The title of this article might lead you to think that I am about to provide some autobiographical insights. In a sense, I hope that is true. If I am correct that the world needs a certain kind of nerd, then I want to be one. And I want you to be one.
At the risk of sounding like a disgruntled and out-of-touch old man, I have to say it: I wonder if there has ever been an era when narcissism was more acceptable than it is in our times? It used to be that even secularists viewed blatant self-promotion as a display of bad manners. But today it seems to be an acceptable expectation, even by Christians. Just check out people’s profiles on social media. So many of these selfies are exactly that: shamelessly self-conscious exaltation of one’s (imagined?) “self-image.” These “profiles of conceit” proclaim, “Look at me! I am cool, reflective, hip, successful,” ad nauseum. It is hard to imagine such hubris in a bygone era, especially in the era of World War II.
I just finished reading The Greatest Generation, by journalist and newscaster Tom Brokaw. This bestselling book tells numerous stories of American World War II veterans who exercised bold valour, selfless conduct, and sacrificial commitment. In Brokaw’s opinion, supported by multitudes of his fellow Americans, that was the greatest generation in the history of the United States.
Most people are doubtful that the United States would today be able to muster together such men and women if threatened by a similar conflict. One wonders if the current behaviour of North Korea, along with President Trump’s inflammatory tweeting, may put that thesis to a test. Regardless, I think Brokaw is correct.
It is interesting that some of the “nerdiest” Americans made the finest soldiers. This was recently highlighted by the movie Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond Doss was a country kid who held unswerving convictions concerning the sixth commandment. For that reason, he refused to even carry a weapon. Further, he read his Bible unashamedly and sought to honour the fourth commandment, according to his conscience. The result was that when he entered the military, he was both mocked and horribly mistreated. In fact, he was nearly court-martialled for his refusal to fire a rifle. Yet his perseverance against the pressures of popular opinion resulted in him saving scores of lives, including several of those who had mistreated him.
This man, who many initially treated as a “nerd,” would in the end become a hero. He became famous because he focused on doing his duty. He was exalted by others because he expended himself for others. Jesus said something about this: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). In fact, the Lord Jesus exemplified this principle and practice—gloriously so (see Philippians 2:5–9).
Having watched the film, it is impossible for me to imagine Mr Doss posing for an “I’m cool” Facebook picture. Saving lives was on his mind rather than promoting an image. The world needs more nerds like him—not only in the military, but especially in the church. Yes, the world needs nerds; it needs Christian nerds.
Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, prolific author, and brilliant preacher, once said in a forum that, when he was kid, he used to take volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica with him on family holidays. Another pastor, and Mohler’s friend, good naturedly responded, “You know Al, you were the kind of guy that we tough guys used to beat up!” Oh that I had been such a tempting punching bag! Mohler’s influence on the church has been, and continues to be, monumental.
Christian, each of us is called to passionately follow the Lord Jesus Christ—regardless of the cost. We are called to live for him in a world that is largely opposed to him. We are not called to be cool in the culture but rather be conformed to Christ. And as we obey this call, we will sometimes look like “nerds” to those who have not answered this call. So be it.
There are plenty of applications of this truth but let me focus on two.
First, a word to young people. Be willing to be a nerd for Jesus. Be willing to stand out from the crowd. Use your gifts to your “utmost for his highest.” This will guard you from self-promotion when you succeed. This will keep you from trying to be a part of the “in” crowd, which may in fact be a corrupting sin crowd. Stand out, not by some self-absorbed social media profile, but rather stand out by standing up for what is right. In the words of that old song, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone”—for Christ’s sake.
Second, parents, pay attention to the temptations that your children face, especially your teenaged children. Have you checked their social media profiles? Contrary to the naysaying psycho-social-babble of the so called “experts,” you are allowed to do this! In fact, you should do this. Do you detect a narcissistic, self-congratulatory worldview? If so, then have a helpful conversation with your child. Talk to your children, instruct them and equip them to be nerds!
But, of course, this will require that you are willing to be a nerd for Jesus. Are you and I willing to be mocked and bullied for following our Saviour? Let’s set the example for those who are following us.
Biblical Christians selflessly and sacrificially follow Christ (Matthew 16:24; Romans 12:1–2; etc.). And as we do so, then, like Desmond Doss, we will “save” others (1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Timothy 4:16). This will make us look like “nerds” to many, but that’s okay. Jesus too was considered by his enemies to be both a nuisance and a nerd. They bullied him to the point of death. That was both a tragedy, and a triumph. For, by his death and resurrection, he secured the salvation of those who will see their need to turn from their sins—even to the point of turning away from being considered “cool.” Jesus saves those who see their need to become nerds. You need to be one. The world needs you to be one. And God is glorified as you increasingly become one.