Luke 1:34–38

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.


A.) The Angel's Confession

B.) Mary's Conviction

Read the except from J.C. Ryle's, Expository Thoughts on Luke

Let us mark, in the third place, the mighty principle which the angel Gabriel lays down to silence all objections about the incarnation. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’

A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace. Questions and doubts will often arise in men’s minds about many subjects in religion. They are the natural result of our fallen estate of soul. Our faith at the best is very feeble. Our knowledge at its highest is clouded with much infirmity. And among many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than that before us now,—a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God.

With Him who called the world into being and formed it out of nothing, everything is possible. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.

There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed. The heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh.

There is no work too hard for a believer to do. We may do all things through Christ strengthening us.

There is no trial too hard to be borne. The grace of God is sufficient for us.

There is no promise too great to be fulfilled. Christ’s words never pass away, and what He has promised He is able to perform.

There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome. When God is for us who shall be against us? The mountain shall become a plain.

Let principles like these be continually before our minds. The angel’s receipt is an invaluable remedy. Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 21-22. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:34-38.

Note from Dawson: Answering the question "How big is your God?" is the key to finding rest. To the measure we see God as big and powerful is the measure we freely trust his fatherly hand. As Ryle pointed out  “Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence”


About J.C. Ryle

John Charles Ryle was an English Anglican bishop who lived from 18-16 to 1900. He was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. He is most known for his devotional and expositional work in the gospels, "Expository Thoughts on the Gospels" (7 vols, 1856–69). A classic still read by many.





1. The Passion of Paul’s life

“Anyone who reads even a smattering of Paul’s writings recognizes early on that his devotion to Christ was the foremost reality and passion of his life. What he said in one of his later letters serves as a kind of motto for his entire Christian life: ‘For me to live is Christ; to die is [to] gain [Christ]’ (Phil 1:21). Christ is the beginning and goal of everything for Paul and thus is the single great reality along the way.”

–Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 1.


2. Living the life of the Spirit

“Christian ethics is not primarily an individualistic, one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness; rather it has to do with living the life of the Spirit in Christian community and in the world.”

–Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 99.


3. God is creating a people among whom He can abide

“God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, He is creating a people among whom He can live and who in their life together will reproduce God’s life and character.”

–Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 66.


4. True Exegesis is doxological

“We bring our exegesis to fruition when we ourselves sit with unspeakable wonder in the presence of God, contemplate His riches, pray that they might be poured out on our own friends and family; and stay there in contemplation long enough that our only response is doxology: ‘to our God and Father be glory for ever and ever, Amen.’ Until we have done this, I would venture, we have done our exegesis only tentatively. We have been mere historians.

To be true exegetes we must hear the words with our hearts, we must bask in God’s own glory, we must be moved to a sense of overwhelming awe at God’s riches in glory, we must think again on the incredible wonder that these riches are ours in Christ Jesus, and we must then worship the living God by singing praises to His glory.”

–Gordon D. Fee, “To What End Exegesis? Reflections on Exegesis and Spirituality in Philippians 4:10-20,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998), 88.


 The Church is Anorexic
All these facts point to the present condition of the church as deeply anti-intellectual. It could be said that the church now has a kind of "Spiritual Anorexia." Anorexics (1) have an intense fear of becoming fat. The comparison between Anorexia and anti-intellectualism in the church is telling. Anorexia is a complex condition that involves, psychological, and sociological components just like the anti-intellectualism problem. The similarities don’t stop there; anorexia and the anorexic church both have a fear of becoming fat. The church sees the use of the intellect as the way one’s faith becomes fat and ineffective. So they fear what could happen as a result of using the intellect. It functions similarly to what William James named as the “Agnostic veto”. It is when the fear of the unknown or thought of a possible outcome can paralyze one from some action.

The fear of becoming religious intellectuals leads them to not seek spiritual food and they spiritually starve. Moreland puts it this way, “The contemporary Christian mind is starved, and as a result we have small, impoverished souls.”(2) Overtime the anorexics become weak and develop brittle and thin skinned, irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath. Just like the complications to anti-intellectualism are weak Christians that can be easy offended, confused in their passions, and often shallow to the ways of the Spirit (breath). And just like anorexia all the complications lead to inhibiting the normal growth process.

What the church has sadly forgotten is that it is the mind that has the more direct affect on the spiritual life.(3) If we wish to regain a healthy vision of God we must first take some baby steps towards clearing our thinking up. The first step to be undertaken is repentance for the sin of anti-intellectualism. Then we begin the long prayerful journey of regaining a hunger for the deep riches of theology and faith.  The writer of Hebrews was familiar with this impoverished disposition of the soul. He describes the condition of the Hebrew Christians:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)

The anti-intellectual disposition was among the Hebrews Christians. So what does the writer of Hebrews suggest? He thinks they should dig deep into the things of God and not just swim in the shallow side of the faith.

Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 6:1-3)

Second, we need to value knowledge for its own sake. One day, while home for the weekend from collage I thought I would mow the lawn for my dad. So, I brought the mower out of our shed and attempted to try to start it.  I tried over and over till I saw my dad go into his shop. "Hey, Do you know how to start this thing?" My old Preacher Father, "More than you, But less than Jesus!” Part of me wished I had kept my mouth shut. He reached down and pressed a small red button a few times then turned the key. The mower started right away! I was a little embarrassed. It was so simple. I was doing a lot of stuff yet I lacked the necessary knowledge. I didn't know I even needed to prime the mower.

Sometimes prayer is not enough, sometimes we need to come to a knowledge of the truth than utilize that knowledge in our life till it becomes wisdom. Yet if we lack knowledge, we will be caught in our foolishness. Just as the prophet states, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). But this need not happen, if we value knowledge, value truth, we can avoid the fate handed the recipients of Hosea’s denouement.

Without biblical and theological knowledge, your faith would be about as useful as signing to the blind. Consider this, if being a person that loves others as virtuous then without understanding that comes from good thinking such love has no direction, no moral imagination, even no wisdom. Thus such a weightless person can be easily manipulated by others. Over time the result is a religion of sentimentality. Or consider this, if a religious ritual or sacrament is a symbolic action pointing to a divine truth then when one’s action is done from an empty head the ritual is meaningless. The meaningful symbol in the action is lost in the lack of refection. Over time the practices becomes hollow ritualism. Empty heads repeating meaningless actions, from muscle memory, all the while God stands present with them, named but unacknowledged, weeping alone.

Third, we need to begin to individually cultivate a Christian view of the world. Christianity is the true frame from which all our truths flow. Dorothy Sayers aims at this loss when she wrote, “We have rather lost sight of the idea that Christianity is supposed to be an interpretation of the universe"(4) This will take study and time, reflection and prayer, contemplation and application. But I promise you, one day, you will wake to see the sun rise and in its viewing, your mind will be captured by how God’s mercy is new every morning. How it pour forth like rays of light, slowly changes the way you see the world.

Or one day, You may see the wind blow through a tree. The first thought that wanders through the landscape of your mind will be that God wills the wind, and like a loving Father providentially place you to see the wind as a loving reminder that His Spirit is ever moving and always unpredictable and still changing the lives of those who believe in Christ.


  1. The term anorexia is of Greek origin: an (α, prefix of negation), and orexis (ορεξις, appetite), thus meaning a lack of desire to eat. Anorexia is a psychiatric illness that describes an eating disorder.
  2. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), p. 80.
  3. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), p. 80.
  4. Dorothy Sayers, 1937-1944: From Novelist to Playwright, vol. 2 of The Letters of Dorothy Sayers, ed. Barbara Reynolds, preface P. D. James (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998),158.


In this post I want to pick back up on an idea i hinted at in the first post in this series. The metaphor of anti-intellectualism as poison. In this post we will look deeper at the effects of anti-intellectualism using poison as a guiding metaphor. we will conclude with some thoughts on how to begin to detox from this insidious poison.

A Untraceable Poison
In the world of deadly poisons, one substance stands out like LeBron James in a pick up game, it’s name thallium. In the 1800’s it became a smooth way to bump off someone. It gained the nickname, "Inheritance Powder." Saddam Hussein was in love with thallium. In the 1980’s Saddam, and his secret police, were fond of using Thallium to dispose of his enemies. They poisoned quite a few people in London with it, and he even poisoned some of his senior military men. It is all about the little things, like poison.

Why all the talk about poison? Because, thallium is much like anti-intellectualism, both are silent killers, both are highly toxic and both in there own way have changed the course of nations. Anti-intellectualism is a prevailing Bias in American culture and it is more than just stupid is as stupid does. It is a deadly poison killing the church today.

This poison has entered the vein of a church body when a group no longer values thinking for its own sake. In this way anti-intellectualism is not people just acting ignorant. It has an internal logic, that aims to promote a devaluing of the life of the mind often for the sake of more practical matters. Such poisoned institutions will produce learners and not very many thinkers. (1)

Os Guinness defines anti-intellectualism as, “a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind.”(2)  The American church has a problem with anti-intellectualism. (3) Many scholars and cultural critics from within the church have written on the issue. One example is how Anti-intellectualism helps support the bad generalizations like what is good are the “simple people”, the “common people”, who are supposedly more honest and “real” than so-called “ivory tower” intellectuals. Yet biblically speaking, the good life is not found in some an simple life of the common people, a view of such a life with romantic and nostalgic blinders. Many in Christianity hold anti-Intellectualism as somewhat of a virtue. If truth be told it is a vice. “Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety.”(4)

Dashboard Faith
Owen Barfield would say people given to this disposition have a “dashboard knowledge” (5) of the faith. By this he parallels the knowledge people have about their faith to the knowledge they have about their car. All they know is what the dials on the dashboard panel tell them. People with a dashboard knowledge of the Christian faith, have only a simple and superficial understanding, even though many may think it profound and deep because they are able to know when things are not running right, and when it is time to get a tune up (repent).  Biblical Knowledge is viewed by Christians as a means to “stay right with God” or “Know his love” but not as a knowledge system or worldview through which one views life and makes choices. The outcome is a church that does not value truth as much as the fleeting experience of truth.

Poison in the Body
The dashboard view of faith is just one sign we have been poisoned. The poison of anti-intellectualism has bent us towards the pragmatic, the immediate and the experiential.  The poison is pervasive slowly killing both church and culture. The greatest problem with the poison is how it opens people to manipulation by changing how they think. It changes what we value as persuasive. We can see this in how people today construct a persuasive argument as well as what actually persuades people in our culture. Consider, exclusive reliance on slogans and talking points, the stress placed on controlling the narrative, the confusion over equating volume and conviction with clarify and logic. The countless times people talk over and past one another with no active listening in-between. Such examples point to what Schaeffer called “the escape from reason.”(6) Schaeffer was describing the now well documented, move from trusting a classic western epistemology including evidence and objectivity and rational verification of facts to a more personal, subjective and emotive foundation for verification. Alasdair MacIntyre in his landmark work, After Virtue gives a detailed diagnosis of this social disposition. He described this shift towards the pragmatic, immediate and experiential as a disposition where ‘emotivism’ was the only mode of discourse. (7) MacIntyre comments:

…to a large degree people now think, talk and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint may be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (8)

Lamenting this problem, David Wells points out how this has changed our view of truth.

Truth is now simply a matter of etiquette: it has no authority, no sense of rightness, because it is no longer anchored in anything absolute. If it persuades, it does so only because our experience has given it its persuasive power, but tomorrow our experience might be different. (9)

Experience is not the issue. (10) The lack of an absolute is the issue. For a person not tied to an absolute, can be easily swayed. I'm such a contacts often driven by look productive, the preacher becomes performer, and a worship service becomes entertainment (11). This is why a culture under the influence of emotivism does not stomach reasonable arguments. They demand to be catered to, not reasoned with. In this light it is easy to see how totalitarian regimes like Nazism came to power. When a culture chooses to be swayed by the power of the presentation rather than the strength of the argument, then such a culture is poised to follow its leaders even as far as Treblinka, Maidanek and even Auschwitz. In MacIntyre’s view, western culture has lost control of its mind in following its heart.

We're not the first culture to go down this path. Napoleon’s France had a similar issue with anti-intellectual. In his day, Napoleon use this social disposition masterfully as a way to maintain support and stir loyalty. A well known story makes this point. Napoleon was reported to tell a certain story to stir his soldier’s patriotism. Once, while visiting a province he came upon an old soldier in full uniform but with one sleeve hanging empty. He proudly wore the coveted Legion of Honor. Napoleon asked, "Where did you lose your arm?" The soldier answered, "At Austerlitz, sire." Napoleon asked, "And for that you received the Legion of Honor?" The man said, "Yes, sire. It is but a small token to pay for the decoration." Napoleon continued, "You must be the kind of man who regrets he did not lose both arms for his country." The one-armed man asked, "What then would have been my reward?" Napoleon answered, "I would have awarded you a double Legion of Honor." And with that, the proud old fighter drew his sword and immediately cut off his other arm.

What a weird story of patriotic duty! It was apparently effective in stirring up in Napoleon's men a desire to sacrifice for the cause of France! Yet there is one problem with the story. Maybe you have already noticed the inconsistency. Maybe you asked your self the question. "How did the soldier cut off his arm with only one arm to do it with?" It is a nice story, very stirring, moving, motivating, but it wasn't true. And it's possible for the same thing to happen to us in a religious sense. We can get all "fired up" without much thought as to the truth of what we're getting excited about. We may enjoy ‘Napoleon preaching’ (heat without light) but it does us little good. Paul said of those who were motivated in such a way: “They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Now, zeal is good. We all need more of it. But we need to make certain that our enthusiasm is firmly based on the Christian knowledge of God. Zeal without knowledge is at the heart of emotivism. This cultural disposition has shrunk the intellectual life of the church to such a degree that Mark Noll wrote, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”(12)

A Scandalous Example
In Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth,  Pearcey tells a story of a new convert named, Denzel(13). Denzel became a Christian as a young man. Driven by curiosity and the commands of his new found faith, he began to look for ways to grow in his faith. As Denzel sought to grow and understand his new found faith, He asked a lot of questions, as people do when they love the subject being discussed. Sadly, many of His questions fell on deaf ears; He was hindered by leaders who could not answer his questions. Others who saw it fruitless to help him seek out answers to questions they saw as just ‘heady’. He was told to just have faith in the plain truths of Scripture. Later, Denzel got a new job where he met those of other faiths. He was confused by the way they seemed to have answers for people's questions. Denzel felt cheated and did not understand why only the Christians choose not to defend themselves from cynics, skeptics and other faiths. Eventually, He changed jobs and found work at a Christian bookstore.  There he found some books that gave him the answers he was seeking. The church did not help Him in his search. The church, other Christians were actually a hindrance. Let us speak plainly, other Christians were a stumbling block to Denzel's faith. Denzel learned not only do most Christians not like to think, they don’t believe in thinking. No because everyone is stupid but because the pursuit of knowledge, particularly theological knowledge (formative worldview shaping knowledge), was not valued as important. Many Christians find themselves with two feet firmly planted in mid-air. It is no wonder, Paul described such groundless faith as one easily, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Eph 4:14 NKJ). This is no little problem but a scandal and a sin. As Os Guinness reminds us:

At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds.(14)

A Detox for the Body
Os Guinness in his work, ‘Fit Bodies, Fat Minds’ gives us the antidote to this Evangelical anti-intellectualism. He calls this, “Thinking christianly.” He defines this way of thinking as “thinking by Christians about anything and everything in a consistently Christian way – in a manner that is shaped, directed and restrained by the truth of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.”

Guinness offers guidelines for Christians engaging their minds: (15)

1.) Count the cost – that is, be willing to endure ridicule, slander and abuse – for those in academic circles the cost of speaking against the “prevailing wisdom” may be damaging to one’s career.

2.) Commit to “thinking christianly” as an act of obedience, requiring concentrated, long-term effort. Thinking Christianly is an activity. It is a way of thinking not just memorizing certain propositions is true. It is a way of processing one’s lived experience thought a Christain view of the world. Thinking Christianly is seeing all of life in the light of Christian truth, and ordered all of life by the categories of Christian theology.

3.) Avoid certain pitfalls on the journey:

a.) It’s not a “head trip”, we are not promoting a new “intellectualism” – rather, it involves the whole self, mind, body and spirit. The self is an integrated whole: thinking, feeling and, doing operate in concert together. They are interconnected and intrinsically linked.
b.) It’s not a solitary trip – rather it requires the correction of other Christians
c.) It’s not a purely human activity – rather it is based on the ‘fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom’
d.) It’s not about uniformity - rather it reflects the diverse cultural backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives that we bring to the task.

4.) Acknowledge that Christian knowledge brings with it the responsibility for acting on that knowledge

Christianity is a matter of both doctrine and devotion. We are in a supernatural move of god that involves the whole person, head and heart. Faith and reason are not at odds. They are not at war, nether are complete in themselves. Both are needed, both help qualify and clarify the other. Christians should not take a side for it is not necessary to do so. To take a side would reduce and so distort, the very concept of biblical and doctrinal truth. Truth is holistic. Let no one put asunder what God has joined together. Far better to see the Christian life as a way where head and heart come together to get the feet moving.


  1. Because anti-intellectualism values the uncritical learner over and against being a logical thinkers. Yet this is a distractive pattern even when the knowledge conveyed is Christian truth, uncritical learning produces knowledge in the service of ideology (this is indoctrination) while logical thinking produces persons in the service of God.
  2. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), p. 9.
  3. And while over-intellectualism is also a problem and just as much a dead end where the mind is given to becomes a slave to the Noetic affect of sin, American deals more with anti-intellectualism.
  4. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), pp. 18-19
  5. Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances, A Study in Idolatry, (Barfield Press UK, 1988) 114
  6. Francis A. Schaeffer, Escapes from Reason (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975). Schaeffer traces the history of ideas to show the worldview of modern western culture.
  7. “Emotivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character…Emotivism thus rests upon a claim that every attempt, whether past or present, to provide a rational justification for an objective morality has in fact failed.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3d ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) 10-11, 19.
  8. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3d ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) 22.
  9. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapid, Eerdmans, 1994) 148-149
  10. Experience itself, is not the problem. The problem is allowing our experience (or lack of) to carry absolute persuasive weight. As well as points out experience is a relative concept therefore it can lend credence to the reliability of a thing but it should not be given the persuasive weight of an absolute. Scripture and the worldview it reveals to be authoritative in that way. We securely fastening ourselves to unchanging, absolute truth, by deep study of Scripture, to learn the unique view of the world it reveals. We should not absolutize those things that are relativize that is make cultural tradition, personal experience, (any relative concept), into an absolutes, giving it absolute persuasive weight. Nor should we relativize those things that are absolute, and so reduce Scripture (our weightiest absolute) to one line of evidence among many of equal value.
  11. Presentation must always be personal appeal to self-interest, passionate in plea and with a sense of eloquence. In whole segments of the church the language of the “gift of preaching” has been exchanged for talk of technique gimmick and novelty dominate. Every preacher should be taught basic practical dynamics of public speaking. I acknowledge the need for skills training in public communication. Yet what sets preaching apart from a political speech is not just the subject matter but the dynamic of The Spirit’s work. When the word of God is faithful preached the Holy Spirit abides in and works through the sermon to grow the Church. This is why the Protestant church has considered preaching as a means of grace.
  12. Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 3.  Here Noll’s investigates the modern intellectual lives of evangelicals and its origins.
  13. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004)
  14. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), pp. 10-11.
  15. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), whole last chapter

In this post we will look at 3 key distinctions and clarifications that makes the christian mind distinctly Christian.

A great guide for us is a mid 20th century scholar, Harry Blamire and his classic work, The Christian Mind (1963). Blamire was an Anglican theologian, literary critic, and novelist. Whose career spanned the latter part of the 20th century. He died at the age of 101 in 2017. Interestingly, C. S. Lewis was his tutor at Oxford. Lewis later became a friend and mentor to Blamire.

Blamires wrote on what he saw as the loss of the Christian mind and he pulled no punches. For example:

There is no longer a Christian mind. It is a commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularized. For instance, it has been deprived of any orientation towards the supernatural. Tragic as this fact is, it would not be so desperately tragic had the Christian mind held out against the secular drift. But unfortunately the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic. (1)

Blamires left no doubt what he thought about the state of the Christian mind. Balamire contnues, “We have too readily equated getting into the world with getting out of theology. The result has been that we have stopped thinking christianly.” Christianity has been “emasculated of its intellectual relevance,” convictions are looked upon as “personal possession,” As individualism lends support to selfish rights based thinking our understanding of community is eroding with it. Being a good neighbor is no longer understood as looking out for one another but means stays out of the other's business, with an occasional polite thing to say at the mail box. Even int he church, We have been reduced to encountering one another on the shallow level of guarded vapid speech and glib small talk. (2)

Blamires explains that Christians have grown so accustom to secular thinking that they are not even aware that it is secular. As Christian mind shrinks, secular thinking about Christian matters expands. For example, the Christian preacher who thinks christianly about Sunday’s sermon but thinks secularly about all other aspects of church life. After all Church "must" be run like a business if it is to succeed. Right? Sadly such thinking is more anthropocentric than practical.(3) How about someone who treats "worldly possessions as status symbols rather than as serviceable goods”.(4) Most people can hardly understand the contradiction.

Blamires’ big emphasis was on dispelling the sacred secular divide. He thought on the difference between thinking Christianly and thinking secularly is rooted in the radical distinction made by the apostle Paul in his Corinthian letter. For Blamire, 1 Cor 1:20 made clear the followers of Jesus should not expect the message of the cross to impress the social and cultural elite. In Corinth, as well as in Blamire's day on into our own the intelligentsia reject the meta-narrative of salvation history and the revelational epistemology of the Christian mind. Paul's words against social status and cultural elitism was more of an attack on underline pride. A pride that would bring them to reject the gospel as foolishness. His critique was never in favor of some bare Fideism (5) but a call to reclaim the Christain virtues of thinking well. Likewise, the apostle Paul does not use this fact to disparage the importance of the mind. In Christ, the mind realizes its true significance, not as a capacity for self-advancement and self-expression, but as a gift to be developed and disciplined for the sake of the truth—all God’s truth.(6) The importance of the mind is a positive tension challenging all believers to a rigorous engagement and rethinking of all of life in accord with the person and work of Christ.

Three Key Distinctions

I. Blamire's distinction between the scholar and the thinker:

“The scholar evades decisiveness; he hesitates to praise or condemn; he balances conclusion against competing conclusion so as to cancel out conclusiveness; he is tentative, skeptical, uncommitted. The thinker hates indecision and confusion; he firmly distinguishes right from wrong, good from evil; he is at home in a world of clearly demarcated categories and proven conclusions; he is dogmatic and committed; he works towards decisive action.”(6)

To be clear, Blamires referred to the scholar as a type, not to all scholars. He had in mind the proud, self-reliant academician. What we need, he claimed was more thinkers less academics.

“The thinker challenges current prejudices. He disturbs the complacent. He obstructs the busy pragmatists. He questions the very foundations of all about him, and in so doing throws doubt upon aims, motives, and purposes which those who are running affairs have neither the time nor patience to investigate. ”(7)

Higher education as a necessary intellectual enterprise was encouraged by Blamires. The dark side of scholarship as a self-serving, career-enhancing, ego performance was exposed. Blamires was critical of a scholar who cornered truth as his or her very own intellectual property. Thinkers, on the other hand, rejoice when others express the truth that they have understood and embraced. They never think to themselves, “That’s my idea and you stole it.” The scholars are competitive. They want credit for their good ideas. Thinkers are cooperative. They want the fellowship of fellow thinkers.

Blamires’ contrast between the self-promoting scholar and the Christian thinker reminded me of Søren Kierkegaard’s contrast between the genius and the apostle. Kierkegaard pointed out to praise the apostle Paul for his brilliance or eloquence is to miss the heart of his message, that it was from God. You you can't read first Corinthians without thinking if you called Paul a genius he might slap you then rebuke you. Not because he was slow, he likely was brilliant. Paul would not have let anyone celebrating him as clever and creative, as if He came up with it all by himself. As if it was His new idea.

Paul was an apostle, called and appointed by God, to proclaim the revelation of God. His authority resided in his calling from God and in the message given to him by God to proclaim. His voice was heard, not because he was a great speaker, but because he was bore to the revelation of God. Kierkegaard defined genius as a person who by virtue of his or her extraordinary abilities, personal uniqueness, and self-sufficiency. In contrast, an apostle is one who is called of God, submissive to God, and compelled by God to be faithful, come what may. By way of this distinction, Kierkegaard complained that “the pernicious thing” about Christian discourse in his day (one might say ours as well) was that “the whole train of thought [was] affected.”(8) Preachers relied on their own ingenuity and profundity in such a way as to make truth depended on their abilities and powers, instead of relying on the authority of the Word of God in the Spirit’s power. It was “their” teaching not what the word taught. He goes on to compares the leisurely life of the Genius/Scholar, who is “momentarily clever, and afterwards a publisher and editor of the uncertainties of his cleverness,” to the faithful life of the follower of Christ, who lives purposefully and obediently under the authority of God. (9) In relationship to the truth, Kierkegaard, contended that the former is an idolitor, the latter beautiful.

II. Blamire describes six tenets of the Christian mind.

We should seek to secure these categories as a fixed point in our mind. Absolutes that help us navigate the currents of our the ever-changing always shifting world in which we live.

(1) A Supernatural Orientation: a mind that cultivates the eternal perspective, that believes in the fact of Heaven and the fact of Hell, that understands that all of creation, all of history, all of humankind is under the sovereign control of the triune God. Lost to many even among Christians is the reality of the demonic, the actuality of miracles and the power of the Spirit.

(2) An Awareness of Evil: a mind that understands the pervasive and pernicious presence of evil, that is alert to the tragic extent of human depravity and resists evil in all of its manifestations within fallen creation. The Christian mind is sensitive to the extent that evil pervades our own judgments. The tragedy of this world is not primarily social nor political, but personal. G. K. Chesterton was asked to write a article on the subject “What’s Wrong with the Universe?” He responded to the editor’s request with two words, “I am.”

(3) A Conception of Truth: a mind that is transformed by the revelation of God, that is founded on doctrines of Divine Creation, the Incarnation, the Redemption, etc. The truth of the gospel is an audacious truth that must “be defended for the right reason.”(10) We must not beguile unbelievers into thinking that Christianity is good because it builds self-esteem, strengthens marriages, offers comfort, and leads to success. Blamire writes:

“We have to insist that the Christian Faith is something solider, harder and tougher than even Christians like to think. Christianity is not a nice comforting story that we make up as we go along, accommodating the demands of a harsh reality with the solace of a cherished reverie. It is not a cosy day-dream manufactured by each person more or less to suit his own taste. It is a matter of hard fact..... We Christians appreciate its hardness just as much as those outside the Church. We are as fully aware of its difficulties as the outsiders are. We know that, in a sense, Christianity leaves us with an awful lot to swallow... We must outdo the unbelievers in agreeing with them on that subject." (11)

(4) An Acceptance of Authority: a mind that submits to the God-given nature of truth, revelation, and the Church, that finds its freedom in surrender to the will of God, and that leads “to that state of personal inadequacy, human dependence, utter lowliness and lostness, which brings the Christian to his knees and throws him into the hands of our Lord.” (12)

(5)The Christain mind has Concern for the Person: a mind that values the human person in light of the Incarnate One, that holds to the sacredness of the human personality, and that seeks to preserve the person against all forms of dehumanization.

Blamires identified various forms of dehumanization some are eerily applicable even today. The Christian ought to be committed to “pointing the finger of condemnation” at including “servitude to the machine,” “the eerie loneliness of personal solitude in the midst of the crowded urban civilization,” the exalted status attributed to the user of “mechanical gadgets,” behavior modification, transactional relationships, and target-market evangelism.

(6) A Sacramental Cast: a mind that is focused on “life’s positive richnesses,” that is life-affirming, rather than life-rejecting, and that revels in the beauty, truth, and goodness derived from the Divine Nature. (13)

Blamires describes the Christian mind’s positive view of life

“A living Christian mind would elucidate for the young a finely articulated Christian sacramentalism which would make sense of, and give value to, the adolescent’s cravings towards the grandeur of natural scenery, towards the potent emotionalism of music and art, and towards the opposite sex. A living Christian mind will not be content to refer to these things only in cold abstract terms which annihilate wonder and transmute them into bloodless modes of experience, unrecognizable as the stuff of passion and exaltation. Nor will the Christian mind allow these richnesses of life to be vaguely identified with sins of the flesh, or even with a life of the body which it is the Christian’s duty to transcend.”(14)

We could always remind ourselves that the Bible call us to a pre-modern view of the world.That doesn't mean we can't be analytic scientific it means in the day-today living would it be more poet than mathematician. But as anyone in the arts no the best among them, have a keen analytical mind, yet still see the world brimming with beauty, Love and life.

III. Clarifying our term: anti-intellectualism

Blamires’ description of the Christian mind helps make some important distinctions about the Christian understanding of anti-intellectualism. The term is also used in the hard sciences and in sociology.

In the scientific, it comes up in discussions over scientific methodology. Anti-intellectualism is a label used to describing anyone who doesn't hold to a naturalistic materialistic worldview. So to be anti-intellectual in this group means you reject the scientific method in its modern incarnation as the only means to knowledge. This group defines reason as synonymous with the empirical method. Christian differ with this group at the point of worldview. We hold to an open model of the universe. They hold to a closed model of the universe.

The sociological understanding of anti-intellectualism is wide reaching with conservatives as well is post-modern thinkers having written on the matter. The literature outline three major types:

  • religious anti-rationalism,’ the view that emotion is warm (that is, good) and reason cold (bad), an outlook often complemented by absolute systems of belief (primarily conservative Protestantism);
  • populist anti-elitism,’ public skepticism first of the patrician class of ‘gentlemen politicians’ and old money and later public hostility toward progressive politics and support of such figures as Joe McCarthy or George Wallace; The internet is seen as the tip of the spear of anti-elitism, with its democratizing influence the Internet is working to banish expertise altogether giving a voice to people who shouldn't have one.
  • unreflective instrumentalism,’ beliefs and behavior indicating that knowledge is worthless unless it immediately and directly leads to material gain, such as profits or higher salaries and wages. (15)

In this view reason is seen as logical but socially constructed by language thus logical within a system but ultimately relativized outside formative culture. Given the diversity of perspectives some researchers more helpful than others. Overall anti-intellectualism is understood as oppressive and leading to an insidious mistrust of the academic establishment. Each type is seen as problematic in that they hinder social progress, the implication, often left unsaid, is society ought to uproot them and trust the experts again.

The Christian understanding of anti-intellectualism starts with our faith commitment to view things through a Christian worldview. Blamire’s description (above) is helpful on this point. It respects the objective view of facts within the science camp rejecting they’re worldview. We can agree with and learn from much of the analysis from the sociological camp while also rejecting the bulk of their remedy.

Christians see reason as a human faculty that enables humanity to use of the basic rules of logic, in conduction with the ordered form of the universe to gain understanding. Often the other two camps will speak of the Christain positions, especially Blamire’s, as actually promoting anti-intellectualism. Yet from a Christian perspective, the other two positions lack intellectual virtue or a proper view of the whole. In practice, both groups used as a pejorative to secure their own power and influence by delegitimizing other bodies of knowledge.




  1. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (London: SPCK, 1963), 3.
  2. Blamires, 38, 16, 40, 13.
  3. Or consider, the Christian who claims practicing homosexuality is a sin, but refuses to take that stand publicly, because it may turn people off, is thinking secularly. How is this thinking secularly? It seems you're just being wise about evangelism? First such thinking is thoroughly disingenuous for the person who you might lead the faith does not understand the expectation of the faith in a particularly contentious area within our culture. Doesn't mean we go out of our way to pick a fight. Love is our method. Love is the only way we are to speak truth yet we speak truth nonetheless. Furthermore such logic is thoroughly pragmatic assuming the if it works its right principle. Second, there's no categorical divide between the secular and the sacred. Third, there is no ethical distinction between the public and private, personal ethics and social ethics are one and the same in the Christian tradition.
  4. Blamires, 29.
  5. Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths.
  6. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, p. 51.
  7. Blamires, p. 50.
  8. Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age & Of The Difference Between A Genius and an Apostle (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 103
  9. Kierkegaard, p. 106
  10. Blamires, p. 120
  11. Blamires, p. 120
  12. Blamires, p. 146
  13. Blamires, p. 173
  14. Blamires, p. 175
  15. from a ‘A Brief History of Anti-Intellectualism in American Media’ Claussen (2004) who follows the word of Hofstadter and Rigney (1991)

Do Ideas Have Consequences?

“Ideas are overrated,” a young friend once said to me. After a moment I asked him, “So you’re telling me that you hold to the idea that ideas are overrated.” Now a little puzzled and a little unsure he responded “Yes?” “So ideas are not overrated but important, for your idea about ideas is important, well at least to you.” NO!… Yes?? He squinted his eyes and his lips became thin. “You may be right but I think ideas are overrated.” “Just as long as we agree that ideas can be dangerous,” I told him. With a shrug he muttered “I guess so.”

The story highlights a common error about ideas: ideas are overrated. This is a common notion in today’s culture. People often do not believe that ideas have power. They say, ‘Beliefs don’t affect human choice. Only what I do really matters. This is how a person can be smart and anti-intellectual. You don’t have to be stupid to be an anti-intellectual. You just have to believe a few bad ideas about the nature and value of knowledge.

If you don’t believe ideas have power consider the witness of history. Historian Richard Weikart, in his book From Darwin to Hitler, shows the dynamic impact the idea of evolution had on the morality of the great thinkers of Germany, particularly Nazi thinkers. (1) Weikart concludes that “Darwinism played a strategic role not only in the rise of eugenics but also in the rise of euthanasia, infanticide, abortion and racial extermination – all ultimately embraced by the Nazis.”(2) Victor Frankl, a psychologist and Auschwitz survivor, echoed the same sentiment when he wrote.

The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis liked to say, ‘of blood and soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers. (3)

Consider a personal anecdote from R. C. Sproul. After graduating college with a philosophy degree Sproul needed to get a job. Apparently, the job market was flooded in philosophy, Sproul could only find work as a janitor in a hospital. One night, while talking with a fellow janitor, he found out his coworker had a PhD in philosophy. The coworker was from Germany and had seen Hitler rise to power. Hitler understood the power of ideas. As Hitler rose to power, he soon began pushing all professors that did not “toe the party line” out of the universities. When Sproul’s coworker protested and spoke against the Nazis, they imprisoned him and murdered his wife and children. However, the coworker managed to escape with his youngest daughter. When Sproul asked why he did not teach, the man replied that teaching philosophy had destroyed his life and the lives of those he loved. He could not go back because the pain was too deep. Reflecting on that experience, Sproul writes:

I was pushing a broom because I lived in a culture that sees little value in philosophy and gives scant esteem to those who pursue it. My friend was pushing a broom, on the other hand, because he came from a culture that gave great weight to philosophy. His family was destroyed because Hitler understood that ideas are dangerous. Hitler so feared the consequences of my friend’s ideas that he did everything possible to eliminate him-- and his ideas. (4)

Anti-intellectualism begins with the assumption that ideas don’t matter. Such an assumption is poison both for people and for Nations and even for the church.


  1. Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Also see William Dembski and Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002).
  2. James Emery White, A Mind for God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006) 25.
  3. Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: Introduction to Logotherapy (New York: Knopf, 1982) xxi.
  4. R C Sproul, Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shape our World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) 8-9.

John of the cross thinks we can. In the spiritual classic “Dark night of the soul,” He lists a series of sins that are poison to the Christian life. In it He explains how one vice can turn spiritually into a bad habit.

Beginners in the spiritual life are apt to become very diligent in their exercises. The great danger for them will be to become satisfied with their religious works and with themselves. It is easy for them to develop a kind of secret pride, which is the first of the seven capital sins. Such persons become too spiritual. They like to speak of “spiritual things” all the time. They become content with their growth, They would prefer to teach rather than to be taught. They condemn others who are not as spiritual as they are. They are like the Pharisee who boasted in himself and despised the publican who was not as spiritual as he. The devil will often inflame their fervor so that their pride will grow even greater. The devil knows that all of their works and virtues will become valueless and, if unchecked, will become vices. For they begin to do these spiritual exercises to be esteemed by others, They want others to realize how spiritual they are. They will also begin to fear confession to an other for it would ruin their image. So they soften their sins when they make confession in order to make them appear less imperfect. They will beg God to take away the imperfections, but they do this only because they want to find inner peace and not for God’s sake. They do not realize that if God were to take away their imperfections from them, they would probably become prouder and more presumptuous still. But those who are at this time moving in God's way will counter this pride with humility. They will learn to think very little of themselves and their religious works. Instead, they will focus on how great and how deserving God is and how little it is that they can do for him. The Spirit of God dwells in such persons, urging them to keep their treasures secretly within themselves.

What is john describing here?

He is describing a Christain who is “too spiritual”. In John’s estimation, Christians can become so spiritual it’s devilish. I think he is right. I even think, being too spiritual is a major problem in the church. It is a subtle and seductive sin. A sin that kills the soul. That’s what John means by capital sin. A capital crime is a crime punishable by death. Pride, as a “capital” crime against God, carries with it a sentence of death. Pride poisons the soul and deadens the spirit.

Being “too spiritual” is pride. But what is meant by pride? Pride is a disordered self-love, which seeks attention and honor by comparison and competition. A prideful person assumes on their own ability and find in themselves the resources necessary to accomplish what they set out to do, consequently they set themselves in opposition to God, by being in competition with God. In this way, the vice of pride is privatized autonomy, which the Bible calls being a “slave to sin” (John 8:34). The devil’s first strategy is always to puff us up and in so doing poison our souls. Dennis F. Kinlaw explains how serving the self is a trap of Satan and the essence of sin.

Satan disguises submission to himself under the ruse of personal autonomy. He never asks us to become his servants. Never once did the serpent say to Eve, 'I want to be your Master'. The shift in commitment is never from Christ to evil; it is always from Christ to self. And instead of his will, self-interest now rules and what I want reigns. And that is the essence of sin." (1)

But how can something so dangerous be so seductive? Consider this, everyone has been given a unique set of gifts and talents. God certainly wants us to put them to good use. For many of us, when we’re using our gifts the way God intended, we feel a sense of exhilaration. We feel alive because we’re fulfilling a purpose, in a way, we have found our place in the world. But it’s the moments that follow this exhilaration that matter most to God. If we take those feelings of exhilaration and accomplishment and turn them inward, giving credit solely to ourselves, then we have sinned against God. We walk the path of pride. We may know to give God credit but it’s little more than lip service, credit in name only.

John also brings up the parable of the publican and the sinner revealing another aspect. Spiritual pride can work its way into our perspective, into our judgments, and into the way we see ourselves. Just like the publican in Jesus‘ parable, we see others through the lens of Comparison and competition. A person whose eyes are trained for critical Comparison and a spirit of competition. Such a prideful perspective creates an “us-them” mentality. The good people are like us. the bad people are like them. Scripture tells us the reality of the situation. It’s not us vs. them. True is we are all bad guys and Jesus. Jesus is the only good guy. If we are being lead to somehow compare ourselves to each other, to exalt ourselves over others, we are in grave danger. Because the practice of the gifts that are meant to humble us, meant to keep us close to God, and lead us to grow can become themselves a stumbling block for us.

Here are a few thoughts on avoiding being “too spiritual”.

  1. Practice gratitude: As I explained above, thank God every chance you get and mean it from the bottom of your heart. This is why over and over in the Psalms we are reminded of our in ability in light of God's great ability. Now We need to acknowledge inability without relinquishing responsibility. The key to this is gratitude, for it begins with knowledge meant of our inability in the praise of God's ability. It is the dally countermeasure against our tendency towards self exaltation. However, if we turn our gazes heavenward, thanking and praising Him, for in the end, He is doing all the heavy lifting.
  2. Practice humility: For every vice, there is a corresponding virtue. Whenever a person struggles with pride, he or she can overcome it by practicing humility. But How? First, look at the gospel with the eyes of the publican. We are never as good as we think we are. We will always need grace and forgiveness. We never outgrow it so we should never forget it. Second, As you move through your day try to think about yourself less. We live in a world captive to social media and Christian social media is a breeding ground for spiritual pride. Everything is filtered through image management and self-promotion, comparison and competition. Social media is not bad in itself but it can promotes spiritual pride by habituating the bad practice of thinking about yourself TOO MUCH. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; but it is thinking of yourself less.” that is the goal of practicing humility.
  3. Don't lose your sense of humor. People who are too spiritual tend to not have a sense of humor. They lack the ability to make light of their situation or laugh at themselves. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable would never laugh at his own quirks. It is the way pride can rob us of our humanity. In our weaknesses and failures we can feel our humanity. They remind us we are all too human, imperfect creatures tethered to a perfect God by a gospel of grace. Laughing at yourself when you make a silly mistake is a fruit of knowing who you are in the gospel. Such people have a hard time laughing at themselves because they take themselves and their “religion” too seriously. So when you can’t laugh it may be a sign you’re headed down the wrong road.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable took himself way too seriously. Similar to the above point, people who take themselves to seriously are often mortified when they mess up becoming very upset about their failure. Yet it is often for the wrong reason. Aiming to grow and change is different from the aim to be perfect. Perfectionist tend to desire change for what they can get out of it. John of the Cross insightful put his finger on the issue, when he wrote “they want to find inner peace and not for God’s sake.” They take themselves too seriously. Interestingly, the first being to act like that fell from heaven because of it. Being too spiritual and taking yourself too seriously go hand-in-hand.
  5. Celebrate other people more and God most. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable saw all of life in light of himself. He was self-centered. That is how he could make religious devotion into self-worship. It is why it was easy to compare himself to other without even a prick of conscience. The only way we can resist the urge towards competition and comparison is by the practice of rejoicing in the victories of others. And always allow your celebration of others to roll up into celebration of God. God is behind all of our victories and every good thing is from his hand.


(1) Dennis F Kinlaw This Day with the Master, (Grand Rapids Zondervan 2004) entry of Nov 14.

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