“It is man’s glory to be the only intellectual animal on earth. That imposes upon human beings the moral obligation to lead intellectual lives.”1
—Mortimer J. Adler
The first article I wrote on the subject of intellectuals in the church received so much attention on social media that I decided to follow up with a second. All of the positive comments and the flurry of likes and shares made me realize that I touched a nerve. I’m convinced that it is common for intellectually oriented Christians to experience difficulty “fitting in” with their local evangelical church.
Two common church-related factors create the problem.
First, the importance of the life of the mind often receives short shrift in many evangelical churches. The church often serves as a hospital, an aid station, a counseling center, a concert hall, or a sports stadium—all good and important things, of course—but the church must also be a school; that is, a place of learning where believers study from God’s two books of revelation: the book of nature (God’s world) and the book of Scripture (God’s Word).2
In failing to value and cultivate the life of the mind (which reflects God’s image) our churches are a lot like our culture. In fact, many people, both Christians and not, view learning as a mere instrumental good (something considered as a means to some other good; for example, a college degree may lead to a job). But seldom is the acquisition of knowledge viewed as an intrinsic good (something worthwhile for its own sake; for example, becoming a knowledgeable and wise person). When a church no longer functions as a school, cerebral types, for whom feeding the life of the mind is a daily passion, will inevitably feel out of place. They might think they have little in common with their church friends.
Second, some within the evangelical theological tradition have struggled with the idea that an intense pursuit of the life of the mind is somehow at odds with Christian spirituality. Sometimes it is said that intellectuals often struggle with pride, a deadly sin. It is also said that intellectuals have mere head knowledge whereas spiritual believers have heart faith. But while it is true that the intellectually inclined can indeed struggle with cerebral pride, it is also true that the affectively inclined can suffer with spiritual pride. Christians need to realize that there isn’t anything unspiritual or unbiblical about being a careful, rational thinker.3
Encouraging Our Cerebrally Oriented Brothers and Sisters
In my first article, I offered three suggestions for evangelical churches to help include intellectuals in their churches. So here I will offer three suggestions to encourage my fellow cerebral types who often feel out of place. I have, at times, struggled with feeling like I didn’t fit in with my church because of my insatiable appetite for learning and reflection, but adopting these three ideas significantly helped me find a sense of belonging.
1. Read the Writings of Some of Christianity’s Greatest Thinkers
There are times when I’ve felt alone because I’ve sensed that other Christians are not interested in what I find fascinating. In those times, I’ve reached out to some of the great Christian thinkers of the past for solace, encouragement, and inspiration. For example, when I read Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis, I gain the sense that I know them and that I’m part of their great conversation about ideas such as truth, goodness, and beauty. These three Christian authors write in such a way that I often feel they somehow know me and are writing to me. As an introvert I find it much easier to pick up a book than to introduce myself to someone I don’t know. Reading the writings of some of Christianity’s most reflective thinkers gives me a special sense of community that crosses the centuries.
2. Find Like-Minded Intellectuals within the Church and Build a Community
If you feel like you are a cerebral loner in the church, then talk with the church leaders about introducing you to people who may share your passion for the life of the mind. Even if your numbers are small, at least you will have others to discuss ideas with. You can encourage each other in pursuing the life of the mind to the glory of God. Building this intellectual fellowship will send a message to other members in the church, and even to church leaders, that the life of the mind is critically important to Christians.
3. Don’t Give Up on the Evangelical Church
Being an idea-oriented, bookish, and cerebral-type of Christian can have its challenges. People sometimes feel uneasy around thinker types, or might not know what to say to these “intimidating” minds. I want to strongly encourage thinkers to not give up on being part of a church and to be patient with other believers. Evangelical churches need their intellectually oriented members and we need the church, as well. Here’s what the author of Hebrews said to Christians in the first century:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.
Part of being made in the image of God means that human beings are capable of being hunters and gatherers of truth. That task should be sacred among Christians. I want to encourage my cerebral Christian friends to keep caring about truth, knowledge, and wisdom by valuing and using the life of the mind to the glory of God.
Reflections: Your Turn
If you are intellectually minded, how do you connect with fellow church members?
- Mortimer J. Adler, Intellect: Mind over Matter (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 185.
- See Psalm 19:1–4, 7–10.
- See Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).
I volunteer to teach Sunday School classes at my church on topics I’m interested in. One benefit is that I find others who are interested in the same thing! I’ve also joined a local RTB chapter that, coincidentally, another member of my church also attends. Finding that kindred spirit in my church has been a big encouragement for me. Hoping to grow that circle.
Thanks for your comments, Michael. Keep up the good work.
Glad you are part of an RTB Chapter.
I guess I would classify myself as an intellectual. I am working on my dissertation for my ThD in systematic theology. I find you have to select your words carefully. Many of my evangelical friends can become very upset at the thought of bringing to bear a resource other than the Bible. I don’t feel isolated just walking a different path.
Thanks for your comments.
If you are working on a ThD in systematic theology you are definitely an intellectual in my book.
Historic Christianity has used the “Two Books” metaphor when it comes to revelation and truth. God’s truth comes in the Book of Nature (a figurative book: but a repository of knowledge) or God’s world (general revelation) and in Scripture which is God’s Word (special revelation). This “Two Books” metaphor precedes even St. Augustine. So Christians should be comfortable with the truths of math and logic for example.
Best regards in Christ.
Thank you for an interesting post. I shared it on my Facebook wall with the following comment that, it crossed my mind, might interest you. I am sure that this is nothing new to you.
You say that “It is also said that intellectuals have mere head knowledge whereas spiritual believers have heart faith.” You then go on to note that pride is found as much amongst the intellectuals as amongst the “spiritual”. This is certainly true. I think that we might add two other observations.
First of all, Faith is not first an emotional reaction, but, rather, an act of the intellect. That is, realizing that I cannot know or demonstrate the truth being affirmed, I believe the truth based upon the character of He who proposes it. With some this elicits an emotional reaction which is certainly very appropriate. With others there is no apparent emotional reaction. These later are often said to have only head knowledge rather than a faith of the heart. Such a judgement is both false and hurtful, and it misunderstands human nature and how individual humans show (or don’t) their emotions.
Secondly, externalising an emotion in relation to some truth that one has been shown, is no proof of Faith, nor is externalising an emotion necessarily a virtuous action. One can have right and wrong emotions (in relation to the circumstances, the good perceived, etc.), and one can express one’s emotions rightly and wrongly. Just as important, the way in which emotions are “had” frequently differs from person to person. As such, the apparently emotionless and “cold” intellectual may actually be experiencing greater, more powerful, and more virtuous emotions, in relationship to the truths of the Christian faith, than the so-called “spiritual” person who is externalising their emotions in a public display.
Thank you for reading my article and for your thoughtful comments.
A year ago, I started introducing more challenging books to my book chat groups (Augustine, Dante, multiple-view books on theological issues). Sadly, quite a few members dropped out. But I do like that I have friends now with whom I can discuss the books I would read any way.
You’re doing good work. As the great educator and Christian philosopher Mortimer Adler said: We only grow when we’re reading challenging books (“books over our head”).
I think it is very cool that you have a book chat club. May your number increase.
Best regards in Christ.
I recently moved to a small town where most people’s claim to fame is that they graduated from the local high school… and have been here ever since. Though my new church and community don’t seem to know what to do with my Ph.D. and my “intellectual orientation,” God is challenging me to find ways to inspire them to engage with the intellectual issues of the world. Communities like this tend to be reservoirs of Christian faith, but they have no leadership in shaping the broader issues of society. So, I am starting a monthly “Issues & Ideas” discussion (not lecture) group to help my rural neighbors connect their faith with the ideas that shape the world. Who knows what Christian leadership might follow?!
Thanks for sharing your encouraging story. I love the “Issues & Ideas” discussion group approach.
Best regards in Christ.
I wouldn’t dismiss those with ‘only’ a high school education or those from being in a rural area as being unintellectual. Some of us are so intellectual, we have found that we can bypass the college tuition and educate ourselves for free.
Nothing in my article dismisses anyone based upon education level. I promote lifelong learning for all people. In fact, my family comes from a rural state and most of my family are not college educated.
My concern is that many churches are not aware of the need to reach out to intellectuals.
I have found that when I discover some wonderful insight or revelation from reading a “intellectual” author which excites me and I share it in humility it not only elicits interest in my audience, but increases their curiosity to dig more deeply for themselves. In other words, as I share something of the greatness of God and it adds to their arsenal of knowledge, they are better prepared to face challenges to their faith. As I offer in love “intellectual” information of God’s majesty – it’s then up to the recipient to accept or reject the “offering” and it may be a matter of pride if they reject it or a heart issue of theirs if they think I’m offering it out of pride. We must use the “intellectual” gift God has given us to share in love with our brethren, even if they reject it. Isn’t that what Jesus did in his sharing of the Kingdom?
Thanks for sharing your wise and gracious approach to communicating the life of the mind with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Keep up the good and important work.
Best regards in Christ.
I have enjoyed Hugh Ross’s writings and videos. Four evangelical Christian professors with PhD’s have read and approved a paper, which argues that the Hebrew, in the book of Joshua, doesn’t actually say that the sun stood still. They are hoping that an updated version of the English Bible will soon be corrected. If you wish I can forward it to you. – Best Regards in His service
Thanks. Send it to Ask@reasons.org. Attn: Diana Carree.
Thanks for your words here, Ken. I frequently find myself discouraged as I watch my church, lead by well meaning but non-scientifically minded men, ignore what I see as the majesty of Gods creation revealed in His nature. All while we watch our high schoolers get rerouted in their faith by snarky science and engineering professors at the local mega university. Guys like me are often discouraged out of the church, or made to feel unwelcome.
May the Lord bless the workings of RTB and its penetrence into the blinded areas of our churches.
Thanks for your honest and candid comments. A lot of intellectually-oriented Christians can empathize with your frustration.
I want to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight of faith and also express to you my appreciation for your kind words about RTB.
Warm regards in Christ, my friend.
By the time I was sixteen and entering college, I had amassed a monster vocabulary due to my polymathic interests and my determination to find the precise word for the statement I wanted to make. I was becoming incommunicado with most of the people around me. I was becoming a little arrogant- like a baby blue whale is a little animal. I needed to be saved from myself.
One day while having a rather lofty discussion with several friends at a retreat, the guest speaker, an Englishman, with oratorical skills we all could envy, came over to the table we were sitting and looked me in the eye and said, “I have found that as I lift my vocabulary, I leave more and more of my audience behind.” The implication was plain: I am not here to show the great gift of intellect that God has given me, but rather to use it to minister to those around me.
I have found, through my 71 years, that the way up is down. Listen to those who don’t appreciate your intellectual gifts. Learn to appreciate what they have to say and give and eventually they will appreciate what you have to give. “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) The Christian life is not about me. When you get this, you will not care as much as to whether you are accepted or not, and strangely, then, you will be. It is awfully hard to interest people in apologetics, if you are not interested in learning from them- farming, mechanics, cooking, sewing, etc. You may never do any of these things, but you are affirming their value when you learn from them, and when you do so, you empower them with the courage to affirm you.
Yet, a strange thing happens in the process. As you affirm others, the Holy Spirit comes and affirms you so you no longer have that driving need for affirmation, so that when it finally does come it is a pleasant and happy surprise, more so because it is more like a dessert than a main course after fifteen hours of hard labor.
I am not less an intellect at 71 than I was in college. I am more of one, but I believe that my intellectual endeavors are stronger because they are so much less affected by the prejudices that are inflicted on good reason by the need to be accepted. I have an infection- I am accepted in the Beloved- and I want to start an epidemic of it in the church.
Thanks for the gracious wisdom. I appreciate your comments very much.
Best regards in Christ.
Amen! Amazing what happens when our eyes look away from ourselves and to those others that the Lord has made!
Here, here – Amen – Right On! Thank you for your comment, I feel connected to all of these people (intellectuals) and unfortunately never have met a one of you. We are brothers in Spirit. I pray for a mentor as yourself will come in to my life.
Thank you for your comments, Jeremy.
I am a creator by education and practice (Design Engineer) and have spent the last 30+ years investigating both sides of the evolution argument from mostly the biological side and recently, thanks to Hugh, from the cosmological side. So when I went to the AMP conference last year, I expected that Hugh’s and Fuz’s presentations would be the ones that most interested me. But surprisingly, your presentation had the most impact on me by far and I have been following your writings and local visits ever since.
However, I am getting tired of driving all the way up to Pomona. Is there a local branch down in South Orange County (Lake Forest area)?
Thanks and I really appreciate your ministry. The insight that you provide offers a much more relational way of reaching out to non-believers than the straight scientific approach.
Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you’ve found my work helpful. I appreciate your interest in RTB.
I think there are two Orange County RTB Chapters. I know one meets in Fullerton and I believe the other is closer to your area. The RTB website should have information about the various Chapters.
I hope you have a good Easter.
Best regards in Christ.
I’ve struggled with this for years too. I think I’m an outgoing person and easy to chat with. Thing is, though, i don’t like football or baseball, so often my conversations, and friendships, with other men eventually widdle down. And, this has been a problem both inside and outside the church. Interestingly, my wife has a similar problem. (My wife and i met you on our third date, at a seminar last year in, i think, Queens.)
I have all sorts of stories to tell on this topic. For example, for two years I attended a church where the pastor was once a college football star. It was a great church and very lively, but football seemed to be gathering point for many of the men. I asked if i could start an apologetics group and was met with an almost offended response. I’m really glad those folks have something to get excited about, but it didn’t seem to leave room for apologetics. It really is difficult when your favorite topics are the Bible, science, and philosophy!
But anyway, i have since found a church that actively encourages members to start their own group. The church is utterly unafraid of members taking on leadership roles. And, they’ll provide you a little advertisement support too!
I’ve decided to start an apologetics group at the end of April. I’ve already spoken to the executive pastor about the direction of the group, and all the pastor’s are on board with the old earth approach of Reasons. This first semester will be devoted to Ross’ Genesis One: A scientific Perspective. (Baby steps.)
I’m really looking forward to leading this group. I think it’ll be a great way for Christian intellectuals to meet each other without fear of being too intense.
I’m also looking forward to making new friends and sharing my gift with others. I’m a prosecutor, so I’m also hoping to share my everyday personal experience of responding to cleverly crafted arguments and drafting cogent counterarguments. I think it’ll be an overall great time for everyone involved. A sense of community is vital to our faith!
Peace and God bless.
Good to hear from you.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. You’re latest church situation sounds promising.
Sports can be a distraction for many people.
Thanks for your support of RTB.
Best regards in Christ.
Thank you for your very needed post. I was really blessed by the 2012 Ligonier National Conference on the “Christian Mind” conference videos I found on Ligonier’s website. We are called to be thinkers.
John Gerstner, in his “Handout Apologetics” lecture series* on apologetics, spent the first third of the class challenging the popular idea that faith does not need the mind. (*Also available to watch on Ligonier). Then he dove into the evidence.
But some people think “faith like a child” requires ignoring the meat of faith, which the Bible is full of. Christians should never be accused of ignoring the rational. Faith is not the opposite of reason. It is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen,” Heb 11:1. As such, it has as its foundation facts of the natural world and reason.
I also have a vision to help Christians understand that faith needs intellectual ammunition. The next generation of Christians, (who will face the generation prepared by New Atheists), needs to know how very founded in REALITY our faith is. I especially think Christian popular literature needs to tap into this. https://darlenenbocek.com/musings/what-should-christian-literature-be May all our efforts strengthen the church for the persecution that is promised on the faithful.
C.S. Lewis said, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book [The Pilgrim’s Progress] that has astonished the whole world.” (Mere Christianity, ch 12)
I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
Best regards in Christ.
What a great article!
I have been a Christian since the age of seven. At the age of sixty-eight, my love for my Savior who was willing to be humiliated, ridiculed, spit upon, tortured and ultimately crucified publicly for his enemies is still overwhelming.
I am also a person with virtually insatiable curiosity. Your article deeply resonated with me. For most of my life, I have felt marginalized by both Christians and non-believers for the exact reasons you articulate.
Three years ago I felt led to produce a documentary about the perceived conflict between science and religion. My wife and I have interviewed an impressive group of twelve scholars (including Hugh Ross and AJ Roberts) on topics related to origins, meaning, morality and destiny. We are currently in post-production. Our movie is titled “Thought Monopoly”.
We need prayer support and advice on whom our target audience might be. Finances are limited and we are not sure there is a potential audience large enough to warrant finishing the project.
God bless you and RTB for your marvelous enthusiasm, insights and empathy for those who are seeking answers to life’s greatest questions!
Thank you, Bob.
Your project sounds exciting. I’ll pray the Lord meets all your needs.
Thanks as well for your kind support of RTB.
Best regards in Christ.
I was very encouraged to find this blog piece, and re-posted the link on my Facebook page. Now the DIScouragement is likely to come.
The source? Friends who will accuse me of pride…counting me as an intellectual snob simply because I posted it!
So sad that one Christian can be, for example, an avid fan of a sports team and be cheered on in turn by the community, while another who delights in the life of the mind is shunned and apparently sometimes even feared.
Thanks for suggesting that we discuss this!
I feel your pain, brother. Hang in there–I’m confident the Lord has a place for people who pursue the life of the mind to the glory of God.
There are certain things, intellectual interests and “incubations”, that I generally keep secret. I’m afraid of being misunderstood. So in order to deeply connect with other Christians, I generally reserve stimulating and honest discussions for friends and likeminded individuals I trust, ideally over a meal or coffee!
Thanks for your comments.
Being a reflective person has its challenges. But having friends with whom we can share the life of the mind is very rewarding.
I recently completed an MA in Christian apologetics. It all started when I was invited by my pastor to do a “Q&A” during a Sunday service. I remember distinctly people approaching me and saying “I didn’t know there were good reasons to believe?”
Since then, I have continued to introduce new topics and thinkers through a “Defenders” class and Sunday school. I tell them “it’s a safe place to ask dangerous question!” I encourage the discussion of difficult problems, and people seem to love the freedom to dialogue on topics they’ve been secretly doubting.
Personally, I did exactly what Kenneth recommended in this article: I prayed (a lot!) for like-minded people, and God heard. We make a point to get together often to discuss our favorite topics (it must bore everyone!). I’m feeling much better about my introverted need to always be learning.
Thank you very much for sharing your experience.
Congratulations on completing the Biola program.
Keep up the good work.
Best regards in Christ.
Thanks Ken. I just realized that you were my instructor in logic class at BIOLA!
Thank you for this post, Ken. In regards to #1. I find that in reading the writings of Christianity’s greatest thinkers, it not only helps me, but helps others when I find someone else to join me in reading through a great book and meeting to discuss it. Not a book club, but perhaps something on a deeper level that could lead to a mentorship type relationship. Often, intellectuals can identify others with potential. Something else about #1 is that often it is the introverts who make the best greeters because of their gift to recognize things in people that others can not.
In regards to #2, one must be careful to not separate themselves from the rest of the fellowship of the church. I would go so far as to discourage building this kind of community. Yes, get to know a couple others within your intellectual stamina but exercise your capabilities and your faith by growing others and building others and teaching others and ministering to others with whom you would normally feel uncomfortable spending time. My mentor encouraged this and it was incredibly difficult and stretching. However, it has taught me to interact and minister on all different levels.
Ken, thank you for your reflection.
Thank you, Nikki, for your thoughtful comments and suggestions.
Best regards in Christ.
Hi Ken. I’d love to see a more expanded post with a specific list of the Christian thinkers you have read and how they have influenced you. Thanks for this article–I really needed it
Hello, PhilosoRaptor (great tag).
Thanks for your comments. Intellectual Christians often face some unique challenges in today’s evangelical churches.
See my lengthy Christian Thinkers 101 series on this blog.
In an old Puritan book by John Owen Where he asked if we do not glorify Christ down here, why would w want to do it in the next world ( my wording from memory) very interesting Question.
Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.
Excellent article, Ken. Nicely done and all good advice.
I know you have a rich, deep, and broad understanding of “evangelicalism”. I left contemporary “evangelicalism” because of its inherent anti-intellectualism, Pelagianism, and outright rejection of classical Confessional categories such as law and gospel and conceptually incoherent understanding of justification. Referring to your title, however, if by “evangelicalism” you mean the American version of the Christian tradition that embraces Gnostic Pelagian Pietism, I won’t fit in with that, and have no desire to go back to that.
On the other hand, the picture is not always brighter in Confessional churches. I believe St. Paul correctly encourages Christians to pursue the life of the mind. We’ve been given the ministerial use of reason for a purpose. Nonetheless, it is very discouraging even in classical Confessional congregations. I won’t go into specifics here, but I know that you know what I mean. I will just say that the Enlightenment, Romanticism, along with German and American pietism were not good influences on the church (and are still alive and well today).
I know many otherwise thoughtful Christians who think it is weird or dangerous to read non-Christian authors. In my field, I find it fascinating that many non-Christian scientists and philosophers such as Plank, Einstein, Heidegger, and Heisenberg point out the metaphysical nature and structure of physical reality or Being (just to give nineteen and twentieth century examples). It is difficult to find a Christian who is willing to engage thoughtfully with these ideas and even more difficult to find a physicalist who is willing to listen, as I find myself engaged in both spheres.
That said, there are points of light and some hope can be found when one can make the right kinds of contacts and build a support network, as you correctly point out. Thoughtful engagement and education is important. It is important enough to always faithfully and deliberately try.
Thanks for reading my article and for your thoughtful comments.
I have been part of confessional Protestant churches for a very long time and I have routinely been told by the leaders of the churches that I think and talk too much about philosophy, logic, history, worldview, apologetics, and education. So I’m not sure how valued the life of the mind is even in some confessional churches. But I still hope there are other confessional churches that wisely combine good theology with a robust approach to thinking and learning.
Evangelicalism as a broad group or movement suffers from a range of serious doctrinal and educational challenges and deficiencies. Yet some evangelicals are interested in evangelism and apologetics which I deeply appreciate.
I see my work in ministry to some degree as attempting to help my evangelical friends to grow in their appreciation of things like philosophy, worldview, logic, historical theology, creeds, and reading Christian and literary classics.
I also sense a deep call to try to bring Christians of various backgrounds and theological traditions together in affirming the historic Christian faith.
Best regards to you and your family and may the Lord continue to guide you in your education and ministry.
Your old teacher,
“For example, when I read Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis, I gain the sense that I know them and that I’m part of their great conversation about ideas such as truth, goodness, and beauty. These three Christian authors write in such a way that I often feel they somehow know me and are writing to me. As an introvert I find it much easier to pick up a book than to introduce myself to someone I don’t know. Reading the writings of some of Christianity’s most reflective thinkers gives me a special sense of community that crosses the centuries.”
So true! I have actually had some of my closest times of fellowship with God while digging into the works of some of the Church’s great thinkers.
Thanks for posting this article, Mr. Samples.