A Common Reformed Sin: Intellectual Pride

 Reformed theology is robustly biblical and it echoes the truths of Scripture so very well and clearly.  I’m not Reformed because it’s cool or because I grew up that way.  I believe Reformed truths like God’s sovereignty, total depravity, definite atonement, presbyterian ecclesiology, infant baptism, and the regulative principle of worship because they’re rooted in Scripture.  I want to be part of the historic Christian church that has submitted to and followed God’s word.

Reformed and Calvinistic Christians and churches, however, are not perfect. [I’m far from perfect!]  One major blemish found in Reformed and Calvinistic circles is the sin of intellectual pride.  Or it might be called doctrinal pride.  This is when someone who is well-versed in Reformed doctrine lets it go to his or her head.  This person becomes a self-proclaimed expert theologian who begins to look down on others who do not know as much doctrine or who have “inferior” doctrine. Sometimes this kind of person can even become unteachable and very critical of and impatient with other Christians and their views.  It’s even worse when someone who is self-taught gives himself an honorary doctorate in theology!

By contrast, the person who lives a truly Reformed life with a Reformed heart and mind will not be arrogant, but extremely humble and patient.  One essential aspect of Reformed theology is that our sovereign God alone deserves all the glory, honor, and praise and that people are finite, sinful, and completely dependent upon him in every way.  No one who is Reformed or Calvinistic should be doctrinally arrogant at all!

Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) made an excellent point on intellectual humility when he applied the doctrine of God’s omniscience (omniscience is the fact that God knows all things in a divine way that is far, far beyond our understanding).  Here’s a slightly edited excerpt:

[The doctrine of divine omniscience] offers us an argument for being humbled by a comparison of our ignorance and folly with the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, after the example of Asaph (Ps. 73:22) and Agur (Prov. 30:2-4).

…Here, therefore, what will more effectively batter down our arrogance than to think how much there is that we do not know, especially when we compare our superficial wisdom with the abyss of God’s knowledge and wisdom? What will more effectively invite us to humility?

God instills this humility (Jer. 9:23), teaching us

1) To think that God is most wise since he is the one who made us wiser than brute beasts (Job 35:11).
2) To exclaim to ourselves, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you brag as if you did not receive it?’ (1 Cor. 4:7).
3) To take what you have freely received above others and to render it to God with submissive gratitude, and in that way ‘to cast down thoughts and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.’ (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) To think about God’s dreadful judgment upon the arrogance of worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-20).

Again, it’s worth noting that Reformed and Calvinistic Christians are sinful like other Christians. And sometimes we Reformed Christians don’t live out the theology we believe and confess. Sometimes we believe a doctrine but do not apply it to ourselves and live accordingly.  May God help us live out the theology we believe and confess with humility, patience, and a strong desire to see his name be glorified – not ours!

The above quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 272-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Church’s Dumbing Down (Guinness)

 (This is a re-post from May 2013).

A person only needs to listen to contemporary Christian radio for thirty minutes to realize that the Christian faith has been extremely watered down in our day.  Since there is little talk of the law, sin, and God’s wrath, any mention of Jesus reduces him to a divine friend or perfect life coach rather than the sovereign Savior of miserable sinners of whom Scripture speaks.  For an intellectual discussion of this topic, one of the “go to” books is one I’ve mentioned here before: Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness.  This is a great resource on how evangelicalism has nearly lost its mind.

Part one of this book is called “A Ghost Mind.”  Guinness lists eight things that have dumbed down modern evangelicalism. The following list is my own summary:

1) Polarization: the focus on feelings at the expense of knowledge and reason.
2) Pietism: the emphasis on subjective experiential individualism at the expense of corporate and covenantal faith.
3) Primitivism: the romantic notion of going back to a simplistic innocent age of the past.
4) Populism: the idea of a religion of the people, for the people, and by the people.
5) Pluralism: the practice of affirming the lowest common doctrinal denominator, which leads to “deeds, not creeds.”
6) Pragmatism: the theory where “does it work?” is more important than “is it biblical?”
7) Philistinism: the blatant dislike of anything intellectual or scholarly.
8) Premillenialism [of the dispensational variety]: a theory of eschatology that nurtures anti-intellectualism by a fixation on the future and a disregard for the present.

That’s just a short snapshot of some outstanding chapters.  The second half of the book (called “An Idiot Culture”) discusses the cultural factors that also led to the dumbing down of modern evangelicalism:

1) Amusement: the modern love of (or lust for?) entertainment.
2) Consumption: the lifestyle which abides by the “gospel” of advertisements.
3) Image: the infatuation with trends, looks, weight, sex, skin, etc.
4) Visual: the ability to watch a three-hour movie coupled with the inability to read a serious three-hundred-page book.
5) Postmodernity: the loss of overarching truth, meaning, and morality.
6) Media: the twisting or ignoring of truth for the sake of entertainment and cash.
7) Generationalism: the separating of generations with labels and stereotypes.
8) Cybergnosticism: the blending of the virtual and what is real.

Again, I’ve summarized Guinness’ chapters in my own words.  I hope my summary gets your attention and causes you to read (or re-read) this excellent book.  This book is thoughtful, timely, and gives a straightforward diagnosis of a major problem in evangelicalism.  Reading it will not only give you an idea of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism, it’ll challenge you to strive more and more to love God with all your mind.

Here’s the info: Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christianity: Intellectual Suicide? (Groothuis)

 

 

 

 

 

“Some [people] 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 his satirical book, “The Devil’s Dictionary” (1911), Ambrose Bierce defined faith as, ‘Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.’  In a book on how to leave one’s religion behind, Marlene Winell 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.’”

“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.  The reasons for the irrational faith shown in some aspects of American Christianity are numerous and will not concern us here except to say that none of the reasons flow from the Bible itself or from the best and truest elements of the Christian tradition.  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 and volitional ‘step’ of faith. …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 in demands intellectual suicide” (p. 95-96, 98).

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers’ Grove, IVP, 2011).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Modern Dumbing Down of the Christian Faith

A person only needs to listen to contemporary Christian radio for thirty minutes to realize that the Christian faith has been extremely watered down in our day.  Since there is little talk of the law, sin, and God’s wrath, any mention of Jesus reduces him to a divine friend or perfect life coach rather than the sovereign Savior of miserable sinners of whom Scripture speaks.  For an intellectual discussion of this topic, one of the “go to” books is one I’ve mentioned here before: Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness.  This is a great resource on how evangelicalism has nearly lost its mind.

Part one of this book is called “A Ghost Mind.”  Guinness lists eight things that have dumbed down modern evangelicalism. The following list is my own summary:

1) Polarization: the focus on feelings at the expense of knowledge and reason.
2) Pietism: the emphasis on subjective experiential individualism at the expense of corporate and covenantal faith.
3) Primitivism: the romantic notion of going back to a simplistic innocent age of the past.
4) Populism: the idea of a religion of the people, for the people, and by the people.
5) Pluralism: the practice of affirming the lowest common doctrinal denominator, which leads to “deeds, not creeds.”
6) Pragmatism: the theory where “does it work?” is more important than “is it biblical?”
7) Philistinism: the blatant dislike of anything intellectual or scholarly.
8) Premillenialism [of the dispensational variety]: a theory of eschatology that nurtures anti-intellectualism by a fixation on the future and a disregard for the present.

That’s just a short snapshot of some outstanding chapters.  The second half of the book (called “An Idiot Culture”) discusses the cultural factors that also led to the dumbing down of modern evangelicalism.

1) Amusement: the modern love of (or lust for?) entertainment.
2) Consumption: the lifestyle which abides by the “gospel” of advertisements.
3) Image: the infatuation with trends, looks, weight, sex, skin, etc.
4) Visual: the ability to watch a three hour movie coupled with the inability to read a serious three-hundred page book.
5) Postmodernity: the loss of overarching truth, meaning, and morality.
6) Media: the twisting or ignoring of truth for the sake of entertainment and cash.
7) Generationalism: the separating of generations with labels and stereotypes.
8) Cybergnosticism: the blending of the virtual (an early form of the internet) and what is real.

Again, I’ve summarized Guinness’ chapters in my own words.  I hope my summary gets your attention and causes you to read (or re-read) this excellent book.  This book is thoughtful, timely, and gives a straightforward diagnosis of a major problem in evangelicalism.  Reading it will not only give you an idea of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism, it’ll challenge you to strive more and more to love God with all your mind.

Here’s the info: Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).

shane lems

The Misery and Menace of Mindless Christianity

From the human side of things, one major reason why I’m a Christian is because it makes sense to me intellectually.  Many false religions often meet emotional needs to some extent (i.e. the Mormon burning in the bosom or the Buddhist’s inner tranquility), but none of them are as intellectually coherent and logical as the Christian faith.  This is one of many reasons why I’m frustrated by modern Christian praise songs, Christian radio, Christian fiction, and the shelves of many Christian bookstores: the Christian subculture is, for the most part, not an intellectual subculture and it makes Christianity look quite silly.  (I’m guessing Screwtape and Wormwood have a hearty chuckle every time they hear the words Veggie Tales.)

Therefore, when I read John Stott’s little booklet, Your Mind Matters, it instantly became one of my favorites on this topic.  After I read the following phrase, I couldn’t set it down: “Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service.  If we do not use the mind which God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality.”  Listen to these other great quotes.

“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.  Has God created us rational beings, and shall we deny our humanity which he has given us?  Has God spoken to us, and shall we not listen to his words?  Has God renewed our mind through Christ, and shall we not think with it?  Is God going to judge us by his Word, and shall we not be wise and build our house upon this rock?”

Later Stott quotes a parishioner who complained:

“Whenever I go to church…I feel like unscrewing my head and placing it under the seat, because in a religious meeting I never have any use for anything above my collar button.”

Stott goes on, positively.

“Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”

He also quotes H. Moule:

“We should beware equally of an undevotional theology and an untheological devotion.”

I’ll end with these words.

“[God-given knowledge is] to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service.  What we need is not less knowledge but more knowledge, so long as we act upon it.”

This book, Your Mind Matters, is a great one for newer Christians to read, but also one that mature Christians will appreciate.  It is only around 90 pages and is clear, biblical, and edifying.  It is also inexpensive, so it is worth getting two and giving one away.

shane lems