One of the battles I face as a Pentecostal who has a God given passion for academia is the battle between faith and reason. The older I get the more I hope that this war would end, but with every step in the right direction that I face I am reminded that perfect peace is not attainable this side of Heaven.
I am all about the emotive expressions that are found within the Pentecostal tradition, and I am a firm believer in the miracles and supernatural; I would even label myself a Continuationist (one who believes that the spiritual gifts of God are still present even today). But must we disregard our intellect for our expression? I see a wide spread motion within Pentecostalism, that places our intellect as inferior to other aspects of our interaction with God. And it is sad to see, given that the philosophy which pushes the idea that intellect is subservient to one’s experience, does not find it’s origin Scripture.
This idea which places a false dichotomy (a false war) between faith and reason, has an ill effect on the life of a Christian and Christianity as a whole. While there are many consequences that can be named, here are but a few:
- First of all, it bears a false witness against God. In a way, this line of thought diminishes the work of God in creating Humanity in the image of God. If we are to understand the Imago dei (the Latin term used to reference the image of God), as a literal physical reflection of who God is, we miss the idea. We reflect the image of God, in our makeup. No, not in Loreal and Mac, but in how we were created, our attributes, and our purpose. Some examples are: our relational nature, our ability to love, our creative abilities, and our ability to think critically (to be compared to their counterpart in God, with the Trinity, God as love, and God as The Creator).
- Secondly, it teaches a sort of dualism similar to the ancient Greeks and early sects of Christianity, whose teachings were condemned as heretical and unbiblical. The Gnostics as a whole, believed in dualism–two creators, one of good and one of evil; all things good were immaterial, all things evil were present in this world and were created by the evil powers. Salvation, while attained by different steps depending on the Greek philosophers, was pretty much dependent on being released from this world of evil. Knowledge was the source of salvation for them. But not just any knowledge would do, it was a secret knowledge, it was a revealed knowledge. From this very short overview, it is rather clear that the present issue with the intellectual pursuit of things–even in regards to the study of God and the Word of God–is influenced by Gnostic dualism. It seems as if, what those who put down intellectual pursuits have gained from dualism, is the idea that nothing that we can gather from our sense is to be trusted, and only that which is revealed through some special knowledge is profitable. Quite contrary to their title as Gnostics, who’s title is derived from the Greek word “gnosis” (knowledge), their obssessions wasn’t in wisdom and knowledge as empirically derived, it was a skewed view which held no form of verifying the truth of their statements.
- Third, it is dangerous because it teaches and promotes a disordered faith that is only dependent on Scripture as one interprets it and as one needs it. But what happens when interpretations differ? If more than one individual receives “special knowledge” or “special revelation” from God, both interpret their interpretation based on “special revelation”, and the information is contradictory; how does one determine the correct interpretation? The answer lies in the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is formally known as the Canon, from the Greek word κανών, which means “rule” or “measuring stick”. The reason we have a Bible is to keep order, an idea which is especially prevalent in the New Testament. Most of the New Testament is a composed of instructions of proper worship, proper church structure, and proper conduct. In elevating experience and personal revelation over the gift of intellect, we run the risk of not just diminishing intellectual pursuits, but diminishing the very power and nature of the Bible God has entrusted to us. The truth is that we cannot pick and choose when the Bible is important, it must always serve the job of “measuring stick” or it does not have that position at all.
But doesn’t the Bible talk about the wise who are actually foolish? Doesn’t it say that it is the fool who will inherit the Kingdom? Not necessarily, and that is actual where studying the Word of God, as God commands multiple times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament comes into play ( Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:14-17). In fact, Hosea 4:6 speaks about what occurs due to a lack of knowledge, “His people perish”.
Very common within this misguided branch of Christianity uses the Bible as a weapon, and the Gnostic idea of “special knowledge” which comes from a unique connection to Logos, is used to oppress others. Ironically, it is this very attitude that is fought against by the author’s of the Bible; although they either purposely twist their meaning or are ignorant to their meaning because they refuse to truly study as we have all been commanded.
The first of the passages that are misused to block the important call to study and learn, is probably the most famously used. This passage is the one found in 1 Corinthians, and the verse most commonly used is verses 19:” For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ ”
At a glance this would seem to strongly suggest a war between knowledge (wisdom) and unrelenting faith (as exemplified by the “foolish”). But that is not what Paul is saying, nor the definition of knowledge which he engages. In connecting back to issues 2 and 3 listed above, damage is done when tradition is elevated over necessity and Scripture is not seen as the God-breathed Word; and to be consistent with that teaching, one must recognize the importance of studying the Bible and “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15); the Word of Truth that is “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
In order to rightly divide the Word of Truth, one would have to correctly handle the passage as the literary piece that it is. We often forget, or it is unknown, that the Bible is a collection of individual letters, biographies, Historical accounts, poems, songs and prophecies. When rightly understood as pieces of literature–that also have a strong spiritual meaning and relevancy as being inspired by God–we can use the conventions of Hermeneutics ( the branch of knowledge that deals with studying written words/collections; the study of interpretation), as has been commanded by God in 2 Timothy 2:15.
So how can we rightly divide the passage in question?
A major part of hermeneutics is finding and then using the context in which the passage was written, as well as for what purpose it was written. Given that we are so far removed from the time period in which the Bible was written, and therefore the people, the places, the culture and the customs, it is necessary to do background research to understand it as much as possible. As odd as it is, especially when raised in a fairly legalistic and tradition based form of Pentecostalism, it must be understood that the letters contained in the New Testament were not written directly to us.That which we read in the Bible was written to other individuals, and we must first find what it meant to them before we try and appropriate it (apply to ourselves).
In this case, not much is needed outside of the passage itself; that sort of study is called an inductive study, because the answers can be mostly found within the text. Although not much is needed to actually understand what this passage is saying, it would help to know that the people of Corinth were highly involved in the cult of Dionysus. When one looks into historical and archaeological discoveries we are able to see that those involved in the cult of Dionysus in Corinth, had strong Gnostic tendencies and they emphasized the role of the “spiritual”; to the point that those who did not have either special revelation/knowledge (gnosis) or specific spiritual gifts (charismata), were seen as less important and less valuable. A clear issue that is seen in Corinthians 14 and the discussion over tongues and prophecy.
So now, let’s place our attention 1 Corinthians 1:18-20, and see if it stands that there is to be a war between knowledge and faith; or if the acquisition of knowledge or the desire to learn more of God is to be discarded.
“18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18-20 NRSV)
When we read verse 18 we see that to those who are perishing, the message of the cross is foolishness, and to the one who is being saved (an ongoing process towards perfection), it is the power of God. What we draw from this is that to the one who loves, accepts and desires to please God the message of the cross, the Gospel, the story of the man-God is a sweet nectar of life; while to the one who perishes, the message of the cross is foolishness, nonsense, and useless.
In verses 19 and 20 we see that God is against the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. But what does that mean? First we must define who the wise are. The wise, in making references to the previous verse and connecting to the next verse, see the message of the cross as foolishness. The wise are those who place the “wisdom of this world” above the “wisdom of God” that through the foolishness of our proclamation, those who believe are saved” (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1:21).And as a by product, the wisdom that will be destroyed is the philosophy of Corinth, which falsely gives importance to that which does not deserve supreme importance.
It seems that Paul is “flipping the script”, just as Jesus did time and time again in the Gospels. Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first, he sat with sinners and rebuked the “righteous”, he said that the simple prayer of the sinner was more valuable than the long and beautiful prayer of the Pharisee, he saved the woman caught in adultery and he humiliated the “righteous men” who were there to bring “justice”. Here Paul is making a differentiation between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world, and not between special revelation and learned wisdom. Quite the contrary, Paul, is denouncing the idea that special revelation/wisdom is to be sought over and above what God has already revealed in the message of the cross. The wisdom Paul is referring to is the wisdom Gnostics believed they were given by God which gave to them salvation and a special standing as a recipient of divine gnosis (knowledge).
While that is but one passage, that is misused to propel a belief that is antithetical to the message found in the Bible, the principles used here stand.
I believe that God still uses people, and still has a use for the spiritual gifts. But echoing Paul and his letter to the Corinthians, there is a huge problem when Christians appeal to “spiritual things” and do not make use of the checks and balances God has placed. Spiritual gifts and experiencing God through our emotions is find and dandy, but we must always measure everything by what the Bible speaks to us. If we will not use it as a lamp for our feet and a guide for our paths, what other purpose will it serve?
In closing I want to very quickly make one comment on another passage that is misinterpreted is one found in the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples that a Comforter will come, and that this Comforter will “teach them [the disciples] all things and bring to remembrance what so ever I have said to you” (paraphrase John 14:26).But this must be read in proper context, the Holy Spirit, although existing as a Comforter to us all, is not to be understood as a dispenser of encyclopedic information.Jesus tell those specific disciples, that the Holy Spirit would bring to remembrance, what he has said to them. The Holy Spirit is key in many aspects of our spirituality, it is what draws us to God, it opens our hearts to things hardened, BUT that does not discount what has already been commanded in Scripture; contradictions cannot exist.
We have a duty and a mandate, to study the Word, not simply read it and expect to know what it means.A Bible that is not studied prior to being used to preach, is a Bible that is like a loaded gun handed to a child in the hands of the speaker and the audience. Like a child, they may either hurt their own life or the life of another.