"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Importance of the Mind in the Life of the Christian

“Perhaps the current mood (cultivated in some Christian groups) of anti-intellectualism begins now to be seen as the serious evil it is. It is not true piety at all, but part of the fashion of the world and therefore a form of worldliness. To denigrate the mind is to undermine foundational Christian doctrines.” John Stott in Your Mind Matters (1972)

A couple of years ago I came across a series of lectures given at Union University on Baptist Identity. One of the real concerns of this conference was that members of Southern Baptist Churches no longer know what it means to be a Baptist. I think the reality that is more troubling is that Baptists no longer know what it means to be a Christian. Even more troubling - the reality that this is not just true about Baptists. For the last century or more the importance of the mind in Christian life has been downplayed or even degraded.As J. Gresham Machen has noted:

“Modern culture is a might force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.

Machen’s words are more than half a century old, and while the Southern Baptist Convention has been able to retain its Biblical foundation, we are losing the war. This is what was noted at the Baptist Identity conference. How can we be losing if we have maintained Biblical foundation? Because despite the victories at a convention level, individual churches are losing the battle for the minds of their congregations. Christians no longer think Biblically. Pertinent is a warning from Scripture, one that does not get preached on very often but that I think is profoundly applicable to the modern church – Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (NASB95)

Three things should be noted here. First, the people were being destroyed for a “lack of knowledge”. Ignorance of the truth is no excuse. The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. None of those is optional. In Hebrew, there is no distinction between heart and mind. You will not feel what you do not believe. God wants those who worship Him to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Second, if we reject knowledge, God will reject us. If we lack knowledge, then it is only because we have actively rejected knowledge. Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. James tells us wisdom will be given to those who ask. And don’t think you are exempt because this passage mentions the priesthood. The New Testament clearly teaches that every believer is a priest. It is part of our calling. And if we are priests, we need to have an understanding of our priesthood.

Third, if we choose to turn away from knowing God and His word, the impact will reach beyond us; it will reach to the next generation. I think this is what we are experiencing in our culture today. Knowledge (aka doctrine) has been rejected for a generation (or more). But we cannot lay the blame at the feet of the previous generation and think we are absolved of responsibility. We need to be the ones who turn the tide on the spiritual and moral decay of our time. To do this, we have to engage all of our being, including our minds, in the pursuit of God.

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to go to seminary and get degrees. I’m not arguing even that we all should be Sunday School teachers (though a Biblical case could be made that mature Christians should be able to teach). I am arguing that we all need to be actively pursuing God by studying the Bible; by being attentive when the word is being preached and taught; and by finding a way to have a time of honest reflection about what we are hearing and reading.

Let me close with a few verses that remind us that we need to understand the faith well enough to be able to witness not just what God has done in our life, but also that we might be able to answer critics.

1 Peter 3:14-16 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (ESV)

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