Updated: Dec 6, 2020
'My People are destroyed from lack of knowledge.' (Hosea 4:6)
I know that Facebook has not banned the Lord's Prayer, and that schools haven't banned the Bible. I am certain that coronavirus actually exists and is not part of a secret plot to close churches. I'm also very sure that a future coronavirus vaccine will not carry the mark of the beast, and that the EU is almost certainly not a secret 4th Reich. Yet each of these claims have been posted quite freely by Christians on social media in recent months. We have also had opinions from all and sundry about complex issues such as the US election, Black Lives Matters, Israel/Palestine. Some of which have made me wince. ‘My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge‘ said the prophet.
There is lots of crazy stuff on the Internet and it is not just Christians by any means that fall for fake news or believe themselves to be experts on all manner of things but I fear that evangelical Christians are more guilty than most. Whilst I have always been happy to identify as a person of faith, to use the word Christian or follower of Jesus I have at times felt a little uneasy about describing myself as an evangelical - and yet I've checked, I am included. Why am I so nervous? I think it is because many evangelicals are either deliberately or unwittingly anti-intellectual.
It's not a new thing. I remember being told by pastors and preachers as a teenager that my intellect could get in the way. I remember the banter that those of us on the Theology degree course would receive from those who were on less academic courses but training for Christian ministry. I remember being told that I think too much - personally I believe the bigger crime is not thinking enough. So no, the anti-intellectual wing of the Christian church is not new but the age of the Internet really exposes it. We are effectively standing in the marketplace and loudly advertising our stupidity.
The Theological Background - Reason vs Revelation
This is the technical bit. There is a wider debate that Christianity has had over the course of its history. It is the debate about how much knowledge and understanding of God and the World we can gain using our intelligence and thought vs how much we can only know if God chooses to reveal it to us. (See diagram below)
Historically the church has taken both routes. Thomas Aquinas believed that there is good evidence of God and that debating his existence with atheists was a useful activity. The Bible in Romans chapter 1 shows Paul suggesting that our experience of nature should persuade us of God's existence even if we had no revelation from scripture. In Acts 17, Paul in dialogue with the Greek Philosophers is primarily using reason to argue that the evidence points to an unknown God.
Equally I'm not dismissing revelation, I've read Kierkegaard on Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, I don't think that God's existence can be definitely proved philosophically, so I do see the importance of revelation and faith. God's ways will always be higher than our ways. What I don't accept is that we should automatically and completely abandon reason. Surely if we are created by God then ultimately our intelligence (even if it is fallen) comes from him. God has given us brains, it seems a shame not to use them.
Whilst it is important that Christians know the Bible, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the world around us as well. If we don't we will look ridiculous and we will through our postings bring the Christian message into disrepute. Note that I accept that the Christian life should to some extent be strange and may be ridiculed, but let's be ridiculed for the right reasons. Let people mock our generosity and kindness rather than the fact that we are posting conspiracy theories or inadvertently sharing the latest meme from Britain First.
Lack of knowledge is not fatal. There is a cure. In the Internet age let us be mature in our minds as well as in our soul/spirit. With this in mind, could I suggest 3 things
1. Do your homework on issues. It's great to have opinions and ideas but a lot of issues are more complex than we realise. Read and then read some more. Read articles by people you disagree with. Look at both sides.
2. Do the basics of critical thinking. Check the sources before re-posting. Is it genuine? Fake video clips or pictures taken out of context can go viral very quickly. What are the vested interests/biases or your source? Might their political stance lead them to interpret something in a certain way? Be aware of cognitive dissonance - the phenomenon where we struggle to accept evidence that does not accord with our pre-existing beliefs
3. Celebrate the mind as much as the spiritual: Hopefully we are getting better at this but don't make those Christians who are more logical and academic feel that they are somehow second class citizens of God's Kingdom. After all Christians are commanded to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. The mind is definitely in there
As a final thought the more you learn the more you realise you don’t know. This helps us to approach others with humility. As the saying goes
'in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.'