Yeah. I said it. And it’s true.
The church has such a rich history of scholarship. Roger Bacon (1214-1292), a church friar, was one of the first people to promote the use of the scientific method. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) wrote history’s most compelling philosophical treatise on the existence of God. The metaphysical philosopher who gave us Occam’s Razor, William of Ockham (1287-1374), was a prominent Christian. The mathematician who invented coordinate geometry (Nicole Oresme) was “a passionate theologian.” John Calvin of was a Doctor of Law. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew. And of course, most Christians are familiar with Martin Luther and C. S. Lewis. Even the “infamous” Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, was a devout believer for much of his life.
This is hardly an exhaustive list, either. The Apostle Paul himself was extremely well educated in his day.
So what changed on the way to the 21st century? Why do so many modern evangelicals discourage and outright reject formal scholarship?
Somewhere, evangelicals began viewing public education as secular, evil, a threat to faith. Perhaps it happened when the Theory of Evolution became required learning in science classes. Perhaps it was when the “safe sex” campaign began circulating through children’s health classes. Perhaps it was when prayer was taken out of schools. I don’t know. But it’s truly baffling. And it’s certainly not to the church’s credit.
In recent years, a disturbing dichotomy has arisen in society, courtesy of the new atheism movement: You’re either a Christian or an intellectual. You can’t be both. To be Christian means to reject all scientific theory and natural phenomena; to be intellectual means to reject anything faith-based. Much of that is just noise, a juvenile act of hateful, close-minded ego-stroking by people like Richard Dawkins. (Yeah. I said that, too.) But they also have a point. To a large degree, the modern church has abandoned its scholarship–even when it comes to interpreting scripture. And it’s alienating Christians whom God has gifted with a healthy intellect and who want to explore their faith and the natural world on a deeper level.
For evangelicals, the pursuit of knowledge hasn’t just been discouraged at the secular university level; it’s also been squelched at the theological level. Many of the people filling the ranks of atheism today were once believers who had sincere questions about church doctrines and practices. Instead of receiving thoughtful answers from church elders, however, their questions were met with outright hostility and dismissed as sinful. Visit any online atheist forum, and you’ll see countless deconversion stories that are appalling in their similarity. When the church refused to answer their questions, they sought answers from elsewhere in the world–usually, from people who had long since rejected faith.
Now, many young believers are encouraged to attend Christian universities and Bible schools where their church’s doctrine is reinforced in the curriculum, whether or not it’s intellectually sound. There’s a fear in many churches that if young people study evolution or discover there’s more than one way to interpret the Bible, they’ll leave the church. But asking them to adhere blindly to doctrines and attacking those who dare point out contradictions in teachings is already sending them away in droves.
According to the King James Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote,
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
And the Apostle Peter said,
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)
If all they meant was to simply study scripture, that’s sufficiently damning of any anti-scholarship, anti-questioning attitudes. People have an innate need to understand what they are taught. If the church refuses to mentor new believers, they’ll never mature in their faith. And immature Christians often lack the ability to witness effectively and become easy prey for those looking to discredit faith in God.
In the old days, religious meetings offered some of the best educational opportunities for common people. Many were farmers who had never completed school and didn’t know how to read. But that’s no longer the case. Educational opportunities are now widespread, and technology has made society very sophisticated. Telling young people in today’s church to “just have faith” whenever they encounter something they don’t understand no longer cuts the mustard. They want to know what other people believe and why, and why their church’s doctrine is superior. They want to know the full context of the scriptures, the history of the Bible and the true meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew words. I believe one reason the evangelical church is steeped in heresy is that it’s kept all the potential Martin Luthers in ignorance–or driven them away.
The evangelical church has also responded badly to those who have chosen to pursue a secular education. Despite my former pastor claiming that God desires to place believers in different fields, including secular ones, he and the rest of the church clearly favored the young people who sought ministry degrees at approved Christian colleges. Offerings were taken up to help cover their expenses. No such offerings were taken up for those attending public universities. The public university students also received less moral support from their fellow believers.
Instead of standing their ground and refusing to bow to worldly influences when public education turned secular, Christians instead retreated to their fundamentalist foxholes and left the unbelievers to their devices. As a result, the number of influential Christian scholars in fields like science and philosophy appears to be dwindling. And the church’s rejection of formal scholarship has only provided fodder for hardline atheists to claim that faith has no place in serious scientific research. Now, what little Christian scholarship exists is often discredited in academic circles, the claim being that Christian scholars allow their beliefs to distort their research. Apparently, atheist scholars are immune to any kind of bias and agenda-pushing.
What’s sad is that people on both sides of the aisle have forgotten that many of the scientific and mathematical advances that set modern objective standards for research were brought to us by Christian scholars. Perhaps it’s time the church remembered.