Friday, April 8, 2011

The Intellectual Pursuit of God

(Note: I wrote this over four years before we became Catholic. I love that the Catholic Church is full of saints of all backgrounds and levels of education, which is how it should be. I am free to study and learn to my heart's content, and no one finds this odd. I am happy indeed.)

This morning over breakfast my husband and I discussed the sad belief that any intellectual discussion of God shows a lack of faith or love. 

Christianity is something that is so simple that children can grasp it but is so complex that theology is still a thriving pursuit of study.  Anyone in any social stratus can have their eyes opened and see; there is no one outside of God's grasp.  Sometimes the great-grandmother who has only ever heard the Bible preached because she never learned to read has more insights into the heart of God than the geniuses who sit in their ivory towers.

I think the best intellectual pursuits of God are those that are grounded in Scripture and humility and, yes, love. (We should never lose sight of our need to love.)  I don't like it when Christians cluck their tongues at someone because they are analyzing Scripture and its ramifications, reasonings, and limits of application.  I also don't like it when Christians mock those who stick with basics, are happy with the basics, and couldn't imagine why we should think about the implications of those basics.

I confess I tend to get more frustrated when Christians don't want to think.  Our heritage is rich, and I believe theology can help us move forward as a Body as we navigate our culture.  I believe Christians have fallen for all kinds of traps because they don't want to read or think.  Pride is a sin whether it's pride in a pile of books or pride in a lack of them.  Being teachable is not a virtue limited to children.

However, I have to ask what is enough?  Christianity is beyond my suburban neighborhood where most homeowners have a college education.  Christianity is for the bum on the street, the prostitute who has never owned a book, and the starving people on continents far more impoverished and oppressed than ours.

If I read my Bible and think about it, I have to say it's enough to believe.  We are each responsible to follow the Lord to the best of our abilities, according to the grace He has given us.  We are fallen and sinners, and intellectual pursuits won't save us.  Only Jesus saves.

But in a land abundant with freedom of speech and religion I would hope that Christians would embrace these gifts that are given to us at great cost and study their Bibles, worship God faithfully in the community of other believers (we do need each other), obey the Lord even "when no one is watching," and search out how to apply the Faith in everyday living.

©2011-2016 Emily Woodham


  1. I do tend to stand on the side that thinks intellectual pursuit is important, especially for those in a leadership role, or those who will impact the lives of others to a greater extent. The lack of understanding has created too many problems in the history of the church: wrongful persecution and killing, heresy, strife and division, false piety, etc. The list goes on. Of course, the gospel will save the young child and the unschooled old lady, and God bless them for their simple faith. For those of us with the intellectual capacity (and the resources) to study and learn, I think it is part of our stewardship to learn about Him as much as we can.

    So that is a long-winded way of saying, "I agree with you."

  2. I like the aspect of stewardship! That's a great way of putting it, and I like the way you think so feel free to put as many words to it as you like! :)

  3. I tend to have a simple faith. Not because I can't read, or don't want to - but I discovered, unfortunately, that the more I read & learned, the more legalistic I became about my faith... I went through a couple of years not very long ago that were quite miserable for me spiritually, because of my "studies". In fact, it made me grow further from Christ & closer to man-made religion, & I felt separated from His love. I also felt myself becoming very judgemental towards others, including my beloved, who didn't try as hard as I did to learn all about God (or so I thought).

    I had to put everything in perspective, & for me, I am much closer to Him when I have faith like a child. In this day and age, particularly living where we do (as you said, a very well educated city), there is a lot of competition to "know the most" about God & the Bible. There is a couple in our Sunday school class at church, and the husband is completely off-putting to everyone else there, because he "knows it all" & gives off the attitude that he looks down upon his fellow Christians for not being as smart as him.

    My personal opinion is that we need to know enough to have a relationship with Him, so that the avenue of communication is open and He can fill our hearts with knowledge as our needs arise. Once I stepped back and waited for Him to "tell me" what I needed to know, I discovered I was led to the right bits of knowledge in a timely manner - usually just before I needed to know them. :-)

    That's not to say I believe we shouldn't read the Bible every day, or seek His word. I just struggle, personally, with overthinking my faith... maybe what I'm trying to say is not everyone has the need to be a scholar of the Word? I'm really not sure what I'm trying to say, lol - I'm up way too early due to insomnia, so deep theological conversations may not be a good idea right now. :-)

  4. Laura, I completely understand. We should study to know Him, not to beat others over the head. I think Helen's point about leaders in particular being well-educated is excellent and missing in my musings on the subject. There is a quote from St. Joseph of Rome (pretty sure it was him?) that us mothers need to not forget that our work for our families is holy, so pray and study but remember He also wants us to do our duties. We aren't all called to the same duties, and bodies that are made up of the same parts look pretty ridiculous and are dysfunctional. Helen's point about stewardship of our gifts including the intellectual is also helpful in understanding what I'm trying to say. As soon as I get a chance, I'll take another stab at it. Because you are right about child-like faith, we should never lose sight of our need to have that kind of faith.

  5. Very true Emily... like I said earlier, I shouldn't get theological with a lack of sleep!

    I completely agree with Helen - our church leaders need to be well-versed & knowledgeable about the Word, it is, after all, their profession. And I love to read and study the Word, and Christian magazines and books - they "gird me up" so to speak. I guess the subject is kind of sensitive with me right now because I just read a book that shook me to the core, for many many reasons. I think the author intended for readers to possibly read his book and have less faith - he studied the Bible so much, for so many years, became a biblical history scholar, and became an agnostic because of it. Instead, it strengthened my faith, lol! But so often I see people who search for the truth, and end up turning away from God... that's kind of where I was coming from, because of my personal experiences, and because of several good friends who got in so deep they decided they didn't believe in God anymore. Granted, they were probably looking for a reason to leave the faith... but I decided, for me personally, that I do best when I step back and let the Spirit guide me, instead of delving into research and studies.

    I absolutely agree with you though that we do need to know what we believe, be well versed in scripture and able to defend our faith. And the nitty gritty harsh parts of our faith, that are so difficult to read about, are the most important - so many modern Christians are all about the "friendship" of Jesus, and they forget that He is still God, and His rules are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Churches need to get back to teaching more "fire & brimstone" and less feel good religion, or there will be many so-called Christians who may not have to complete faith expected of us.

  6. I totally get what you're saying, Laura. This is a tender topic for me because I've been criticized for reading too much theology and for thinking too much. Sometimes people were right, though it stung; other times it was just people putting their own fears onto me. I wrote a second post about it in hopes to make it clearer, but maybe I made it worse? I hope not. I think sometimes I sound like I'm arguing, but David's right about this, most often I'm arguing with myself. I'm definitely not trying to argue with you or Helen nor do I have anyone else in mind as I write, just trying to get my thoughts clearer. And I sincerely mean this: Thank you for the feedback and comments! It helps me tremendously to have friends who are willing to engage in discussion with me! Cheers! :)

  7. Oh Emily, I wasn't trying to argue with you at all. I'm sorry if it came across that way, truly, I am. I was just thinking of myself, personally, and a handful of friends who have turned away because of their studies. I'm in a family of theologians - my MIL is a preacher's kid, my brother-in-law is in seminary, several uncles & cousins are ministers, missionaries, churchplanters, or a combination of all of the above - so I completely understand the desire to learn more, get in deep with church history, etc. etc. I respect people who are able to do that without turning from Him, it's just not for me. Or should I say, it is for me, if I tread carefully - for some reason, Satan often has a heyday when I begin studying the word, so I don't give him the chance to pounce!

    Please forgive me if I came across differently - that was never, ever my intention! One of the things I love about you is your strong faith and your deep desire to learn more about God, always have respected and admired you for that!

  8. Oh goodness. :) I'll send a message to you off line. Please don't worry. :) Looking forward to seeing you after Easter! :)