Intellectually Responsible Christianity
by Melissa Travis
Whenever I talk with fellow Christians about the necessity of an intellectually responsible faith, I often receive a response that is a mixture of agreement and anxiety. Most Christians would agree that our belief system should not look like the secular caricature–a blind leap past the cliff edge of rationality. However, in some important respects, many believers are at a loss for how to improve upon loving God with their minds. The vast number of books, journals, articles, video lectures, online courses, and formal degree programs overwhelms them, and sadly, many never begin at all, choosing instead to continue through life with an intellectually shallow, emotions-driven faith. Others do just enough studying to make them dangerous.
In this post, I’d like to offer a short set of guidelines for Christians who wish to be obedient to the command to worship God with their minds while avoiding the common pitfalls that, quite frankly, produce more stumbling blocks for unbelievers than they remove.
1. Getting Started
Becoming an intellectually responsible Christian is a challenging, lifelong process! Don’t allow this fact discourage you. The journey is, without a doubt, deeply fulfilling and continually rewarding. Set reasonable, short-term goals for yourself and don’t allow the sheer volume of available resources overwhelm you.
I recommend starting out with the new revised and updated edition of J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Take your time with it. A good goal might be a couple of chapters per week, making notes and highlighting key passages along the way. You’ll want to review your notes and highlights in this book every couple of years.
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2. Tackle Key Topics, One at the Time
It’s important to be well-rounded in your knowledge, but this doesn’t mean that you have to master every subject related to Christianity (as if that were even possible). I suggest that you read at least one high-quality overview volume from a respected scholar in each of these main categories:
Essential Christian Doctrine– Whether you are a new Christian or you were raised in the church, you will greatly benefit from becoming more familiar with the central doctrines of the faith and how to identify heresy. A good way to approach an independent study of Christian doctrine is to tackle one subtopic at the time. I recommend obtaining a single-volume general theology textbook for your library, such as Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden. This is a hefty tome, as are most comprehensive theology texts, but don’t let that discourage you! Start from the beginning, work through a chapter, and then take a break to do some of your other reading before coming back. Don’t set any sort of deadline for finishing, just commit to studying it regularly…
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