By Bob Fryling

Narcissism and Anti-Intellectualism

Many people have expressed concern about the lack of coherent, rational, discussion over our major social problems, whether it’s global warming or international debt, or something else. Issues that are complex, that need our best minds and our best thinking, are being minimized by irrationality. And how should we as Christians respond?

The book UnChristian was a result of a George Barna study of modern Christianity. One of its main concerns and accusations is that Christians are the ones that are anti-intellectual. We have that image of being non-thinking, that we just love God and we’re not engaged in the tough, hard issues of the world.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urged his followers to do more than just love God without caring about the world in which we live. He commanded us to be salt and light, to provide hope and illumination in the face of the troubles that beset us.

I was listening to the Bishop of Rwanda a couple of weeks ago. He was sharing that before the genocide of 1994, about 90-percent of Rwandans designated themselves as Christians. It was probably the most Christian country in the world. You could go anywhere and have worship services. And then within a very short time, you had millions of people killing each other, who had designated that they were followers of Jesus Christ. What happened?

It’s a complex situation in terms of colonialism, ethnicity, and power. But what he communicated was that the Rwandan church was a mile wide and an inch deep. No one was talking about ethics. No one was talking about issues of reconciliation. They were going with the flow, rather than helping this young church grow in maturity.

So much of contemporary spirituality—and this is not just limited to the church—is self-absorbed and narcissistic. Freud defined narcissism as the inability to grow up. We just had another grand-daughter born into our family two weeks ago. There’s something appropriate about an infant being narcissistic. They just want what they need and they completely dominate a household. But if the infant doesn’t grow up and become self-sufficient, there’s something very wrong with that. The writer of Hebrews talks about those who are still longing for milk and asks “What about meat? Where’s the maturity coming in?”

Part of our calling in InterVarsity is to help students grow in maturity. InterVarsity Press does that by publishing thoughtful books on important issues. InterVarsity’s Graduate Faculty ministry is also leading the way with their i>Following Christ conference next December. The speakers include theologian N.T. Wright and Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project. Collins will be a wonderful inspiration for the scientists who come, to see what a Christian can do in using their skills and training for the glory of God.

Think of the challenge that Paul offered to the church in Corinth: “Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” We should be helping to prepare people to deal with issues of international debt, to deal with issues of poverty. And we are doing those things. That is part of our calling. We use the core value of the life of the mind. The life of the mind is the lingua franca of the university world.



Bob Fryling a vice president of InterVarsity, and the publisher of InterVarsity Press. These thoughts were part of a longer talk given in a chapel service at InterVarsity’s National Service Center called “Descend with the Mind into the Heart.” The talk is InterVarsity’s podcast for this week. To access this audio file or find out more information on our podcast, go to our audio page at