Ways Culture Distorts Our Minds (Part II)

“Jesus Doesn’t Mind if I’m Ignorant”

If you’ve never had to deal with fellow Christians who aren’t willing to recognize that their beliefs about God or anything else might be inaccurate, you probably haven’t experienced much of the Christian world. Many people like this exist, and though we are at no liberty to think of them with distaste or treat them with disrespect, we all feel deep down that there’s something wrong with this. Why is it that people who cling to the simple and naïve mindsets they were raised with, refusing to respect that this world is actually complicated and hard to understand, seem to be unfaithful to God in a serious way? Well, I don’t really know if I can give a specific answer. But I do know that since our consciences disapprove of it, it’s probably something that we need to take care avoid.

Yet even though we all know deep down that it is wrong to ignore the truth, Christian culture has absolutely imbibed the idea that the pursuit of Academic studies is somehow unimportant and irrelevant (even bad)  for our “journey with God”, or “what really matters” after the point at which it can no longer help us with our ministries. Why is this? Well, there are several reasons for it, and I’m going to attempt to very briefly explain:

Around 120 years ago, Western society’s intellectual world was populated by theories to explain the world around us without God. Scholars who subjected the Bible to historical studies had begun to form theories as to the Bible’s origins which were opposed to the widespread Christian view of the Bible, questioning the reliability of the Old and New Testaments, and evolutionary explanations were given for humans and all biological life. In response, many Christians who, despite this apparent contrary evidence to their faith, were convinced they knew the true God, emphasized the fundamentals of the faith, rejecting conclusions of the intellectuals in Universities and popular culture (wouldn’t you expect the world to be opposed to God anyway?) Unfortunately, this caused Christian culture to become very opposed to scholarship and Academia, thus inundating the Church with anti-intellectualism and ignorance of scholarly work concerning the nature of the world (in the name of Jesus). A little later, a philosophy called “Post Modernism” worked its way into culture as all Western Society became skeptical of whether truth existed or mattered anyways, causing many misled Christians to de-emphasize the idea of God as an actually existent (whether we believe it or not) being, instead emphasizing a heartfelt relationship with Jesus as the only thing the Christian faith requires of a man or woman.  All of these influences have sculpted our Christian culture into one which is skeptical of academia and intellectual pursuits, and the unfortunate thing is that we all have the impression that Jesus doesn’t mind.

So are Academic studies important? Or is it alright to be ignorant? Does Jesus want us to be “fools for Christ”, or ought we to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves?” My conviction is that Academic studies and critical thinking are essential to a healthy Christian faith, and I’ll explain several reasons why.  First, let me define Academic studies, for those who were wondering: By this I mean the practice of thinking objectively about the world and forming accurate viewpoints concerning all manner of subjects such as human nature, God, theological topics, scientific theories, political philosophy, ethics and etc., based on the best available evidence and reasoning.

There are three main reasons why Jesus probably doesn’t want us to be ignorant: First, beliefs fundamentally shape the way we experience ourselves, others, God and the world. Second, Christians are commanded to be wise. Third, truth is a worthy and obligatory end in itself.

Firstly, beliefs fundamentally shape the way we experience everything. The only way we know the world outside us is through what we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell, and what we believe. If what we believe is wrong, then we experience the world in a false way, and our beliefs mislead us. If what we believe about God is false, we don’t accurately know the true God and his works. This is incredibly important to realize, for one’s life is completely transformed by changing beliefs. Academic studies consist of forming accurate beliefs about the world, and thus are necessary in order to understand everything in existence. Some argue that such studies and thinking are unnecessary, because the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. As nice as that would be, this line of thought misses the fact that if taken to its logical conclusion, it would render even the Bible unnecessary in light of the Holy Spirit’s ultimate sufficiency in delivering all truth into our minds. Thus, Academic studies are absolutely essential in coming to an understanding of the world the way it really is.

Second, Christians are commanded to be wise. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Christians are called to be mature and wise—taking an objective view of the world rather than being controlled by how we feel about it. But how can we take an objective view of things if we’ve never taken any steps to find out if what we believe is true? How can we serve God in loving wisdom and knowledge if we don’t think critically about the things we believe, say, and do, on a day-to-day basis?

Third, truth is a worthy and obligatory end in itself. Without truth, we are nothing but social creatures with no concept of reality apart from what is popular in culture, what we desire, and what feels “right”. But as humans we are given an incredibly powerful intellect for the purpose of understanding and believing the truth, the denial and ignorance of which amounts to the denial of our creation after the image of God– who embodies all truth within himself. The denial of truth-seeking is the denial of the most central part of who we are as humans.

Let us learn, then, to think well and accurately, in order to represent God as people of the truth. How do you do it? Read a book, and think really hard. Take a few subjects that you don’t know much about and just start reading. Seek to actually understand what you perceive to be true in the author’s writing and integrate it into your worldview. It can be quite fun at times, if you take it seriously. Good luck.