Monday, April 18, 2005

The Other CIA

After partaking in light refreshments, the members took their seats in a large circle. The group consisted of Christians from many of the churches in the area. Every time the door to the room in which they were meeting opened, conversation halted and eyes turned nervously in that direction. Would they be found out? What would other believers think if they knew what the members of this group had in common? "Unspiritual" and "impractical" were charges leveled against most of the group's members. Many of them knew the hurt of being prematurely judged as arrogant or, as it was more commonly put, "puffed up," so they tried to hide their mutual condition until they felt it was safe. Panic turned to relief when familiar faces appeared.

Steve, one of the regulars, arrived with a guest, a friend from work named Evan. Evan didn't know what to expect and had come with apprehension. Steve had told him about the group many times before, urging him to check it out as he thought he would benefit from it. Evan had consistently declined the invitations, politely insisting that he didn't have the same problem as the others in the group. Many nights when he couldn't sleep, he'd read the flier Steve had given him that explained why and for whom the group existed. It contained the following excerpt from Cliff Williams' book, The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective:

People who engage in the life of the mind - those who think and learn - read, visit libraries, buy books, explore new topics, talk to others about what they are thinking, listen to lectures, and join discussion groups. They like ideas. And they like talking about ideas. What fascinates them is a new discovery, an old classic, the thoughts of an astute observer of human nature, or research into how things work. They like to learn, and they like being with others who like to learn.

Christians who think and learn participate in these same activities and have these same interests. They, too, read and explore. They want knowledge, both of topics that are directly connected to Christian concerns and those that are not. And they like talking with others about what they learn. If you were to ask them what their life passions are, they would mention reading, thinking, and talking about ideas, including Christian ideas (p. 15).
One night, after reading the description, the walls of denial came tumbling down. "That's me! That's me!" Evan thought to himself, tears welling in his eyes. The next day he told Steve he'd like to go with him to the next meeting, an announcement Steve was excited to hear.

"I see you have a guest with you tonight, Steve," the leader said.
"Yes, this is a friend of mine from work. His name is Evan."
"Welcome, Evan. We're glad to have you with us. Would you like to tell us why you came?"
Evan seriously considered answering "No" but knew that he'd regret it if he let the opportunity pass. He had to face the truth. Nervously he stood as all eyes in the circle were turned on him. "Hi," he started. "Well, like Steve said, my name is Evan......and I'm a Christian intellectual..."

For years I've imagined such meetings of Christian Intellectuals Anonymous, only with myself as the confessor. I frequently felt ashamed of my cognitive leanings. Christians who enjoy thinking and consider it a vital part of what it means to follow Christ are often stigmatized. In some Christian circles, "intellectual" is a pejorative. Reason, study, and learning are regarded with suspicion as though inherently antagonistic to Christian faith. I was reminded of this anti-intellectual trend this past weekend by the following paragraph in Al Mohler's review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy:

McLaren is also honest about the fact that he lacks any formal theological education. As a matter of fact, he seems rather proud of this fact, insinuating that formal theological education is likely to trap persons in a habit of trying to determine right belief.
Haughtiness is a temptation against which every believer, regardless of his or her level of education, must be on guard. Poverty, whether material or intellectual, is no more cause for boasting than is wealth.

Reflecting on this subject made me recall having read of a note given to John Wesley by another evangelist. It read: "The Lord has told me to tell you that He doesn't need your book learning, your Greek and Hebrew" to which Wesley replied:
Thank you sir. Your letter was superfluous, as I already knew the Lord has no need of my 'book learning' as you put it. However, although the Lord has not directed me to say so, on my own responsibility I would like to say, the Lord does not need your ignorance either.
In Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, James Sire defines an intellectual as one:
...who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life (pp. 27-28).
"A Christian intellectual," he adds, "is all of the above to the glory of God."

Christian intellectuals don't belong in a recovery group but in churches, homes, classrooms, boardrooms, offices, studios, stages, and all facets of society. As Nancy Pearcey reminds us in her excellent book Total Truth: "A religion that avoids the intellectual task and retreats to the therapeutic realm of personal relationships and feelings will not survive in today's spiritual battlefield." So if you're in "the other CIA," come out. We need you.


Mike - said...

So what I want to know is, where are there churches for people like us??

Sir Isaac said...

The problem for Christian intellectuals is how do you overcome the frustration of constantly dealing with Christians who feel that any type of intellectual endeavor is somehow not spiritual? Or worse, just pointless?

I'm attending Biola in my last semester and I know that I'm going to miss the intellectual rigors of the Christian academic life. (Even though with 3 papers due and several chapters of reading to conquer, a long rest would be nice.)

Good post, keep it up!


empressbarb said...

Nice to hear your thoughts...You are the second follower of Jesus that has expressed this idea of thinking and reasoning as part and parcel of faith in Jesus...two in one day...God is good to give me a cyber-CIA and and a face to face one...