The Entrenched Intellectualist

We first looked at J.I. Packers description of the Restless Experientialists. Now we move on to the entrenched intellectualist. May we avoid both extremes.

“Think now of the entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not as common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behavior-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth. Whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all they have.”

J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

“Christians Should Only Read the Bible”

In my studies of Scripture and theology, I occasionally run across someone who sees me reading a systematic theology or commentary, who says to me, “I don’t need all those other books, I only need the Bible.” This statement is troublesome because, in one sense, it is arrogant. Does this person think they have enough brainpower and spiritual fortitude to gain as much understanding and wisdom as the whole community of faith combined, without their assistance? I realize they do not mean it this way because they have not thought through the logical implications of their statement, so grace needs to be extended, but the statement is dangerous.

There is one sense, however, that the statement is accurate, and it is this sense that causes them to make the statement in the first place. The word of God is complete and contains all we need to know for salvation and godliness. If we did not have access to any other books and only had the Bible, it would be enough. Scripture is also the purest form of truth. With scripture, we can find salvation and experience growth in the Lord, but the Lord never intended us to live our lives, shunning the wisdom of other believers. Building each other up is one of the reasons He calls us to be part of a local church.

The Lord has given us many books, which are simply the written thoughts of the community of faith, to help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of His word. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology, says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers (1Cor. 12:28). We should allow those gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture.” To think that we, somehow, do not need these God-ordained teachers, or that none of the books they have written could be any help to us, rejects God’s word, which tells us he has given us these teachers.

They also seem to be using a double standard when it comes to books. Someone once told me I should not read commentaries because they were all fallible, and I should only read the Bible. When I asked if he went to church to listen to sermons, he said, “of course I do.” He began to stumble when I asked him if his pastor was fallible. Good commentaries and pastors often do similar things; they explain and proclaim the meaning of the text. If you are going to reject one, you will have to reject the other. I suggest embracing both as gifts from God.

I do realize that some people neglect the scriptures to read all these other books, and that is equally dangerous, but we should utilize what the Lord has given us through men and women who have been given the gift of teaching. Though unlike the Bible, they are fallible, just like the teaching of the man who says we do not need other books, there is truth in there from which we should benefit.

And let us not forget Spurgeon, who said: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”

Post Script: I realize that someone who refuses to read Christian writings other than the Bible will not be reading this blog, which means I am preaching to the choir. However, if you run into one of them, maybe you can pass the message along.

-D. Eaton