Discipleship Of The Mind

February 11, 2003

Core Commitment #6: We Engage in learning and thoughtful Biblical reflection in every area of life.

Anti-intellectualism has deep roots in American evangelicalism. This sentiment was perhaps best captured by Billy Sunday, an evangelist who addressed over 100 million people in the early twentieth century. With a touch of hyperbole, he boasted, “I don’t know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knows about ping pong.” He also said that “when the word of God says one thing and scholarship another, scholarship can go to hell.”

Over the past decade, a spate of books by authors such as Os Guinness (Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think) and Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) have lamented the disconnect between personal piety and the life of the mind. Noll opens his book with the provocative line: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Oblivious to much that is good and rigorous in contemporary Christian scholarship, the Atlantic Monthly recently ran an article that concluded: “Of all America’s religious traditions, evangelical Protestantism…ranks dead last in intellectual stature.”

For those of us who are passionate both about faith and the life of the mind, this is a painful assessment. Of Noll’s book, one reviewer laments: “The book is an epistle of a wounded lover. Noll loves God and he loves academics, but he is wounded because many of his colleagues deny the possibility of maintaining the integrity of both lives.”

Our Commitment

At InterVarsity, we rue this devaluation of the intellect. The ability to think is one of God’s greatest gifts. To be created in His image means to be able to reason, create and synthesize. Though fallen, our minds remain amazing instruments.

Anti-intellectualism is contrary to Jesus’ first and greatest command: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30). It also runs counter to a significant stream of church history— from Clement to Augustine to Aquinas to Catherine of Siena to Calvin to Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Kuyper to Rene Padilla to Miroslav Volf to. . . .

Kuyper, Holland’s leading theologian and Prime Minister in the early 1900s, proclaimed: “There is not a square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” In so saying, he echoed the apostle Paul’s admonition to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

As a result of InterVarsity’s overseas birth, we escaped much of the heart/mind dichotomy that dominated American evangelicalism at that time. As historian Keith Hunt notes: “The British heritage of InterVarsity served it to great advantage. Student work was seen as an import, and as such it did not have ties to anything that was suspect to either the conservatives or liberals.” Through-out our history, we have sought to model and teach a holistic discipleship.

As a consequence of this heritage, it is no coincidence that InterVarsity Press was launched so early in our history. Likewise, it is consistent with our ethos that staff love to read, that we have significant graduate/faculty ministries, and that the phrase “discipleship of the mind” was popularlized by one of our own, retired IVP editor, Jim Sire.

InterVarsity is a beneficiary of a great line of Christian researchers, teachers, writers and reformers. Although Jesus never wrote a book, he is still the greatest thinker who ever lived. We prize the mind and the marketplace of ideas, and disciple students and faculty to be good stewards of their intellectual gifts, for service in both the Church and the world. Like Kuyper, we cry that every inch of creation – including the intellect – rightly belongs to Jesus Christ.