Revival of the Mind (Part 4)
In the past few weeks we’ve discussed some historical influences that brought about anti-intellectualism and the subsequent elevation of feelings within evangelicalism. Emotions are good servants but bad masters, and there are many lasting negative effects on evangelicalism from this reign of emotion.
Perhaps there’s no better example than in the area of biblical interpretation. When feelings are given the ultimate priority, everything must bow to their authority—including Scripture. I recall attending a Sunday School class years ago where a passage from the Bible was discussed. The teacher read the text, stopped at each verse and asked, “What does this verse mean to you?” As each member formulated an answer, I noticed many prefaced their answers by saying “I feel…” What’s worse, after the teacher heard the various and sundry (and some contradictory) answers, rather than concluding with solid grammatical and historical evidence as to what the verse actually meant, the teacher quickly moved to the next verse. A constant diet of this would lead one to conclude that the meaning of the text comes from within the interpreter (based on feelings), rather than discovering the meaning of the text through the hard work of biblical hermeneutics. Because of this, major doctrines are denied or reinterpreted because they just don’t ‘feel’ right. Perhaps this is why we’ve seen so many denominations and splinter groups develop in the last couple hundred years. I’m sure we’d all be amazed how much doctrinal unity could be achieved among the denominations if solid principals of biblical interpretation were employed.
This anti-intellectualism has also hurt missions and evangelism. The emphasis on faith-as-feelings means that Christians in our culture are not ready to articulate why they believe what they believe. In spite of Peter’s admonition (1 Peter 3:15) to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” many Christians are woefully unprepared, and this lack of preparation is hurting our witness to the world. When a Christian is unsure of his beliefs, he is less likely to engage others with the truth claims of the Gospel. The inability to articulate the faith is not because Christians lack intellectual acumen; many have jobs that require much thought. Christians, like anyone else, do what they deem most important, and since feelings have trumped the intellect in religious matters, studying the Bible and its doctrines are low on the priority list.
This also highlights the common sacred/secular split within the Christian mind. Religion is relegated to the private world of feelings, while the intellect is reserved for public life. Our culture doesn’t mind Christian politicians or business people, as long as their Christianity stays private and does not inform or interfere in their public lives. Many Christians have acquiesced by compartmentalizing their lives, rather than letting the Lordship of Christ inform every aspect of life. This has opened Christians up to the (sometimes accurate) charge of hypocrisy, which has further damaged our witness.
In the next few weeks, we’ll examine how Evangelicals can return to the life of the mind.
Article by Pastor Billy Elkins