Chapter 2: “Sketching a Biblical Portrait of the Life of the Mind”: Live Blogging JP Moreland’s LYGWAYM

This is a continuation of the attempt to live blog JP Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind. Chapter 1’s attempt is here. Like the previous post, this will alternate between summary and my thoughts.

How to lose intelligent Christians

Moreland begins Chapter 2, “Sketching a Biblical Portrait of the Life of the Mind,” by contrasting the faith journeys of two influential thinkers. The first is an unnamed professor of his who was raised in Christian family and church but became what Bob Murphy might call a “devout atheist.” The professor became one who actively attempted to save people from Christianity because his questions were not satisfactorily answered, and because he felt shamed–spiritually defective–for asking intellectual questions about his faith. In Moreland’s understated prose, he points out, “this approach did not help him on his Christian journey.”

A tragic story, and not an uncommon one. I mentioned Bob Murphy because I listened to his testimony on Libertarian Christian Podcast from 12/25/2017, and though Murphy was raised within Catholicism, he wasn’t grounded in faith, which he pursued through confirmation before abandoning it and coming to actively try to persuade people against Christianity. (If you want to know what unfolded after that, you’ll need to listen to it yourself or hit up his website.) I’m encouraged by testimonies like that because the knowledge of God is going to cover the earth, so from my perspective–and I too was an atheist until I was 20–atheists are just future believers, future God-knowers. Okay, so how that experience will ultimately go for them is perhaps unsettled, but I’m more excited for them than worried about them. I’ve been in a particularly horrifying deep pit within atheism, and I know God’s arm rescued me, so he can rescue other people, too.

A more excellent way

Moreland contrasts his professor’s experience with Saint Augustine’s experience, who left Manichaeanism when its great teacher couldn’t answer his questions and later became a Christian when some intelligent Christians did answer his questions. Moreland proposes the approach taken by Augustine’s Christian friends aligns more with a biblical view of reason. While the professor’s church elders were likely sincere, he says, “sincerity is not enough for powerful Christian ministry.” His thesis in this chapter is that we must develop our minds if we want to be disciples of Jesus. He provides a list of what he means by reason: “faculties relevant to gaining knowledge and justifying our beliefs,” such as senses, memory, logical ability, moral faculty“–these individually and in combination.

I’m thankful Moreland does not outright criticize those who have failed to adequately support their faith. He’s sad, but he’s gentle with the body of Christ. He’s mentioned before that we’re not all equipped to be great philosophers. It’s okay, I think, to set the bar at a low point: how can I not turn serious Christians away through my own lack of philosophical preparedness? I am one of those people who don’t really care about apologetics but see the value of having something helpful to say when other believers (current or future) are questioning–even if that looks like a reference to check out a book or video series. Beyond that, can people like me learn enough to help them on their way? I think it’s Moreland’s hope that I can.

Next, Moreland drops a few scripture references to support the notion of a reasonable, omniscient God (I Sam. 23:11-13, Job 37:16, and I John 3:20), and mentions the logos as also possibly hitting that theme of “divine reason.” He then gives many scriptures employing the terminology of rational thought with emphasis on truth, and Moreland contrasts the God of the Bible with other gods and practices in other religions and their low view of reason. He concludes the section by contending that “ignorance is not a Christian virtue” since it does not reflect the nature and character of God.

I don’t know what omniscience would mean from God’s perspective, so I resist these as proof texts for it. God knows more than we do and more than anyone else, sure. What that means for an uncreated being who exists outside time, I don’t know. Book 1 of Chronicles of the Messiah develops the idea of the Word/logos in John 1 in considerable depth. I hope I’m representing that view appropriately in summarizing the Word/logos/ha Memra as, from a first-century Jewish perspective, the interface God uses to act in our world. The Targum Neofiti uses Memra as the agent of creation in Gen. 1, for example. I say this to add to the idea of “divine reason.” Yes, perhaps that, and also more than that, maybe also divine action as we experience it in our world?

The comparative religion paragraphs are food for thought. He’s not writing about those religions primarily, so like his other points, those fly by quickly, but for one who values reason, I can see how Christianity as Moreland is presenting it here would be a more attractive option than some of the others. His final point is a strong one: we all reflect the image of our Father in Heaven in some sense, and it is upsetting when we fall short of glorifying him in any area, including intellectually.

We have no need of teachers?

Now Moreland gets to his list of ways the Bible supports the Christian mind. 1) “Revelation is truth,” which is to say the Bible gives us both knowledge by acquaintance and propositionally true knowledge about God. Moreland argues that since truth speaks directly to our minds, we must develop our minds to grasp the truths of the Bible. 2) The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible by activating the believer’s soul, not by providing a shortcut that eliminates the need to study. Moreland unpacks a lot of scriptures to support his second point. Explaining multiple Greek words in 2 Cor. 2:14-15, Moreland argues the text means, “The Spirit aids the believer in being open to Scripture, in entering into it experientially, and in finding it good and acceptable.” This is different form explaining what it means cognitively. John 14:26 is about remembering, and I John 2:27 is about not needing special, secret knowledge. (Also, a reading of I John that makes teaching irrelevant would make the letter itself irrelevant because the letter is a teaching). Here Moreland also mentions that cultist test I referenced in my thoughts on the last chapter.

Okay, so that was too much to try to cover in one summary paragraph. It’s a section packed with good–and by that I mean careful, text-based, historically situated–expository teaching on those scriptures.

“Three important scriptures” (his heading)

Here, Moreland weaves together Romans 12:1-2 with Matt. 22: 37-39 and I Peter 3:15. In Romans, Moreland argues we’re called upon to bring our bodies, our physical beings, to the task of working to renew the mind. As he discusses Jesus answering the Sadducees, he points out that Jesus studied the Tanach, understood his opponents’ objections, answered by citing a text the they both had in common, and refutes them with logic. Then, apologia and logos are the key terms he explains from I Peter 3:5. He says apologia is “‘to defend something'” and logos is “‘evidence or argument which provides rational justification for some belief.'” If we’re supposed to be able to give a ready apologia to those who want a logos of the hope in us, we’re going to need to be intellectually equipped. This, Moreland points out, is a command from Peter, not a suggestion.

Moreland turns to Theaetetus by Plato to say more about logos. In it, a distinction is drawn between knowledge and true belief. One can believe something that happens to be true, but unless one can defend that proposition, one cannot claim to have knowledge.

Moreland doesn’t use the word prejudice for a true belief, but I do when I try to explain that distinction. A prejudice is an opinion that could be true or could be false, but it hasn’t been examined yet. The arguments for or against it haven’t been weighed.

Back to the book: Moreland encourages his readers that if they have not represented Christ well when asked for a ready answer, they can have hope because intellectual skills can be learned and honed with effort. He mentions that when Peter and John are described as uneducated in Acts, the critics meant they didn’t have the same training other Torah scholars did in that day; it doesn’t mean they neglected their minds.

What is knowledge, and does Christianity provide knowledge through scripture and other means?

Moreland defines knowledge, and adds three clarifications to his definition. To have knowledge is to “represent reality in thought or experience the way it really is on the basis of adequate grounds,” adequate grounds being disputable, depending on the topic or area of inquiry (like chemistry, history, etc.). Clarification 1 is that knowledge need not be certain, without doubt, or accompany a claim of personal infallibility on the idea. Knowledge is not threatened when we admit we could be wrong. He cites Eph 5:5 that speaks of “knowledge with certainty”; knowledge being one thing and certainty being another thing. Clarification 2 is that one can have knowledge but not have any idea how he or she got it. Clarification 3 is that you might know something, but not be aware that you know it. His example is a student who feels inadequately prepared for an exam. This student might say and believe he doesn’t know the material, but once he’s put to the test, he might prove he actually did know it. In this case, the student had knowledge, but not confidence.

These, to me, seem helpful. Perhaps the most helpful for a doubting Christian is the assertion that doubt is not a threat to knowledge. This has come up in the book club discussion already. My thought is that the (hundreds of?) thousands of denominations in Christianity are divided on issues of doctrine, so a person’s standing in a Christian community can be determined by what they think at what strength, whether they are a “true believer” in that doctrine or not. That makes it extremely unwelcoming to question or raise doubts or concerns or inconsistencies. Contrast this with Judaism where identity–being a Jew–is the determiner of group acceptance to a far greater degree than being “in Christ,” Christian identity, is to Christians. It’s a rare blessing to find Christians of different religious backgrounds fellowshipping, enjoying one another in Christ, creating space where all are free to surmise and question and confess. It’s not a threat to the integrity of the group to have disagreements if what holds the group together is identity rather than a belief.

Someone shared a video clip on Wittgenstein with in which Wittgenstein chastises his student by saying, “If you cannot doubt something, you cannot know it!” The Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) says if we’re wrong about the resurrection of the dead, “we are of all men most miserable.” Some argue a proposition has to be falsifiable, I think, to be considered knowledge? Maybe Moreland will get to that. Christianity is falsifiable. It’s testable. And it withstands the test. Enough of that. The next part is crucial: Moreland has one of the best breakdowns of knowledge I’ve seen. I know this is a long chapter, but don’t miss this next part!

Three Kinds of Knowledge-probably the most important part of the book

Moreland lists three kinds of knowledge.

  1. Knowledge by acquaintance
  2. Propositional knowledge
  3. Know-how

Acquaintance is direct awareness, even if you don’t really know what that thing is, like a baby being aware of red but not having a word for it, or tasting an apple. It is being “directly aware.” Is this kind of knowledge provided by Christianity? Yes, indeed: Christians can be directly aware of the presence of God, spiritual entities, forgiveness, etc. These can be experienced directly.

Propositional knowledge is “justified true belief on adequate grounds.” Statements like, “This is an apple” rely on one’s ability to identify the features of the concept of “apple” and compare that with an object that may or may not fit that definition. Does Christianity provide propositional knowledge about God? Yes, it does. The Bible is full of propositions, and these are what Christians try to use to determine doctrine.

Know-how is skill or ability. It can be learned or not.

Someone in the book club suggested that the ability to learn comes before all other kinds of knowledge. This seems to me to fit what Moreland sketches here for types of knowledge. Humans have an innate ability to learn, like birds know how to build nests. Babies take statistics to learn language (or unlearn it, which may be a more accurate description of the process). They have the know-how to acquire language. This suggests we are born learners, and since the Torah of God is the teaching of God, we fall into his great lesson plan of a universe as soon as we leave the womb. Or earlier–we’re knit together in its context inside the womb. Every jot and tittle teaches us something.

Finer points about knowledge by acquaintance

Returning to knowledge by acquaintance, Moreland says this: “experience is more basic than ultimate worldview presuppositions and, in fact, the evidence of experience provides data for evaluating rival worldviews or interpretations of some event.” Moreland doesn’t say this type of knowledge is the foundation, but he does say it is “an important foundation for all knowledge.”

Besides what we can be directly aware of with our senses, we can experience our own internal state, our thoughts and inner life, but Moreland cautions us not to discount “rational awareness,” which lets us have awareness beyond what is sensory: numbers, logic, abstractions, morality, aesthetics, and so on.

In the next paragraph, Moreland lays a foundation about our ability to “simply see” [emphasis his]. You can’t “see” an apple as an apple if you have no apple concept. You can’t know something is an apple unless you have something in front of you that you are comparing with that apple concept.

I’m breaking in again here. This seems important to the idea of perspective–and choice in how one views reality, which is one of the themes, I think, of Va’eira (“And I appeared”–Exodus 6:2-9:35). Not only in the story, but in our reading of it, too: Is it kindness or cruelty for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart? Well, if you believe God is cruel, you might see it as cruel and unfair. If you believe God is kind, you might see it as God’s help to keep Pharaoh free in the midst of what would otherwise be overwhelming divine revelation.

Moreland continues: the awareness of reality comes before prepositional knowledge, which is influenced by language and worldview and presupposition. Worldview is an influence, not a determiner, of the sense we ultimately make of things. We can change our worldview because we have access to our experiential awareness and can compare how we see something with the thing itself. “Knowledge by acquaintance,” Moreland states, “gives us access to reality as it is in itself…”

In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing Pharaoh watch Egypt’s systematic destruction, plague by devastating plague. He’s experiencing it as reality, and he’s thinking, is this the God of the Hebrews, or is it something else? Either way, he is up against someone or something. He’s seeing it directly. Aaron and Moses are telling him what’s happening. He’s not convinced. Then he is. Then he isn’t. Wow, so these were pages 59-60 in Moreland’s book. It’s part that’s useful to know. Moreland promises he will return to some of these distinctions later in the book, but as a way of articulating reality, for me, this is the part I need to study.

Biblical emphasis on knowledge and the value of extrabiblical knowledge

learning
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Moreland finishes up with a blitz of knowledge scriptures, noting that there are more of them than faith scriptures. Then he turns his attention to demonstrating that (1) “The Scriptures show us the value of extrabiblical knowledge for a life of wisdom,” by encouraging us to learn from the ant, watch how God sends rain, and by lodging wisdom with other cultures mentioned in the Bible as wise (“men of the east” and Edom, for example). (2) Scripture supports the view of a natural law. Here Moreland appeals to Romans, Job, and Amos to contend that Christians can argue for moral law without even appealing to the Scriptures themselves since God put some degree of knowledge of morality in every human heart, and it can be rationally discussed. In the example from Amos, the nations are critiqued without reference to the law of God, but God’s people are critiqued with reference to it. (3) “Scripture shows the value of being qualified to minister from a position of influence,” which means we see people, Daniel and the other Hebrew children, for example, in positions of power because of their excellent preparation. A sad anecdote follows about Pres. Reagan’s desire to have an evangelical leader serve in his cabinet, but a qualified evangelical could not be found.

There has been a cost to our letting things fall apart around us. Some missed opportunities we can see, like this one Moreland mentioned, but what about all the opportunities we missed that are unseen?

So how might we think of college?

Moreland suggests it is a mistake for Christians to adopt the secular view that college is about job training rather than cultivating the mind. Christians should be signing up for the humanities in droves so that they can think through great ideas. Earlier generations of Christians would have gone to college to serve God in their vocation with excellence.

Quick note, I believe it’s in the Q & A at the end of Jordan B. Peterson’s Psychology of the Flood, podcast episode 24 that he talks about the utter abdication of the humanities to provide anything relevant to students. Bloom, back to Closing of the American Mind, traces the fall to the adoption of political fads. Some classes in the humanities are not currently able to serve students well in general.

What are the barriers to cultivating the life of the mind for Christians?

osman-rana-253129
Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

(1) I Cor. 1-2 and Col. 2:8 are sometimes misunderstood to condemn reason. Moreland provides several alternative readings. The “wisdom of the world” and “persuasive words” are about prideful misuse of reason. Paul himself persuades, but he may be condemning rhetoricians using their tricks of the trade to lead people astray. Moreland also suggests Paul could also be claiming that the redemptive plan of Christ is not something that can be logically deduced from something abstract, but that Christianity is grounded in historical fact.

(2) In Col. 2:8, Moreland highlights the difference between philosophy and vain philosophy, and maintains that Paul himself was conversant in even heretical philosophies and quoted pagan poets, so Paul ought not be seen as condemning all philosophical study.

(3) Total depravity. The thinking here is if the mind is totally corrupt, then we can’t trust it, anyway. Well, once we’re saved, Moreland proposes that our circumstances change with the help of God, but saved or not, having imperfect faculties doesn’t release us from an obligation to develop them. He compares the mind with the will. Our will is bent on rebellion, but we still must exercise it in choosing the good.

(4) “The distortion of faith into a matter of the heart, not the head.” Here Moreland defines faith as “relying on what you have reason to believe is true and trustworthy.” Reason play a role in faith whether one is talking about faith related to knowledge, faith as trust, or faith as assent. To be childlike, Moreland insists, has to do with being dependent and humble, not stupid. Besides, the Bible doesn’t draw such a clear line between heart and mind. They’re both used to denote our mental faculties.

(5) “A grotesque distortion: Our response to God’s way should be ignorance.”

Moreland recounts hearing two disturbing refrains from Christians: “God’s ways are higher” and “knowledge puffs up.” He grants that yes, God’s ways are higher, but that implies nothing about our responsibility to cultivate our minds. Regarding the warning against getting puffy, Moreland says “the proper response is… humility, not ignorance.” And, he reminds us that ignorant people can be arrogant, too.

Summarizing his points, Moreland suggests a disciple should be one “who values his intellectual life and work at developing his mind carefully.” Billy Graham and John Stott are referenced to support these suggestions as they expressed how upset they were that many evangelicals were “theologically illiterate.”

Helpful clarifications in both cases. As writer, Moreland does a fine job of addressing potential objections. Are you impressed with how much Moreland is packing into these chapters? I don’t think I can call this live blogging if all I’m doing is trying to follow him via summary. He’s so concise, but these ideas are so deep. I don’t want to miss them, but it is exhausting to try to keep up with him, and I find myself saying, Moreland! Come on, another list in this chapter? I haven’t absorbed the last list yet!

Any ideas for how to better format the text so that the distinction between summary and response is clear but the page isn’t annoying? And let me know if you want the scriptures linked.

All the best, and may we be part of the work of bringing every thought (starting with our own) into the obedience of Christ,

-HB

 

 

 

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