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05 / 06

In Intellectual Neutral

William Lane Craig speaks in Georgia

Time : 00:39:25

William Lane Craig speaks at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Dr. Craig speaks on the importance of the intellect in the mind of the Christian.

Transcript

Good morning and happy New Year to everyone. I want to say what a delight it is to be with you this morning, and I also want to say a special word of thanks to Bryant Wright for giving me the great privilege of sharing the message this morning. This is a privilege that I don’t take lightly and so I am very grateful that he would do that. Before I do so, however, let’s bow in a word of prayer and quiet our hearts before the Lord. And as we pray would you please pray for yourself – pray that God would speak to you this morning, pray that there would be some word directly for you, that you might be open to hear and respond. Lord, speak to me, my heart is open, I want to receive what you have for me this morning, and so by your Holy Spirit make me attentive to your voice. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Several yers ago, a couple of books appeared that sent shock waves through the American educational community. The first of these was titled Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, by E. D. Hirsch, and it documented the fact that large numbers of American college students do not have the basic background knowledge to understand the front page of a newspaper or to act responsibly as citizens. For example, a quarter of the students in a recent survey thought Franklin D. Roosevelt was president during the Vietnam War. Two-thirds did not know when the Civil War occurred. One-third thought that Columbus discovered the New World sometime after 1750. In a recent survey at California State University at Fullerton, over half the students could not identify Chaucer or Dante. Ninety percent did not know who Alexander Hamilton was, even though his picture is on every ten dollar bill.

These statistics would be funny if they weren't so alarming. What has happened to our schools that they should be producing such ignorant people? Well, enter Alan Bloom, who was an eminent educator at the University of Chicago and the author of the second book I referred to, The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom argues that behind the current educational malaise lies the universal conviction of students that there is no absolute truth and therefore truth is not worth pursuing. On their view, all truth is relative – true for you maybe, but not true for me. Bloom writes,

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students' reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. These are things you don't think about. . . . The danger they have been taught to fear . . . is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness—and the relativism that makes it . . . plausible . . . —is the great insight of our times. . . . The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all. [1]

Since there is no absolute truth, since everything is relative, the purpose of an education is not to learn truth or master facts—rather it is simply to acquire a skill so that one can go out and obtain wealth, power, and fame. [2] Truth has become irrelevant.

Now, this relativistic attitude toward truth is totally contrary to the Christian worldview. For as Christians we believe that all truth is God's truth, that God has revealed to us the truth, both in His Word and in Him who said, “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). Therefore, the Christian can never look on the truth with apathy or disdain. Rather, we cherish and treasure the truth as a reflection of God Himself. Nor does a commitment to truth make you intolerant, as Bloom's students thought. The traditional understanding of tolerance is that while I may disagree with what you say, nevertheless I will defend to the death your right to say it. The problem is that the understanding of tolerance in our politically correct society has now changed. Today, tolerance means I dare not disagree with what you say, lest I be branded as bigoted and intolerant for daring to do so. But this new understanding of tolerance is logically incoherent when you think about it. Think about it, if you tolerate a view, then the very concept of tolerance presupposes that you think the tolerated view is not true; otherwise you wouldn’t tolerate it, you would agree with it. You can only tolerate a view that you regard as false. So the very concept of tolerance entails a commitment to truth. The Christian is both commitment to truth and to tolerance. For we believe in him who said not only, that I am the truth, but also, love your enemies. The correct basis of tolerance is not relativism, but love.

Now at the time that these books were released, I was teaching in the Religious Studies department of a Christian liberal arts college. And I began to wonder: how much have Christian students been infected by the relativistic attitude that Bloom described? How would my own students fare on one of E. D. Hirsch's tests? Well, how would they? I thought. Why not give them such a quiz? So I did.

I drew up a general knowledge quiz about famous people, places, and events and administered it to two classes of about fifty sophomores. What I discovered was that although they did better than the general student population, nevertheless, there were still sizable portions of the group who could not identify—even with a phrase—some very famous people and events. For example, 49 percent could not identify Leo Tolstoy, the author of perhaps the world's greatest novel, War and Peace. To my surprise, 16 percent did not know who Winston Churchill was. One student identified him as one of the founding Fathers of America! Another identified him as a great revival preacher of a few hundred years ago! 22 percent could not identify Afghanistan. 20 percent did not know where the Amazon River is. A whopping 67 percent could not identify the Battle of the Bulge. Many of them identified it as a dieter’s problem.

So it became clear to me that Christian students have not been able to rise above the dark undertow in our educational system at the primary and secondary levels.

But then an even more terrible fear began to dawn on me as I contemplated these statistics. If Christian students are this ignorant of the general facts of history and geography, then the chances are that they, and Christians in general, are equally or even more ignorant of the facts concerning our own Christian heritage and doctrine. Our culture in general has sunk to the level of biblical and theological illiteracy. A great many, if not most, people cannot even name the four Gospels—in one recent survey one person identified them as Matthew, Mark, and Luther! [3] In another survey, several people identified Joan of Arc as Noah's wife! I suspect that the evangelical church is probably caught somewhere higher up in this same downward spiral.

Charles Malik, who was the Lebanese ambassador to the United States, in his address at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois, emphasized that as Christians we face two tasks in our evangelism: winning the soul and winning the mind, that is to say, not only converting people spiritually, but converting them intellectually as well. And the Church, he warned, is lagging dangerously behind with respect to this second task. Mark his words well:

I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. . . . The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy. . . . For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ Himself, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence. [4]

Our churches are filled with Christians whose minds are in intellectual neutral. They may be spiritually born again, but they still think like non-Christians. As Christians, their minds are going to waste.

Sometimes people will say that they just prefer to having a “simple faith.” But here I think we must distinguish between a childlike faith and a childish faith. A childlike faith is a whole-souled trust in God as our loving Heavenly Father, and Jesus commends such a childlike faith to us. But a childish faith is an immature, unreflective faith, and such a faith is not commended to us. On the contrary, Paul says, “Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20 RSV). If a “simple” faith means an unreflective, ignorant faith, then we should want none of it, brothers and sisters. TheChristian faith is not an apathetic faith, a brain-dead faith; rather it is a living, active, and inquiring faith. As St. Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.

So today as we begin a new year, I want to issue a challenge to all of us to become intellectually engaged as Christians. What do I mean by that? I mean learning what we as Christians believe and being able to explain to people why we believe it. This is a momentous decision. It is a step which millions of American Christians need to take.

Why should you take this step? Let me give thee reasons.

1. Shaping Culture. We have all heard of the so-called culture war going on in American society. Now some people may think this sound militaristic, but the fact is that a tremendous struggle for the soul of America is waging right now. This struggle is not just political; it has a spiritual or religious dimension as well. Secularists are bent on eliminating religion from the public square in American society. The so-called New Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, go even further. They want to exterminate religious belief entirely from American society. [5] American culture has already become post-Christian. Belief in a sort of generic God is still the norm, but it has become politically incorrect to believe in Jesus Christ. Just ask yourself, how many films coming out of Hollywood have you seen that portray Christians in a positive light. How many time instead do we find Christians portrayed as shallow, bigoted, villainous hypocrites? What is the public perception of Bible-believing Christians in our culture today? Well, take a look at this cartoon:

I hope this cartoon makes you angry. It depicts so accurately the perception of Bible-believing Christians by the cultural elite in American society today. Goofy curiosities. But notice, Christians are not just funny, they are also dangerous. Caution, the sign says! They must not be allowed positions of influence in society. Maybe that’s why they even need to be penned up.

So, why should we care about what our culture thinks of us Christians? Why can’t we just be faithful followers of Christ and live for him in the midst a culture that is going to hell in a hand-basket? Why should we care what the cultural elite think of us Christians? Why not just preach the Gospel to a dark and dying world? Well, the answer is because the Gospel is never heard in isolation. The Gospel is always heard against the cultural backdrop in which a person was born and raised. A person who was raised in a culture which is sympathetic to the Christian faith will be open to the Gospel in a way that a person who was raised in a secular culture will not. For a person who is thoroughly secularized, you may as well tell him to believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy as in Jesus Christ, it will seem that absurd to him.

What awaits us in the United States, if our slide into secularism continues, is already evident in Europe. Evangelism is immeasurably more difficult in Europe than it is the United States. Having lived for 13 years in Europe where I spoke evangelistically on university campuses across the Continent, I can testify to how hard the ground is. It is difficult for the Gospel even to get a fair hearing. The United States is following, at a distance, down this same road, with Canada somewhere in between. If the Gospel is to be heard as a viable option for thinking men and women, then we as Christians must try to shape American culture in such a way that Christian belief is an intellectually defensible alternative. It can be done. We are living at a time in history in which Christian philosophy is experiencing an incredible resurgence at a time at which science is more open to the existence of a creator and designer of the universe than at any time in recent memory, and at a time when biblical scholars have embarked upon a new quest of the historical Jesus and have confirmed the main outline of the portrait of Jesus painted in the Gospels. If only Christian laymen could be informed so as to give good answers to unbelievers questions and objections, and provide solid reasons for why they believe as they do, then the public perception of Christians in our culture will slowly change. Christians will come to be seen as thoughtful people who deserve to be taken seriously, rather than as emotional fanatics. Becoming a Christian will be a reasonable and attractive option for people.

Now I am not saying that people will become Christians because of the arguments and the evidence. Rather I am saying that the arguments and the evidence can create a culture in which embracing Christian belief is a reasonable thing to do. They create an environment in which people will be open to the Gospel. [6] So being intellectually engaged as a Christian is a vital way of being salt and light in American society today.

2. Strengthening believers. The personal benefits of being intellectually engaged with your faith are huge. Let me mention three ways in which it will strengthen you as a Christian.

1. Knowing why you believe, as well as what you believe, will make you more confident in sharing your faith with others. I see this happen all the time on the university campuses where I have a public debate with a non-Christian professor. I frequently participate in debates with university professors on topics such as, does God exist?, did Jesus rise from the dead?, Christianity vs. Humanism, and so forth. And you know what? I find that most of these professors, although very brilliant in their narrow area of specialization, are almost clueless when it comes to the evidence for Christianity. What I find is that the Christian position in these debates usually comes out so far ahead that the non-believing students on campus often complain that the whole event was a set-up, designed or staged to make the non-Christian position look bad. In fact, we try to get the best opponents that we can and they are often picked by the atheist club on campus. By contrast, Christian students come away from these events with their heads held high, proud to be Christians. One Canadian student remarked to me following a debate, “I can’t wait to go out and share my faith in Christ.” People who are not trained in the defense of the faith are often afraid to speak out for Christ, or to share their faith, out of fear that someone will ask them a question. But if you know the answers then you are not afraid to go into the lion’s den; in fact you will enjoy it. Being intellectually equipped will help to make you a bold and fearless witness for Jesus Christ.

2. Having good reasons for what you believe can also help you to keep your faith in times of doubt and struggle. Prior to my oral examinations in theology at the University at Munich, Jan and I spent the summer in Berlin in an apartment where I was preparing for my exams. I had been preparing for these exams for over a year and had a stack of notes about a foot high, which I had virtually memorized and was reviewing every day in anticipation of these exams. During our time in Berlin we had the pleasure of entertaining Ann Kiemel and her husband Will as they passed through Berlin. Now Ann Kiemel was at that time one of the most popular Christian women’s speakers in America. The Lord really broke the mold after he made Ann. She was a unique person. She’d meet total strangers and she would try to minister to them by singing little improvised songs and sharing her faith. She was extremely sentimental and emotional. She could reduce a whole audience of women to tears in minutes.

Well, as we were sitting around the table one day, I thought I’d try to learn some lessons from her experience. And so I said to her, “Ann, How do you prepare for your messages?”

“Oh, I don’t prepare,” she said.

I was absolutely aghast. “You don’t prepare? ” I said.

“No,” she answered.

I was just floored. “Well, then, what do you do?” I asked.

“Oh, I just share my struggles.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here I was killing myself in years of preparation for ministry – and she doesn’t prepare! Yet there was no denying the effectiveness of her ministry. She led thousands of people to Christ. She would even tell stories of how even hard-boiled academics would be melted by her little songs and stories and come to Christ. I thought to myself, “Why am I doing all this when all you have to do is just share your struggles?” [7]

We returned to the United States that fall for a sabbatical at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where a former classmate lived. I shared with him one day about my conversation with Ann and how it had really taken the wind out of my sails. He said something to me that was very reassuring. He told me, “Bill, someday those people whom Ann Kiemel has led to the Lord are going to need what you have to offer.”

And he was right. Emotions will carry you only so far, and then you’re going to need something more substantive. As I speak in churches around the country, I frequently meet parents who come up to me after the service and say something like, “If only you’d been here two or three years ago! Our son (or our daughter) had questions about the faith which no one in the church could answer, and now he’s far from the Lord.”

It just breaks my heart to meet parents like this. A campus minister at Stanford university recently told me that 40% of the Christian students in high school youth groups will completely quit church involvement altogether after they graduate from high school. 40%. And it is not just that they lose their faith in a hostile university environment. Many of them have already secretly abandoned their faith while in the high school youth group, but they just continue to go through the motions until they are outside their parent’s authority. I think the church is really failing these kids. Instead of training them in the defense of Christianity’s truth, we focus on emotional worship experiences, felt needs, and entertainment. It is no wonder that they become sitting ducks for that teacher or that professor who takes rational aim at their faith. In high school, in college, students are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian philosophy conjoined with an overwhelming relativism and skepticism. How dare we send them out, unarmed, into an intellectual battlezone. We have got to train our kids for war. Christian parents have got to do more than just take their children to church and read them Bible stories. Moms and Dads need to be intellectual engaged themselves, and be able to tell their children why we believe what we do, simply at first, at an early age, and then with increasing depth as they grow older.

Now, of course, this won’t guarantee that your child will keep the faith; there are all kinds of moral and spiritual factors that come into play as well. But when you look at the arguments that ex-believers give for abandoning Christianity, you will find that these reasons are often confused or weak. For example, I saw one website recently where the person provided a list of the books that had persuaded him to abandon his Christian faith, followed by the comment that he hopes to read them someday. Ironically, some of these folks come to embrace positions which are more extreme and require more gullibility (such as that Jesus never existed) than the conservative positions that they once held to. But while being intellectually equipped is no guarantee, still it can help. As I travel I also meet people who have been brought back from the brink of abandoning their faith by seeing a video of a debate or reading a book in defense of the Christian faith.

When I was speaking at Princeton University on the augments for the existence of God, a young man approached me after my lecture and he told me how a couple of years earlier he had been struggling with severe doubts and was on the point of abandoning his faith in Christ, and then someone gave him a video of one of my debates. He said “it saved me from losing my faith, I can’t thank you enough.” I told him how thrilled I was for him, and I asked him about his future plans. “I am graduating this year,” he told me, “and I am going to seminary. I am going into the pastorate.” [8] Praise God for the victory in this young man’s life.

When you are going through hard times, and God seems distant and unreal, then being familiar with the arguments and evidence for Christianity’s truth can help you to remember that our faith is not based on emotions, but on the truth, and therefore you must hold on to it.

3. Being intellectually engaged as a Christian is going to make you a deeper and more interesting person. American culture is so appallingly superficial, focused on celebrities, entertainment, sports, and self-indulgence. Becoming intellectually engaged with your faith as a Christian is going to take you beyond all of that to life’s deepest questions – questions about the meaning of life, about the nature and existence of God, about the origin of the universe, about the nature of man, and the soul, about the foundation of moral values, about the problem of suffering and evil in the world. As you wrestle with these deep questions you yourself will be changed. You will become more thoughtful and well-rounded. You will learn how to think logically, and how to analyze what other people are saying. Instead of just saying, “Well, this is how I feel about it, it is just my opinions that’s all;” you will be able to say, “This is what I think about it, and here are my reasons.” As a Christian, you will begin to have a deeper appreciation of truths about God and the world, and see how they all fit together to make up a Christian worldview.

So the personal benefits of being intellectually engaged with your faith are just enormous. You will becomes a bolder and more confident witness for Jesus Christ. You, and your children, will be better able to persevere in times of doubt and struggle. And you will become a deeper and more interesting person.

3. Winning unbelievers. Many people will agree with what I said about the value of being intellectually engaged for believers, but they will deny that it is of any use in winning unbelievers to Christ. Nobody comes to Christ through argument, they will tell you. Now, I think that such folks are to a certain extend just victims of false expectations. When you reflect on the fact that most people who hear the Gospel don’t respond to it and accept Christ, we shouldn’t really be surprised that most people will not be persuaded by our arguments and evidence.

But then you might say, why bother with that minority of a minority, with whom arguments and evidence are effective? Well, two reasons. First, because every human being is precious to God, a person for whom Christ died. But secondly, this minority, though relatively small in numbers, is huge in influence. One of those persons, for example, was C. S. Lewis. And just think of the continuing impact that one man’s conversion still continues to have. I find that most of the people who respond to the arguments and evidence I present tend to be people in engineering, medicine, or lawyers. And such people are among the most influential in shaping American society today. So if we can reach these people it will in turn yield a great harvest for the Kingdom of God. And in any case, the generalization that arguments and evidence are not effective in evangelism is just not true. Lee Strobel recently remarked to me that he has lost count of the number of people that have come to Christ through his books, The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. And in our own ministry we are continually thrilled to see people coming to Christ, making decisions for Christ, through hearing a Gospel presentation coupled with an intellectual defense of the truth of the Christian worldview. So those who say that arguments and evidence are ineffective in winning unbelievers to Christi must be speaking out of their limited experience. When a Gospel presentation is sensitively combined with a persuasive case for Christianity and your personal testimony then the Spirit of God is pleased to use it to draw people to Himself. [9]

So for all of these reasons, then, I think that we need to realize that a vital part of Christian discipleship, a vital part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, is learning to love God with all our minds, just as Jesus commanded us to do.

So, what practical steps can you take if you want to become intellectually engaged as a Christian? Well let me briefly mention three.

First, you can begin to read good, nonfiction, Christian books. Let me just recommend a few titles to get you started. First, in terms of knowing what we as Christians believe, I’d recommend Paul Little’s book, Know What You Believe [10], or Bruce Milne’s book, Know The Truth [11]. Both of these are excellent books that will introduce you to the Christian worldview. In terms of knowing why we believe what we do, I would recommend Paul Little’s book, Know Why You Believe [12], and Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ [13] Both of these are nice entry level books for beginners but nevertheless provide very substantive arguments and evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview. So begin to read some of these books.

Secondly, I’d encourage you to enroll in a good Sunday school class here at JFBC, if you are not already so enrolled. In a class where you can receive solid instruction in Christian theology and how you can defend it. Don’t just come to the worship service on Sunday morning and then head for home. Rather put yourself in the way of learning. Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that are offered here for instruction every Sunday morning.

Thirdly, get ready for the conference that is going to be held here at JFBC next November on the defense of the Christian faith. This conference is a very rare opportunity for you to hear over twenty of the top Christian philosophers, theologians, and biblical scholars who are coming here to teach us on the defense of the Christian faith at JFBC. One of the speaker is going to be Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame. Plantinga is widely regarded as the world’s greatest living Christian philosopher, and we are going to have a chance to hear him at JFBC. All of these scholars happen to be in town for an academic conference in downtown Atlanta, and we are taking advantage of the opportunity by bringing them out here to JFBC to equip you. So mark your calendars, November 18-20, and in the meantime start reading those books that I recommended so that you can get the most out of what they have to share.

I believe that American culture can be changed. So whether God is calling you to become a Christian scholar on the frontlines of intellectual battle, or a Christian laymen who is a witness in our community, or a Christian parent, responsible for the instruction of your children, God wants to use you to impact others for Christ. For the church’s sake, for your own sake, for your children’s sake, do not squander this opportunity. So, if up until now you have just been coasting, idling in intellectual neutral, then now is the time to get it in gear. [14]

  • [1]

    Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 25-26.

  • [2]

    5:05

  • [3]

    10:09

  • [4]

    Charles Malik, “The Other Side of Evangelism,” Christianity Today, November 7, 1980, p. 40.

  • [5]

    15:03

  • [6]

    20:00

  • [7]

    25:05

  • [8]

    30:02

  • [9]

    35:13

  • [10]

    Paul Little, Know What You Believe 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

  • [11]

    Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982).

  • [12]

    Paul Little, Know Why You Believe 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

  • [13]

    Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

  • [14]

    Total Running Time: 39:24 (Copyright © 2010 William Lane Craig)