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A Scriptural Argument Against Anti-Intellectualism

January 7, 2013

Over and over again we here it stated that knowledge is a bad thing for Christians.  A friend of mine sent me a Facebook status recently where a Christian stated that being led by theology and doctrine is bad, and being led by the love of Christ is good.  I have often had to respond for a friend of mine to a website by a man who lives in Rochester, NY, who constantly asserts that Christians will end up in error if they use their minds, but will be in the truth if they go by the Spirit only.  In sum, the Spirit is placed in contrast with the mind.  Many believe that the former is good, and the latter is bad.

What does Scripture say about this?  Let us begin by remembering that Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, the teachings of Scripture are spiritual.  So, if we can establish that the scriptures teach that the mind is important in the life of a Christian, and that growing in knowledge is a good thing, then we can say that using the mind is spiritual and not using the mind is not spiritual.  Well, what does Scripture say?

Let me start by discussing one of the most popular sections of Scripture that is used to lead Christians away from using their minds, namely Romans 8:5-11.  Specifically, anti-intellectual Christians quote vs. 6, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” (ESV).  Often the misunderstanding comes from the KJV wording, “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”  What is often asserted is that this passage teaches that the mind is bad, and Christians are legalists if they use their mind to understand and interpret Scripture.  Is this what this passage teaches?  Room prohibits me from a lengthy interpretation of this passage, but let me make a couple of points.  First, notice that it is not the mind that is set against the spirit in this passage but the fleshly mind that is set against the spiritual mind.  Simply speaking it is not “mind vs. spirit” but “carnal mind vs. spiritual mind.”  Paul often uses the term flesh to mean sinful desires.  The contrast of this passage is set between those who are given to sinful desires and those that are given to the pure desires that come from the Spirit.  The issue here is one between sinful passions and holy passions, not between intellect and spirit.  Second, notice that in vs. 5, the apostle does not say that in contrast to setting the mind of the flesh we must abandon the mind and use only the Spirit, but are to “set [our] minds on the things of the Spirit,” (ESV, emphasis mine).  The mind is not cast off in the opposing statement referring to the person who will have life and peace, but is retained.  In essence what the passage is saying is that a person who is trapped by sinful desires will constantly be thinking about and focusing on sinful things and will be unable to break free from this bondage without the Holy Spirit (vs.7). But, the person who has been set free by the Spirit will be overcome with the things of the Spirit and constantly desire them and be drawn to meditating about them (see Ps. 1:1-2).  Their hearts and minds will be set on the things of the Spirit.

But let us look at some other passages that speak about the mind and knowledge in Scripture.  Peter exhorts Christians to” grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet 3:18, ESV) and to add knowledge to virtue (2 Pet 1:5).  Paul tells us “to be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” (Romans 12:2, ESV).  In Colossians he tells us that we are “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] creator,” (Col 3:10, ESV).  God told us through Hosea that “my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge,” (Hos. 4:6, ESV).  You see, Scripture has a high view of knowledge.  The prophet told us that a lack of knowledge can be a reason that we fail as the people of God.  Do we need to be careful that we do not become arrogant as we grow in our understanding of God and His Word (1 Cor. 8:1)?  Yes we do.  But is the solution ignorance?  No it is not.  You see there are many arrogant people who do not know what they are talking about just like there are many arrogant people who do know what they are talking about.  The solution to arrogance is not ignorance, but humility.

So what have we seen from this brief glance at Scripture’s view of the use of the mind and knowledge?  We have seen that the Bible does not set the mind against the spirit but the fleshly mind against the spiritual mind.  We have seen that the Bible commands us as Christians to grow in our knowledge of God.  We have seen that we are conformed into the image of God through such growth.  We have also seen that the nation of Israel perished because they did not know their God correctly.  The Bible does not say that knowledge was their problem, but a lack of it.

So what should do as Christians?  Should we forsake studying the Bible?  Should we spend less time studying and reading?  Should we criticize men with degrees?  Should we do nothing but pray because that is the only spiritual practice for Christians?  Should we be afraid to exercise mental effort in our pursuit of God?  I hope you come to the point where you will answer no to all of these questions.  We do not need less knowledge, but proper knowledge, that has been gleaned from rigorous labor as we seek to understand God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.

From → Miscellaneous

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