Faith in whom?

This blog post is a response to the blog of a friend of mine, and its respondents. The blog itself was a response to a couple of recent articles, but has been an ongoing topic of discussion for those of us in this online community.

Does anyone else agree that Christians have no reason to fear truth? If they're insecure about their faith, they might be afraid. But then you'd have to question whether they have genuine faith if they're afraid they might be wrong (in other words, they may have made their "decision" based on an emotion laden experience or a pressure tactic, and not a genuine heart, soul, mind encounter with Jesus). However, in my conviction, faith and academics (in one of its institutional forms) don’t necessarily complement each other, at least if we use organizations like Pi Beta Kappa as our standard.

You have to define “faith” and “academics” if you really want to understand what we're dealing with here. Faith, contrary to what has been expressed by some fellow reachers, is defined in as “being certain of what we do not see” or “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1- NIV, NKJV). There obviously requires a great deal of interpretation to draw any sorts of conclusions from these, but I’ll give it my best shot.

It doesn’t make sense to me that a verse would directly contradict itself. That’s a philosophical/intellectual presupposition I hold that informs my interpretation of revealed truth. This leads me to interpret the word “see” in the above scripture references as literal, referring to God and the spiritual world. We can’t see Him with our eyes. But that’s not good enough reason for me to doubt His existence. He has given us “evidence”, which follows the second translation of the verse I quoted. Part of this evidence consists of the revealed written word which He was pleased to impart to us. Part is creation itself. Part of it is our intellect. Part is our soul, or spirit (…if you do not differentiate them. Some would say that soul and mind are one and the same. My jury is hung.)

Academics, on the other hand, is a combination of the scientific process of enlightenment, whereby we employ the observation of empirical evidence in the discovery of objective truth, and the philosophical process of utilizing abstract, logical reasoning to arrive at subjective truth. It’s important to distinguish which aspect of academics supports faith, and which potentially undermines it. The Christian has nothing to apprehend from the first sort, keeping in mind that God’s power is not limited to the “laws” He set forth in creation. The second sort, however, is unreliable because of the fallen state of humanity, including the corruption of the mind. (You can't become a Christian if you don't believe in your pre-Christ depravity, which leads to the unavoidable conclusion that every human faculty is to some degree fallen.)

Our struggles--our reaching--is the clearest evidence to me that the human mind is incapable of deriving ultimate truth of its own volition. This is vital to come to terms with, to be humbled by, when we are tempted to place intellectualism on the highest pedestal. If the intellect was not tainted by sin, every philosopher of history would have eventually come to consensus. It is because of this that we have always been and continue to be in desperate need of help from something or someone who is perfect, unaffected by sin. Without this help, all we can hope to do is grope in darkness.

So really, these questions of faith and academics boil down to this: Do we trust God? As N.T. Wright put it,
“The problem with all such solutions as to how to use the Bible is that they belittle the Bible and exalt something else. Basically they imply—and this is what I mean when I say that they offer too low a view of scripture—that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves, translation procedures or whatever.”

The reality for the Christian is that we need God’s revelation to inform and direct our intellectual endeavors, because we are hopeless without it. If we elevate human reason above the original transcription of scripture, then we elevate a less-than-perfect faculty above the only perfect faculty. If we deny that any perfect faculty exists, then we are not putting our faith in God, but in humanity, even ourselves. [Notice I did not say that any English translation of this singular perfect faculty flawlessly (inerrantly!) communicates its truth.] This realization is the only secure foundation for the Christian to build upon, if he is to claim faith in God and not man.

If and when we can concede to this, I believe academics can and should have a vital place in our lives as Christians. The exploration of truth is of insurmountable importance, but without seeking to be "indoctrinated" with the truth that God has already imparted to us, these endeavors are little more than hopeless, aimless groping. May we not excuse our own laziness of study of the scriptures (including learning the original languages in which they were transcribed) by blaming God for not providing clarity of His word. May we take even more seriously the need for academically grounded theologians, pastors, and teachers. The western Church is suffering from a dangerous plethora of ill-informed, lazy, presumptuous preachers, teachers, administrators, and other church leaders, not from leaders who place too high a priority on academic responsibility.

So let us pursue both the objective and subjective, without neglecting either. Unfortunately, prestigious academic accreditations come at the high price of emptying the scholarly experience of Christian faith of its potency and thus its value. To that degree, I support those Christian institutions which refuse to bow to the imperialistic accreditation systems. If that means losing funding, so be it. If it means losing "university" status, more power to them. Somewhere I recall hearing that the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed...

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