A Spirit for God (2021)


Never before have “habits of the mind” been so important. As Winston Churchill foresightedly stated in his address to Harvard University in 1943: “The empires of the future will be empires of the spirit. Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, reflecting on Churchill’s speech, notes that Churchill’s view was that a great transition was taking place in Western culture with immense implications for all who live there. The powers of the new world would not be nation states, as in the empires of the past, but ideologies. It would now be ideas, not nations, that would captivate and conquer in the future. The starting point for the conquest of the world would henceforth be the human spirit.

“We can talk about ‘taking over’ the world for Christ. But what sort of “conquest” do we mean? writes John Stott. “Not a victory by force of arms … It’s a battle of ideas.” Yet there are few surprising warriors. Those who follow Christ have too often retreated into personal piety and good works, or like a BBC commentator I heard on the radio while jogging one morning in Oxford, Christians have too often offered to simple “feelings” and “philanthropy”. Speaking specifically on the challenge of Islam, he added that what is needed is more “hard thinking” applied to the issues of the day.

What remains to be seen is whether there will be any hard thinkers to do it. The peril of our time is that when a Christian spirit is needed most, Christians express little need for the spirit and, therefore, are even less determined to develop it. We even have the feeling that an undeveloped mind is more virtuous than a mind prepared for battle. Richard Hofstadter, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Anti-intellectualism in American life, identified the “evangelical spirit” as one of the main sources of American anti-intellectualism. Hofstadter points out that for many Christians humble ignorance is a much more noble human quality than a cultivated mind.

Such a devaluation of the intellect is a recent development in the annals of Christian history. While Christians have long struggled with the role and place of reason, may the spirit himself mattered was without a doubt.

Even the early church father Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220 AD), who had little use for philosophy and was famous for his statement: “What did Athens have? to do with Jerusalem? Never questioned the importance of the mind. Tertullian’s belief was that Greek philosophy had little to offer in terms of information about the outlines of Christian thought, similar to the Apostle Paul’s joke to the Corinthian church that God’s folly is wiser than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:25). But Tertullian, as well as Paul, would have supported any anti-intellectualism that celebrated an underdeveloped mind with utter contempt.

Deep in the worldview of the biblical writers, and also in the minds of the early fathers of the Church, was the understanding that to be fully human is think. To this day we call ourselves a breed of Homo sapiens, which means “thinking beings”. It is not just a scientific classification; it’s a spiritual a. We were created in the image of God, and one of the most precious and noble dynamics within that image is the ability to think. It is simply one of the most sacred reflections of the divine image in which we were created. It is also the foundation of our interaction with God. As God himself implored through the prophet Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).

It was certainly the conviction of Jesus, who made it clear that our spirit is an integral part of life lived in relationship with God. Summarizing human devotion to God as involving heart, soul and strength, Jesus added “and the spiritTo the original wording of Deuteronomy, as if it wanted there to be no doubt that by contemplating the holistic nature of engagement and relationship with God, our intellect would not be neglected. The apostle Paul maintained that our very transformation as Christians it would depend on whether our minds are engaged in an ongoing process of renewal in the light of Christ (Romans 12: 2-3).

All the more reason to be stunned by the words of Harry Blamires, a student of CS Lewis in Oxford, who affirmed that “there is no more Christian spirit”. Christian ethics, Christian practice, Christian spirituality, yes, but not Christian disturbs. More recently, historian Mark Noll agreed, suggesting that the scandal of the evangelical spirit is that there is not much evangelical spirit. “If evangelicals do not take seriously the larger world of the intellect, we are, in effect, saying that we want our minds to be shaped by the conventions of our modern universities and the assumptions of Madison Avenue, rather than by God. and the servants of God. ”

And even if we don’t lose our own mind, we will certainly lose the minds of others. This is the double-edged threat of our time: Outside of a Christian spirit, we will either be captured by the myriad of worldviews vying for our attention, or we will fail to make the Christian voice heard and considered. above the din. In any case, either we start to think or we lose the fight.

James Emery White


Adapted from James Emery White, A spirit for god (InterVarsity Press), order from Amazon.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and principal pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can browse past blogs in our archives and read the latest news on church and culture from around the world. Follow Dr White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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