I was asked as a class project under the heading "How is your sub-culture anti-intellectual?: What things in your evangelical sub-culture (college, church, para-church organizations, friends, music, entertainment, etc.) promote a non-thinking approach to life and what can you begin to do about it?" I present two different answers that I hope would lead to further thought as to what the premise of your question is: That intellectualism within the Christian community is shrouded in the common misunderstanding that it is a form of pride to be avoided.
I dropped out of college when I was in my early twenties when I was failing my "entrepreneur" class because I was too busy running and managing my computer dealership and the techniques the class presented were dated and clearly were going to be of little benefit. Further, I was disenchanted with the whole school system because I had great difficulty understanding why the school wished to force a liberal arts degree down my throat before allowing me to attend the business college. For me, who had read all of the Britannica Encyclopedias at the age of ten, this definitely seemed a waste of my money, time, and efforts. Five years later, while interviewing college graduates just out of college for a sales engineer position I was offering at my firm: outside my door awaiting their turn for an interview I heard one of the applicants ask of my secretary what a cosmonaut was. My secretary was reading the daily paper and on the front page was the headline, "Russian Cosmonaut Stuck In Space For Five Weeks!" My secretary explained that a cosmonaut was a Russian astronaut. It was at that moment that I realized why the college I had dropped out of wanted to force a liberal arts degree into each and every student who pursued a four year under graduate degree. My conclusion from this was that people are lazy (a manifestation of my own pride). Our society has moved away from being a nation of "go-getters" eager to achieve on all fronts to a nation of "also-rans" only eager to get by with only what they need to know to do the job.
Loosely, I blame the educational system, and people like myself for this. Why? The education system is an easy and often overused patsy for the problem because they generally teach to the lowest common denominator. Therefore, as the latest generation slides educationally, the education system is continually "dumbing down" their curriculum and the result is a student who knows less and thinks they possess sufficient knowledge. To offset this problem, the educational system also lowers the standard on aptitude tests to skew the statistics and show that younger students are increasing in overall knowledge every year and not backsliding. Don't believe me -look at aggregate SAT scores and how they have droped since 1963.
People like me, are also the problem because I failed to stand up for myself while in that system when I had the opportunity. As a classic example of an under achiever, I rebelled into into intellectual obscurity when in my own pride I said, "I know this material and I don't need this." Rather than challenge the system by demanding an equivalency test to "test out" of the class and show that perhaps the curriculum needed to be updated. I said, "I'm outta here!" I too had bought into the lie of I know enough. In the face of that lie I remember the opening words of Hosea 4:6: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..."
This question arises frequently within the forums I administrate at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. In answering, I must first acknowledge that I believe the Bible when it says all people are sinners. As sinners, we are presented two roads if we are to ignore or disregard the truths presented in Scripture. The first is that we can out-smart God and determine what is truth outside of His wisdom or we can ignore His wisdom and hope He and the Scriptures go away on there own accord.
Putting this thought into action we have two types of professing Christians that immerge. The first is that they will gain wisdom of the Lord through diligent study. The premise of this approach is that God has revealed all that is to be known through His love letter to mankind, the 66 books of the Bible. This is the rational approach hermeneutically speaking. The rationale for the second approach is that because a believer has the Holy Spirit, God will show them all that they need to know to grow to maturity as a Christian without understanding the history, genre, and culture that the Scriptures were written in. This approach has been referred to as the mystical approach -no need to think, the Holy Spirit is sufficient.
An example of the rational approach would be a Christadelphian whom can categorically "prove" Jesus never said he was God. Likewise, an example of the mystical approach would be the hyper Charismatic who says "I've got the Holy Spirit, I don't need you or your doctrine!"
Both are manifestations of spiritual pride. And yet those whom acknowledge a combination of the rational approach and the mystical approach, called the traditional approach, to understanding Scripture also have the temptation of pride. This temptation manifests itself when the humble teacher states to the student that you MUST know the "tools" such as original languages, textual criticism, complete history, and whatnot to become a mature Christian. While I would agree that the professional teacher SHOULD have a working knowledge of these tools, I would deny that the layman MUST have these tools to properly divide the truth of Scripture (ref. 2 Tim. 2:15-16).
The problem with educators making such statements is that it sets up a dichotomy between the clergy and the layman -with the layman ever dwindling in knowledge before the clergies increasing wisdom. This is bound to create a backlash -especially when the "uneducated pool" is of far greater size than the "educated pool.". The last great backlash against this dichotomy was in the mid 1800's during the layman's movement. Heresies that had been virtually killed off resurfaced in ever increasing numbers. Professional educators of the word of God knew the very good arguments against these same heresies from their studies of early church history, but the layman didn't. Therefore, the layman blundered forward without the guidance of sound hermeneutics and the foundations for modern Gnosticism and Arianism were laid again within the fertile imaginations of the unknowledgeable.
How can we avoid the difficulties that wage against intellectualism within the Body and against the rational of relativism within secular society by boldly speaking the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ without loosing our humility in the process?
Understanding other members of the Body of Christ
In regards to Christian thought and our dealings with other Christians, why should we stereotype our theological views? Why place God in a box? I have ceased to try and expect never to do so. The idea is preposterous. None but an omniscient mind can continue to maintain a precise identity of views and opinions. Finite minds, unless they are asleep or stultified by prejudice, must advance in knowledge. The discovery of new truth will modify old views and opinions enriching truths held fast to. There is perhaps no end to this process with finite minds in any world. True Christian consistency and maturity does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and views. We ought not refuse to make any improvements fearful we should be guilty of change. Instead, we ought to hold our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information. I call it Expansive Theology, because this course alone accords with a Christian profession -the growing maturity one gains in their walk in Christ. A Christian profession implies the profession of candor and of a disposition to know and obey all truth. It must follow, that the road to Christian maturity implies continued investigation and change of views and practices corresponding with increasing knowledge. No Christian or theologian should be afraid to change his views, his language, or his practices in conformity with increasing light. The prevalence of such a fear would keep the world, at best, at a perpetual stand-still, on all subjects of science, and consequently all improvements would be precluded. We should be as the Boreans of Acts 17:11 -readily accepting all good news, but checking by the Scriptures as our only authority to see if it is true and trust not in ourselves, but in the righteous Spirit of the Almighty in heaven to morally convict us of His truth.
Adopting this attitude towards Scripture demands that you be both open-minded and fixed on a goal at the same time. Open to new light as it shines upon your conscious thought, and fixed in consideration not in your own knowledge, but upon the knowledge of the Lord with all consideration given to Him by the Holy Spirit. We are to approach the Scriptures with a childlike manor, absorbing all the details and wisdom it contains. We are not to approach the Bible as a pure rationalist would through the proposal of an idea and then trying to shove as much Scripture into that idea or pattern of thought as possible -hammering passages into submission that seek not to oblige us. Likewise, when we read Scripture we are not to argue against it; or seek to force points of a desirable theology we've become accustomed to. Rather, we are to encompass our beliefs by what the Scriptures teach us and modify our views as necessary to harmonize with the consistency of Scripture. For it is true that Scripture is internally consistent with itself, and it is also true that it is we, and our theology, that are at odds with Scripture.
Because men, upon discovery of a truth, are given to excess -it is wise to understand that it is at the extremes of beliefs, out in the margins of thought and idea's, where the enemy, called Satan, does his best work. For example: the hard determinist undermines the righteousness of our Lord in heaven -for by him it can be shown that he makes the Almighty Creator the author of sin (God Forbid!). Likewise, the hard self-determinist undermines the sovereignty of the Almighty. It is in these and other realms of thought that the great battle for the souls of men take place. Therefore, it is not the flesh that we contend against, for we are all sinners, but against the dark principalities of thought that we take up the good fight.
The Christian world view in a secular society
As an apologist, I recognize when wiser words than mine are brought forward concerning the topic of speaking the truth into a secularized society and maintaining humility in the process. Therefore I defer to an essay entitled Apologetics, Truth, and Humility by Douglas Groothuis:
Recently when I was discussing philosophy with an earnest undergraduate student, she informed me that she rejected the idea that she could know "the truth" because this would condemn everyone who disagreed with her. Since philosophers have traditionally exulted in winning arguments instead of eliminating them, I asked why she shunned victory in favor of terminal agnosticism. She explained, "If I claim to know the truth, then I must also claim that whoever disagrees with me is wrong, and that would make me intolerably arrogant."
This student was suffering from a case of dislocated humility. Instead of being rightly humble about her ability always to know truly or infallibly, she was instead humble over the mere *possibility* of discovering the truth. She identified the very idea of possessing truth with pride.
I suggested a shift in perspective: What if we view truth as something that might be discovered by diligent seekers? Then one who claims to know the truth need not be arrogant. She need not view herself pridefully as the owner or creator of truth, but could rather behave as a humble servant of truth who wants to make it known to others for their own good. She could thus humbly enter into dialogue over the matter by giving arguments and evidence to support her views.
The student reluctantly admitted that she had never thought of it that way before, and said she would think more about it. I prayed she would, because until she grasps the concept of *attainable* truth, she will never comprehend the identity of Christ, who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
This encounter highlights how crucial humility is to the Christians apologetic task in a world steeped in relativism. On the one hand we must place humility in the right place. We should never misplace our humility by disparaging the only thing that will ever set anyone free--the truth itself.
The central claims of God's revelation should be understood, explained and defended. I thank the one true God that this journal and those involved in apologetics ministries are providing sound reasons for the faith and are challenging the critics of Christianity.
On the other hand, ambitious Christian apologists often lose something indispensable in the very process of defending the indispensable. In refusing to jettison the idea of truth, we often jettison humility instead. We can become, as the student feared, arrogant. We may hold the truth falsely.
It is dangerously easy for apologists to become prideful when we identify the truth with our ego instead of with God Himself. Instead of contending for "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3), we may end up contending for our *own* infallibility.
We should heed Blaise Pascal, who wrote in his PensÇes (Thoughts on Religion and Some Other Subjects) that "it is false piety to preserve peace at the expense of truth. It is also false zeal to preserve truth at the expense of charity."
Several facts can point us toward the fruitful partnership of true piety and true zeal. First, Christian truth is best defended when it is *held both firmly and humbly*-- in the manner one would hold a newborn child. It is infinitely precious and therefore worth defending; but it is a gift not of our own making.
We lay no claim to its greatness or even to the fact that we recognize it as truth (Eph 2:8-9). We know by grace that grace may be known. If we speak of "our faith" we should emphasize that the truth is not our possession; rather the truth possesses us.
No one put it better than G.K. Chesterton in 'Orthodoxy' who confessed concerning Christianity: "I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me."
Second, our knowledge of biblical truth should *grow over a lifetime*. Orthodoxy will always exceed my present understanding of orthodoxy. The humble apologist will defend Christianity's core claims to the best of his ability -- the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification by faith, and so on -- while remaining open to discussion about less central and more debatable issues such as the particularities of eschatology or church government.
Third, Jesus said that the meek, not the belligerent, will inherit the earth. No matter how winsome the presentation, the gospel will offend those with hardened hearts; but we should *avoid increasing the offense through arrogance*.
Paul is a model when he says, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7). The principles of Paul's pastoral instruction to Timothy apply to all apologists: "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Our aim should be to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Fourth, no matter how adept our advocacy of the faith, we must *glory in the Lord and not in our apologetic prowess*. Without humility, even the best arguments will ring hollow. Our aim in defending the gospel is to set people free, not to defend ourselves or to acquit ourselves of all error.
The humble apologist stands valiantly for God's absolute, objective, and universal truth, even as he stands on feet of clay with an ear open to correction.
Fifth, whatever our skill at defending the faith, any humble presentation of Christian truth is a powerful tool in God's hands. The Lord opposes the proud and exalts the humble (Matt. 23:12; James 4:6). Christian humility is an arresting apologetic in and of itself.
Those who with plain speech forget themselves in service of Christ outshine those who eloquently defend only their egos.
Let all apologists pray with Albert Outler: "Lord, protect us from the mindless love that deceives and the loveless truth that kills." Amen.
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