While returning from a book sale a few days ago, a few friends and I were discussing the happenings of the morning. One of my friends pointed out how many Christians we knew or recognized at the book sale. Granted, in Greenville, South Carolina, we have a much higher concentration of Bible-believing Christians than is typical, but still it was interesting that at the book sale, the proportions were much higher than you would find in any other public venue at any other time.
I raised the question, “Do you think there is a connection between Christianity and general interest in knowledge?” Another friend quickly voiced an objection. In his experience, Christians tend to isolate themselves from general knowledge in order to protect the faith. As the discussion continued, we realized that individual personality and cultural factors play a major role in the equation. We also had to specify what we meant by “knowledge.”
In this case, we are talking about what might be called “higher knowledge”: the purest and best of what may be known from the world around us. That is what we’ll refer to as “knowledge” in the following paragraphs. But the question remains: If all other outside factors could be set aside, would we find a basic causal relationship between Christianity and a desire for this kind of knowledge? Is there an overlap between a Christian mind and a curious mind?
Romans 1:20 states, “For the unseen things of him from the creation of the world, being understood, [are] clearly seen in the things created, both his eternal power and divine nature” (my personal translation). This passage leads us to an important realization. Since God created everything, everything reflects His character. The natural world first comes to mind (Ps. 19:1), but God’s hand is evident also in humanity and in His culture. Though often marred by sin, man’s creativity and expression reflect his Creator. Logical thought especially corresponds with a God who reveals Himself through organized ideas in the Bible. If God, then, is the source of all knowledge and if all knowledge reflects His character, it follows that Christians should naturally have a desire to pursue that knowledge.
As the source of all knowledge is God, so the end of all knowledge is God’s glory. Indeed, the Bible reveals that all things were created for the purpose of giving God glory (Rev. 4:11, Eph. 1:12, 1 Cor. 10:31, and others). We give God glory in two ways. We glorify Him privately by lifting Him up in our own hearts in response to our knowledge of Him. We glorify Him publicly by exalting Him and proclaiming His truth to other people. We accomplish the latter both by our words and by our actions—our lives. It is in our daily interactions with people that we have our most significant opportunities to glorify God.
In order to do so, though, we must have a common basis of understanding with those people. We must understand people—their culture and their way of thinking—in order to effectively communicate with them. We all know how awkward it is to try to talk to someone with whom we have little in common. If we are going to be effective in our testimony, then, we must broaden our minds. A broad interest in knowledge gives a common ground, a starting point, for ministering to people. So Christians pursue knowledge in order to serve and to glorify God more effectively.
Perhaps the real difference between the Christian and non-Christian mind has to do with a view of knowledge. Knowledge apart from God is vanity, as Solomon discovered (Eccl. 1:17-18). In a sense, he had a curious mind—he wanted to explore pleasures and experiences, but his desire for learning was out of focus. Christians have been freed from the darkness and futility of their minds (Eph. 4:17), and as we saw ealier, Christians have a purpose for learning: to know God and to glorify Him. As a result, Christians seek higher and purer forms of knowledge (Phil. 1:10, 4:8), and they understand it in true perspective.
The atheist Aldous Huxley once said bluntly, “An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.” Christians have discovered something infinitely more valuable than the pursuit of temporary pleasures, fleshly experiences, or vain knowledge. In other words, Christians should be a great deal less distracted by worthless pursuits than non-Christians are. Instead of constantly seeking pleasure and cheap entertainment, it seems that Christians would tend to enjoy more worthwhile pursuits, such as quality reading. Christians pursue knowledge because they are no longer trapped in shallow, meaningless concerns.
At any rate, it seems obvious to me that fundamentally Christians should be more interested in learning. But our initial question was not whether they should but whether they are especially interested in knowledge. As I researched, my fears to the contrary began to grow when I discovered how relatively few voices are supporting Christian learning. In fact, the same groups who claim the strongest loyalty to the Scriptures are often the most antagonistic to broader thinking and learning. What is even more tragic is the testimony we too often have to the unsaved, expressed here by one of many similar blog posts I ran across: “Christians don’t read, they don’t think, they don’t discuss; they refuse to think. I can’t deal with that.” Christianity will appear to be foolishness to those who don’t believe (1 Cor. 1:18), and that blogger is really the one guilty of narrow-minded, unthinking generalization. But unfortunately it is too often true that Bible-believing Christians are afraid of thinking and learning, of having a “sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). My brethren, this ought not so to be!
Some well-meaning saint will be apt to object, “Knowledge should be avoided because it fosters pride.” My response is that any such knowledge is a pretense—a mere show of knowledge. A truly Christian desire for knowledge will have exactly the opposite effect. As we have seen, knowledge is rooted in God’s character and directed toward His glory. The farther up the mountain of knowledge one climbs, the greater the vistas he sees of the character of God. And the more a Christian knows, the more he knows he doesn’t know. If a so-called Christian intellectual fills his mind in order to debate or to exalt himself by appearing intelligent, he has missed the point. True knowledge is not self-directed but God-directed.
Having a desire for knowledge doesn’t mean that we should spend our lives in the classroom, either. Higher education can be helpful, but sometimes knowledge is most useful when it’s “de-academized.” Emerging from a seminary with a Ph.D. could result in a great deal of theoretical knowledge without a clue concerning the application of that knowledge. But I’m neither endorsing nor debasing higher education. I’m simply saying that a Christian should have a curious mind and a broad interest in knowledge.
So read a good book. Watch a quality movie and don’t turn your mind off as you are entertained. Walk through the woods and watch God’s creation. Explore different cultures and ways of thinking. Develop your Christian mind into a curious mind.
|J.D. Coleman is a graduate assistant at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) who is working on an M.A. in Bible. Previously, he received a B.A. in Bible also from BJU. After graduate work, he hopes to work with a church in the Northwest.|