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Monday, November 30, 2015

Christian Intellectuals

The question is, "Where are the Christian intellectuals?" Or, rather, a few people are asking it. Because, you see, at the ground level of Christianity many Christians are convinced that intellectualism is bad and "Christian intellectual" is an oxymoron. Add to that the "liberal Christians" who are pretty sure that the answer to the question is "Us, because those darn fundamentalists are dumber than a box of rocks," and you have a pretty bleak situation.

You can understand why some (genuine) Christians might think that intellectualism and Christianity are diametrically opposed. I mean, didn't Paul say, "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (1 Cor 1:26)? So why would you expect there to be those who are wise according to worldly standards? Paul says, "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20) So, there you have it. Intellectualism = bad.

Or is it?

It's almost always important to define your terms in a discussion of any disagreement. Intellectualism is defined as "devotion to intellectual pursuits." Indeed, one I read said, "the exercise of the intellect at the expense of the emotions." Nice. Of course, generally when we apply the "ism" to it, it is a philosophical term. In this case it is "the doctrine that knowledge is wholly or chiefly derived from pure reason." On the face of that definition, we would have to agree that knowledge is not wholly derived from pure reason (since Christians believe in divine revelation) and we'd have to go with the "no intellectualism" point of view. Throw in the fact that we're now living in the "Age of Empathy" where reality is determined by feelings, and it looks like we have a unanimous view that intellectualism is bad.

But wait! Is that really how we're defining the term? I think not. (That's a play on words.) I think that when most of us refer to "intellectualism", we're simply referring to "people who use their minds" (as opposed to, say, their emotions or even their faith ... because most seem to think that faith and reason are opposed). At that point I need to ask, "Do you really think that there are no genuine Christians who skillfully use their minds?" J.P. Moreland wrote the book, Love Your God with All Your Mind, a call to do just that. We are supposed to love God with our minds (Matt 22:37). We are supposed to be renewing our minds (Rom 12:2), which means that we acknowledge that sin rots the brain and we work at repairing that damage with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself recognized the value and importance of clear thinking when He told the Pharisees, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." (Matt 16:2-3) They could reason rightly, but were failing. The easy answer? Don't fail to reason rightly.

Biblical Christianity, unlike many in the Christian realm today, is not opposed to using your intellect. On the contrary, it commands it. James wrote that "the wisdom from above is", among other things, "open to reason" (James 3:17). God invites us to "reason together" (Isa 1:18). "But ... what about that 1st Corinthians passage?" you may ask. Note what it says: "not many of you were wise according to worldly standards." Not "none", but "not many", and not simply wise but wise "according to worldly standards." We would, therefore, expect that the numbers of really weighty "intellectual Christians" according to worldly standards would be small. But don't buy the anti-intellectualism of either our modern Age of Empathy or the limited view of Christians who miss this. There are Christian intellectuals, and all Christians are supposed to use their minds to love God and provide reasons for those who ask. It's biblical.


Bob said...

I find it funny that those that oppose the intellectual process, must use an intellectual argument to support their disposition to reason. there is nothing worse than going into a Sunday school class and having to listen to a teacher that has a fifth grade reading level. Critical thinking skills are completely absent. what about words like Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Expository. all lost arts. some may feel that intellectualism is a bad thing, if so try Ignorance see what that gets you. Can a Sunday School class that is devoid of critical argument and Exposition, ever hope to discover meaningful truth? are the children ignorant because of nature or nurture? I believe that we have mis-managed their minds with great skill.
perhaps we all would be better off if we dumped the contemporary reading list and picked up some classics.

Anonymous said...

Earlier this year a Christian blogger was asked if the writers of the Bible would have been supernaturally endowed with knowledge of astronomy that secularists have been privy to only in recent centuries. His response: "The writers would have no need of knowledge about black holes, etc. And even now, we don't need to know these things. Just curiosities for scientists who are looking for ways to 'prove' the unprovable - evolution."

Is that fairly typical of how modern believers look at scientific research? Are there certain research topics which should be defunded of tax dollars?

Stan said...

As I indicated in the post, there are some believers who discount the intellect. As I indicated in the post, it is not biblical to do so (read "those who do so are wrong"). This "Christian blogger" (the quotes are there because "Christian" is so widely and yet improperly used these days) may have been one of those types. I'm not sure of the value of "typical" in your question. Is it fairly typical of modern skeptics to quickly and easily avoid logic and lapse into logical fallacy? You see, the "typical" doesn't help your question. Some do; some don't. As I said in the post, it's not biblical. Neither do I hold that "scientific research" and biblical Christianity or opposed. I know of lots of scientists and thinkers who are Christians.

Bob said...

often times the words Science and Christianity are treated as mutually exclusive. also the idea that reason and faith are treated as separate distinct forms of thinking. Christianity is the expression of truth with respect to salvation of Man provided by God, where as Science is the means of discovery God's creation by observation. as to reason and faith, true Faith always follows fact. we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, because of the Fact that He actually existed in time and yes actually came to life after three day in the tomb. it is by reason of these facts that we believe.

Stan said...

While some of science conflicts with Christianity, I'm convinced that faith and reason (both properly defined) do not conflict. Christianity and Science are not mutually exclusive. Of course, some Christians and some scientists are.

David said...

I believe that when science and the Bible conflict, it is a matter of perspective, not facts. The facts won't disagree with the Designer, but the interpreters of facts will, especially when they don't believe in a Designer.

Stan said...

Yes, "some Christians and some scientists are [mutually exclusive]." My point exactly.