit?) reminds me of that wonderful text in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (ESV):
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Here we find both the amazing status which the Gospel grants us and our ministries and the overwhelming sense of personal unworthiness. What does God say about us?: we are in Christ's triumphal parade; our ministry is the aroma of Christ to God; our ministry plays a decisive role in human destinies; we are commissioned by God; and in God's sight, we speak united to Christ. In view of all this, we cry out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" The clear answer is: No one.

And yet, our sufficiency is not tied to ourselves--and in fact, that is the whole point of this passage in Paul's larger argument in 2 Corinthians. The super-apostles were pointing to their signs and wonders, their rhetoric, their abilities. They failed to reckon with the reality that the Gospel of God's grace doesn't come through strength (which is what Luther called "the theology of glory"), but through weakness, through a deep recognition that we are clay pots (2 Corinthians 4), tents, transient things ("the theology of the cross"). No one deserves to be used by God: it is the wonder of grace that God deigns to use human beings, ones who are sinful, frail, flaterring, prone to errors of judgment, word, and deed.

So, in those times in which I wrestle with my sense of unworthiness, my deep and abiding insecurities, my sense that I am a fraud and an imposter, soon to be exposed as unworthy for the positions and offices to which I've been called--it is yet another time to preach the Gospel to myself: certainly, I am unworthy, but I am united to the one who alone is worthy. And in God's mercy, he takes me, united to Christ, and uses my ministry as part of the unfolding of redemptive-history applied in the real lives of men and women.

Who is sufficient for these things? But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession!


barlow said...

Thanks - these are helpful comments. I'm nearly finished with my Ph.D. and I feel like I know less and less every year. And when I'm teaching college students, I just kick myself around after each class about how I explained this or that concept and could have done it better. Anyway, that quote nailed me, definitely.

Richard A. Bailey said...

Hey, Sean, have you been reading my diary? I can only say that many of these words apply all too well to my life--especially much of the first paragraph following the quote. Thanks for offering an oft-needed salve.