Saturday, September 21, 2013

Intellectuals Are Less Likely To Embrace Christianity

The University of Rochester recently published a review of decades of research demonstrating that “religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.” A summation of 63 studies on the subject, the Rochester report cannot be dismissed by the religious community. We must recognize as an objective fact that people with higher IQs are turning to atheism.

“First, there is an incredible bias against theism within higher education.”

It seems to me that the author of the article, David Denison, locates his first cause for this problem in precisely the wrong place. We are not talking about theism in the general sense. Mr. Denison has tackled the subject of intellectual believers, or the lack thereof. Why does this question matter? Unbelievers are more intelligent, as humans measure intelligence, than believers. So why does this matter? Do we find it embarrassing? Does it bother you that intellectuals view Christian theism with intellectual contempt? Based on the study, it seems to bother some people.

Mr. Denison attempts to explain to us why intellectuals are turned off by Christian theism. He tells us that the first reason for intellectual repulsion is that the university has a built-in bias against Christianity. Since the university turns out the intellectual, then it follows that the intellectual embraces what the university has taught him. Well, he is right and wrong about this. He is correct insofar as the university’s disposition toward Christian theism is concerned. There can be little doubt that secular university is intellectually hostile to Christian theism. However, being a believer has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s intelligence quotient or level of education. In fact, I believe the reason that intellectuals and the highly educated are, for the most part, not believers, is located someplace else. The difference between being a Christian and not being a Christian is not located in the individual. That reason is located in God Himself. It seems that Mr. Denison’s analysis is affected more by a distorted theology than it is by psychological research.

Mr. Denison seems to have constructed a sort of humanistic Christian theism. But this is precisely the problem with much of modern American/Western Christianity. There is an amalgamation of humanism with Christian theism that has come to be identified as Christianity in modern culture. In this version of Christianity, men are the masters of their own fate, the captain of their own soul even while God is merely their co-pilot. In this version of Christianity, men decide that Jesus is the best option, He was a good teacher, He has good values, a nice social framework, and He is loving and flexible. Why wouldn't I accept Him? It is this version of Christianity that many intellectuals are rejecting. Mr. Denison is attempting to explain to us why that is and how we can fix it. But as anyone knows, misdiagnosis leads to a false prescription.

In 1 Cor. 1: 17-18, the apostle Paul wrote these sober words: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Apparently Paul thought that emphasizing strategy or technique when delivering the message of the cross ran the risk of nullifying the message. Paul said that he did not preach with σοφί λόγου, clever or wise words, like a philosopher, because that sort of approach would κενωθῇ, nullify the cross. These are not words we should gloss over as we read them. This word means, “to take away the power or significance of something—‘to cause to lose power, to cause to be emptied of power, to make powerless.”

Any attempt not to offend the intellect of the unbelieving community risks nullifying the power of cross. If we nullify the power of the cross, we have destroyed the power of the Christian message. If we destroy the power of the Christian message, we have effectively destroyed Christian theism. It is ironic that in his attempt to fix this problem of ‘intellectual rejection’ of the Christian message so that Christianity might attract more intellectuals, Mr. Denison seems to unwittingly take us to the brink of destroying Christian theism itself. The unintended consequences of this psychological approach ends up banishing biblical Christianity to the ash heap of unwarranted, pre-critical Greek mythology and ancient Jewish fables. It seems to me that our answer is best derived from Scripture. Why do intellectuals reject Christian theism?

Paul informs us in 1 Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised.” The Greek word appraised here means, “to make a judgment on the basis of careful and detailed information.” But this appraisal is a spiritual one. It is the exercise of a spiritually minded man, one who has been born again by the power of the very message being appraised. The intellect of the unbeliever is spiritually dead. 2 Cor. 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the mind of the unbeliever. The unbelieving intellect is in no condition to evaluate Christian theism intellectually or otherwise.

“Secondly, I believe the present Church culture in America is unfriendly to intellectual scrutiny.”

At face value, I cannot disagree with this statement. The problem lies in its interpretation. I cannot say what Mr. Denison is getting at. If he is referring to the miserable plight of the modern aversion to all things intellectual in the Christian community, the hard work of honest critical thinking about understanding the Christian system of truth, I am onboard. Thinking is hard work. Thinking about the content of Scripture, interpreting God’s message requires time, dedication, and high degree of energy. The sad truth is that most Christians would rather be watching some pathetic American reality show, having a picnic, a shallow conversation over lunch, playing games and various other means of entertainment than working hard to understand the philosophical, skeptical, cynical, and unbelieving challenges that confront us in our culture every day.

The problem is that I cannot say what Mr. Denison is driving at. If he means that we have to be open to challenges about our deeply held theological commitments handed down to us by the long orthodox tradition in the Church, then he is little more than one more emergent guy seeking to reinvent the wheel and escape from the authority of the believing community for the sake of autonomy. Should we examine and reaffirm ancient Christian teachings? Absolutely. But can we be open to modern liberal ideas that Scripture should be judged by autonomous human reason whether or not it is inspired by God Himself? We simply cannot be open to such nonsense because the very starting point for such a practice is by definition non-Christian and open rebellion. Can we be open to the possibility that Jesus was not divine? We cannot. Can we consider it a possibility that Christ did not raise from the dead? Under no circumstances whatever!

In summary then, Christians do not become Christians because they are smart, and because they figured out that Christian theism is the most cogent philosophy of life available to humanity. Scripture tells us that God intentionally did not choose the intellectually elite for salvation. (1 Cor. 1:20) The world has not come to know God by its own wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:21) God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever. (1 Cor. 1:19) If Mr. Denison wanted to know why unbelievers score higher on the IQ test or might have a higher level of education than believers perhaps he should have consulted God for that answer. God has given us a clear answer to this inquiry. Imagine the boasting Christians could do if we were able to point to a study that demonstrates that Christians are smarter than the rest! But so that no man could boast, God did it His way!


Am I sometimes embarrassed by intellectually lazy Christians who seem to think there is no hard work involved in being a Christian, intellectually or otherwise? Indeed I am. The truth is that Christians, even if we are not the intellectually brightest from among humanity, should still be the best thinkers. The reason for this is that our intellects have been born again, being renewed by Scripture. Our intellects have been awakened to the true beauty of God’s creation. We are, as Christians, thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We are supposed to think just as God thinks. We are to think in His pattern of thinking. We should cultivate a real fascination with what is excellent in terms of life, meaning, purpose, reality, art, science, and the amazing wonder of it all. Our sense of appreciation for the finer things should be being refined daily. Only the Christian can see the real beauty in Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Only the Christian can hear with wonder and with fascination the true genius, and the real magic and the incredible power in the music of men like Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Bach.

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