Intellectual Heritage of Christianity

The scientific revolution is credited to a 13th century Italian friar named Thomas of Aquinas. William of Ockham, another friar, is the englishman after whom the logic tool “Ockham’s Razor” was named. Chemistry’s founder, Robert Boyle was a man of faith. Perhaps the world’s greatest mathematician, Blaise Pascal, is best known for his theological argument “Pascal’s Wager.” Isaac Newton wrote more volumes on Christian theology than he did science. Many ivy leagues schools such as Harvard were started by Christians for the express purpose of developing clergymen who were classically educated. In fact, the institution of the university itself is a Christian brain child. The first man to publish a mathematical treatise in favour of the Big Bang cosmological model was a Belgian Jesuit priest and astrophysicist named George Lemaitre. The father of modern genetics was an Austrian monk and botanist by the name of Gregor Mendel.

intellectual giants of the Christians faith.

A 2009 Pew Research poll of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world’s largest international association of professional scientists) showed about half of the scientists in their ranks were religious — with about a third of them belonging to a Christian denomination.

In the 20th century, Nobel Prize winners in the field of science were predominantly Christian.

Nobel Prize Winners who were Christian, 1901-2000:
physics: 64%
medicine: 65%
chemistry: 74%

Pastors of the past were public intellectuals of the highest order. It was not until the last 50 years in the Western world that seminaries sprang up separately from top line universities. As independent institutions these schools focused on training their students in theology alone. Gone were the days of a pastor who was master of science, history, philosophy and theology. We began pumping men into the ministry field that were specialists instead of renaissance thinkers. As a result, the average evangelical pastor is no longer called upon to defend the faith in high profile debates. Famed atheist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens ran roughshod through a plethora of pastors in a series of debates, making a mockery of these clergymen. It was not until he ran into intellectual Christians such as Dinesh D’Souza and William Lane Craig that he was soundly challenged.

It has become commonplace for seminaries to be training centers producing technicians of a handful of doctrines. The very notion that a pastor should be a renaissance thinker will get you looked at sideways. Yet it is only recently that the Church has decided to farm out intellectualism to a very small branch of university graduates who have stepped up to the plate. More concerning is that the average believer receives the majority of their ability to defend the faith from pastors who have not been adequately educated for the task. Instead of stout mental soldiers, most Christians are afraid to speak up at family gatherings or staff parties because they fear they will not be up to the task. This is a new phenomena which breaks from Christianity’s beautiful heritage of intellectual dominance.

It was a series of fiery sermons in the 1700’s that inspired the American Declaration of Independence. A handful of pastors preached the theology of freedom from their pulpits after receiving their education from Harvard. These men received a reward from England’s King George: the death penalty. Many of them subsequently fought in the Revolutionary War. These men were intellectuals who were not afraid of seeing the political implications of their theology. Nor were they afraid to fight and die for their beliefs.

Clergy who railed against King George were dubbed the “Black Robe Regiment” and given the death penalty

A lack of intellectual conviction leads to a lack of courage. Christ is the Logos. The Word. Proverbs says to seek wisdom and understanding above all else. Why so? Because once the mind is cooly tracked on truth, she has courage and steadiness for righteous action under fire. We can no longer say the mind is razor sharp in our congregations. This is why the Western church is addicted to comfort and status quo and has no appetite for political and intellectual warfare against an increasingly hostile culture and government. It may very well spell the pathetic end to the legacy of strength, sacrifice and savvy handed to us by men willing to bleed for faith and freedom.

God help us return to a robust life of the mind and a courageous fire in our bellies.

Nicodemus

Since I was a young boy, I loved to read the Torah. My dad would sit me down and tell me all the teachings he had been taught about God’s written Law. He told me that it was not only important to study the Law and the Prophets, but to listen and understand the stories that many teachers of the Torah had spoken over the past centuries. He taught me to think about God’s Word very carefully. To use my reason when trying to understand Scripture. Continue reading “Nicodemus”