The Danger of Intellectualism

John Piper cautions the New Reformed/New Calvinist Movement:

Would there be any cautions that you would have for the New Reformed/New Calvinist Movement you referenced earlier?

Yes.

I will give you one that is from a prophetic word given to me yesterday—take it or leave it. I’m cautious when people come to me with these kinds of things. But this rung true, and you can see that it is true without making a claim to special divine authority.

My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God. Loving doing theology rather than loving God.

Sam Crabtree said to me once, “The danger of the contemporary worship awakening is that we love loving God more than we love God.” That was very profound. And you might love thinking about God more than you love God. Or arguing for God more than you love God. Or defending God more than you love God. Or writing about God more than you love God. Or preaching more than you love God. Or evangelizing more than you love God.

Reformed people tend to be thoughtful. That is, they come to the Bible and they want to use their minds to make sense of it. The best of them want to make sense of all of the Bible and do not pick and choose saying, “I don’t like that verse. That sounds like an Arminian verse, so we will set it aside.” No! Fix your brain, don’t fix the Bible.

The kind of person that is prone to systematize and fit things together, like me, is wired dangerously to begin to idolize the system. I don’t want to go here too much, because I think the whiplash starts to swing the other direction, and we minimize the system, thinking, and doctrine to the degree that we start to lose a foothold in the Bible.

But that would be a big caution. We should be intellectually and emotionally more engaged with the person of Christ, the person of God—the Trinity—than we are with thinking about him. Thinking about God and engaging with him are inextricably woven together. But the reason you are reading the Bible, and the reason you are framing thoughts about God from the Bible, is to make your way through those thoughts to the real person.

The danger on the other side is to say, “All that intellectual stuff, no, no, no. Doctrine, no. Intellect, no. Study, no. Experience, yes!” People who do this wind up worshipping a God of their own imagination. It feels so right, so free, and so humble because they are not getting involved in all those debates. But it isn’t. It is losing a grip on reality. So we are compelled to think hard about God and the Bible.

Hanging on with the danger I am speaking of is pride—a certain species of pride. There are many species of pride, and this is just one of them. You can call it intellectualism. There is also emotionalism, but that isn’t the danger we are talking about right now. Intellectualism is a species of pride, because we begin to prize our abilities to interpret the Bible over the God of the Bible or the Bible itself.

When I asked Rick Warren, “What is your doctrine of the Bible?” He said, “Inerrant and authoritative. But I don’t mean all my interpretations of it are inerrant and authoritative.” And that is of course right. We should talk that way.

So that would be my flag, the danger of intellectualism. And maybe the danger of certain aspects of it becoming so argumentative or defensive that it becomes unnecessarily narrow. That is funny for me to say because I think I am a really narrow guy, and a lot of other people think so too.

This is profound.  It can be easy in a Christian culture or ministry that emphasizes theology (which I think is a good thing, but as with every good thing, has dangers) to “love loving God” instead of simply loving God.  We must not have faith in faith, or trust in our theology alone, but rather trust God himself.  He is what correct theology points us to.

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About Colleen Kelly

I graduated from Mizzou in May '09 with an English degree and joined staff with Veritas soon after. I'm originally from St. Louis, but love living in Columbia. Things I love: reading (anything and everything), walking, being outside, coffee, conversation, theology, exploring, saturdays, and adventures.
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One Response to The Danger of Intellectualism

  1. Brad says:

    Great quote, good post. Theology can just as easily become an idol as anything. Theology is to draw us to God, not from him. It should shape our appreciation for God, not become the same kind of fire insurance as a prayed prayer or raised hand.

    Brad

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