Monday, August 19, 2013

To Focus on Theology is to be Anti-Intellectual?

How to fix our problems

What does it mean when we say that God is sovereign? It means that God is ultimately in control. Nothing happens without His permission. While it is true that God is sovereign, it is also true that God allows us to exercise our free will. God actually respects the free will of mankind. Some people think that mankind will solve all its problems. They are foolish enough to believe that a politician can fix things . . . or technology . . . or psychology . . . or a focus on ecology. But it isn't politics or psychology or technology or ecology that will fix it. It is only theology, the study of God. We need to turn to God.
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Ron Paul @ Gold Garage
Ron Paul @ Gold Garage (Photo credit: CMJimenez)

Our Faculties

While I agree with the premise of this devotional—that the ultimate solution for man's problems is to focus on God—I am concerned with the type of mentality that this profession MAY ultimately lead to. Namely, it leads to a type of anti-intellectualism that scorns the scholar while praising the puerile. That is nonsense.

Biblically, it is true that some (4, or a third) of the twelve disciples (soon to become apostles) were unlearned fishermen. But not all. Some were engaged in other occupations that required some level of intelligence, like tax collecting. There are other disciples who were not humble fishermen, but we are not told what they did. Here is the breakdown:

  • Peter, Andrew, James & John: Fishermen, though John was an author (Matthew 4:18-22)
  • Philip & Nathaniel: Well informed of the Law and Prophets (John 1:43-51)
  • Matthew: Tax Collector / Author (Matthew 9:9-13)
  • Thomas, James the Less, Simon the Zealot, Thaddaeus, Judas Iscariot: No information regarding occupation (Matthew 10:2-4)

 We know Paul, when he was Saul of Tarsus, was a high-browed intellectual. Luke, author of a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was a historian and is widely considered an early modern historian. While on the subject of early, foundational believers one would be remiss to exclude Nicodemus, Jairus and Joseph of Arimathea—all extremely well educated men.

English: Acts of the Apostles 28:30-31
English: Acts of the Apostles 28:30-31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further, we know that our faculties are gifts from God. He created us to be creative (in His own image), therefore, the ability to reason and philosophize about life is one of God's methods of directing mankind. This is also known as General Revelation and is discussed in Romans 1 (written by Paul, fancy that!). This is the kind of revelation that a friend of mine had in mind when he wrote this statement to me in an email:
Truth is truth. Secular science, while limited, is nonetheless a source of truth. Only by turning faith into science (e.g., "Creation Science") and/or science into faith (e.g., "scientific materialism") do we get into trouble. With all due respect to Tertullian, Athens has much to teach Jerusalem, as Jerusalem has much to teach Athens. Faith and reason, reason and faith. These are complementary not contradictory. St. Paul was as much an apologist as an evangelist. He knew you couldn't really evangelize if people think your beliefs are absurd. So, he rightfully appealed to pagan sources to make his case for him (e.g., Acts 17:28). Thus, anyone who proof-texts Col. 2: 8 as an anti-philosophical argument is playing fast and lose with Paul. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has some excellent writings faith and reason in the life of the Christian. Evangelical historian Mark Noll and evangelical philosopher Ben Witherington have also examined this issue. N. T. Wright is a champion of Christians really knowing what they believe and why.

Notice that secular truth is still truth. Why? Because so long as secular truth seeks to observe and analyze creation, it is objectively meditating on God's creation. Notice that it is limited. Why? Because creation without the creator is less valuable. Consider an anonymous painting. It could be beautiful and quite valuable on it's own. Now slap Picasso's John Hancock on there and watch the price tag soar. That is the proper perspective to have with regard to education and devotion. They are two halves of the same coin, completing one another.

Our discussion has focused on Theology as the completion of other types of learning. However, I do not mean to insinuate that Theology is somehow a higher discipline that should exist to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, I argue that Theology (the study of God) is the flip side to all disciplines that study how things work in this world. Theology tells us that God is highly invested in this world and moves through it (though is separate from it), therefore, we can say that the study of this natural earth completes the Theological paradigm.


I know the person who sent me this text quite well. I believe he would agree with my reasoning here. Note that I am not saying that anything in this text message is wrong per se, what I am saying is that this kind of statement may imply an anti-intellectual paradigm that is dangerous to Christendom and betrays the entire history of Christianity.

I would qualify the statement with something like, "our politics needs to be sound and informed by sound Theology, our philosophy needs to be sound and informed by sound Theology, our ecology needs to be sound and informed by sound Theology. Then we would have good Politicians, Philosophers and Ecologists who are Christians and know how to be true to both at the same time." But, of course, that probably doesn't send well via text message which is also why a long-winded, boring blog post is a better medium for these kinds of thoughts.
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