Where Are The Christian Intellectuals?Essays, Featured — By M. Morford on August 16, 2012 at 5:30 am
I have to admit that I find this topic deeply discouraging.
Speaking of Christian intellectuals is like speaking of some long-extinct, if not mythical, creatures like mermaids, leprechauns, or flying dragons.
Not only are most people unfamiliar with what I would call Christian intellectuals, the vast majority of “Christians” I know could not, in their wildest imaginings, even picture such a thing.
We have become so dazzled by end times fantasies, quasi-pseudo-historical fictions, and reassuring self-help slogans disguised as theology that we can’t think straight.
We have become so accustomed to mushy and self-congratulatory writing that we can’t even recognize clear thinking—or enduring wisdom.
Some Christians “spice up” their reading with alarmist (and usually paranoid) diatribes which can almost always be summed up as “we are right and everyone else is wrong” and “those people” are out to get us.
Not only is the vast majority of Christian writing limp, mushy, and rarely challenging, it makes us lazy, smug, and self-righteous.
My bias is that Christian writing (and art) should be inspiring, encouraging, and should provoke us to an ever new and deeper faith.
It should, as C.S. Lewis put it, draw us “further up and further in.” It, at its best, should draw us continually into new territory—territory that reminds us of the challenging, never fully satisfied demands of a living God who loves us more than we could ever imagine and who knows how much more we could be if we could fully listen to and respond to His word.
It says much about our faith if we only seek—or feel safe—around familiar “comforting” words. If that sums us up, and I think it does, we are like perpetual spiritual infants forever seeking milk, cuddling, and our own comforts.
God clearly expects far more than that from His people. God calls us—all of us—to stand on, to stretch, to lean on our faith to see where it, like a wind with its own will, will take us.
Tradition, as often as not, is the accretion of familiar, comforting, reassuring beliefs or actions. Every so often every religious tradition—and individual—needs a solid dose of doubt to shake loose the intellectual equivalent of mold or mud to see—and use—the glistening mystery that God has given us—and that He expects us to use, respect, and pass on.
The “baby food” of current Christian literature is a disgrace to the legacy of God’s people. The vast majority of “Christian art” is an embarrassment to both art and the faith. It’s clearly (past) time for us to grow up.
We are so accustomed to comfortable lies that nostalgic fantasies act as our spiritual reference points. And if we become accustomed to inertia in our spiritual development, it will be because we value inertia more than growth, and we all know that in the natural world, as well as the spiritual, inertia is never stationary; choosing inertia is choosing to die.
And God clearly expects us to choose life. And life is never stationary. Or predictable.
Life, like every child or season, is ever-changing and always requiring something new from us.
As always, God gives us a choice: we can move, learn and grow beyond our own expectations, or we can become numb and self-absorbed.
It’s obvious enough where most “Christian” art, music, and literature have gone; we don’t all need to go there.
But as believers, we should freely, even eagerly, go when—and where—God calls us—and He always calls us to new and far greater things.
And this new territory is rarely, if ever, comfortable.
If Christian “art” tells us how “good” the old times were and how “bad” other people are, it is inherently deceptive and leads us into a fantasy world that never existed, is not our world, and is certainly not creating a healing or welcoming world to anyone else.
This “art” is a monument to isolationism and self-righteousness. This is the most stale of the lukewarm, and God spits it out (Revelation 3) as we should.
I am neither surprised nor saddened by the demise of Christian bookstores. Most of them hold more knick-knacks (made in China) than books that might challenge or prepare us. Even our theology has been outsourced.
By Christian intellectual, I mean someone who is known and recognized by their intellectual legacy—not necessarily within Christian circles—but whose work is grounded in their faith and their belief in an ultimate sense of justice and human destiny. Not someone primarily known as an apologist or evangelist.
Where is our modern-day Thomas Merton who challenges us to confront our lives as “guilty bystanders” in the culture obsessed with death that surrounds us? And provides a comfortable living and lifestyle for many of us?
Where is our modern Jacques Ellul who would warn us of the “false presence of the kingdom” as we become enamored of politicians who sprinkle Christian jargon over their corruption, arrogance, and power grabs?
What prophet will challenge us to consider the inherent allure, seductiveness, deception, and limits of technology?
Who will warn us of confusing nationalism with faith in God?
Who will steer us from our lemming-like consumerism where we go into overwhelming debt, and, even as we live, lose our souls as we gain the world.
Who among us will listen to Wendell Berry as he reminds us that we came from the earth, and our care for the land reflects our respect for the Creator and has a direct impact on our own health as well as the health and well-being of future generations?
Will we ever hear the voice who reminds us that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall all return (Genesis 3:19)?
Where is the daring prophet who will confront our near-delirious obsession with guns?
And who will challenge the absurdity of our “Christian” revision of “Thou shall not kill” into a gleeful eagerness to kill for any reason?
Virtually every “Christian” I know believes that we have the right, if not obligation, to kill anyone who steps on our property—because property is sacred.
That must be in the Bible because everyone I know believes it.
Where is our prophet, perhaps even now, crying out in the wilderness, who draws us far beyond the pale world of self-help and personal makeovers into the enduring, even eternal territory of reflection, insight, and wisdom?
It’s a dangerous calling, perhaps the most dangerous of all. The world is crying out for a voice worth listening to, but amidst all the noise and distractions, would we even recognize it?