Stupid and Irrelevant (Jer 10:8)
For some time, Christian scholars have lamented the degradation of evangelical thinking. Albert Mohler writes, for example, “We are in big trouble. . . . Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible.” He adds, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge.” A plethora of evangelical leaders lament the mindlessness of modern evangelicalism. Consider these comments:
If Christian laymen do not become intellectually engaged, then we are in serious danger of losing our youth. . . . There can be no question that the church has dropped the ball in this area.
If we abandon thinking, we abandon the Bible, and if we abandon the Bible we abandon God. The Holy Spirit has not promised a short-cut to the knowledge of God.
At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is sin because it is a refusal, contrary to the first of Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds.
David R. Nienhuis notes that most of his seminary students—future Christian leaders—are deeply misinformed about basic Bible doctrines. According to Nienhuis, God functions as “divine butler-therapist” or a “nice, permissive dad with a big wallet.” Students cannot integrate Bible characters and events within the broader Old and New Testament narratives or within the biblical worldview. Moreover, Brent A. Strawn asserts that the influence of the Old Testament in the church is waning significantly. He writes, “For many contemporary Christians, at least in North America, the Old Testament has ceased to function in healthy ways in their lives as a sacred, authoritative, canonical literature.”
In 1994, prominent evangelical historian Mark Noll wrote, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” In 2011, he published a cautiously optimistic reassessment of Christian intellectuality, but he maintained that this intellectual recovery “does not possess theologies full enough, traditions of intellectual practice strong enough, or conceptions of the world deep enough to sustain a full-scale intellectual revival.”
My personal experience has confirmed these concerns. Christian laypeople suffer from profound anti-intellectual inertia. They are all too often willfully naive and blissfully unaware by choice. They are sometimes curious, but usually uncommitted. They are not prepared to read, write, or reflect deeply. They are unwilling to submit to programmatic learning or qualified teachers. They think like consumers, shopping for knowledge, learning formats, and instructors that conform to their buying preferences. Their infatuation with entertainment, consumerism, and digital chatter does not leave time or energy for gaining insight. They prefer junk food for their minds. They are addicted to triviality. They live as the demons depicted at the beginning of this introduction wanted them to live—with intellectual simplicity, private religiosity, and subjective spirituality.
Many evangelicals downplay analysis and rigorous thought. Some fall for “fake news” and conspiracy theories hawked by social media gurus. They do not listen with discernment to the voices that call out to them. Reasoning from Scripture and theological education are not considered useful endeavors. In short, many believers minimize and misuse the intellect. They do not recognize how sin impacts our reasoning. They do not know how to love God with the mind.
At the scholarly level, the lack of biblical–theological understanding is also acute. Evangelical thinkers in all fields invest many years of study and thousands of dollars in gaining an academic degree and a viable career. But how many hours and dollars do they invest in acquiring biblical understanding? Paul M. Gould observes, “While experts within their own particular fields of study, Christian professors often possess a Sunday school level of education when it comes to matters theological and philosophical . . . and the result is a patchwork attempt to integrate one’s faith with one’s scholarly work and an inability to fit the pieces of one’s life into God’s larger story.” This lack of biblical–theological understanding is likely to be manifested in their understanding of epistemology, their integration of faith and learning, and their apologetics.
We should know better. The Old Testament teaches that we will not honor God with our minds or reflect his glory if we lack knowledge and discernment. John M. Frame explains that Christians have a God-given “stewardship of the mind and intellect,” adding, “It is remarkable that Christians so readily identify the lordship of Christ in matters of worship, salvation, and ethics, but not in thinking. But . . . God in Scripture over and over demands obedience of his people in matters of wisdom, thinking, knowledge, understanding, and so forth.” Indeed, the Old Testament shows that we are designed for thinking. Clearly, a Christian mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Praise for Such a Mind as This
“What is the difference between intellectuality and intellectualism? In this deeply learned defense of Christian wisdom, Richard Smith deftly navigates the relevant biblical-theological evidence for the importance of right thinking. Much of today’s anti-intellectualism is based on misguided views of spirituality. Smith gently but firmly disarms contemporary prejudice and winsomely presents a liberating alternative.”
—William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Seminary
“In this unusual book, Smith calls us to think, to use our minds, and to ground our thinking in the truth that God has given us in his inspired and infallible word. Smith has issued a call for bold, radical, God-centered, countercultural, life-transformative thinking … Just think how different the church will be when we all use our minds as God intended them to be used. Just think!”
—Daryl McCarthy, Director, European Leadership Forum Academic Network
“A fascinating study of the human mind and its thinking processes beginning before the fall, and then looking at the effect of sin on the human mind and thinking after the fall. Smith gives a tour of the epistemological developments of the mind’s relationship to God … Smith then builds a case for a redemptive epistemology that will help people use their minds to the glory of God.”
—Richard P. Belcher Jr., Professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary
“In today’s world, while science and technology are advancing at an unprecedented pace, most persons display a disturbing loss of interest in thinking properly about crucial life issues. This is always bad, but lack of understanding and discernment becomes catastrophic when it comes to the Christian faith. In this book, Smith provides an effective, strong antidote against this suicidal trend, if we only are willing to take it.”
—Fernando D. Saravi, Associate Professor of Physiology, National University of Cuyo
“Christians like to say that they think ‘biblically,’ but what does that mean? … Taking multiple deep dives into a variety of types of Old Testament literature, … Smith draws a picture of what it means to think as a people in covenant relationship with their Lord. Smith has done a huge service by exploring what the Old Testament has to teach us about what it means to let the Bible guide our thinking and living, how to love God with all our minds.”
—Ted Turnau, Lecturer in Culture, Religion, and Media, Anglo-American University
“Readers of this work will experience in a fresh way their calling to be thinkers and learners in the context of God’s creation. In addition, readers will receive … invaluable insights into what it means to love God with one’s whole mind in the larger context of learning to love God with all that one is and has. Smith provides an important tool for all of us who do pastoral ministry and mission among university students and teachers.”
—Josue Olmedo, Logos and Cosmos Initiative Coordinator, IFES Latin America
“John Calvin began The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ‘Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’Richard Smith has done a wonderful job exploring how these two knowledges are connected in the Old Testament. His book shows how the biblical message both answers and corrects the deepest questions of humanity outside of Eden, making the Bible (and this book!) worthy of the most serious consideration.”
—Thomas K. Johnson, Senior Theological Advisor, World Evangelical Alliance
About the Author
Richard L. Smith received a Masters of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1992 and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology in 1996. From 1995 to 2001, he ministered in Prague, Czech Republic, with Global Scholars. Since 2010, Richard has lived and ministered in Buenos Aires, Argentina. and serves as a Senior Advisor for the Society of Christian Scholars . He manages a website and blog, Cosmovisión Bíblica (Biblical Worldview).