Monday, June 18, 2007

Think About It

Spending all of my time at a seminary--so much so that five years after finishing my MDiv I still work at one, I suppose that it's safe to call me an intellectual. I actually enjoy debates on various issues, getting my head around how another person thinks about an issue, attempting to understand it myself. I hope that's not to sound too conceited about my own intelligence. I'm surrounded by people--both professors and students--who far outpace me in sheer knowledge, and in the ability to use it. But still, I believe that it's important to seek out the truth, and so when I see an argument that I perceive as anti-intellectual, it tends to bother me.

It apparently bothers Ben Witherington, as well. In one of his blog entries this past weekend, he demonstrates that Christianity has, from it's very beginnings, been a movement of intellectuals:
What does it tell us about early Christians and early Christianity that it had so many documents, and was spread by writers and writings, among other things? For one thing it tells us that Christianity was not a movement led by illiterates.... [A]ll of the major leaders of the early church were literate-- could read and write.... This is not to say that it was led by a bunch of scholars either, but for sure it was led by some of the more socially elite and/or well educated persons in antiquity.

This brings me to an important point. There is, and has long been, an anti-intellectual element in low church Protestantism, especially in its more fundamentalist and charismatic branches. This is not always the case of course. Yet even today there is often a suspicion that too much study, intellectual effort, too much schooling can ruin one's faith, as if head and heart, reason and faith were necessarily at odds with one another. Not only is this not necessarily the case, a close study of the leaders of the beginning of the Christian movement gives the lie to such an assumption.
I would take Witherington's point a step further. I can't help but wonder if some of the heated arguments that some Christians engage in with scholarship, even some Christian scholarship (if it doesn't already agree with they themselves believe), is characterized by fear. Fear that, if some long-held belief is somehow "proven" to be untrue, that everything else worth believing falls down with it. I need only mention the words "slippery slope" to demonstrate my point.

Although it's a bit trite to say "all truth is God's truth," the point remains the same. If the Christian belief in God is true (and I believe that it is), it is therefore impossible to prove otherwise. I'm not here simply talking about the fact that religion and science have different spheres of inquiry, although this is true in at least some regards. I'm talking about things that religious people believe that are within the realm of science, as well. God wants us to know more about the world that God created. People of faith, therefore, have nothing to fear in engaging in the full pursuit of truth by whatever means they find at their disposal. Differences of opinion will continue to exist, of course. Even given all the proper facts, and data, and scientific observations we can get, the task still remains to interpret them. It's not possible to do otherwise.

And, yes, this means that some people will invariably get it wrong. That's part of what it is to be human. But can we at least stop criticizing scholarship simply for being scholarship? Can we stop mistrusting academics and intellectuals for no reason beyond that they've studied things we have not? By all means, let's not blindly believe everything they tell us, but let's give them the chance to make their case. We have nothing to fear from them.

Think about it... if God is the creator of all truth, no "discovered" truth can contradict God. If it seems to, then we must have misinterpreted something along the line. That may either be the "new" discovery, or it may be that what we previously interpreted as "truth" was a mistaken interpretation. But if we want to know who God really is, then we need to have the courage to be willing to change our interpretations if the evidence calls for it.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting coincidence that it should appear today, but Fuller President Richard Mouw has a blog entry> that might be argued to serve as a interesting counterpoint (it's definitely too much to call it a disagreement) to my own entry. It's worth adding to the discussion.

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