Lose Your Passion for Dumbness

I will start this with no definite idea of where it will go. An adventure in the blogesphere. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I invite you to come with me.

I remember reading in Bob Dylan’s Chronicles how when he first arrived in New York City in 1961 he was staying with a man who had a large library and how he found himself spending most of his spare time devouring volumes on history, philosophy, poetry and literature. Dylan then made some quip to the effect that, “You’ve got to lose your passion for dumbness.”

Man, I’d like to say that to the evangelical church (and especially to the pentecostal and charismatic wings)!

Lose your passion for dumbness!

I know, I know, it sounds like intellectual snobbery when I say that and I really don’t want to sound that way. But I do have a deep conviction that something has gone profoundly wrong in our thinking. How did we reach the place where we are suspicious of intelligence? Oh, that’s right, if you think you’ll lose the anointing.

(Father, forgive us for we know not what we do!)

No, we don’t like to think. So we make slogans. Bumper-sticker theology.

God said it, I believe it and that settles it.

No need to think there. But what does that mean?

It means whatever the Bible says, I just believe it, brother.


“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garments.” -Deuteronomy 22:12

God said it. You believe it. So where’s your tassels, dude?

Oh, you mean the New Testament. So we can just throw out the Old Testament?

It does get complicated, doesn’t it. That’s because to get the Bible right we have to think!

OK, this blog is starting to go wrong. And when that happens it’s time to quote someone smarter than me.

So, let me quote Mark Noll from his important book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. Despite success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture. The historical situation is curious. Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind.

To further make the point, let me add the Publishers Weekly review of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Historian Mark Noll sets out to trace the reasons for what he sees as the great divorce between intellect and piety in North American Evangelical Christianity. In a breathtaking panorama of evangelical history from the Great Awakenings to the present, Noll shows that early Evangelicals like Jonathan Edwards embraced the use of reason as an expression of faith in the Creator of the natural world. The advent of Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, Noll contends, with their emphases on dispensationalism and other-worldliness, fostered anti-intellectualism. Since politics and science, in the form of the religious right and creationism, have been the secular arenas in which the Evangelical mind has most publicly expressed itself, Noll focuses on them to explore ways in which the mindlessness “scandal” has created a lack of adequate Christian thinking about the world. Finally, Noll is hopeful that the work of contemporary Evangelical scholars will recover a respect for intellect. Required reading for those seeking to understand the often peculiar relationship between Evangelical religion and secular culture, this is a brilliant study by–yes–a first-rate Evangelical mind.

J.P Moreland in his new book, Kingdom Triangle, notes how when Christians are called upon to comment on various ethical, political or scientific issues, Catholics and mainline Protestants usually put forth scholars, whereas evangelicals usually put forth megachurch pastors. Recently I saw a megachurch pastor and an intellectual atheist debate the existence of God on CNN. It wasn’t much of a debate, it was more of a beating…with the pastor on the wrong end of the beating. It was embarrassing.

Let me hasten to add that there’s nothing particularly wrong with a pastor being over matched by an academic in scholarly debate; but what should have happened is that the pastor should have deferred to a competent Christian scholar. That’s what the Catholics and mainline Protestants do. But the evangelical church has created a world where popular success is everything. But it’s not everything. As the debacle on CNN showed.

Peri sent this to me. I don’t know where she got it, but it’s excellent.

What I Believe
By Louis Markos

I am a Christian. I believe in a divine Creator who exists outside of his creation and yet is actively involved in it. I believe this Creator, though he transcends historical time and space, is the prime mover of history–both sacred and secular. I believe this Creator created the first man and woman in his own image to live in a state of grace, but that they disobeyed the Creator and fell from grace. I believe that at a precise moment in time this Creator, out of his love for fallen humanity, entered into his creation in the form of a man. I believe this man, Jesus Christ, to be fully human and fully divine and believe that through his sacrificial death on the cross the reconciliation of Man and God was effected. I believe Jesus resurrected bodily from the tomb, is alive today, and can be known personally and intimately by those who open their hearts to him. I believe the Creator and Jesus exist eternally in the relationship of Father and Son and yet share in the same God-head. I believe the Holy Spirit also shares in this God-head. I believe the Holy Spirit is active both in the Church and the life of each individual believer and that he endows each believer with gifts. I believe history is moving unswervingly toward a telos (a purposeful end), at which time Christ will return to establish his kingdom and judge, finally and irrevocably, all of humanity. I believe both that the soul is immortal, and that, at the Final Judgment Day, we will be clothed in glorious Resurrection Bodies like the one that Christ wore when he ascended to the Father. I believe that, after the Final Judgment, those who have received unto themselves Christ’s free gift of grace will spend eternity in the presence of God (heaven) while those who have closed their hearts to this gift will be cast forever out of the presence of God (hell). I believe the Bible is a faithful and wholly trustworthy account of God’s interactions with and interventions in human history, that, like Jesus, it is fully human and fully divine, and that it holds absolute authority in the life of the believer.

I am a humanist. I believe man is a free and rational creature who possesses innate dignity and value, and whose life and achievements on this earth are of intrinsic and lasting worth. I believe in the power of human reason and creativity to shape and change the world, to delve into the mysteries of nature and of the human psyche, to order human society through the establishment of laws, institutions, and ethical codes, to perfect nature through the cultivation of the arts and the sciences, and to preserve a record, in various mediums, of these accomplishments. I believe the proper study of man is man, and, as the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome constitute the root and first flowering of humanistic thought, I believe that Greco-Roman art, literature, history, philosophy, and religion must form the basis of any true education. I believe it is the duty of every enlightened individual to seek to know and to participate in the flow of human ideas through a study of and a grappling with the major expressions of the human imagination. I believe such a study must lead in the end to the creation of good and noble citizens who seek both to enrich their society without and to fulfill within the Socratic mandate: Know Thyself.

I am a humanist Christian. I stand, like the Colossus of Rhodes, with my legs stretched out across two shores: my right foot poised atop Golgotha (Jerusalem); my left upon the Acropolis (Athens). I feel neither discomfort nor conflict, and, though I do yearn within for the day when my legs will be drawn together in a geographical consummation that will leave both my feet planted firmly in the good soil of Zion (New Jerusalem), I do not perceive that these opposing shores are either hostile or alien.
I do not hear, as Matthew Arnold did, the sound of ignorant armies clashing by night. I hear rather the low rumble of deep calling out to deep, as though the Eastern shore were calling out to the Western like a lover wooing his beloved. And I sense (as even Arnold did in a moment of illumination) that the two shores are but torn halves of a single continent. Once unified, now divided, they are yet joined by two criss-crossing lights, two beams in darkness. The guiding light that flows from the one (Jerusalem) illuminates and dignifies the other (Athens), while the searching light that gropes outward from the other loses itself finally in the one.

I am a humanist Christian. Though I admit the euphonic superiority of the alternate phrase, Christian humanist, I must still insist on the grammatical (and perhaps ontological) precision of the former phrase. Christian is the substantive; humanist the descriptive. I am a humanist Christian.

A humanist Christian. Right on!

My pastor buddy from Denver, Joe Beach, sent me this quote from Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change.

(This books is not available until October, but somehow Joe has it now!)

By postponing the essence of salvation to the afterlife, and by assuming God plans to destroy the earth, the conventional view leads us to assume that the world will get worse and worse, and that this deterioration is in fact God’s will or plan. This assumption would tend to create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only that, but in some versions of the conventional view, the worse the world gets, the better we should feel since salvation — meaning post-mortem salvation after the world is destroyed — is approaching. In too many cases, the conventional view can lead people to celebrate humanity’s “progress” in self-destruction rather than seeking to turn it around. To put it bluntly, in terms of humanity and this earth, the conventional view too easily creates — unintentionally, of course — a kind of religious death wish.

Alright folks, that’s what I’ve been trying to say when I talk about the theological and ecclesiastical disaster that results from reducing the gospel to heaven and hell minimalism and reducing salvation to a ticket to heaven when you die. That’s not what the gospel is. That’s not what salvation is. The gospel is the kingdom of God. Salvation is the kingdom of God. For a further explanation on what I mean by that, read this.

G.K. Chesterton talks about the need for a Christian to be what he calls a “cosmic patriot.” That is, a person who belongs to the human race and wants it to do well. An American who wants America to do bad and be bad so they can derive perverse pleasure from criticizing America is not a patriot. Likewise, a Christian who takes perverse pleasure in wars, famines, earthquakes, pandemics, etc., because they’re convinced it’s God’s plan to destroy the world anyway, is not, what Chesterton would call a “cosmic patriot”…or what Louis Markos would call a humanist Christian…or what I would probably call an authentic Christian.

OK, this started out as rant about losing your passion for dumbness and turned into an appeal for cosmic patriots and humanist Christians. But it’s all related.

Enough bloggishness for one Monday.

Grace and Peace.



What I’m reading:

The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture
by N.T. Wright

We are praying this week. July 1-7, 7:00 in the morning and 7:00 in the evening. The seven o’clock hours of the first seven days of the seventh year of the new century/millennium. 777. Get it? The seventh hour in the morning is centered on Communion and the Lord’s Prayer. The seventh hour in the evening is centered on the messages to the seven churches in revelation and spiritual warfare. We’re in the Upper Room. Join us if you can.

Sermon titles for this coming weekend:

Friday: The (Un)Answered Prayer

Sunday: The Theater of Sin and Salvation