How to Encourage Intellectual Christians…

In The Evangelical Church

“The church is always more than a school. . . . But the church cannot be less than a school.”

— Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale historical theologian1

Noted scholar and theologian Kenneth R. Samples, in an article on calls, for the encouragement of intellectual Christians in the Evangelical Church and lament the fact that this has not been given preferred attention within the church.

He writes thus:

Being an idea-oriented, bookish, and cerebral-type of Christian can have its challenges. Often times, intellectually inclined believers find it hard to fit into their local evangelical church.2 This difficulty usually arises because the life of the mind is not often identified as a high church priority. So, unfortunately too many churches within the broad sweep of evangelicalism are, to use Pelikan’s words, “less than a school.”

Parts of the evangelical theological tradition have struggled with the idea that the intense pursuit of the life of the mind is somehow at odds with Christian spirituality.3 Worse still, some congregations even exhibit anti-intellectualism, especially in their understanding of the critical relationship between faith and reason.

Welcoming Intellectuals

Thinkers often feel out of place within the evangelical church. As a result, many educated evangelicals are turning to other sources for support in their pursuit of the life of the mind. Some have embraced Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy because they view these theological traditions as possessing greater depth in terms of history, philosophy, the arts, and science. Some evangelical converts I’ve talked to have said they feel their newfound church tradition welcomes their commitment to the life of the mind rather than viewing it with suspicion.

Another approach believers take to fulfilling their intellectual needs is joining intellectually oriented parachurch organizations, such as Reasons to Believe (RTB). These Christian groups often work across denominational lines and emphasize evangelism and apologetics. They usually focus on integrating Christian theology with critical academic areas such as science, philosophy, or literature.

My more than 30 years of involvement in apologetics have convinced me that these approaches from intellectuals are not uncommon. Unsurprisingly, this trend is not healthy either for the cerebral Christians or for the future of the evangelical church.

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Edited by Jesus Chan