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Countering a Distortion: Christianity as Intellectual Suicide

The following is an excerpt from Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011).

Some refuse to give Christianity the time of day because they deem it anti-intellectual—-a religion that values ignorance and credulity far above critical intelligence. In a book on how to leave one’s religion behind, Lauren Winnell writes of a young man named Sandy who was in her “religious recovery support group,” who lost his faith in college through an encounter with an anti-intellectual pastor. The young man was experiencing doubts as a result of what he was exposed to in college. Instead of addressing these questions head-on, the pastor kept changing the subject. One day, when pressed by the young man, the pastor replied, “Sandy, it’s about time we call this what it is—-sin.” The young man left the church and Christianity, being unwilling to follow “a religion that made thinking a sin.”[1]

No one should be willing to follow a religion that decapitates critical thinking. Anti-intellectualism has quite a grip in many aspects of American culture, not only in the Christian church.[2] While some have pitted faith against reason, the Bible does not endorse blind leaps of faith in the dark, but rather speaks of the knowledge of God gained through various rational means. Instead of a leap of faith, it commends a well-informed step of faith.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all of one’s being, including the mind (Matthew 22:37). Jesus’ own ministry led him into intellectual debates with the best thinkers of his day, none of whom bested him in argument. We find Jesus using various argumentative strategies, such as reductio ad absurdum, a fortiori, modus ponens, and appeals to evidence.[3] He further reasoned from a well-developed theistic worldview.[4] The Apostle Paul reasoned with the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-31) and the Apostle Peter challenged his readers to “give a reason” for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15-16).

When Paul refers to the wisdom of God as foolish to unbelievers in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, he is not derogating the intellect per se. He is rather stressing that God’s initiation through divine revelation is required for a saving knowledge of Christ, and that human pride and arrogance deems it unreasonable to submit humbly to this necessity. God’s revelation is not unreasonable, yet the unaided human mind could not produce on its own. Paul himself reasons carefully throughout his many intellectual encounters in the Book of Acts and in his many New Testament letters. One does not lose one’s intelligence by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Given the renaissance in Christian philosophy during the past few decades, atheistic philosophers can no longer assume that their naturalism is justified. Philosopher Quentin Smith even allows that “The justification of most contemporary naturalist views is defeated by contemporary theist arguments.”[5] Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, had the largest subscription base of any philosophy of religion journal and features a roster of stellar contributors. In two important books, Philosophers Who Believe[6] and God and the Philosophers,[7] many leading philosophers write of how their Christian beliefs inform their philosophical pursuits.

We find, then, that Christianity should encourage a robust life of the mind and that many philosophers today are owning and defending Christianity philosophically. There is, therefore, no reason to refuse to consider Christianity on the (false) basis that it demands intellectual suicide.

 


[1] Lauren Winnell, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1993), 80.

 

[2] Richard Hoffstadler, Anti-Intellectualism in American History

 

[3] For more on this, see Douglas Groothuis, On Jesus (Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2003), “Jesus’ Use of Argument” and James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), “Jesus the Reasoner.”

 

[4] See Groothuis, On Jesus, chapters 4-7.

 

[5] Quentin Smith, “The Meta-Philosophy of Naturalism” Philo 2001.

 

[6] Kelly James Clark, ed., Philosophers Who Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

 

[7] Thomas Morris, ed., God and the Philosophers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

 

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