The Christian faith lends itself to mental effort. Just think about this: we serve a God that has revealed himself in the Bible. In other words, we serve a God that has revealed himself in letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, books, and one body of books…the Bible!
And the Bible is filled with rebukes of false doctrines and explanations of sound doctrines. It is filled with arguments against certain systems of beliefs as well as clarifications on what to believe. It is filled with inferences, explanations, and reason. It is loaded with certain biblical themes that span across all its sixty-six books.
Because God has revealed himself this way, it is an invitation for us to use intellectual exertion; to toil and labor to acquire knowledge. He is calling us to follow the evidence that led to the inference; to follow the reason that made up the argument. He is enticing us to trace the themes that span across all sixty-six books of the Bible. He is bidding us to use our God given mental capacities in order to rightly know Him and the teachings He has left us.
Contemporary Christianity-Anti Intellectual
Though the Christian faith lends itself to mental effort, there does seem to be a growing anti-intellectualism in the church today. There are many in the church that distrust the Christian that spends his time reading, memorizing, developing arguments, and striving to become a good theologian. You can hear people say, “We don’t care about all the details. Just stick to the main things like the Bible, the gospel, the cross, salvation, and heaven.” Or maybe they say, “We can’t possibly know things like the Incarnation, Trinity, or God’s purpose in election. Those things are mysterious. Just stick to Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” And when a Christian persists in studying and talking about the particulars of certain theological beliefs, fellow Christians begin to distrust him.
Now, for those of you that may not agree that there is an anti-intellectualism in the church today, maybe you will agree with me when I say there is a growing disinterest in intellectual toil within the church today. People seem to be indifferent to the things of God. They have reduced the Christian faith to the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus, salvation, and heaven. They are not interested in anything other than these aspects of the Christian faith. And, in all honesty, they are not interested in studying these in too much detail.
Right Emphases in Light of the Whole
Here is the thing though, throughout Church history, Christians realized that what they emphasized was important. Therefore, the main emphases throughout Church history have been on the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. They were not reducing Christianity to these teachings. They were not intending on isolating these points of emphases in order to make them the whole of the Christian faith. Rather, after a thorough study of the Bible, they realized that, at the end of the day, these where the key points of the whole. As a result, they emphasized them.
But, and this is very important, they viewed these key points in light of the whole. These emphases were viewed in light of a good and proper understanding of the Biblical narrative. Behind these key points, there were good arguments for what each point meant in light of what God has revealed in the Bible as a whole.
Right Emphases Without the Whole
Within the contemporary church, we still make the right emphases. We emphasize the Bible, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. However, due to many Christians’ anti-intellectualism or indifference, these main topics have been separated from the whole of the Christian faith.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem that bad, but, upon further study, it is very bad. Since we have isolated these key points of the Christian faith, they have begun to be understood apart from the whole. As a result, they have begun taking on different meanings; meanings that are quite contrary to the biblical narrative.
A Test Case-Heaven
To get a better understanding of what I have been saying throughout this brief blog, let’s think about heaven. Heaven is an emphasis throughout church history as well as the contemporary church. Yet, the contemporary church has developed a concept of heaven that is quite different from what we find in the Bible. In all seriousness, the present church’s understanding of heaven is in line with what we find in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
At one point in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Miss Watson explains heaven to Huck. According to Huckleberry, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever.” As you can see, Huckleberry wasn’t that intrigued by heaven. And honestly, because of most Christians’ similar misconceptions of heaven, they aren’t intrigued either.
For instance, as one pastor was talking to Randy Alcorn about heaven he said, “Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” But what was his reasoning for this? Well, the pastor goes on to say, “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp. . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”
This is honestly what many people believe. They still emphasize heaven, but they have isolated heaven from the biblical narrative. As a result, it has taken on a different meaning than what we find in the Bible. They speak of a heaven as a disembodied spiritual existence where we sing Amazing Grace for 10,000 years; as an endless church service where we grow in our ability to play a harp! This is what happens when an important biblical emphasis becomes isolated. It begins to take on an unbiblical meaning.
The heaven the Bible talks about is a restoration of all that Adam lost……and then some! Adam was supposed to dwell on earth, exercise a God honoring rule as a king, and spread the knowledge of the glory of God over creation. Adam failed at this God given commission. With Adam’s sin, humanity fell from its original royal dignity.
Then Christ came to redeem humanity and to restore humanity back to its royal dignity. In Christ, human beings are being enabled to fulfill God’s original purpose for them. As Alcorn said, “God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of the new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with a resurrected Jesus.” And as we, a resurrected humanity, reign on a non-cursed new earth with Jesus Christ, our resurrected King, we will dwell everlastingly in complete bliss.
This is the heaven that the Bible teaches about. It deserves to be emphasized, but it must be emphasized in light of the whole. My fear is that we have detached it from the whole, continued to emphasize it, and allowed it to lose its biblical meaning!
Where Do We Go from Here?
We must begin realizing that the Christian faith lends itself to mental exertion, and we must be willing to exert our mental capacities in order to better understand the things of God. As we do this, we will not merely emphasize what needs to be emphasized (the Bible, Jesus, the cross, salvation, heaven), we will have proper understandings of these key tenets of the Christian faith in light of the overall biblical narrative. In doing this, we will emphasize them for the same reasons Christians throughout history have emphasized them, rather than simply emphasizing them as a crutch to avoid mental effort.