Revival of the mind
American evangelicals need a revival. By revival, I don’t mean what Webster’s defines as “an often highly emotional evangelistic meeting or series of meetings.” I do mean what Webster’s defines as “renewed attention to or interest in something.” That “something” for evangelicals should be the life of the mind.
In centuries past, Christians pursued the life of the mind with vigor. A quick glance back in Christian history reveals intellectual giants who not only loved God with all of their hearts and souls, but with their minds as well (Matthew 22:37). These great men of God were scientists, scholars, educators, artists, writers, musicians, founders of universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, etc.), college presidents, and pastors who were not just informed about theology, but a wide variety of subjects. Jonathan Edwards, who many still consider the greatest intellect America has ever produced, readily comes to mind. A Congregationalist pastor, Edwards spent twelve to thirteen hours a day in study, not just in theology, but in areas such as science and philosophy. He died shortly after becoming the president of what is now Princeton University. One might suspect that Edwards was so engaged in the life of the mind that his religion was cold and lifeless, but we shouldn’t forget that his preaching was the impetus for the First Great Awakening—Edwards loved God with his heart and his head.
In contrast to Evangelicalism’s rich intellectual history, a dangerous anti-intellectualism has taken hold today. As proof, the average Christian does not know who Jonathan Edwards is, nor do they have any significant understanding of important events in Christian history. The study of biblical theology is considered by many to be boring, irrelevant, and overly divisive, whereas the sale of Christian fiction continues to increase. In some Christian circles—thankfully not all—those who pursue advanced degrees are held suspect. What’s worse, many Christians have no idea how to communicate the Christian worldview and to integrate it into every area of life. A recent Barna poll (Dec. 2006) states that Christians are more attuned to matters of culture and entertainment than matters of faith. If the mind dwells on what the heart deems most important, Christianity is in deep trouble. It’s not that issues of culture and entertainment are bad; it’s just that if matters of faith are not informing these areas, the culture will influence Christianity far more than Christianity will influence the culture. This is clearly what’s happening in America; the salt of Christian thought has lost its savor. As a result, our culture is becoming putrid.
Writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) This is exactly what we need today: a renewal or a revival of our minds. Some may think that intellectual pursuits will lessen a person’s devotion to God, but as the Puritan minister Cotton Mather once quipped, “Ignorance is not the mother of Devotion but of HERESY.”
In the next few weeks we’ll explore the root of this anti-intellectualism. We’ll also offer some possible solutions, and examine what a Christian revival of the mind might look like.
Article by Pastor Billy Elkins