How Intellectual Christians Can Fit in With the Evangelical Church

I’m convinced that it is common for intellectually oriented Christians to experience difficulty “fitting in” with their local evangelical church.

In my first article, I offered three suggestions for evangelical churches to help include intellectuals in their churches. So here I will offer three suggestions to encourage my fellow cerebral types who often feel out of place. I have, at times, struggled with feeling like I didn’t fit in with my church because of my insatiable appetite for learning and reflection, but adopting these three ideas significantly helped me find a sense of belonging: (1) Read the writings of some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers; (2) Find like-minded intellectuals within the church and build a community; and (3) Don’t give up on the Evangelical Church.

 

“It is man’s glory to be the only intellectual animal on earth. That imposes upon human beings the moral obligation to lead intellectual lives.” —Mortimer J. Adler

The first article I wrote on the subject of intellectuals in the church received so much attention on social media that I decided to follow up with a second. All of the positive comments and the flurry of likes and shares made me realize that I touched a nerve. I’m convinced that it is common for intellectually oriented Christians to experience difficulty “fitting in” with their local evangelical church.

Two common church-related factors create the problem.

First, the importance of the life of the mind often receives short shrift in many evangelical churches. The church often serves as a hospital, an aid station, a counseling center, a concert hall, or a sports stadium—all good and important things, of course—but the church must also be a school; that is, a place of learning where believers study from God’s two books of revelation: the book of nature (God’s world) and the book of Scripture (God’s Word).

In failing to value and cultivate the life of the mind (which reflects God’s image) our churches are a lot like our culture. In fact, many people, both Christians and not, view learning as a mere instrumental good (something considered as a means to some other good; for example, a college degree may lead to a job). But seldom is the acquisition of knowledge viewed as an intrinsic good (something worthwhile for its own sake; for example, becoming a knowledgeable and wise person). When a church no longer functions as a school, cerebral types, for whom feeding the life of the mind is a daily passion, will inevitably feel out of place. They might think they have little in common with their church friends.

Second, some within the evangelical theological tradition have struggled with the idea that an intense pursuit of the life of the mind is somehow at odds with Christian spirituality. Sometimes it is said that intellectuals often struggle with pride, a deadly sin. It is also said that intellectuals have mere head knowledge whereas spiritual believers have heart faith. But while it is true that the intellectually inclined can indeed struggle with cerebral pride, it is also true that the affectively inclined can suffer with spiritual pride. Christians need to realize that there isn’t anything unspiritual or unbiblical about being a careful, rational thinker.

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