Christians must address contemporary thinking–they can not only grapple with new ideas without compromising their faith, but Christianity provides a superior basis for pursuing knowledge than do competing worldviews.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)|
About the Author
Gene Edward Veith (PhD, University of Kansas) provost and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College. He previously worked as the culture editor of World magazine. Veith and his wife, Jackquelyn, have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Christians should use and develop their minds. The mental faculties of the human mind — the power to think, to discover, to wonder, and to imagine — are precious gifts of God. The Christian who pursues knowledge, seeks education, and explores even the most "secular" subjects is fulfilling a Christian vocation that is pleasing to God and of great importance to the Church. The Bible, by precept and example, affirms this and opens up the whole realm of human knowledge to the Christian. This is my main thesis.
When Christians do pursue the whole realm of human knowledge, however, they often run into some obstacles. This is especially so today. Christian assumptions are not generally recognized in academia or in our culture in general. Christians often find their faith challenged when they become involved in the arts, the sciences, the social sciences, and other professions. Christianity is clearly not in vogue with the "intellectual establishment."
When Christians realize that there are some basic discrepancies between their faith and contemporary thought, they often do one of two things: They withdraw or they compromise. Christian students who go to a secular university are often shocked and disoriented when they discover that their professors, textbooks, and classmates do not share their faith. Some of them, not knowing how to deal with the difficult issues they are facing, quit school. Others, tragically, abandon their faith. Overwhelmed by the power and prestige of secularist academia, and being unable to draw on the intellectual resources of the Christian faith, they drift away from Christ.
Another common option is to compromise, to reinterpret Christian doctrine according to the ways of thinking currently in vogue. This is the way of theological liberalism. It is possible to become so enraptured by one's academic discipline that its answers to problems start to seem more authoritative than the Bible's. Those who crave academic respectability and acceptance by peers and colleagues may not be willing to abandon Christianity entirely; instead they often reinterpret it according to contemporary fashions and values. In doing so, the hard-edged faith that has always been a scandal and a stumbling-block to the world is changed into something less.
This book argues that it is possible for Christians to engage the contemporary intellectual world without weakening or compromising their faith. Christians in fact need to do so, both for the sake of the Church and for the sake of a world that is starving for the truth of the gospel.
Christians need to be aware, though, of the contours of contemporary thought. They need to know what to expect and how to deal with some of the challenges to the Christian faith that they will encounter. They also need to know the positive side, how Christian truth genuinely opens up the mind, providing a framework that embraces all knowledge and that gives a basis for curiosity, creativity, and all the energy of learning.
What I have to say will apply to the whole climate of contemporary thought as it appears almost everywhere in our culture, but my focus will be on the secular university. This is where that thought is engendered and nourished, and it is the point of encounter for most Christians. Although this book is intended mainly as an exposition and application of Scripture, it also draws on my own experiences. As an undergraduate I made many of the mistakes that I will be counseling others to avoid. When I was a graduate student, drawing on the power of the Bible and the support of fellow-Christians, I began to see the strength of the Christian perspective in modern academia. Today I am a professor. Having taught English in both secular and Christian colleges, and having become a small part of the "intellectual establishment" in my own research and in dealing with colleagues and students, I make bold here to offer an insider's view of academia and today's intellectual world.
This book is divided into three parts. The first section presents the biblical case for "secular learning." It argues that the life of the mind — the process of learning and pursuing knowledge of every kind — is a legitimate, God- pleasing calling for a Christian. It focuses upon the particular example of Daniel as a biblical model of a believer pursuing knowledge in an unbelieving world.
The second section provides an overview of the contemporary mind, describing the assumptions and characteristics of the current intellectual establishment as seen especially in today's academic climate. That section will examine the various attacks and temptations that Christians will face from that quarter, but it will not be totally negative. Christians can contribute to contemporary thought in some important ways and can flourish even in an environment that seems hostile.
The third section describes "the Christian mind." In it I argue that Christianity provides an intellectual framework that is actually superior to any other worldview for the pursuit of knowledge. Looking at history and at the current intellectual roadblocks that secularist thinkers are experiencing, I suggest that only Christianity can account for the complexity and the open-endedness required for true learning. Christianity gives a conceptual foundation for creativity, discovery, and mystery so that the pursuit of all truth can be energized by the love of God.
The new student trying to understand and cope with university life, the scholar seriously trying to reconcile the demands of an academic career with the demands of the Christian faith, Christian teachers in public schools, pastors trying to minister to a contemporary congregation, Christian psychologists, journalists, scientists, artists, lawyers, and certainly parents — nearly all Christians today will face the conflicts and the possibilities that I will be describing. I offer here a map of the modern and postmodern intellectual world that might prove helpful to a Christian trying to navigate its sometimes troubled waters. I also wish to show that Christians do not need to be afraid to think, that Christians in fact have advantages over non-Christians when it comes to using their minds. Just as Jesus Christ commands us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, our soul, and our strength, He also commands us to love Him with all of our mind (Mark 12:30). This book tries to explore what that can mean and where it can lead.CHAPTER 2
EDUCATION AND THE BIBLE
Should a Christian get involved in the world's intellectual discoveries and intellectual battles? Does a university have anything to teach a Christian, or is it simply another pagan mission field? How does "secular learning" fit in with the knowledge of God? Christians trying to decide whether or not to go to college (or to stay in college) often ask these questions. Christians in other callings ask similar questions: Should Christians read books by non-Christians? Can a Christian learn from non-Christian philosophers, scientists, or artists? All believers must walk the tightrope of being in the world but not of the world and must continually deal with such questions. To find answers, one should begin by asking God — that is, by studying the Scriptures.
SECULAR EDUCATION IN THE BIBLE
The Bible gives many examples of people who were both highly educated in the knowledge of the day and who were also heroes of the faith. Moses was "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), which would have been considerable. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were at the court of Nebuchadnezzar — den of lions, fiery furnace, and all — precisely so they could learn the knowledge of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1).
Paul was "educated at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3), who conducted the most distinguished academy of first-century Judaism. Paul's hometown, Tarsus, was famous for its university. We do not know if he was influenced directly by the great Hellenic academy at Tarsus, but from his mastery of Greek, including his citations of Greek drama and his frequent employment of classical rhetoric, it is apparent that Paul was well-acquainted with Greek and Roman thought. Paul's sophisticated education was recognized by Festus, who worried that "your great learning is driving you out of your mind" (Acts 26:24). For the highly-educated, that is a very real occupational hazard.
Although Festus remained unconvinced, another Roman official, Sergius Paulus, became Paul's first convert mentioned in Scripture. Praised as "a man of intelligence" (Acts 13:7), this proconsul of Cyprus must have been highly educated. The same office was held at Cilicia by Cicero, one of the greatest minds of Rome. Paul's great coworker Apollos was from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the premier center of Greco-Roman thought. The library of Alexandria was one of the wonders of the world, and its "museum" was, in effect, the major university of the age. Described in the Bible as both an Alexandrian and as "an eloquent man" (Acts 18:24), Apollos must have been trained in the rhetoric and dialectic for which Alexandria was famous. Judging by his Greek name, Apollos must have been a Hellenized Jew, a follower of the Old Testament who was also open to the classical culture around him. Apollos was not only learned, but he was also "competent in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). He placed his analytical and intellectual powers at the service of Christ's Kingdom: "When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus" (Acts 18:27-28).
Having earthly knowledge is, of course, no substitute for the work of the gospel. "Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards," observes Paul (1 Corinthians 1:26), thereby indicating that a few of them were. It must not be forgotten that "the world did not know God through wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:21). Solomon's great wisdom, for example, did not prevent him from falling into idolatry.
Still, the Bible leaves no doubt that Solomon's wide-ranging knowledge was a gift and a blessing from God:
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
— 1 KINGS 4:29-34
Solomon's famous wisdom was not only moral discernment. Solomon is described here as a philosopher, a poet, a musician, and a natural scientist. "He spoke of trees ... of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish." In other words, according to the Bible, Solomon was a biologist. Nearly every type of knowledge, from the arts to biological science, from music to psychology, was poured out upon Solomon by the Creator of them all. For God is always portrayed as the source of all true knowledge, and intellectual ability is His gift.
EDUCATION AND THE BIBLE
There is another sense in which Scripture by its very nature upholds education. God chose to reveal Himself by means of a book. He communicates to us not primarily by visions, mystical experiences, or inner voices, but by His Word. Christians believe that we meet God and enter into a direct, personal contact with Him when we sit down and read a book, the Holy Bible. Therefore, reading is, for Christians, literally a sacred gift and obligation.
The ability to read is now taken for granted. Historically, how ever, this has not been the case. The ability to read is not common in world cultures. In the relatively few civilizations that developed writing, only the elite could read and thereby wield the power that reading made possible. Literacy, however, has always been nourished by the Church.
In fact, the high rate of literacy in our culture and the very existence of today's educational institutions are due to the centrality of the Bible in the Christian faith. In ancient times, when many of the surrounding tribes did not even have an alphabet, and when those that did restricted their use to the bureaucrats, the businessmen, and the priests who sought to protect their mysteries from the masses, every Hebrew boy was learning how to read God's Word.
During the Middle Ages, books had to be copied out by hand, making them rare and expensive. Most people, including the very wealthy, could not read anyway. Yet the Church could not exist without the Bible. Copies of the Scriptures were laboriously and lovingly inscribed by hand. The oldest universities of Europe, such as Oxford and the Sorbonne, were founded to train the ministers of the Church. (The historic American universities — Harvard, Princeton, and the early church-related colleges — were founded primarily for the same purpose much later.) Ministers at least must be able to read and to understand Christian doctrine in order to fulfill their function as teachers of God's Word. In fact, the term clergy and its related form clerk often simply referred to someone who could read. (As late as the nineteenth century, a criminal could escape hanging by claiming "benefit of clergy," which he did by proving that he could read, a skill that was too valuable to lose to the hangman.)
That the medieval Church to a certain extent fell into superstition and error, neglecting the authority of Scripture in favor of human traditions, was probably due in large measure to the literal scarcity of Bibles and of people who could read them. Even many of the clergy had become shamefully uneducated. Many churches did not even own a Bible. Since they had to be copied out by hand, they were enormously expensive. With the printing press, however, books could be mass-produced, whereupon universal literacy became possible. With this new technology everyone could have access to a Bible and could have personal contact with the Word of God. Luther's greatest work as a Reformer was his translation of the Bible into the language of the people. Another legacy of Luther, which makes him a major figure for all of our culture and not only for the Church, was the development of universal education. All classes of people were to be taught how to read so they could know personally the fullness of God's will and His love as communicated in the Scriptures.
Even today, literacy training is part of the work of evangelism. Missionaries such as those with Wycliffe Bible Translators typically go into an area to learn the language of the people, translate the Bible into their language, and then teach them how to read it. The Word of God is what subsequently brings them to faith in Christ.
Once they learn how to read, though, other worlds open up to them. Their ability to read the Bible also gives them access to other kinds of knowledge, to modern technology and health care, to the possibility of escaping from poverty and social repression. Their ability to read the Bible opens up the whole scope of knowledge.
THE BIBLE AND OTHER KINDS OF KNOWLEDGE
If a person believes that the Bible is the authoritative and holy Word of God, supremely worthy of study and understanding, other kinds of knowledge in addition to the ability to read become very important. The languages chosen by God for His revelation are Hebrew and Greek. The knowledge of these ancient languages is thus a matter for more advanced study for those who wish to study God's Word exactly as He inspired it. Linguistics, the study of language in general, becomes essential in translating and rendering the Bible's message into modern languages. The Wycliffe missionaries are trained in the most rigorous methodology of scientific linguistics in order to carry out their work of translation and evangelism.
Moreover, to understand fully the ancient Hebrew terms and references, a knowledge of history is indispensable. Geography, archaeology, and anthropology are all involved in a full understanding of the events of Scripture. The Bible also proclaims theological truths, which involve the vocabulary of philosophy and abstract discourse. The point is, even if a person desires to know only the Bible, that knowledge would have to involve a multitude of sophisticated academic disciplines.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Loving God with All Your Mind"
Copyright © 2003 Gene Edward Veith, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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.
Table of Contents
PART I GETTING EDUCATED AS A CHRISTIAN VOCATION,
2 Education and the Bible,
3 The University of Babylon,
PART II THE MODERN AND THE POSTMODERN MIND,
4 The Attacks Against Christianity,
5 The Exclusion of God,
6 Traditionalists and Progressives,
7 The Moral Issues,
8 Intellectual Combat,
PART III THE CHRISTIAN MIND,
9 The Communion of the Saints,
10 The Magicians and the Enchanters,
11 Creation and Creativity,
12 Christianity as an Intellectual Framework,
13 Conclusion: Loving God with All Your Mind,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews