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

The Restless Experientialists

In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.

“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”

-J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

In the next post we will look at the entrenched intellecualists.

-D. Eaton

Understanding Moral Dilemmas 2: Conflicting Absolutism

So far we have covered a basic introduction to moral absolutism, and we have looked at how non-conflicting absolutism handles moral dilemmas. Today we will consider conflicting absolutism.

Conflicting Absolutism (CA)

Another way to deal with moral dilemmas is to admit that they do exist and try to deal with them head-on. This is the position of the conflicting absolutist. This position is held by theologians such as Helmut Thielicke, John Warwick Montgomery, J.I. Packer, and E.J. Carnell. This position is also known as ideal absolutism, as it believes that ideally God’s laws do not conflict, but in this fallen world there are times when they do. They also conclude that part of the conflict is due to a lack of understanding on our part. This fallen world creates ambiguity.

This position is probably the easiest to explain. When confronted with a moral dilemma, such as the midwives lying to protect the children or Rahab lying to protect the spies (see Joshua 2:1), what we must do is choose the lesser of two evils. In these two instances lying is the lesser sin than failing to protect the life of your neighbor. In these situations what we must do is admit that we had done wrong, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. In both of these situations, God praised the women, not for their lying, but for their faith and doing the best they could in such a terrible situation.

In the case of the mother with a tumor (see previous posts), it would be a greater sin to let the mother die without any attempt to save them both since we never know for certain if the child will die. Though the chance of losing the child may be 99.9%, to not attempt to save the mother would be the greater sin. If the child dies, we must then ask for forgiveness.

Strengths of this position,

1) This view makes another strong attempt to stick to absolutes.
2) It’s not afraid to face moral dilemmas head-on.


1) It begins to weaken those absolutes by stating that they can be ambiguous in this fallen world.
2) What do we do with the scripture that says Jesus was tempted in every way as we are? Does this mean that Jesus was tempted in a way that He had to choose between two sins, thus making him a sinner? Or was he not tempted in this way thus making the “tempted” verse untrue.
3) This verse also seems to go against the idea of repentance. To repent is to ask God for forgiveness with the notion that we will do our best not to do it again. But in this case, we would have every intention of doing it again if faced with the same situation because it’s the best decision we can make.

It seems this is the weakest of all three positions, but I do not consider J.I. Packer a lightweight, in fact, I enjoy most of what he has to say. I have not read him on this particular issue which makes me wonder if I’ve missed something in my studies. But after reading Thielicke, this is the understanding of this position as he presents it.

In the next post on this topic, we will deal with the most controversial but probably the most logically consistent position: graded absolutism.

D. Eaton

Other posts in this series