The Responsibility of Knowledge
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2015 Aug 03
As important as a Christian mind is and the cultural commission inherent within it to engage the world accordingly, such pursuits are merely manifestations that flow from the ultimate goal of honoring God through a life lived in obedience to God.
It is not simply knowing the truth, but living under it with a free and open heart in worship of the God of truth.
This is the heart of wisdom, which is what every mind – and life – is to pursue.
Wisdom is not the same as common sense, at least as it is portrayed in the Bible, nor is it knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Wisdom is the understanding of what God would have us do and then doing it, what God would have us think and then thinking it, what God would have us say and then saying it.
Throughout the Bible, the wise person is the one who does the will of the Lord; the foolish person is the one who rebels. A believer’s wisdom is found first in the acknowledgment of true wisdom and then in obedience. This is decisive, for there is a great breakdown between belief and behavior, knowing and doing. The heart of wisdom is their union, as is the heart of true knowledge.
So the greatest application of the mind is not cerebral – it is deeply personal. Its ultimate goal lies in what has been termed the responsibility of knowledge. “Sin,” writes Os Guinness, “is a deliberate violation of the responsibility of knowledge.” For to separate knowing from doing, belief from behavior, is the very nature of sin.
In his book Intellectuals, British historian Paul Johnson chronicles the life and thought of such great minds as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre. He discovered that most of their arguments and philosophies were not based on noble convictions but on the choices they had made in their own lives.
For example, the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau had five children out of wedlock, and he abandoned them all. Then he maintained, supposedly out of his reasoning, intellect and common sense, that children do not need parents to give them discipline or guidance, and that the state should be responsible for raising them – an idea that is still shaping some educational and child-rearing theories to this day. His conclusions were not based on true reason but on his desire to justify the moral choices he had already made.
So the responsibility of knowledge comes down to nothing less than the lordship of Christ.
Our purpose in developing our minds is our love for God.
Our mission, however, is to contend with the darkness for the sake of the light. We do not exercise our intellects merely to explore ideas and arguments. Those who study the history of Christianity as merely an intellectual history miss the point. As Robert Louis Wilken noted, “The study of ... Christian thought has been too preoccupied with ideas .... Its mission ... [is] to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives.”
This is the clarion call for the Christian mind to engage in apologetics, which is arguably one of its most needed functions. From the Greek word apologia, which means to defend something, apologetics is giving a defense of the faith, reasons to believe, answers to the questions of the day. Through apologetics the mind supports the task of evangelism, clearing away barriers and objections so that faith may be examined at face value.
Historically, Christian apologetics has leaned toward providing rational evidence for the faith, but there is a growing need for something even more basic, which is a clear explanation of faith. In the world today, the deepest question regarding the Christian faith is “So what?” This is at the heart of both thinking Christianly and communicating Christianity to others.
As Thomas Oden has observed, the fact of the resurrection may be maintained in the church, but there is often little interest or communication regarding the significance of the resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead. So what? The Bible is true. So what? You can have a personal relationship with God. So what?
This is what the Christian mind must understand in order to challenge the world’s mind to consider
If we cannot rise to this task, we will have lost our place in the most critical of conversations – indeed, the only conversation that matters.
This brings us to the heart of the mind applied. It is not simply thinking Christianly, for to know is to do. Our goal is to think in order to know how to live. So what does it mean for Christ to lay claim to medicine? To law? To politics? To the economy? To a child in the womb? To sexuality? Consider the words of the prophet Micah:
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
It is not enough to simply understand the nature of justice and love from within a Christian perspective. “We must go on,” writes Dennis Hollinger, “to think about the strategies of justice and love in issues like poverty, race relations, abortion and political life.”
This is the vanguard of Christian thinking – knowing how to live …
… and then working to make the kingdom of God a reality for others to be able to live as well.
James Emery White
Adapted from James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press). Click here to order this resource from Amazon.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.