“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).