Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Anti-Intellectualism in the Church

Recently, someone told me that I don't love people as much as I love theology, and that I don't care for people's personal lives as much as I think I do, and that I really care about people's theology much more than I care about them as persons.  That hurt.  It hurt because I think I really do care for people and their personal lives.  I love theology, too, and I have a passion for people to dig deep into Scripture and into the mind of God, as well as for people to be able to interact with the ideas that surround them, analyzing them through the lens of a Christian world and life view.  This means knowing Scripture, logic, philosophy, theology, apologetics, and the cultural forms of though  (science & art) and patterns in which one lives.

Thankfully, I got four opinions from four different men in my church who know me rather well, and have sat under my teaching or have been present while I taught their children, and their opinion was that I do care for people a whole lot and that they don't see anything in me that says there is an unhealthy imbalance between my love for people and my love for them to have a sound, theological education.

I have seen something under the sun; in the evangelical church in America it is something akin to what another friend called Hollywood Christianity.  It is a pandemic among the majority of American Christians that they are obsessed with "how to" instructions (how to manage your finances, your teens, your marriage, your career), with big building projects (to the neglect of girls [and some boys!] trapped in sexual slavery, to the neglect of missions, to the neglect of widows and orphans), and with a "child-like faith" that eschews in-depth thought about Scripture, the nature and character of God, the nature and extent of the atonement, and anything that ends with ism.

According to a friend who was present, a recent small group leader spoke at my church telling Sunday School teachers to ask three questions: 1) What does the passage say?  2) What does the passage mean?  3) How does the passage make you feel?  While the latter is a question not foreign to Scripture itself and to the historic church, it's good to recognize that Life makes us feel, and the Scripture writers expressed themselves in emotional ways (Moses, Job, the Psalms, prophets and apostles all do this).  But why ask "How does this passage make you feel?" Why not, "How are you going to live in light of this text?"  After I've discovered the meaning of the text--interpreted it--I am now supposed to dig into my emotional state of affairs in light of this understanding?

Why the emphasis on one's emotions?  Strange.  It's true that God has given us emotions, and despite my Calvinist  brothers' and sisters' insistence on "divine impassibility," I think it's safe to say that God emotes as well.  Calling it anthropopathism just gives something a label and robs it of its meaning and power.  However, the emphasis on emotions and "how a passage makes you feel" however, comes from the Romantic period in the mid to late 19th century, where the Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson) taught that man can escape the negativity of the world by imagining beauty and getting in touch with nature.  Getting in touch with nature isn't a bad thing, but it won't allow you to escape the awful reality of evil.  It was Schliermacher who exalted emotions and feelings, replacing Reason with them, denying the force of propositional content and hence destroying the authority of Scripture.  Schliermacher is why we want "personal, emotional experiences" devoid of truth and content.  Pastors and church leaders trained at seminaries influenced by these thinkers then pass along the foundation of emotions, rather than the foundation of the word of God to the people.  Hence, "How does this passage make you feel?"

How does the atonement affect the mind?  That's a good question, isn't it?  Well, the atonement has set us free from the reigning power of sin, and it has set us free from the reigning power of Satan, and it has set us free from the worldly, anti-God thought-forms of culture and society, allowing us to analyze the world through the mind of Christ, and taking the good while dismissing the bad.  This is the argument of the New Testament.  Romans 12:1-2 tells us to "renew our minds."  Paul says  "we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another, (Titus 3:3)But God has regenerated our minds through the righteousness of Christ and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)!  The atonement of Christ affects the mind, and prepares it for service in the kingdom of God.

Where is, and what is, the kingdom of God?  Have you thought of that?  What is your place in it?  How can you best serve in it--now?

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21)?  And what did Paul mean when he says, "Therefore, he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills, he hardens"?  Your answer will be a theological one.  It might be a good answer, or a poor answer, but it's still a theological one!

Why study theology?  The answer is that God is man's highest good, and God is worth it.  There is the command of Scripture.  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your mind (Mark 12:28-31).  Christ Jesus has given pastors and teachers, as well as prophets, evangelists, and apostles for the building up of the Church (Eph. 4:11).  Hebrews 6:1-2 tells us to lay aside the rudimentary knowledge of repentance from dead works, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.  It's time for some solid food! says the Writer (Hebrews 5:12-14).  Go get yourself a steak.

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