In part 1 of this series we explored what the life of the mind means for those who embrace the historic Christian world-and-life view. This week I continue my conversation with Reasons to Believe editor Maureen Moser on what the Bible has to say about intellectual virtue.
Maureen: Last week you mentioned that Christians are “people of the book.” Can you unpack what that means and how it applies to the life of the mind?
Ken: Historic Christianity affirms the view that God reveals himself to us in two ways: (1) in the book of Nature (general revelation) and (2) in the book of Scripture (special revelation). While nature is only a figurative book (without a spine and pages), it is nevertheless a kind of library or repository of knowledge. Again, because humans are made in the image of God, our mind has been formed to be able to read and interpret both these revelatory books. (In fact, the reading and translating of the biblical text itself led to the spread of literacy wherever Judaism and Christianity spread.)
This “bookish” nature of Christian revelation means that believers are primed to be readers and learners by nature. In fact, being disciples of Jesus Christ carries with it the picture of attentive students listening to the teachings of the Master. Thus, for Christians study and scholarship are a carry over from the very intellectual tradition of the Old Testament with its historic expressions of Judaism.
Maureen: Does Scripture actually mention intellectual traits as virtues for Christians to prize and emulate?
Ken: Yes, the Scriptures teach developing intellectual virtue that is a critically important part of a believer’s overall devotion to God (Matthew 22:37). First, the Old Testament wisdom literature instructs believers to pursue “wisdom, knowledge, and understanding” all of which are rooted in the fear of the Lord (Job 28:28; 34:4; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of knowledge and truth always has spiritual and moral dimensions. For both believing Jews and Christians, genuine knowledge of life and the world is grounded in the reality of God and in his revealed moral law. In other words, devotion and learning go hand-in-hand—there should be no bifurcation between faith and reason.
Second, the New Testament reveals that discernment, reflection, testing, analysis, and intellectual renewal are part of God’s mandate for believers (Acts 17:11; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). I’m convinced that individual Christians’ witness to the world about the truth of Christianity would be greatly enhanced if nonbeliever perceived followers of Christ as people who love and prize truth. Since truth comes from God, believers ought to handle it, in all of its forms, as something sacred. This means striving to be intellectually informed, careful, and honest.
In part three of this series, we’ll touch upon some practical advice for believers when it comes to pursuing the life of the mind to the glory of God.