Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mere Intellectualism

One of the great fears of modern Evangelicalism is of being too intellectual. As far as the strict sense of the word goes, this seems to be an example of Screwtape's advice (in C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters) of getting people running as fast as possible from the error they are least likely to commit. This problem has been a real one in church history. And one does see it crop up in the occasional seminary student or seminary professor. But I see very little danger of it taking over. However, there is a kind of inverted form of the problem that in my mind is a serious concern.

There is a danger of the basic truths of Christianity becoming mere facts we affirm rather than deeply held convictions that actually change our lives. This turns Christian doctrine into a mere flag we fly, showing our allegiance to a particular group. And we can often divide and fight over things we do not understand. The most strident defender of a position is often the person who understands it least. And we often end up fighting over the superficial differences and ignoring the substance of the issues. While it is not always true, I have found it is often the person who understands their position and is confident of why they hold it who can approach others with the kind of gentleness Scripture requires (2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:15; Galatians 6:1). It is often the person who is just reciting a formula who will allow not the slightest deviation. For they do not understand the issues well enough to know what differences are significant. But both types of intellectualism have one thing in common: they see Christian truth as simply abstract facts, bits of information. However, Christian truth is meant to be something that is meditated on and integrated into life so it affects our behavior (1 Timothy 3:16,17; Colossians 3:16; Psalms 1:1,2). It is only as we gain a deep understanding of these truths that they can fully impact our lives.

This is one reason I have problems with the current divided state of the Christian church over every minor teaching (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:18-23; 8:1-3). There are, I am convinced, basic truths of the Christian faith that we are required to stand up for (Jude 3; Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3). But by making a point of every minor issue (many of which may not have any deep significance), we make it hard for people to think things out, for fear of ending up with some variation from the party line. And we can end up with people who ape truths rather than understanding them. And therefore missing the real things the truths are about.

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