I have always believed that Christians need to be informed and educated. But subconsciously, I’ve always made sure to keep myself in the theological shallow end.
During my freshman year of college, Don was my best friend.
We first bonded over our mutual love of Radiohead, and the friendship continued from there. He also lived in the dorm room right next to mine.
Several times a week, we would stay up most of the night discussing life, God and music. We both believe in the pursuit of knowledge and know that blind faith and ignorant faith are quite different. Christians need to be well informed, and we weren’t the sort of Christians who believe something simply because our pastor, parent or Pat Robertson told us to.
Don wanted to be a hippie, but he had neither the look nor the mindset.
He talked about the campus hippies like the freshmen girls talked about the star quarterback. His album collection became increasingly dominated by bands like Phish, the String Cheese Incident, Pink Floyd and O.A.R. The hippies, he believed, were more enlightened.
Rebellion was extremely appealing to Don. He often prided himself as being one of the only full-fledged Democrats on our small Christian campus. If you said that the sky was blue, he would say it was say it was azure—just to be difficult.
When he came to school, Don decided to major in Bible and Religion. If I recall, he also got a minor in Christian Ministries. He was going to be a pastor and a missionary. In high school and during college breaks, he had already preached at churches in his hometown when the pastor was on vacation.
Don loved using his knowledge of the Bible to disprove what the rest of us ignorant laymen believed. There is a lot of bad theology in the Church, and many bits of misinformation are widely accepted as fact. Scripture is taken out of context, misquoted and misused far too frequently. Don loved showing these things to us.
Slowly, Don started becoming the hippie that he longed to be. He grew his hair out and started playing guitar. He began getting to know the campus hippies.
While he had always been pretty liberal politically, his theology grew increasingly liberal as well. He continued his trend of disproving what most Christians accept as truth. We got into a debate one day about absolute truth and whether or not Jesus was the only way to heaven. Don said that he didn’t believe that we should try to persuade other people to believe “our truths.”
“If you don’t believe that you should tell people about ‘your truth,’ why do you want to be a missionary?!” I asked. “Are you going to get in front of your congregation and say, ‘Whatever path you want is good enough. See you next week.’ Do you want to be a pastor or a motivational speaker?”
That road continued for a while, and ours grew apart as college continued. By our junior year, Don—having refused to smoke even a cigarette during our freshman year—began smoking weed every day. He was fully embraced by the local hippies, too.
A few months ago, some of my college friends ran into Don at a concert. They asked him if he was a pastor or a missionary or working toward either.
“Well, you’d kind of need to believe in Jesus to be one of those,” he told them. “And I don’t think I do anymore.”
My heart went into my throat when my friends recounted the story.
In the last few months, the RELEVANT Network has received several requests for more books on theology, doctrine and scriptural analysis. While I agree that we need to include more resources of that nature—our feelers are out for them—my initial reaction was resistance. It took me a while to figure out why.
As previously stated, I have always believed that Christians need to be informed and educated. But subconsciously, I’ve always made sure to keep myself in the theological shallow end. Perhaps I was afraid that I would end up like Don.
People too often try to label intellectualism as either a good or a bad thing. Some educated people see themselves as better or more correct than less educated people. Their faith is in their intelligence. Other people discredit intellectualism and believe that “these so-called facts” don’t matter.
I stand in the middle with the belief that intellectualism and faith are connected. We cannot throw science and history out the window. Similarly, Christians must “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
One of my biggest fears with the emerging church is our reliance on our own understanding. Like Don, we are whittling away our belief system. In an attempt to separate ourselves from less intelligent, more old-school Christians, we have altered our faith. Like Thomas Jefferson, who compiled The Jefferson Bible to separate the parts of Scripture that seemed logical from those that weren’t, we have rewritten the Gospel for it to appeal to our intellectual needs.
Theology is necessary and can do great things to edify and improve our faith. However, we must resist the temptation to put our faith in our facts and our heart in our head.
Tyler Clark is the producer of the RELEVANT Network. He still loves Radiohead but never liked Phish.