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FINDING COMPLETE FAITH
We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.... We must have passion - indeed hearts on fire for the things of God. But that passion must resist with intensity the anti-intellectual spirit of the world. R. C. Sproul
E-mail. We love it. We hate it. We love e-mail because it has increased the personal and meaningful contact that we can have with people. We hate it because we get way too much we don't want to respond to. That said, I (Mark) love getting e-mail from students. Many times I never know their names or where they are from. I'm sure that's the main reason they write me. They write with the hope that I have an answer to their questions or some advice to help them in their Christian walks. And they are brutally honest with me, I think, because they can remain anonymous. I don't know who they are, so they are guaranteed that any secrets are safe with me. Whether the writer is HugsforJesus or Coolio67, the names can't easily be traced back to an individual.
With all the secrecy you can bet there are lots of questions, both personal and troubling: about faith, relationships, sex, school, you name it. Who better to ask than someonewho can't know who you are? Here's one from Randee regarding faith:
I have a problem I don't feel I can share with anyone in my family or church. I'd like to think they might understand, but somehow I'm not so sure. Let me first tell you I was practically born in church; I can't ever remember a time when I didn't go. And when I say we go to church, I mean just about every time they will let us! Sunday, Wednesday, special events-our family is always there. So I've been a Christian all my life, and that is what my question is about.
You see, I recently have become really good friends with someone who is a Hindu. I've been hanging out with the family, and while I don't necessarily think I believe anything they do, it got me to thinking. They were raised Hindu and believe with all their hearts that it's correct. I've been raised in a Christian home and church and have believed it, too. So is Jesus really the only way? Or do I believe that just because of the family I grew up with? I'm kind of doubting my faith right now and thinking that Christianity is just about as real as anything else out there, but it is such a pain in the neck to do the church thing if it really doesn't matter.
Have you ever felt the way Randee does? It's common when we are young to feel confident in our beliefs and yet at the same time be unable to explain why we believe. And when we can't explain, then it's just as easy to doubt. After all, if we don't have good answers for others, then why would we have good answers for ourselves?
THERE'S NO DOUBT WE'RE GOING TO DOUBT
Until the moment we have doubts, we may have received information about faith and accepted it without much question. But now that we're a little unsure, it's time to figure out how to own that faith for ourselves.
The good news is there's a reason we sometimes doubt our faith or are unable to defend it. This book will uncover and explore this reason-an underdeveloped intellect-and then offer a way to fix it. You see, to mature in our faith we need to develop our minds. This means studying the Bible as well as the world around us. Just one of the positive by-products of that lifetime effort will be having rational reasons for what we believe.
If you're thinking the explanation for lack in our faith seems simple while the solution seems a bit more challenging, you're right. But don't be scared away. Developing our minds will help us experience a complete and confident faith. This book will show us how.
"LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR ... MIND"
I've (Mark) received many e-mails like Randee's over the years. This doesn't make Randee's problem less important, but more. Experiences like hers help us recognize that an underdeveloped mind is a common issue many Christians face, especially (and ironically) those who have grown up in families focused on Christianity and church.
Unfortunately in our Christian culture today, much of our spiritual growth tends to be in the areas of emotion and sheer tenacity. There is nothing wrong, of course, with having strong emotions toward God, experiencing His presence in our worship, or clinging to the belief that Jesus is the way. In fact, these are all appropriate aspects of Christianity. But without a healthy intellect, these areas fall out of balance. We become less than God asks us to be in our Christian walk. Sometimes we even lose faith completely.
How have we come to this conclusion? Well, when Jesus was questioned about which commandment was the greatest, He responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27). Jesus is saying here that He wants us to love God with the total person that we are. If we can offer only emotional arguments for our faith and not solid intellectual ones, then we're in trouble.
Believers have not always suffered from this problem, so we're going to take a brief look back to how we got into this situation. Then we'll have the right first-aid supplies to put our minds back in proper working order.
As you read, remember that on the journey toward a well-rounded faith, you don't have to be embarrassed about doubting or asking questions. Most Christians have gone through times when they have big questions about their faith in Jesus Christ. That's normal. Asking honest questions is often the straightest path to finding answers.
WHERE'S OUR SALT? INTELLECTUALISM TAKES A BLOW
Seventh grade was a breakthrough year for me (Mark). While I was attending a public junior high school, my history teacher spent an entire week paralleling the development of the Middle East, Christianity, Islam, and the Bible. For the first time, the study of history made sense to me, and because the teacher was a believer, he integrated his study with historical accounts from the Bible. I was fascinated.
As I began the pursuit of developing wisdom in my life, I realized that history was a great teacher. As the saying goes, "Smart people learn from their own mistakes; wise people learn from others' mistakes." But history also helps us understand who we are. Knowing things about our past can help us understand why we are who we are today. So let's take a brief look at how the minds of past believers were involved in their faith.
While generalizations can be misleading, it is safe to say that from the arrival of the Pilgrims to the middle of the nineteenth century, American believers prized the intellectual life for its contribution to the Christian journey. Christian values were woven into private and public life. Remember the Puritans? While they are often portrayed as fundamentalist, close-minded individuals responsible for the Salem witch trials, they were incredible people, and we actually owe much of our quality of life to them.
The Puritans' desire was to purify the church of England and place it under the authority of Scripture rather than the authority of the king or the pope. Some Puritan groups were called "separatists" and were persecuted for their beliefs. In 1620, roughly 100 passengers on the Mayflower made the trip to America. They arrived on the shores of Massachusetts, forming their own government based on a document called the Mayflower Compact, which was signed by forty-one of the passengers, thirty-seven of which were persecuted Puritans. Ten years later, some fifty-five thousand English colonists came to Massachusetts. One of their leaders was John Winthrop, who envisioned them creating a "city upon a hill"-an example for all the nations of how godly people live.
Puritans were highly educated people. In an agricultural economy in which academic pursuits were usually not essential for those who worked the land, Puritans founded colleges (yes, they started Harvard; when it opened, bears would often run through the campus as classes were conducted!); taught their children to read and write before the age of six; and studied art, science, and philosophy as a way of loving God with their minds. Ministers were seen as not only spiritual authorities but also intellectual authorities in their communities. Scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were activists who desired to be knowledgeable in spiritual matters as well as a variety of other disciplines. Cotton Mather, a well-known Puritan, proclaimed, "Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of HERESY."
What happened so that intellectualism and Christianity went down different roads? In the 1700s and 1800s, dramatic events took place that wrestled intellectualism out of the arms of the church.
The seeds for a shift away from the Christian mind were planted in the United States during what is called the First Great Awakening. What appeared to be a great time of revival for the church can now be considered the beginning of intellectual demise. The preaching of a man named George Whitefield in the mid-1700s was characterized by a new kind of preaching: It was popular, stylized, and emotional. In the first half of the 1800s, three more similar awakenings followed in which "anti-intellectualism was a feature."
While many results of these movements were positive, their overall effect was negative to Christianity in America. For example, the movements emphasized immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction before conversion. Emotionally charged, simple messages-rather than intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons-became the norm. Personal feelings, along with an emphasis on a right relationship with Christ, became the most important feature of conversion. This was in place of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.
This doesn't sound all bad, does it? That might be because these shifts describe our church communities today, and we're accustomed to thinking these are the best ways to encourage people to convert. We think it works-until we find ourselves as believers unable to identify what or why exactly we believe.
Really, nothing is wrong with presenting Christ to the masses by focusing on personal conversion, as was the new method during these revivals. Many people begin their walk with Christ amid highly emotional circumstances in which Christ is offered as a practical solution to their problems. Feelings are important. Knowing that Christ will meet needs is important. But emotion and inward-focused concerns aren't enough to sustain people in their Christian walk. Think of the seed falling on shallow soil in Matthew 13:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell ... on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. ... The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." (verses 3-5,20-21)
If we find ourselves in trouble the minute someone (including our own thoughts) challenges us from a factual, historical, or intellectual point of view, then we need some intellectual backup. We need heart and head belief.
But unfortunately, partly because of this history, today we must overcome an intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity.
Cults Fill an Intellectual Vacuum
Another negative result-and a tragic one at that-was the number of cults that rose up and took advantage of the lack of Christian foundation in many new converts. Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Science arose in the 1800s, often finding success in areas after Christian revivals left unstable and untaught converts open to theological deception. Cotton Mather's warning about ignorance leading to heresy was clearly disregarded during this era.
Unprepared for Bold New Philosophy
The anti-intellectual emphasis in the church then created a lack of readiness for the full-on intellectual battle Christianity would face in the late 1800s. New ideas from Europe, led by philosophers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant, altered people's understanding of religion. While many of these ideas are widely accepted today and surround us in society, these ideas were revolutionary in their day.
Hume claimed that the traditional arguments for God's existence (for example, the world is an effect that needs a personal cause) were quite weak. He also said that because we cannot experience God with the five senses, the claim that God exists cannot be taken as an item of knowledge. For slightly different reasons, Kant came to the same conclusion. Kant asserted (in a similar way) that human knowledge is limited to what can be experienced with the five senses, and because God cannot be so experienced, we cannot know God exists. The shared viewpoint of these two great thinkers was like a one-two punch at the case for God.
As these philosophies spread and grew popular, confidence was lost in the existence of God and the rationality of the Christian faith. How can faith be reasonable if it can't be verified with the five senses? Fewer and fewer people regarded the Bible as a body of divinely revealed, true propositions about various topics that require devoted study to grasp. Instead the Bible became viewed as merely a source of ethical guidance and spiritual growth.
Criticism Challenges the Historical Accuracy of the Bible
At this same time, German criticism challenged the historical accuracy of the Bible. Authorship of books of the Bible was questioned, and a search for the historical Jesus was launched.
Unable to adequately defend against the criticisms that arose, Christians actually became less inclined to study the historical context of Scripture. People began to see Scripture reading as personal and so "devotionalized" it, considering it an opportunity for personal experience rather than understanding it in its literary and historical contexts. It came to be believed that only the Holy Spirit was needed to experience the truth of Scripture while no intellectual exercise was needed for spiritual growth.
Darwinism Challenges Creationism
These cultural conditions made fertile ground for Darwin's theory of evolution to become popular. Darwinian evolution challenged the place of God in the creation of the world, the historical accuracy of Genesis, and the existence of God entirely. The theory offered a safe harbor for those who rejected creationism and even God. Our society of faith was being replaced with the secular society we have today.
Losing Our Salt
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" (Matthew 5:13). Instead of responding to these attacks on Christianity with a salty counterpunch, many believers grew suspicious of intellectual issues altogether. After all, who wants to fight battles that end in loss and shame? Of course we need to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit in our intellectual pursuits, but this doesn't mean we can avoid the often-difficult task of thinking intelligently when defending our faith.
Around the turn of the nineteenth century, fundamentalists withdrew from the broader intellectual culture and from the war with liberals (there was a culture war then, too!) and focused inward. They established their own Bible institutes and concentrated on lay-oriented Bible and prophecy conferences. This withdrawal from intellectual and public life contributed to the isolation of the church, the reduction of Christian ideas in public arenas, and the shallowness and trivialization of Christian living, thought, and activism.
Excerpted from SMART FAITH by J.P. MORELAND MARK MATLOCK Copyright © 2005 by Mark Matlock and J. P. Moreland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 30, 2010
THE SMART STUFF:
1. Good writing style. Easily communicates ideas without dumbing things down.
2. Essential topic. What we believe dictates how we live life, so we'd better make sure our belief isn't founded on teary-eyed emotions triggered by Christian love songs.
3. Teaches you to think. Makes a good case for intellect and shows you how to regain it: confidently talk about faith, handle debates. I like the brain-weightlifting exercises at the end of each chapter.
THE NOT-SO-SMART STUFF:
1. That cover? Seriously? For me, it looks like a design cop-out.
2. Two authors, one book-always an awkward read for me. I'm not comfortable with "I (Mark)." and "I (J.P.)." but you get used to it.
3. Too American in context. Talks to the American Christian; contains a background on Western religious history. Helpful, but misses some of the nuances of my non-Western faith experience.
Disclosure: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review (obviously) :)