Evangelicals Have Incredible Reasons to Engage the Life of the Mind

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Yesterday’s post has been spinning in my mind since I wrote it, and I’ve been updating the list of leading evangelical scholars since I published it (it’s kind of fun, which is a sure sign of nerdery). There’s one point in particular that I realized I needed to expand from the essay.

It’s this: evangelical scholars have far more reason to engage the life of the mind than their peers. Why? Because of the verse cited above, Matthew 22:37. The greatest commandment of them all, the apex of Jesus’ teaching, instructed Christ’s disciples to love God with the entirety of their being. This necessarily included loving the Lord with “all” their mind. It’s one of just three aspects of the human person mentioned here: heart, soul, mind.

So we’re to love God with the totality of our person. That’s what I think the greatest commandment means; we don’t love Jesus half-heartedly or with partial devotion to something else. The book of James makes this clear as it develops the central theme of pursing single-minded faith, not a dipsuchos or “double-minded” faith, which is really no faith at all. Christians love this commandment, and you’ll hear it cited and even preached on in many evangelical churches. But the part we tend to isolate from it is the “heart” part. In other words, we have a tendency to boil this central teaching of Christ down to a kind of simple piety. Love Jesus with your heart; shut out the rest.

Fundamentally I agree with this conviction. At the end of the day, it’s Jesus or nothing. When I’m faced with a choice between following Jesus or following some other influence, as a Christian my course has to be set on the Messiah. But while you can justly reduce Christian faith to heart-love, I think you can also zoom out of this verse and get a wider view. What do I mean? Loving Jesus means at minimum that he is your lodestar; at maximum, however, it means that every last particle of your life, every hour of the day you have, every action you undertake, is devoted to him.

And this includes the life of the mind. This includes scholarship. It includes academic work. We don’t always think in those terms; sometimes evangelicals distrust “scholarship” outright. For some, the word conjures up images of squeamish Christians who pander to the culture, sniff at the biblical worldview, and focus on producing arcane material that doesn’t mean anything outside of its guild. It’s possible for evangelical thinkers to conform to this stereotype; evangelical intellectuals frankly will face great pressure to conform to the academy. This is both a real problem and a serious temptation. But this is certainly not what loving Christ with one’s mind should or often does look like.

Evangelical scholars study and research and analyze and edit and collate and deduce with the Lordship of Christ firmly fixed in their mind. They master their discipline not because they’re nerdy, but because they want to understand the world God has made and help others to do the same. We err as Christians if we fundamentally distrust scholars. Of course, they need local church accountability just as everyone does. They need a confession to meaningfully guide not only their behavior, but their thought. And let’s just go ahead and say it: this will mean that many evangelical intellectuals will need to actually know that confession and be willing to make career sacrifices to be faithful to Scripture.

If it’s God or the academy, scholars must not be dipsuchos. They must be single-minded.

With that said, though, within confessional bounds intellectuals should feel exhilarating freedom as they research, write, and teach. They are serving the Lord in their work just as Christians in all other honorable professions and callings do. They are not hampered by the Bible; they are set free by it. They possess the image of God. They can think and analyze as God can (not at his level, of course!). And so they should. Human beings put God’s glory on display when they exercise their critical faculties, when they create bodies of scholarship that are true, when they pass on right ideas that form healthy living. Christian scholars have a particular ability to do this. They can not only think well, but point students to the telos of all things, Jesus Christ, the one whose intelligence and knowledge dwarfs all others.

The church is the focal point of the kingdom. Preaching of the Word and its gospel drives all our work and labor. But preaching and the church are not enemies to thinking and the academy. Provided one has the right order of this relationship, theologically robust local churches should equip and aid academics in their work. The church sometimes can be or seem to be the enemy of scholarship. Within confessional and biblical bounds, it should be its greatest friend. The body of Christ is constituted by truth, true truth as Schaeffer brilliantly called it; wherever academics of a hundred different fields dig up truth in their profession, the church cheers them.

So, if all the humble foregoing is relatively right, students, graduate students, scholars, and intellectuals should soar as they discharge their profession. And–by the way–they should be in regular conversation with their pastors and elders, not merely for accountability, but because the pastor should be a kind of public intellectual, as Kevin Vanhoozer has elegantly argued here and here. Pastors are interested not only in the heart, but in the mind. In fact, pastors of all people should understand that the two are intertwined. What one believes, one loves.

As evangelicals study, research, teach, and write, they should experience joy and delight. This is what Christ intends for his people: to love God and experience this love through the exercise of the mind. It is God who gave us the gift of intelligence. It is God who created all things from intelligence. It is God, not any secular principle, that is honored when we think aright.

Without shame, Christian scholars can work to the glory of God, in order that the knowledge of this glory might fill the earth like rivers over dry land.


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