David Krayden of the Daily Caller reports that Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk’s lecture, “The Original Diversity: Man & Woman in Christ,” at Washington University in St. Louis, drew sharp criticism for being pro traditional marriage. This should come as no surprise if you follow the current climate at many of our nation’s leading institutions of higher education. Phrases like “safe spaces” have emerged as new vanguards of culturally acceptable behavior in these places. Free inquiry and pursuit of truth seem to be increasingly jettisoned in favor of intellectual homogeneity around a certain set of principles.
Of course this has been happening for some time, but what is particularly interesting from this episode is how one of the Lutheran students responded. From the article:
“One student, who identified herself as a member of the Lutheran Campus Ministry, said news of the traditional marriage lecture left her feeling “angry, sad and frustrated,” and claimed the “hateful” pastor did not represent the majority of either Christians or Lutherans.”
One wonders if this student has ever read the founder of her particular denomination, let alone any historic Christian writers or theologians. The sad truth is that she is completely and utterly clueless to the historic positions of her own faith. It is one thing for those who do not call themselves Christians to not have a basic understanding of Christianity, but we have come to a new place where many of those who self-identify as Christians are no different.
Part of the reason we’ve come to such a place is that our Christian sub-culture has consistently been skeptical of intellectual pursuits. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant mark of some strands of the Evangelical movement in America from the early 19th century, but has re-emerged recently to become such a problem that Christian historian Mark Noll famously described the “scandal” of the Evangelical mind as being that there is no such thing.
Perhaps the most snarling issue here is that many Christians who would call into question intellectual pursuits point to how it can make people prideful and arrogant, looking down on those who are less educated. While this is true of many who identify as intellectual, the truth is that our posture of growing intellectually should lead us to greater humility. The most famous philosopher in western history, Plato, in his Apology, describes the First Lesson to be that we do not know. Peter Kreeft summarizes this Lesson: “Pascal said there are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners, and sinners, who think they are saints… For Socrates would also say that there are only two kinds of people: the wise, who know they are fools, and fools, who think they are wise. In philosophy as in religion, pride is the deadliest sin.”
The truth is that Christ totally changes how we view our intellectual formation. He gives us a pattern for how to grow in Him that does not lead us to become prideful, but rather more loving, caring, and compassionate. There are three key movements in this progression of Christian intellectual growth.
First, our minds have to be submitted to God. Proverbs 1:7 says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Augustine, in his work On Christian Teaching, says that we constantly have to ask ourselves what we really, truly want to know. Do we want to know more so that we can become more puffed up in ourselves, or do we truly want to know because we want to know God’s truth and goodness? He discusses the difference through Cupiditas and Charitas, terms that refer to vain curiosity and well-ordered, loving studiousness, respectively. Every day we have to submit our minds to God and allow him to shape us. How can we receive the wisdom, knowledge, and love of Christ if our “jars of clay” are not empty and ready to be filled?
Second, we need to focus on meditating and then memorizing Scripture. The power of this discipline has largely been lost on a generation that is saturated with the Bible. It’s endlessly available through apps, through the Internet, and of course through so many versions and translations. We take for granted what a treasure this is, and how we so desperately need to make it the center of our lives. David describes the Word as a “lamp,” bringing light to our dark paths (Psalm 119:105). Do we value the Word this way? Think of it this way: if you were in a place where you had no access to the Bible for an extended amount of time, how much could you recall and write out?
Third, we need to (re)order our minds upon the things of God. Colossians 3:2 calls us to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” How do we do this? It means we begin by studying the character of God, knowing him more intimately. Then, as we know him, we need to search and seek after the things that he values.
God wants our minds to be ordered and peaceful, not chaotic and prone to constant swerving from one dangerous idea to another. Paul, in Ephesians 4:14 warns against becoming “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Instead, we are to be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:7)
God wants us to grow in wisdom and knowledge of him, and that includes our intellectual growth just as much as it does our emotional and spiritual growth. We are to give all our lives to God (Matthew 22:37). Our culture’s continual glorification of what is illogical and untrue should not discourage us from taking up the task of submitting our minds in humility to our Creator, because we can be assured that he will use us for his glory in the world. And, as a result, our joy will increase.