Throughout history, schools and other institutions of learning have followed the spread of the gospel. Why is that? What is the connection between the intellect and the Christian faith? What has happened in recent history to cause Christianity to now be commonly associated with anti-intellectualism?
Bradley Green, a professor at Union University and co-founder of Augustine School — a classical Christian school in Jackson, TN — investigates these questions in his latest book. His thesis is that there can be no ultimate meaning to the intellect apart from the gospel of Christ, and demonstrates this by exploring five interrelated theological themes and their relevance to the intellectual life:
- The realities of creation and history
- The notion of a telos or goal to all of history
- The cross of Christ
- The nature of language
- Knowledge, morality, and action
The first two chapters show that meaning and purpose can only be ascertained and understood if there is a foundation for truth, beauty, and goodness that is exterior to our own human experience. Knowledge relies on the existence of an ordered and rational universe. The Christian belief in the Creator God of the Bible provides the impetus for basing knowledge upon an objective source of truth.
Furthermore, finding “direction” for our lives requires that there be a “direction” of history. Time must be going somewhere. The Biblical narrative provides this as well, in showing that history has a beginning and end, sovereignly ordained by God and revealed in his Word. The Christian’s intellectual pursuits — as with anything else — are rooted in our eschatological hope of the return of Christ to set all things right.
It should not surprise us, then, to see that postmodernism rejects both Creation and the idea of a Biblical metanarrative which sets itself over everything else and provides meaning to everything in life. The philosophies of this world set themselves up against the knowledge of God. This leads to vastly different ideas about the purpose and practice of education, the importance of history, and the goals for individuals and societies.
Chapter three seeks to determine the proper balance between faith and reason. So often faith is portrayed — by Christians and non-Christians alike — as being opposed to knowledge, but this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible tells us. Scripture exhorts us over and over to seek knowledge; to “be transformed by the renewing of the mind”. When our understanding of what God has done in history and what He has promised to do in the future increases, so does our faith in His ability and intention to fulfill His promises.
As we come to a fuller understanding of the gospel, we realize our own brokenness, and can begin to account for the evil in the world (for which postmodernism has no answer). This leads to a realization that our intellect is fallen; “even our knowing is caught up in sin”. This in turn drives us to pursue God even more, knowing that only in Him can we regain what was lost in the Fall, and discover the purpose for which we were created.
The next two chapters focus on the nature of language, working toward a Christian understanding of words. By the author’s own admission, these were “the densest chapters in the book”. Still, the points made (and especially the differences between Christian and modern/postmodern philosophies of language) are important steps in the logical progression of the book.
Green ends by emphasizing the moral component of knowledge. As he says, “knowledge is inherently a moral reality — it will be used for good or ill”. The life of the mind is not morally neutral. We are “morally accountable” for the knowledge we have received, and “morally culpable” for what God has spoken. As Christians, it is absolutely imperative that we pursue knowledge, because God has spoken so that we may know.
The Gospel and the Mind is a terrific resource. Much of the book consists of quotes mined from a vast array of sources, from early Church fathers to influential thinkers, theologians, and philosophers from throughout the last two thousand years. Though the book concerns a very “academic” topic, it is easily accessible for readers.
If there is a downside to the book, it is that Green does not give us his own thoughts in his own words as often as I might have expected. Still, this may not be such a bad thing. The way he weaves together quotes to quickly guide readers through the intellectual debates that have surrounded Christianity for centuries adequately communicates his own perspective, and carries with it the weight of history.
This is a worthy addition to the collection of any Christian thinker. Buy it here.