Because "the Bible Says So" Isn't Enough
by Tabitha Middleton
Christianity has a long history of association with learned people and free-thinkers. Jesus' first followers were convicted by the depth of his knowledge and wisdom, and the Pharisees learned to dread his quick-witted evasion of every rhetorical trap they set for him. Paul admonished the early Christians to uphold a standard of examination and skepticism that most would consider excessive, instructing them to "test all things; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). For thousands of years, some of the world's greatest minds have proudly identified themselves as Christians.
However, even a brief examination of contemporary cultural references to the Christian faith presents a very different picture. Christians are widely reviled as being closed-minded and hopelessly ignorant. Jokes about Christian stupidity abound and are fast becoming an old standby for comedy shows. In one episode of Family Guy, a main character converts to Christianity after watching a televangelist network, immediately morphs into a zealous anti-intellectual, and is seen participating in a book burning, where she throws a volume called Logic for First Graders into the flames.
It would be easy for Christians to shrug their shoulders and dismiss this disturbing shift as a sign of cultural depravity and growing hostility towards the gospel. But while Christians have always been persecuted in one way or another, persecution traditionally arose when corrupt, powerful people felt threatened by the liberating message of Jesus. Today, at least in the United States, it more often results from the average joe thinking that Christianity is for idiots.
What is the source of this toxic misconception? The disagreement of many Christians with the scientific consensus, particularly concerning issues such as evolution and the age of the earth, is a major contributing factor, but Kevin Duffy, minister of evangelism and discipleship at Village Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., says that the idea that Christians are anti-intellectual is not entirely without basis. He has run across quite a few believers who seem to live up to this unfortunate stereotype. "Honestly, to some extent, the charge that Christians are anti-intellectual is true," Duffy says. "We often aren't willing to work very hard to learn about what we believe."
Christians today are facing the consequences of a slow but steady withdrawal from the intellectual community. While Christian thinkers and scientists were once at the forefront of the latest intellectual developments and debate, some ideas—Darwinism in particular—so alienated the Christian community that many Christians chose to step out of the intellectual arena entirely. This extremely reactive response has done more harm than good.
"Some of it is our fault," Duffy says. "We haven't engaged. Instead, we retreated for a long time. We gave up the public forum, and we didn't care to have a debate. Our answer was 'the Bible says so,' and for a culture that doesn't believe in the Bible, that's just circular."
But what can be done about it? How can Christians remain uncompromising in their beliefs while also engaging a secular community convinced that Christianity is, at best, a comforting superstition?
How can Christians remain uncompromising in their beliefs while also engaging a secular community convinced that Christianity is, at best, a comforting superstition?
"For one thing," Duffy asserts, "Christians need to prepare themselves." They also need to learn how to begin a dialogue with the secular community. "Christians want to start with Jesus and the cross. But as C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, that's often too many steps ahead. Sometimes we have to start with the possibility of God, or even the possibility of truth."
Churches also need to step up to the plate and start providing first-rate educational resources to their members. "Churches need to do a better job of training people. I don't think we can rest on an old paradigm of training and discipleship," says Duffy. As the unofficial "apologetics director" of Village Baptist, he has seen firsthand the need for better teaching in the church, and he has seen the amazing results when such teaching is made available to believers.
There's a lot of work to be done, but he is optimistic. "I've seen a growing interest in apologetics, particularly among young people. The primary way to impact culture is through the college campus, so when we equip our high school students, they go on to make big changes. When Christians learn what they believe and are willing to engage, we have tremendous impact."
A North Carolina State University graduate and freelance writer, Tabitha Middleton has a passion for language and logic.