The Dangerous Case of the Cerebral Christian
Meet the Cerebral Christian. Though he comes in various shapes and sizes, he is best identified by his supreme intellect. This modern academic loves the Bible and, chances are, he knows more about it than you do. He loves studying, and has likely gone to church his entire life—perhaps even to Bible School.
The intellectual Christian loves debates and theological discussions. He relishes moments where his scholarly prowess can be observed by all. He vehemently argues for his case, whether it is: the nature of the atonement, the details of election, or the minutia of prophecy. It can be easy for this brand of Christian to come across as overly opinionated or even offensive; but not to worry--he can afford to be. He is more than capable of defending his beliefs.
In his spare time the Cerebral Christian reads a lot of books. He reads books on Christian doctrines and dogmas, books on the Reformers and early Church Fathers, books on apologetics and arguments for Christianity. Let’s face it, this guy is a nerd. He probably even has a blog about theology.
Perhaps you are reading this and wondering: “What is so wrong with a Christian being smart? Shouldn't we all aspire to be thinking Christians?”
Of course we should.
In our modern age, Truth has been dethroned by total confusion. Everyone’s preference reigns, and the only sin nowadays is to call something a sin. Even many of our churches have followed suit, leaving expository preaching to embrace a far more emotional-based message and worship. The average person correlates any talk of doctrine with some stuffy 18th century theologians who thought it was a sin to smile.
I want to be clear, I am passionate about theology—and we need a resurgence in our time of correct doctrine. The gospel itself can only be communicated and understood through exactly that: doctrine. Without it we have nothing. But just because there is a deficiency of truth in our day does not make “Cerebral Christianity” any less dangerous. And smart people are not the only ones susceptible to intellectualism and its dangers.
The problem is, you can have sound theology--a cognitive understanding of the gospel message--and yet still not be saved. You can give intellectual consent to the tenants and creeds of Christianity and yet fail to be born again. You can know all there is to know about Jesus, but not actually know Jesus. What a tragedy.
C. S. Lewis once said in The Great Divorce:
There have been men before … who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but to exist. There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.
The Cerebral Christian can likewise do the same thing with theology. In his zeal and passion for the truth it becomes a temptation for him to mistake the necessary means for the great end. He has made theology everything, while all along the whole point of theology was to lead him to intimacy with the Father.
The great preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (and quite the intellectual himself) once said:
It is a terrible thing when a man reaches that point when he knows that he must die, and the gospel which he has argued about and reasoned about and even 'defended' does not seem to help him because it has never gripped him. It was just an intellectual hobby.
Such a person had never truly been confronted with the gospel. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say, “His heart had never been touched.” Like the prophet Jonah, he may have known the message all too well (more than most), but he never believed it. He had not been changed by it. His life and his internal affections spoke differently than his expressions of head knowledge.
So let’s study and stretch our intellects. Let’s hold fast to the word of truth and be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Let us know God as He is and worship Him as He has been revealed to us through His word. But may our study and our pursuit of Truth always lead us closer to a Person: Jesus Christ. If it ever does not—may we be quick to reevaluate.
Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan, 1946. Print.
Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965. Print.