As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeitjust as it has taught you, remain in him. –1 John 2:27
Some twelve years ago, a group of nice people at the University of Kansas voted to confer upon me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English. This moment brought my father-in-law’s confusion to a head. I can recall, as I began my doctoral program, him looking at me in genuine confusion and saying, “But how can you be a doctor in English?” As different as the various flavors of doctorates are, one thing they all have in common is the sense of completion, of turning student into teacher. On that day in 1996, I was acknowledged as somebody who could direct his own learning.
This summer, I’ll be traveling to Concord, Massachusetts for a week-long seminar on the Transcendentalist writers who flourished there in the early nineteenth century. For that week, I will be sitting under the leadership of a handful of scholars who have established themselves as experts on this important school of thinkers. This July, however, won’t be the first time I have taken the role of student since taking the stripes on my academic gown. Among other things, I’ve sat patiently in about fifteen credit hours worth of seminary classes.
Is there an inconsistency there? Was I somehow sullying my reputation as a “doctor” by sitting under the teaching of others? Certainly not. While I have demonstrated my ability to be the generator of new knowledge with a book and half a dozen journal articles under my belt, I would be the first to admit that I don’t know everything. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is sit under someone else’s tutelage.
When John suggests that his readers don’t need teachers any long, since God’s anointing remains in them, is he saying that nobody can ever teach them anything? I don’t think so. If that were the case, wouldn’t John be contradicting himself since he is clearly attempting to teach the people something. What John is attempting to warn his readers away from is those who would claim that they’re necessary intermediaries between the seeker and God. To gain access to God, we don’t need priests or intelligentsia, prophets or preachers. We have that access.
John doesn’t suggest that we can’t learn things from other people, but he does rightly warn us away from those who would, as we suggested yesterday, create a perceived deficit or need and then propose to fill it. Let us not be gulled into believing that some person holds the magical knowledge, access, or ritual to grant us access to God. That doesn’t mean we should be so full of pride as to think we know everything already, but the essential knowledge of the Gospel, we do know. No one can take that away or improve upon it.