During the intellectual attacks that we have been discussing there were a small group of Christians who didn’t Retreat from or Surrender to the contemporary ideas at odds with Scripture. Instead, they engaged the ideas. They were in the world but not “of” the world (John 17:16). Their strategy was to “out-think” the critics of Christianity with sound reasoning and winsome engagement. (This is the strategy of the Christian "Artist" I write more about here.)
Some who engaged were pastors. One example is John Wesley, as discussed in my first post on this topic. Another was Joseph Butler (1692-1752). One of his concerns was how poor ethical judgments were harming many in his area. So he delivered a series of sermons entitled, appropriately enough, “Sermons on Ethics.” The arguments he made in these sermons were so well-reasoned and well-articulated that they had a significant influence in his day. In fact, they are still read today in graduate-level ethics courses in secular universities, indicating the level of his thinking on the issues.
Some who engaged were farmers, schoolteachers, businesspeople and others just like us. For instance, Christians in Pastor Butler’s church came from all walks of life, much like those in our churches today. But they all thought hard with their pastor about these issues, and so were equipped to engage the secular culture during this time of attack.
And yes, some who engaged were scholars. For example, in the mid-1850s B.F. Westcott, F.J.A. Hort, and J.B. Lightfoot committed themselves to a rigorous defense of the authority of Scripture. They played a very important role in prevented liberal theology from fully capturing the thought of England and the U.S. They also strongly influenced F.F. Bruce and R.T. France, two of the leading scholars of the past generation who continued to rigorously defend the authority of Scripture and have in turn influenced many of our current biblical scholars defending God’s Word today.
Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) deserves mention as well. In the late 1700s he was the President of Yale University (he was also the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, another man who loved God with his mind and as a result had a phenomenal influence). Dr. Dwight delivered a sermon in Yale’s Chapel on arguments for God’s existence (apologetics). As a result, many came to faith in Christ, and many others recommitted their lives to Christ.
Eventually half of Yale's student body professed faith in Christ as a result. This sparked the Second Great Awakening in New England, part of the larger Second Great Awakening in the U.S. that saw hundreds of thousands enter the Kingdom.
There continue to be such valiant men and women to this day. For instance, there are many Christian professors serving in public universities around the world, being salt and light on their campuses and in their disciplines. They continue to engage, not retreat or surrender, as the valiant few before them have done.
What is the common denominator that made all these men and women so effective? They realized that to engage the culture and challenge the anti-Christian assumptions they must take seriously the call to love God with their minds. This meant doing the hard work to understand the contemporary challenges to the Faith and develop well-reasoned and well-articulated responses (Wesley’s fourth point in my earlier blog).
We must follow their example. We must not retreat from the challenges to the biblical worldview. We must not surrender and modify our views accordingly. We must also engage in these criticisms in thoughtful, well-articulated and ultimately redemptive ways.
This is how we find the Christian mind again—by choosing to reject the idea of “faith versus reason” and again choose to pursue “faith and reason.” This is what it looks like to love God with our minds (Matt 22:37), to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5), and to always be ready to give a reason for the hope within us (I Peter 3:15)!
My hope is that this blog will help in this engagement, and to this end, I’ll try to address issues of current relevance. Also be sure to check out the other resources I’ve listed here—the works of very thoughtful Christians who are engaging these conversations in rigorous and winsome ways.
Until next time, grace and peace.