Within Christian discipleship, scholars, theologians, and philosophers are asking, what ever happened to cultivating the intellectual life of the Christian? There have been several books written on this subject. One book that I recommend is Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland.
It is imperative for Christians to understand the history of anti-intellectualism in the church. In this brilliant book, Dr. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.
Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology. Christians originally founded several American universities. The minister was regarded as proficient in both spiritual and intellectual matters. (1)
When the first Great Awakening happened in the United States from the 1730’s to 1750’s, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine biblical authority in the late 1800’s. In other words, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophies of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German higher criticism, and Darwinian evolution. During the middle 1800’s, Christianity continued to see an anti-intellectual approach in sermons. Ministers such as Charles Finney who preached during the Laymen’s Prayer Revival ( 1856-1858), delivered simple sermons that were more tailored around emotions in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally informed. Moreland notes that many positive things did come out of this period. However, the downside was that since thousands of people were converted on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new converts were not trained to think theologically or doctrinally. (2)
Moreland has also commented on the impact of Christians refusing to be informed about the language of ideas in the marketplace. As Moreland says:
“Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn’t matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart and that’s all that really matters to me. So we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether.” (3)
Another book that has traced the history of anti-intellectualism in the church is Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness. In this book, Guinness says:
“Loving God with our minds is not finally a question of orthodoxy, but love. Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety. We need to affirm certain truths: Intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism, for the perils of intellectualism-supremely in Gnosticism- are deadly and ever recurring. Or passion is not for academic respectability, but for the faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our everyday discipleship as Christians. For anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus’ commandments. Thus, if we take the commands of Jesus seriously, we cannot dismiss the charge of anti-intellectualism as elitism or intellectual snobbery. As God has given us minds, we can measure our obedience by whether we are loving him with those minds, and disobedience whether we are not.” (4)
In his book,The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ, author David W. Gill makes a significant contribution about the relationship between intellectualism and discipleship by stating that we should advocate Christian minds, not intellectualism. Gill says:
“Let me stress one more time that I am not advocating intellectualism in the Christian life! We must give our brains to God. But we are more than brains. I do indeed want people to develop their minds under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.” (5)
Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:
Acts 4:13: “The Jewish elders and rulers observe that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned.”
Many have concluded that intellectual emphasis has no place for the life of the believer. Is this right? It is important to understand that the Jewish leaders did not mean that Peter and John were irrational or intellectually unskilled. They meant that they had not undergone the proper rabbinical training. (6)
Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28. (7)
1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:
” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Does this passage say God is against reason? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (8)
One of the primary texts used for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted believers. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word,” inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard. Peter does not suggest we be prepared to do give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! (9)
Some Suggestions in Restoring the Christian Mind
1. In order to restore the mind within the local congregation, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on critical thinking and apologetics. As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothius says:
Since we as Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), it is the responsibility Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. (10)
2. Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity) from a Christian / biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity). As Norman Geisler says,
God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (11)
3. Establish a Worldview: The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience.(12) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.
4. Engage the Culture: According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Christians also have a responsibility to be aware of the issues within our culture.
My suggestion to change this problem is to challenge congregants to take a survey with five spiritual questions and engage people on a regular basis. Once they see how people respond to the questions, they will begin to see how inept they are to handle objections to the faith. By doing a survey, this allows the congregants to witness firsthand the tremendous amount of diversity in our culture. One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that cannot be answered, it allows the Christian the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue.
As William Lane Craig says:
It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (13)
5. The university: From a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically as well as apologetically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?
What about Christians who want to study philosophy in college? Should they avoid it? Groothius says:
Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness. (14)
6. Understand the proper relationship between faith and reason: As David Gill says above, “Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.” Another challenge in restoring the Christian mind is the misunderstanding of the biblical use of the word ‘faith.” I have already written about how our culture perceives the word “faith” and why there needs to be a correction here.
1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997. 22-23.
3. Koukl. G. The Value of Philosophy. Retrieved November 9, 2007. Available at http://www.str.org/site/.
4.Os Guinness. Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What To Do About It. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1994, 18-19.
5. Gill, D.W. The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press,1989, 30.
6. Moreland, 57-60.
8. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 13.
9. Moreland, 57-60.
10. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at http://www.answersinaction.org.
11. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.
12. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
13. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.
14. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto.
15. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 297.
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