A Commencement Speech given at Los Angeles Baptist College in 1989.
When I was approached last December about the
possibility of bringing this commencement address, it was because of the
thought, or hope, that I might be able to cast light on the problem of how to
balance the intellectual life with the spiritual life. I work as a professor
of philosophy at the University of Southern California, which calls for
something in the way of an intellectual life – or at least a sturdy appearance
thereof – and I have recently published a book on the spiritual life and its
disciplines. These facts are perhaps what stimulated the generous thought that I
could say something interesting and useful about this problem of balance
within the individual Christian, and within the body of the Church; of the
intellectual life and the spiritual.
We need to be very candid, right at the start, about
why there is a problem of "balance" here, and what kind of problem it
is. And let us frankly say that, in our contemporary world, the Christian who
expresses concern about this balance is rarely, if ever, concerned about
our being too spiritual. The problem is not how to keep spirituality in
check, so that it will not overwhelm the intellect, but how to keep the
intellect in check so that it will not overwhelm the spiritual. Is this not so?
When we speak of balancing the intellectual life with
the spiritual life, the threat which concerns us is a threat to
spirituality. We do not speak of the problem of balancing the spiritual life
with the intellectual life, as if the spiritual life might run amuck and
devastate our intellectual life. The intellectual life is not, in our churches,
or in our culture, thought of as something threatened – or perhaps as
something which would be sorely missed if it, perchance, happened to get
devastated, as, indeed, it has been devastated.
In the abstract, if a balance is what we want,
we can’t have either side outweighing the other. But the recent past of
fundamental Christianity, which expresses itself in the rightly conservative
segment of the evangelical movement, has clearly determined that the
threat here is that of intellect against spirituality, not of spirituality
against intellect. And we know, from the Bible as well as life, that the threat
of intellect to spirituality is a very real one, by no means to be
underestimated. Paul warns us of the contrast between knowledge and love:
knowledge puffs up, love builds up (I Corinthians 8:2). And: if I
"understand all mysteries, and all knowledge…and have not love, I am
nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2).
So we are warned.
And yet this is not the whole story of the spiritual
life. Stupidity and ignorance, even if chosen in response to warnings against
pride of intellect, do not guarantee love or spirituality. Would that life were
so simple! But disdain – even mere lack – of intelligence, of thought, of
knowledge, proves itself to be capable of as great a pride, and of as great a
lovelessness or hatred, as does the greatest scholarship or intellectual
ability. There is no advantage to spiritual life from mere ignorance or
It is, after all, not intellect that is a threat to
spirituality, but pride of intellect, a reliance on, a trust in, a
worship of intellect. And it is in this truth that we find the key to balancing
the intellectual and the spiritual life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not
lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He
will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the
Lord and turn away from evil.
(Proverbs 3:5-7, NASV)
The situation here is exactly analogous to that of
money. We are repeatedly warned about money in the Bible. Jesus made it clear
that money can be a threat to spirituality, and drew the wrath of the covetous
Pharisees down upon him by telling them that they could not serve
both God and mammon (Luke 16:13-14). He warned that "the cares of this world,
and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things" (Mark 4:19)
are the thorns – and how well He named them, "thorns" – that choke
the Word of the Kingdom in the heart of the hearer so that it bears no fruit.
Riches are deceitful in that they create an illusion of a power, a security, and
a merit which belongs only to God. This is the lesson of the story of the rich
farmer who because of his wealth thought his soul was in his own care, and said
"Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years;
take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said unto him: Fool! This
night thy soul shall be required of thee. Then whose shall those things be,
which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and
is not rich toward God."
Shall we then regard riches as evil, in the face of
such dire failures, of such great temptation to trust them? Many people today,
sincere believers in Christ, are sure in their heart of hearts that it is
intrinsically more spiritual to be poor than to be in "comfortable"
circumstances, and certainly than to be rich. Father Ernesto Cardenal,
Minister of Culture for the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and professor
Alasdair MacIntyre of Notre Dame University, well-known spokesmen for
contemporary radical ideas, express a wide-spread and powerful feeling against
riches and the rich when they frankly affirm that on Jesus’ teaching no rich
person can be saved. (See Chapter 10 of my book, The Spirit of the
Disciplines, where I discuss the question, "Is Poverty
Spiritual?") But of course they are quite mistaken; and, dominated by one
of the illusions of our age, they miss the entire point of Jesus’ teaching.
Just as ignorance and stupidity cannot protect you from pride and lovelessness,
so having no money cannot alone prevent you from loving it, worshipping it,
trusting it. Perhaps few worship and trust money as much as those who don’t
have it. Perhaps being rich and miserable is one of the best correctives –
though even that does not successfully cure everyone – of the deceitfulness of
But what is most important for us to understand, with
regard to both money and intellect, is how we can properly serve God in them.
To renounce them is not the solution. Apart from some very clear and special
calling that we individually may have to do so, that is to abdicate our
responsibility before God to bring His reign, His Kingdom rule, by actions which
He will not do for us, to bear upon the created realities where He
has placed us.
The intellect is one of the created realms of power.
The human world moves upon ideas, so far as it depends upon human actions; for
actions come from the mind and heart of man. It is through the perverted
ideational system of mankind that Satan exercises whatever power he has, as the
prince of this world, in relation to human affairs. When he came to tempt Eve,
he approached her with a question – an intellectual approach:
Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree
of the garden? (Genesis 3:1)
And then a lie:
Ye shall not surely die! (Genesis 3:4)
And then a lying attack upon God’s character:
God does not want you to be like Him. (Genesis
(This is in fact the outcome of much that passes for
Biblical scholarship: "Yea, hath God said?")
Romans Chapter 1 then explains how mankind, once
fallen, refused to glorify God as they knew Him to be (Romans 1:20-23), and how
this led to the declension culminating in the historical reality of human
existence that we see around us on all hands, and perhaps not a little as it
afflicts our own souls:
Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness,
greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, they are
gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors
of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy,
unloving, unmerciful; and, although they know the ordinance of God, that
those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the
same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
And all of this rests, not wholly, but essentially,
upon the ultimate ideas about human life, false ideas about God and the world,
about what we ought to be and can be, which flock in the minds of the ordinary
person, and upon which the course of human affairs naturally rests. Though they
are largely unnatural, as the unnoticed motions of the Earth condition
every movement on the Earth, so these ideas frame the particular
attitudes and actions of a realm dead in trespasses and sins. As children of
light, given by grace the life from above by the birth from above, we are called
to use our intellects in submission to God, trusting Him to work with us here,
as we do in the use of every one of our natural powers for His glory. We are
called to think for God. The active submission of our intellect, to be empowered
by His Spirit to achieve for Him what it cannot achieve on its own, is a
necessary part of the full stewardship of love of God, of "occupying"
for Him until He comes. In all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22:37, Mark
12:30, Luke 10:27), the word mind (διανοια
dee-án-oy-ah), the phrase "all of the mind," is used to
indicate how we are to love God: with all our heart, soul, mind and
strength ("strength" omitted in Matthew).
You who today "commence" the life beyond
your days of special training face this challenge to love God with your minds,
as well as your hearts, souls and bodies. How are you to fulfill this
commandment? How else than by accepting the work of thought as the place where
you will actually involve yourselves, as thinkers, as intellectuals: Yes, as
intellectuals, Christian intellectuals, you engage yourselves, by faith,
with the Holy Spirit, to throw back the framework of Satan’s lies and show
forth the life which is the light of men in all of its cosmic, historical, and
eternally redemptive dimensions.
You are called today to stand by Paul the Apostle,
with weapons "not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction
of strongholds, destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against
the knowledge of God, taking every thought (νόημχ)
captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:4-5). The context of
this passage locates this work to be done in the very concrete context where
ideas are functioning as the basis of evil behavior. And let me say that this is
always the case. Evil has roots in will and feeling, but its
primary defense is always in ideas, in mis-faiths, in what the prophet
Isaiah calls "the refuge of lies." It is in ideas and beliefs that man
hides by justifying his actions and his feelings. Hides from himself as
much as others (the Prodigal "came to himself"
in Luke 15:17). Lies are a refuge of darkness which men love because
their deeds are evil, as Jesus said.
Yes, it is still today true, as long ago, that God
will occasionally so direct our minds that it will seem all Him and none of us.
Jesus said to his first followers: "Settle it therefore in your hearts not
to meditate before what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom,
which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (Luke
21:14-15). But as John R. Rice used to say, "If you only trust in God
to fill your mouth, He’ll fill it alright – with hot air." The
inspiration of God usually comes as we do our best to love Him with all our
minds by using all our minds in His service. In Take My Life and Let It Be
(1874), Francis Ridley Havergal sang:
Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou dost choose.
Thus we worship and serve God in spirit and in truth,
as the spirit enables the intellect to fulfill its function by grace as a part
And how then is the spiritual life to be protected
from the life of the intellect? In exactly the same way as the use of all
our natural abilities in the created realm. We have to do whatever we do
from within a framework of discipleship that will constantly hold us in clear
dependence upon the interaction of the Holy Spirit with our souls, refusing to
depend upon our natural ability and natural relations to the world, social as
well as physical, "apart from God." The intellectual is, in this
regard, in no greater danger than the preacher or the Christian teacher or
administrator. We have recently seen, in many quarters, spectacular failures on
the part of outstanding preachers, teachers and "communicators." In
every case, the failure is traceable to attitudes and behaviors which would have
pretty surely been eliminated by measures that are a matter of course for one
who is really prepared to follow Jesus in his overall style of life, or
to follow Paul, who could say to the Corinthians: "Be ye followers of me,
even as I also am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1).
So as you answer this call to think for God, to search
out truth and reality, to overturn falsehood and show it up as the cheat and
evasion, the servant of Satan, that it is, you have only to be faithful to the
requirement which every disciple in every vocation must meet; and
then you will be perfectly safe; and the intellect will not overbalance the
spiritual in your life. This is the requirement of a plan of specific
activities for growth in Christlikeness. That is what the disciplines for the
spiritual life are all about. They are activities in which we voluntarily act to
meet the reality of God’s Kingdom at points where we are especially needy.
They are in some form the only way in which the ministry of Christ today can
fulfill the last clause of the Great Commission in Matthew 28: Teach the
disciples of all nations "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded
you" (Matthew 28:20). Because we have, reacting against their abuse, failed
to foster these disciplines within the framework of Salvation by Grace through
faith, our bodies of professing Christians are now devastated by anti-nomianism
– including most of the Evangelical churches. They have not been shown how
to walk after Christ. I know of no church with a plan to fulfill the last clause
of the Great Commission. It is a great omission.
In my book I discuss the
spiritual disciplines under two headings:
This is not the occasion to go into these in detail.
But it is the occasion to tell you that only if you seriously, purposively,
tenaciously engage in a wide range of these or similar activities, will you be
able to balance any of your interests and activities, including the
intellectual, with the spiritual life. It is the occasion to ask you what your
plan is for Christlikeness. It is the place to ask you to look at how Christ
spent His time in the overall pattern of His life, and to suggest that our call
is to trust Him enough to follow Him in His overall way of life. And then our
intellectual life, and all other aspects of our
life, will be in balance with the spiritual.