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The Church and the Life of the Mind: Why Am I So Protective About This Issue? (Miniblog #165)

by Carson T. Clark on January 3, 2013


Yesterday a Facebook friend inquired, “What’s up with you and intellectualism in church? I’m not asking to criticize or provoke. You just seem hellbent on this. What’s the deal?” It’s a good question.1.It has been quite a while since I did a blog series, so I’ve decided to bust one out to start 2013. This is Part 1 in a series entitled “The Church and the Life of the Mind.” As is so often the case for all of us, I’m responding out of my natural temperament and to my life experiences. Something crucial to know about me is one of my strongest natural instincts is protection of the weak. If you’ve seen the movie Blind Side you understand what I’m talking about.22.Who knows how the whole nature v. nurture thing plays out, but from what I understand Grandpa Clayton from Waco was the same way. Interestingly enough, this protective instinct has become embodied perhaps most fully in the church realm. To my innermost being I’m committed to protecting vulnerable people. By definition that requires having healthy contexts–institutionally, intellectually, psychologically, relationally, spiritually, etc. And because I grew up among Christians who consistently downplayed, dismissed, and denigrated the life of the mind,33.i.e. one of my most important spiritual needs I particularly tend to emphasize that one. The thing that continually baffles me is that so few even recognize this as a legitimate need for some. As I’ve said many times before, I’m neither suggesting nor implying all of our churches should be baptized academic centers. I am saying that within at least some of our churches we need to purposefully create room not only for meaningful reflection and deep thinking, but for rigorous thinking intentionally as Christians. I tend to be quite protective of those with that spiritual need.44.Far too often they’re made to feel alone and unwelcome within our churches just being living into who God made them to be.

  • Blair

    Hello. In a previous post you discuss “rigorous thought” and “meaningful thought”. Can you please define and/or give examples of each?

    • Carson T. Clark

      Hmmmm. Are you talking about my Christmas post? If so, I provided examples in it. But here’s an excerpt from that post:

      “My sense is that for most Christians meaningful reflection is encouraged, deep thinking is seen as helpful albeit ultimately unnecessary, and rigorous thinking is discouraged. ‘Tis the season for a Christmas example. Every Christian I’ve ever met has valued taking time to reflect on Christ’s birth and savor times with loved ones around the holidays. Some Christians I’ve met encourage others to really consider the reality of the incarnation as not only God becoming man but as a foreshadow of the coming reunion of heaven and earth. Very few Christians I’ve met, however, are keen on seriously reconsidering the New Testament birth narrative(s)–reinterpreting and re-translating this beloved story to reflect the actual world of first century Jews into which our Lord was born.”

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Keep at it. Thinkers need space to worship.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Thanks, man.

  • Pingback: The Church and the Life of the Mind: Reflections on a Faithful Discourse of Inquiry | Musings of a Hardlining Moderate()

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  • Chris Moellering

    I agree. C.S. Lewis has a wonderful quote, that I can’t manage to lay my hands on at the moment about some in the church (as thinkers) may be the only defense the non-thinkers have against all of the strange ideas in the world. I want to say it was from the Abolition of Man…but I can’t confirm than. (Some things even google can’t tell you!)

    And this stands to reason, we all have different gifts. If other things were left to me in the church, say music, or art, we would be an impoverished church. But I don’t discount their importance. Not sure WHY we do this with the intellect. This bias is one of the pushes that caused my break with low-church evangelicalism.

    • Chris Moellering

      Ah, found it, finally–

      That is the essential nature of the learned life as I see it. But it has indirect values which are especially important today. If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under god, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against the cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. Weight of Glory, p 58

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