There is something special about meeting with a great Christian thinker who is well-read in the scriptures and but who also does not neglect the arts and sciences. They are a gift to us in their teaching and exegesis of the world. However, the greater gift is how they got to where they are in the first place.
It is surprising and relieving to find a true intellectual within Christian circles. This is different than the intellectual who says they are Christian. This is the person who is well-read in the humanities and sciences but has a shallow theology more informed by philosophers than by Paul or Martin Luther. The Christian intellectual that we find is also one that does not merely offer platitudes about psychology or uninspiring commentary on current affairs.
The true Christian intellectual is all of these things but firstly a scholar of the Bible. Their scholarship of the Bible robustly informs their understanding of the world. They hardly cringe or avoid difficult topics, but rather, they are gifted with a mind to exegete culture. They cite thinkers and philosophers, not in an attempt to show how wrong such thinkers are but to highlight exactly where worldly thinkers are correct. They are able to defend the faith with great strength because they have already done the work behind the scenes in attacking the faith from their own mind and with the evidence presented. They are not intellectual cowards because they have an earnest heart to pursue the truth and they know that if Jesus was telling the truth, then they have no need to worry about any facts or scientific truths that may emerge.
This is what is particularly lovely about great apologists and preachers. Tim Keller immediately comes to mind as an example. They resemble Paul in that Paul was also a well-read scholar and defended the faith with vigor against the prevailing worldviews of his time. While the Bible is the inspired word of God, God used Paul’s scholarship and intellectualism to pen much of the New Testament. The result is a precise and sharp library of literature that believers can draw upon for all things relating to learning in righteousness and Godliness.
Likewise, we appreciate the apologists and thinkers of our day who do the intellectual heavy lifting of attacking and defending the Bible for us. It is after this process that our theology and conception of truth become precise, powerful, and coherent.
It is also the presence of the Christian intellectual that allows Christians to take a deep breath and remind themselves that they are not crazy. It is not only the dull in mind who see the truth of the gospel but it is those who have reached the highest levels of academia and intellectualism who affirm that what we believe is not a mere drug of comfort.
However, the spiritual significance in the differences between the simple-minded and the intellectual cannot be understated.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the poor, and the meek. Jesus gives an astonishing level of favor to those who are lowly in society and hardly exhibit any measure of intellectualism. We see this as Christianity is a religion that does not discriminate against the poor but provides much-needed emotional solace to the poor. The Bible calls Christians to give special attention to this set of people. It is partially due to the profound brokenness that is found in the broken and poor making them more receptive to the Gospel. In fact, it is only when people have experienced the brokenness of the world and of sin that any person can even get a glimpse of God.
When a person struggles with sins such as hatred, lust, jealousy, or despair, they become keenly aware of how hopeless they are and how in need of a savior they are. It is impossible for one to understand the gospel if they do not know they are broken and it is the most sinful among us who know with all certainty that they are broken.
It is the sin of pride that is the exact opposite and is what separates us from God most absolutely. By thinking too highly of ourselves, without saying it, we believe that Jesus died for nothing. Pride is especially devastating in that while we despise ourselves for being hateful or for lacking self-control, we hardly hate ourselves for liking ourselves. We are taught to try our hardest to like ourselves and to believe in who we are. The folly of pride is that we try to be our own god thereby rejecting the only true God.
This pertains most deeply to the intellectual person who has profoundly utilized their gifts for self-gain or whatnot. Is it not the academics, the scientists, the journalists, the authors, and philosophers in the world who have the most to boast about and to be thankful in? They have reached high heights in society and have made a name for themselves. They have even created their own mythology about how their work is benefiting the public good. By all means, such people are changing the world for the better. Unfortunately, their own trap is that they been working on the wrong things for themselves. They have settled for a greatness that is too temporary and they do not realize that their soul is wasting away. They hardly believe so because every metric they have been introduced to thus far says that they have it made. They live a comfortable lifestyle, they have meaningful work, they may have a stable family, and they even have side projects to help them achieve the highest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Their only concern is self-actualization.
It is when one has reached the height of this hierarchy that one is furthest from such self-actualization because they are deluded the most of the need for Christ. The world says that they are perfect. Jesus says that only He is perfect.
So why does it satisfy us Christians when we find an intellectual in Christians circles who is equally as sold out for the gospel as the one who is stricken with poverty? While we celebrate their learning and skill in teaching and defending the faith, while we see that the gospel is for everyone, we also see a miracle. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Every soul saved is a miracle. However, there is something particularly miraculous about the rich convert. This is not rich strictly in the material sense but rich as in a lack of brokenness. What is one to do when they truly have it all? They have found a seemingly full, happy life. They do not seem like a sinful person to anybody except God. This person is equally as doomed to hell as everyone else. Failure to recognize this is once again, an admission that Jesus died for nothing and has too shallow of a view of the holiness of God. How grand is the creator of the universe and how foolish would we be to assume that he has a measure of morality or reality that comes near to resembling ours.
The grandness of a miracle is that it comes not from man but entirely from God. Worldly self-actualization efforts focus on the manufacturing of brokenness. Perhaps this involves traveling abroad to work for an NGO in an impoverished society. Maybe it is manufacturing a narrative of being a victim. Maybe it is taking on spiritual practices like meditation and fasting. Maybe it is simply in watching a dark movie.
Brokenness cannot be manufactured. Luckily/unluckily, we do not have to look too far to find it. It is only those who are especially privileged who engage in such a lifestyle.
Brokenness does not save. Only faith in Jesus saves. It is the brokenness that is merely used as an instrument to lead towards faith. If a person lacks brokenness, where is their salvation? It is from God alone. God chooses who is saved so that no one may boast.
Viewing Paul again, there is no reason or merit he had by which he should have been saved. It was only through Jesus literally appearing to him that he was saved. Paul understands this clearly in that he knows with all certainty that every component of his life suggested that he was bound for an eternity in hell. He knows that he cannot attribute any iota of his faith to anything he did. In this manner, he has a greater understanding of grace because of how privileged he was. The rest of us may talk up our faith as a matter of our character or that we are smart enough or that we are humble enough. God certainly uses some of those things but they are all absolutely futile if God does not move. The gift of grace is the only reason we can stand before God justified as sons and daughters.
So, the next time we meet a Christian who is impressive by worldly standards, we celebrate in the way God moved miraculously to bring a person from death to life. Such a person was doomed to live in ignorance of God like everyone else. This person is not more special than other Christians but we can be reminded that God likely moved in a special way to bring such a prideful sheep into his fold.