The Recovery of Fearless Christian Intellect

Francis A. Schaeffer, intellectual evangelist

Sitting here on the eve of the inaugural Runner Academy, I was thinking of the course of Christianity and the cultivation of intellect over the last two and a half centuries.

A common and injurious error at the time of the Enlightenment was for many Christians to assume that the Christian Faith could be defended by autonomous human reason and that Enlightenment presuppositions, properly employed, would lead right back to the doorstep of biblical Faith. This view made more sense in English Enlightenment, which was more conservative than the French Enlightenment, which was radically secular. In both cases, however, it ended with the triumph of autonomous reason, crushing biblical truth and, eventually, everything else in its path. Please read Beiser’s The Sovereignty of Reason for a captivating verification of this historically evident verdict. Christians cannot beat intellectual autonomists at their own game, and they should never try. Rather, they should demonstrate, as Herman Dooyeweerd argued, the radically religious character of all human thought, Christian or non-Christian. Christian thought employs reason in God-honoring ways, and non-Christian thought employs reason in God-defying ways. Reason is not substantive; it is instrumental.

Today, the problem is altogether different. We live in a profoundly anti-intellectual age, in which emotion, intuition, “passion,” and “escape from reason” (Francis Schaeffer) are king. Far from committing themselves to a heightened use of reason and submitting it to the Lord, most Christians are again trying to beat the world at its own game, this time, the game of anti-intellectualism. The notion that the Faith is rigorously reasonable and intellectual frightens many of them, and, in fact, they want nothing to do with such a cognitively rigorous Christianity.

A goal of Runner is not to restore the Enlightenment apostasy of autonomous reason. But neither is it to ape the mindless, passion-laden anti-intellectualism of the postmodern world. Rather, it is to restore the Christian mind, fueled by the Christian heart, the core of man’s being, and of which the mind is an aspect, and inculcate a true Christian world and life view that challenges modern secularism and paganism, both autonomous reason and mindless anti-intellectualism, with the claims of God’s infallible word by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Anything less or different is doomed to failure.

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