The Blessed Madness of Reason

 Now as he [Paul] thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”

Acts 26:24


To my fellow Christians: would any unbeliever ever have warrant to accuse our vast learning of driving us mad?  If not, why not?

Our times are marked by increasing irrationalism and anti-intellectualism, even — perhaps especially — in the church.  The Enlightenment (c. 1680 – 1780) enthroned man’s reason and dethroned God’s revelation.  During the Romantic reaction (c. 1790 – 1840) and into postmodernity (1970 – ), Christians banished reason from the court altogether.  Today, illogical arguments are paraded as “deep spirituality,” and “community” is a substitute for theology.  This is a central theme of Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, which reconfigures Christianity into a Great Conversation.  Reason, by contrast, demands clear arguments and sharp distinctions; “community” erases those distinctions.  The emerging generation (= Emergent church) longs for the cuddly warmth of religious community unencumbered by intellect and creed and doctrine.  An immediate problem is that of all the major religions, Christianity is the most theological, and at critical points it makes strenuous demands of the mind (Rom. 12:1–2).

Kevin Vanhoozer once wrote that if the besetting sin of modernity was arrogance, the Achilles’ heel of postmodernity is laziness.  Hard thinking requires hard work, and Christians increasingly deplore hard work, preferring entertainment, notably on Sunday mornings — dazzling rock shows, lukewarm lattes, and self-help sermonettes.  This lazy self-indulgence is simply a reflection of the surrounding culture.  Personal consumption is life’s new objective: “The world exists to please me.”  The Christianized version is “Jesus and the church exist to please me.”  In Love God With All Your Mind, J. P. Moreland argues that this interiorized anti-intellectualism banishes the church to the social margins and thereby assures the victory of anti-Christian forces in the culture.  Cultural engagement requires the exercise of intellect, and if Christians refuse this exercise, they will lose cultural battles.  We have refused, and we are losing.

A huge solution to this problem would be a revival of intellect-cultivation in the church.  Ministers must re-commit to rigorous Biblical exposition in the pulpit.  Members must again read gutsy books on doctrine and theology — and philosophy and culture.  The church must claim — with justification — that it has the answers to modern man’s problems: from unbelief to broken marriages to addictions to sexual deviance to economic apostasy to virtual realities.  We won’t have these answers if we refuse to cultivate an intellectual Faith, which is a huge part of our Christian heritage, despite the fact that it has been squandered in the last 200 years by a lazy, worldly, and sometimes cowardly church.

Intellect is not our problem.  Rebellious intellect is our problem.

And ignorance — especially pious ignorance — is assuredly not the solution.

May God grant us an island of intellectuals in a sea of irrationalists.


One thought on “The Blessed Madness of Reason

  1. LCSwanson says:

    Your email article along with our current life situation stirred my up Andrew. Some of my thoughts:

    Does Christianity have intellectual or rational arguments? The church has an infectious disease called post-modernism, not some individual food item at the market, but something substantially meatier. It defines our very essence, our identity. The predominant view is that intellectualism leads to uncertainty. The church has bought this argument. If this is correct, it leads to the conclusion that feeling and experience and community are all important. It is these that speak to me each day.

    Arguments for the existence of God are no longer considered viable. The church says we can speak about the “probability of God”, but not of the certainty that there is a God. If we are certain, what is the intellectual argument for God? It is said that if we don’t believe in God, look at where things will lead (evil, immorality, a baseless ethical foundation). Since we don’t want to go there, let’s pretend there is a God, as if pretending there is a God brings him into existence, removes our uncertainty, and alleviates our problem.

    Truth has to be spelled with a little “t” today, not a big “T” because I am stuck with rank uncertainty, leaving me in my little world and in my own personal reality; there is no metaphysics and no escape from the immediate. The Kantian axe has cut the cord between the phenomenal and the noumenal.

    Science plus naturalistic philosophy has reduced us to biochemical processes, offering a very compelling argument and paradigm on our identity from the scientific community. The church is still telling stories about a worldwide flood, Noah’s ark, and a creation that is only 6,000 years old. But if modern man is over 400,000 years where does this leave the historical Adam? The evolutionary paradigm says man is just another species in a very long evolutionary sequence. Only a few conservative churches in the US and Canada hold a different view.

    Without God we are left merely to ourselves. No wonder the predominant goal is to live life as easy as possible until we die (permanently), and to find a little belonging during that time. That’s the zeitgeist. That’s all there is. There is no Holy God, who is really mad because we are really bad. If there is a God at all, he surely loves everyone and wants nothing more than our present happiness (Joel Osteen).

    What progress have we made with some of the significant problems of Christianity over the last 4,000 years? Have our intellectual brothers resolved these? Are we losing the battle?

    · If God is all good and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Sorry, Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig haven’t really handled this one yet. And evil/suffering isn’t just a logical problem- it is a real problem.

    · The concept of hell is totally repugnant, barbaric, and goes beyond divine justice. Suffering eternally, really? Are we really that bad?

    · More recently, how are evolutionary science and the old age of the earth/universe synthesized with the early chapters of Genesis? Is there truly a synthesis or does one or the other have to be ejected? The church is so fragmented on this debate it truly is pathetic. This view gains momentum every year and is not going away soon. It is efficiently wearing down the defenses of the church and young people.

    The world has so many more attractions and immediate gratifications and I am enjoying them. What does the church have to offer to my reality; rock and roll music, lattes, community? Does God have to be part of this to make it meaningful?


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