God, a friend of ignorance?

“To invoke God as a blanket explanation of the unexplained is to make God the friend of ignorance. If God is to be found, it must surely be through what we discover about the world, not what we fail to discover.”  –Paul Davies, British-Australian astrophysicist

Whether or not you fully agree with this statement, I think it is a relevant response to the issues that Metzger examines in one of his sections, The Seminary as Cemetery: Anti-Intellectualism, in Chapter 1. I will deal with race and class issues in light of consumerism below, but for now I want to explore how head and heart knowledge are wrongly viewed as competing factors, which I think is shaped by our desire for simple solutions and comfy answers.

The other day as I was driving home, I listened to an interesting report on the radio. It was about a camp for kids–but not a religious one. Camp Inquiry is a “brain spa” for young skeptics, an alternative to a “God camp”. It is not a camp to produce little atheists, a camp counselor explained, but rather, “little thinkers”. But the message sent was clear: if you are to subscribe to a particular faith, then you are, in result, detaching from thinking logically. Faith and reason were communicated as being incompatible.

Metzger explains that fundamentalist evangelicals tend to perpetuate this view, rather than resist it. On p. 17, he explains the view of many in his camp today: if one attends seminary, it is feared that they will open up Pandora’s box to their own theological demise, and soon all the theories, philosophies, theological stances will overwhelm them and compete for their rudimentary God-loving heart. The “‘head knowledge’ will cancel out ‘heart knowledge'” (p. 17). Too much theological debate, it is argued, leads to a dead orthodoxy and paralyzed heart. 

As I listened to the report about Camp Inquiry, I felt misunderstood. This is not what I signed up for. So I’m one of those “non-thinkers”, one of those fools who throws reason out the window to embrace blind faith? Does a soft heart necessitate a soft head? I’m not afraid to ask questions, because I believe that if something is discovered to be true, then God is found in– not apart from– that. God created us to be “little thinkers”, he gave us inquiring minds, allows for doubts, and most importantly, a hunger to understand. I think that is beautiful. As I study the Bible, as dire questions are raised in my mind, and as my confusion waxes and wanes, I find God in that.

I do agree that too much academia can threaten a simple, child-like faith in Christ, but it doesn’t have to. A humble, broken heart before God must accompany my quest for knowledge. In the midst of learning, I must embrace the wonder and marvel that, no matter how hard I try, I will never understand it all. But my heart and mind can rest in a loving God who does.

I’m beginning to believe that ignorance is not bliss; rather, ignorance is oppression that keeps us from discovering enlightenment in Christ. I’m not afraid to discover new truths, but I am afraid my understanding of God will be so boxed in and guarded that it will suffocate. I respect the fear many people have of modernist theology that Metzger discusses on p. 18. But I also believe that if I am not asking questions due to fear that I might discover too much and so implode my faith, then I need to ask what is the basis on which my faith stands. God comprises the unknown and the known, and I believe he invites us to investigate these mysteries so as to know him better. 

I think this is a driving factor in facing race and class issues. I, like anyone, want the easy way out. The short answer. The one that makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but doesn’t really challenge my life of comfort or fear of the things I don’t understand. Why would I want to go there? But I believe this is what Jesus asks us to do: wrestle with the tough questions and issues of homogeneity, division and oppression while resting in him and allowing him to bear this burden along with us. This then leads us forward to affect real, lasting change. He will see us through it (not see us on the other side, once we’ve wrestled through the hard part). But the message of consumerism is, if the going gets rough, then we are not consuming the right product or answer: the right answer is the easy answer. That is not the message of the gospel. I believe that, like Camp Inquiry, we are to inquire, so as to respond to these complex issues with solid, meaningful and life-giving answers and solutions, whenever possible.

What do you think? Do you think that along with increasing knowledge, your faith is strengthened or weakened, or both? Do you agree that, as Christians, we tend to gravitate towards solving the “easy” problems, while neglecting the complicated ones? If so, what message do you think this communicates? 


11 Responses to “God, a friend of ignorance?”

  1. Bryan Dormaier Says:

    I certainly believe that the head and heart are not at odds with each other. I also believe that there is a real danger in over intellectualizing the Christian faith. I also believe that God is the author of all truth. Yet these beliefs do sometimes come in conflict. For instance, to know about someone and to know someone are two different concepts. I can know all about someone without really knowing who they are. And I can know who someone is without knowing much about them.

    It seems that this is generally the tendency of the Christian camp, it is either to make Christian spirituality all about intellect, or to make it all about some sort of feeling. Neither of these is acceptable by themselves because both are needed. On the side of intellect, it is very easy for us to go into a mode that is more about being right than about knowing God. In this vein it is important to think of Henri Nouwen’s distinction that theology should always be done in prayer.

    It’s also possible on the other side for me to allow myself to go in a totally subjective mode that says “how I understand things does not matter.”

    I have not come to a solid answer of how these things balance out in my life, except to know that I feel the tension of going too far in either direction constantly in my life.

  2. erin Says:

    like brian mentioned in the end of his comment, i find myself swinging between the extremes here… I absolutely agree that God wants us to be critical thinkers and to use our intellect to “know” him more whether thru knowledge of the world- his creation- or knowledge of the bible- his word.

    i believe with increasing knowledge our faith should be strengthened in some fashion because we are gaining truth. however increasing knowledge sometimes seems to “threaten” faith because it feels like faith requires a bit of uncertainty and mystery… and then there’s the whole idea that earthy reasoning is not exactly reasonable in heaven- here we want to be first- he says be last, we want to get rich and live well, he wants us to give it all away and suffer to be perfected, etc, etc…

    i often wrestle with this whole concept when i think of the statement that we need a childlike faith. blindly accepting what we are told, or curious and never satisfied with the answer- always asking another “why?”

    as far as christians only solving the easy problems… i think this is just lazy humans period. christian or not. i am pretty convinced a large majority of the population just straight up HATES thinking. it’s painful. it takes time and effort and originality and creativity and responsibility. people hate it. so they just stay away from things that require it, balk at people/institutions that encourage it. people would rather regurgitate other people’s thoughts right or wrong as they may be and move on to easier mindless tasks.

    ignorance is only supposed “bliss” for those who are lucky enough to live in a rich free country where, for the most part, we are on the receiving end of all the benefits gained through screwing over the rest of humanity.

  3. anon, ed ma. Says:

    If more knowledge of God does not lead me to a greater awe and worship of Him and more profound gratitude for His incarnation, then it is true that my orthodoxy is dead and that my faith is simply going through the motions.

    The reality of my faith though is that this faith is both experential and mystical. It is in the realm of the daily life and practice and is also in the realm of daily thought and intellectual pursuits. I think i am comfortable in that sort of tension between the two: whereby my practice of faith may sometimes not make sense and my intellectual persona may not keep up with my daily walk, because after all my faith is also, not always but is in the mystical realm. Not the explained phenomenon but the unexplained/ unexplainable belief and expression of that.

    Also, it was Abraham Maslow who theorized about the hierarcy of needs of each human being. We have an intellectual need that God designed and academic pursuit may meet that but ultimately with the end in view that it is for the glory of God and for the edifying of His Church.

    i like to study theology because what i personally believe that what i know and have faith and put trust in will ultimately manifest in the life that i lead, in the relationships that i hold and in the hope that i have in the already-not yet.

    I think of the point of seminaries as open doors to opening Pandora’s boxes but also as paradigm shifters and theological catalysts whereby my myopic sense of God’s Covenants and dispensations is broadened and ultimately leads me to the reality that (1) God loves me because the Bible tells me so; and (2)that all men may know that I am Christ’s disciple because i have love for my brothers/sisters and my neighbors, whom I see.

    Descartes said, Cogito Ergo Sum, I think therefore I am. Might i say that because God’s love has been poured out to me and compels me, I love therefore I am. The Seminary has made that much more clearer to me and showed me in a more focused lens.

  4. Kelsi Johns Says:

    I agree with Erin in that the desire to avoid the “tough issues” and address the simple ones is not a problem solely among Christians. But I do think that, as “little Christs”, we hold the utmost responsibility to wrestle with the big dogs. And yes, I agree with Brian that it is easy to swing between the two–it must be a both/and. Also, we do need to hold our quest to understand in a prayerful, humble manner. (Because really, compared to God, what do we know?) That said, I believe that God gave us the desire to know and understand for a reason (the intellectual need of which Anon refers). And amen to the paradox of opening up Pandora’s box, only to come full circle to realize–only this time at a more profound level–that it is still about Christ’s perfect love that leaves me mesmerized and completely perplexed.

  5. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    Shakespeare once said wrote that the whole world is a stage: a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think. And while he is not gospel truth, there is a sense of profundity when one thinks about the schism or dilemma between the head and the heart.
    It makes a lot of sense to tell the truth, wgy do people lie? It makes a lot of sense to work , to study and persevere, why do people chose to lounge around, take shortcuts and cheat and cut corners or quit? It makes a lot of sense to believe in the Gospel of grace, grace having come through Jesus Christ (John 1), and yet people choose to ignore, villify or treat it with hostility?
    I am slowly and painfully finding out that the battle is not will (head) against desire (heart) but it is desire against other competing desires. I think it is not superflous to imagine that while the head was literally created above the heart, the thoughts, ideas and concepts of the head is subsumed by the passions of the heart. Like you’ve said, it makes sense to think but people desire more to be comfortable. Thus, when Paul wrote to the intellectual Romans to be transformed by having their minds renewed (Chap. 12), he wrote first that they were to offer their bodies as living sacrifices. This is not an idea or concept of the mind but more the expression of a heart that is so in love with God.
    Why is traditional Christianity seemingly anit-intellectual? Maybe because it was stumped and flustered by the Scope Monkey Trial of 1925; maybe because Madeleine O’Haire slapped the Church’s face in the battle for prayer in school; maybe because Roe vs. Wade stuck a knife into evangelicalism’s gut.
    Or maybe simply because Christians have been conditioned to live so heavenly minded that they are not to be any earthly good, as a cliche says.
    I am of the strong conviction that “faith has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.”
    I am so hard-pressed- and always will be- how this Wonderful, Counsellor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father had come and did live in this world that is so full of sham, drudgery and broken dreams to redeem me and to assure me that I am and have been unconditionally accepted and loved. What rational explanation can demystify that desire of God that His fallen, sinful, hostile creatures could become like Him and heirs of His kingdom.

  6. Ross Halbach Says:

    Ronaldo, you make some profound remarks.

    I too, along with Ronaldo, have come to slowly believe that my mind simply engages that which my heart is set on. If my heart is infatuated with a girl (God forbid), then my mind is going to wander towards studying her. Similarly, if my heart has been captivated with a God who expresses his love for me on a cross, then I am going to pursue him mentally with all the brain capacity I have. Sadly though, I think we often pursue our mental ambitions guided by a heart that is in love with ourselves, or a girl or boy, instead of one in love with God.

    Is it only me; or does it seem somewhat bizarre to others that we are discussing anti-intellectualism in the context of a blog on race and class? What impact does anti-intellectualism have on race and class? Kelsi points out an answer to this question at the end of her initial entry: ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is oppression, ignorance is sedation, ignorance is passivity. Instead of using our minds to build our own resumes or to best our competitors or colleagues, we are using our minds to uncover and engage the pain of racism and classicism, subjects the church has often ignored. I think such mental engagement reflects God dominated hearts.

    What other connections do you’ll see between race and class and this topic of a heart and mind synthesis? How does our discussion here impact the churches engagement of race and class?

  7. anon, ed ma. Says:

    “Society calls me a beggar, a parasite and an eyesore, but what do you call a society that has reduced me to this state?”- a Marxist-Maoist-Leninist’s slogan

    “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to te eye.” Antoine D’ St. Exupery

    In the Marxist struggle for a classless society, i used to believe very strongly that we can hasten utopia by overthrowing the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. From the Christian perspective. To do that the intellectual elite has to be eradicated so that the State can educate the people about its own value systems without obstacles or barriers.
    a. The Church ignores intellectualism and consign it into the dustbins of evangelicalism because a lot of time this fosters elitism and therefore division anmongst its audience. post-modern man is no longer interested in “faith seeking understanding” but in “finding faith in both reason and experience”.
    b. Intellectuals in the church question too much: the whys and wherefores of the passivity of the church and its seeming cosmetic-reforms mindset in addressing race and class issues.
    It is an emotional issue that does not require intellectualism.
    2. The Bible teaches us that the “heart is deceitful of all things”. Presuppositons, assumptions and stereotyping foster class divisions because there could bethat tendency
    Why are there class and race divisions in the Church? Because, among other resons, Christians and believers refuse to put God as pre-eminent over the self.
    There are class divisions because hearts of men when prejudiced and when prideful tend to segregate people according to thirand so those who are unable to cope

  8. chrissi w Says:

    I am afraid that even if Christians do our very best to think, question, study and challenge ourselves we will never measure up the world’s understanding of being “thinkers” and we have to be OK with that. The reality is, once you accept even one truth as truth then you are that much less of a “seeker.” You’ve figured out one part and are therefore no longer trying to find the answer to it. We are in a time when questioning is seen as the coolest and smartest thing to do and answering is only for the small-minded fundamentalist. The reality is, however, that Christianity is an answer, not a question. This is sometimes embarrassing for me as I try to reckon myself a brooding intellectual. And of course, there are a million mysteries in our one answer but that doesn’t change the fact that by its very nature, the Christian faith leads us to stop questioning a couple of things.

    The argument of heart vs head is obviously silly because the heart is the head (I mean, we all know that the real heart doesn’t feel, it pumps blood). The problem with learning is that the simple becomes complicated in our minds. Sometimes we add extra complications that aren’t real and the weigh us down. Sometimes we simply acknowledge present complications and are faith is enriched for it.

    The pendulum has obviously swung in our post-modern world (I hate to use the term but it works here) and we must be careful to not fall for the latest intellectual trend which so directly equates questioning (some might call it cynicism) with intelligence. I mean, how smart are we if we cut through all the bullcrap of our culture and found Jesus! It’s just a smart that few others will recognize.

  9. Kelsi Johns Says:

    I appreciate Ross’s question in terms of how head vs. heart issues and affections vs. affections relate to race and class: I think the bottom line of what we are discussing here is our consumer comfort competing with a heart that is (or is striving to be) consumed by Christ. The latter dives into the trenches and engages in the uncomfortable, the painful, and with the marginalized (i.e., race and class division).
    I was just talking with a woman who is hungry to engage with the broken and needy, but she feels frustrated because, despite being actively involved in her church and attending a Bible College, she doesn’t know of any outlets to actually engage with and help others. That breaks my heart that Christian-based institutions can act as an insulator, rather than a conduit, to the needy and broken-hearted. That is, to say the least, unacceptable. We need orthodoxy AND orthopraxis.
    Thinking critically, exploring truths and non-truths are all, I think essential to engaging broken systems and broken people.
    Also, I agree with Chrissi that asking questions rather than living as if I know “the answer” is much more attractive to this world. I’m supposed to be one of those tortured souls like the rest of em, who broods around and lives as if life is one big question mark. If I don’t, then my mind is frighteningly shallow and narrow. Like Chrissi mentioned, that has much to do with the fact that we live in an age that is “over God”. However, I do believe that, in many ways, we Christians need some serious humility. Just because we know Christ as our savior does not mean we have the world and all its mystery “figured out”. And while it takes prayerful wonder to explore these mysteries, it also takes prayerful humility to accept that there are mysteries we will never figure out in this lifetime.

  10. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    In the classic book, The Little Prince, there is a delightful little quote that says:
    “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
    I think when Jesus looked at the crowds after healing the sick and feeding the hungry and preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God, he saw with his heart that they were harassed and were like sheep without shepherd. He had compassion on them and told His disciples to “pray ye therefore of the Lord of the harvest that he might send laborers because the harvest is plenteous but the workers are few.”
    How often have we pray for more laborers including ourselves? How intense is our engagement with God for more laborers in His vineyard? How deep do we long for the profound and effectual reconciliation of the Ivory Tower seminaries and Bible schools with the schools of hard knocks? How obedient do act towards Jesus that we might be those laborers to go into the harvest fields?
    One haunting paraphrase of a radical left slogan has embedded its mark on me: “Your orthodoxy calls me totally depraved, a beggar, a parasite and an eyesore but what do you call your orthopraxis that has reduced me to this state?”
    May we not, in the matters of orthodoxy and orthopraxis, go silently into the night… may we rage and rage against the dying of the light!

  11. Ross Halbach Says:

    Chrissi, I appreciate your input. I think you bring a good, balancing point to the discussion. It is easy for us to succumb to the desire to fit in with our questioning culture. This is inherently dangerous because it reveals that we our approval junkies towards humans rather than God.

    However, on the other hand, I feel as though many who have come from the standpoint of having the “answer” in Christianity have also tried to redeem themselves to culture by proving there “rightness”, so that they can remain in control. For example, after the monkey scopes trial many Christians were adamant about proving the reasonableness of a Christian defined origin of the universe in a 7 day creation (a faith claim). In many ways, I feel this presentation of “rightness” against culture stems from the same insecurities that makes us susceptible to succumbing to culture. Ultimately, the pendulum can swing either way if we don’t recognize our desperate need of God’s love to secure us in such a way that our approval from God eclipses an approval from our peers. All the same, your point remains: we must not be afraid of having answers that define us as a peculiar people defined by God’s love.

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