Last night I was bored, so I spent some time reading through the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. Justice Antonin Scalia excoriated the majority for both overstepping its jurisdiction as well as framing the debate in such a way to make it almost impossible for dissenters to defend traditional marriage in the future (basically painting proponents of traditional marriage as mere haters who have no rational reason to oppose gay marriage). Whatever mistakes or inconsistencies Scalia may have in other cases, he was pretty spot on in his analysis here, but predictably, because he did not side with popular sentiment, his dissenting opinion was ridiculed by most of the media. Few articles actually engaged his arguments, instead choosing to portray him as someone who was merely raging with select quotes.
So I was reminded how much ideas matter. This trek towards homosexual marriage didn’t come from nowhere. It’s the fruit of philosophical shifts of the university and culture, shifts away from universal morals based on God and towards man-made moralities. In the church, it reflects the move towards theological liberalism by many of the mainline denominations as opposed to the Scripture-based theology of the Church’s forebearers. Homosexual marriage is simply one of many symptoms of these philosophical and theological ideas. Indeed, in the name of “progress,” many liberals ironically champion the Supreme Court as an arm that basically makes laws, something our forefathers expressly tried to avoid. If you aren’t in step with the so-called social elite, you are ignorant and bigoted, and you should just listen to the elite because they automatically know what’s better.
What’s even more unfortunate, however, is how much Christians do not realize how crucial it is to articulate, defend, and engage ideas. What’s worse, many Christians look down upon those who study theology, either viewing them as people wasting their time or arrogant intellectuals who think about their faith too much rather than live it out. Especially in Asian churches, parents fume when their kids try to do anything else other than becoming a businessman, a lawyer, a doctor, or anyone else who is a professional who can make money. I’ve heard many stories of Christian parents being the primary obstacle of a student who is called to go to seminary and the ministry, an irony that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so blatantly sinful and selfish. The very people God charges to raise their kids in accordance to his Word bristle at the idea of their child giving his or her life’s work over to Him. I’m not afraid to say this to the face of any Asian parent: If that’s you, you’re incredibly immature and you’re failing as a parent by the standard of God. Some parents think it’s the church’s job to develop their kids’ spiritual lives while they make sure their children become honor students who go to a famous university and make money, a pitiful approach to parenting by Christians.
The primary argument against the study of philosophy and theology is often that it is not “practical.” Of course, what they often really mean by that is that it isn’t going to make money, at least not as much as being a doctor or something. What they fail to realize is that because many Christians have ignored their intellectual responsibilities regarding ideas, universities and even seminaries have been lost to liberal philosophies that reject God and reject Scripture. Kids go to college and are bombarded by moral relativism, secular humanism, naturalistic methodologies regarding biblical interpretation, philosophical arguments against God’s existence (the problem of evil), etc. These ideas matter, and they do not simply stay in the ivory tower. While it sometimes takes years or even decades, eventually ideas from the university make their way to the populace, even though the average person doesn’t really know where they come from. Postmodern universalism in comparative religions didn’t just spring out of a vacuum, for example. These are exactly the type of things Christians in the Western world should know how to engage from a biblical worldview. When a Christian is trained to read God’s Word carefully, to refute the logical problem of evil, to defend the historicity of the Gospels, and to show the emptiness of postmodern morality, that is extraordinarily practical. This is especially true when it helps students avoid being deceived by these philosophies and even helps bring someone to Christ.
However, many Christians are instead resentful when they’re asked to think in a complex manner, when they’re told to think through an issue logically, or even when they’re challenged to read the Bible more carefully. This puzzling attitude does not make a strong church. A church full of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen can make a rich church, but if they have a low respect for the Bible and gobble up any new philosophy coming out of the university, then that will not be a spiritually healthy church who will do God’s work (Exhibit A: Many mainline churches). I have a feeling that when we face Jesus in judgment, he will not be terribly impressed if someone became a successful doctor but failed to share the Gospel due to shoddy theology.
Please do not misunderstand, I’m not saying everyone needs to go to seminary and study philosophy or theology. The Church needs good Christians in all spheres of life, so God can definitely use an accountant or investment banker for his glory. However, it is enormously frustrated when Christians are blindsided by the logical problem of evil when Alvin Plantinga successfully refuted that argument decades ago (something that even atheist philosophers will concede). Why on earth do you think the divorce rate is so high in this country, that businessmen often cheat, that promiscuity is rampant, or that people think it’s awesome to go to a club and get trashed while acting like a fool? These behaviors stem from ideas. When Christians ignore the ideas and just focus on stopping behaviors, they are missing the primary cause. And when they look down upon those who are trying to combat those ideas, they do so out of terrible ignorance of how much effect those ideas can have. Some Christians are even clueless enough to argue that we should be about “love” rather than “theology,” when love is a theological idea, the distortion of which does not produce biblical love but a clumsy and twisted copy that we see often in the world.
Many argue that the Christian faith is more than just a set of propositions, and I agree. However, it is not less than a set of propositions that we believe to be true. Being able to biblically explain our worldview, engage other ideas, and ultimately show why the Christian faith is the most rational worldview is not “impractical.” In God’s eyes, that is far more practical than being able to read a balance sheet (full disclosure: I studied accounting in college). Christians need to be far more responsible in the realm of ideas and not just focus on worldly practicality, which in the end exposes itself as idolatry.